Football: League to try goal force-fields

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THE PREMIER LEAGUE is developing force-field technology to detect whether a football has crossed the goal line or not. Its introduction to the professional game - perhaps within two years - could put an end to footballing injustices and the "Did it, didn't it?" arguments spawned by events such England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup win over West Germany.

The League's revolutionary invention is being produced jointly by Sports Control Systems - a private company that specialises in tools which assist sporting officials - and Mitre, the League's official ball manufacturer. The plans for the new system are a closely-guarded secret, but it is understood that they involve the ball being coated with a substance that can be detected by sensors inside the goalmouth. A signal is sent to the referee when the ball is wholly over the line.

"It will involve some kind of force-field around the goal," Philip Don, the League's referees' officer, said yesterday. "Before the end of the season we should have some form of prototype in place in a training-field environment." He added that the Football Association has been given permission by Fifa, football's world governing body, to conduct an experiment on goal-line technology this season. If successful, the idea could be adopted worldwide.

England's third goal in the 4-2 win in the 1966 final (when Geoff Hurst's goal was allowed despite the ball apparently not completely crossing the line) is the most famous disputed strike in English football.

Another high-profile incident happened during Euro 1996, when Romania put the ball over the line against Bulgaria but it bounced out and the goal was not allowed. Romania lost 1-0 and were knocked out.

In the Premiership this season, Southampton were denied a goal against Leeds because a Mark Hughes shot bounced in and out of the net so quickly the referee did not see it.

Of new technology in general, Don added: "If it's anything to do with factual information, such as `did the ball cross the line?' then that's something we're looking at using." He added that Fifa has said that any systems that do not use cameras can be explored. Cameras have been ruled out because they rely on human interpretation of pictures and can be obstructed by players or mud. The League's new system should not be hindered by such obstacles.

"It could work on the same principle as a metal detector at an airport, using a metalised coating on the ball and detectors around the goal," Barry Fox, a writer on technology and new inventions for the New Scientist, said. "It's also plausible to envisage ways using radars, lasers, light or radio transmitters. But the bottom line is making it work reliably in all conditions. "

Technology and sport have a mixed history. In the United States, radio transmitters are often installed inside ice hockey pucks to allow television cameras to know precisely where the pucks are at any given moment. There have also been US experiments using metallic strips on tennis balls to track movement and judge line calls. These were not successful and were scrapped.

Don revealed the forcefields plan yesterday, after the official launch of the Referees Communication System, a three-way radio transceiver that will be used by all Premiership referees and linesman from this Saturday. The idea behind the RCS equipment is to speed up communications between the officials and allow the line officials to inform the referee more quickly about incidents off the ball. These might include anything from off-the-ball fouls to teams wanting to make substitutions. The fourth official will not be wired up or have any additional input into decisions.