Football: Referees have a right to replay

Libero Ian Ridley on football
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The Independent Online
When David Elleray takes the field to referee the Chesterfield v Middlesbrough FA Cup semi-final replay at Hillsborough on Tuesday, he will be doing so without an important piece of equipment which he probably would prefer to have.

The debate about video replays to aid referees has been aired all season. Last Sunday's match at Old Trafford finally convinced this column that their time has come. It may even have convinced the man in charge.

A few months ago Mr Elleray appeared on a television programme to discuss the idea. "Technology should not be used for matters of opinion," he insisted. "But there are matters of fact, such as whether or not the ball has crossed the goal-line, where we could look at its use."

After the furore that greeted his decision not to award Chesterfield a goal last Sunday, when Jonathan Howard's shot hit the underside of the bar and appeared to bounce over the line, he may well feel that sooner rather than later would be better. Like this week.

Neither Mr Elleray nor his linesman, both about eight yards behind the ball, could judge whether it had crossed the line and could not therefore give the goal. It should be remembered that the whole of the ball must cross the line, not just the point at which it bounces. Nevertheless, "Super Slomo" showed Chesterfield were denied a 3-1 lead.

Mr Elleray may have made errors of judgement during the match, as did players, as perhaps did the managers tactically. But that is part of the game and necessarily so for its spectacle. Errors of fact are quite another matter. The technology, in terms of television cameras, is with us at every professional ground in Britain now, and could soon be employed on this matter of the ball crossing the goal-line - as with run-outs in cricket. Most referees would surely now welcome this easing of their burden in the TV scrutiny era.

In the meantime, amid any hysteria, perhaps we could learn from the example of the Chesterfield manager, John Duncan. The decisions probably evened themselves out, he said - though they probably didn't - and if the referee doesn't see it he can't give it. Such dignity in the heat of the moment from one with the most vested of interests was refreshing.

The Manchester United full-back Gary Neville gets his chance this week against Borussia Dortmund to fulfil an aim. "I really want to win this one," he said when the draw was made. "I'm tired of losing to the Germans."

Gary Neville is 22. How does he think those of us of more mature years feel? Such as those responsible for headlines such as "England 1, Germany 0" when it comes to Uefa simply demurring to Fifa on respective World Cup bids.

The much-travelled goalkeeper John Burridge was getting shirty with the endearingly outspoken Radio 5 Live commentator Alan Green on a North- east television show last week. "What gives you the right to criticise footballers? Where are your medals then?" Burridge wondered.

Now Green is big enough and ugly enough to stand up for himself, but a line of argument in his support. This idea that the game is best left to professionals is manifest nonsense, though in the media it is mostly best left to media professionals. Andy Gray apart, you have only to listen to most of the ex-pros on Sky to know that. You can often get more articulate insight in the pub.

One thought for Mr Burridge to ponder: do you have to be a woman to be a gynaecologist?

The ways of parting fans from their money grow ever more, shall we say, inventive. At Sunderland, for just pounds 5, you can have your name in the programme for the last-ever match at Roker Park, against Everton on 3 May. Given the club's lack of spending on players this season, despite plunging towards relegation, Rokerites are apparently wondering quite what purpose the money will serve.