Is it time for football to use technology to help refs?

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The Independent Football

Yes says James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer

There was always going to be a time when the argument against providing technological assistance for football match officials was going to sound like something you might hear at a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

It came on Tuesday night when every television viewer knew something the officials in charge of Manchester United's match with Tottenham at Old Trafford didn't. It was that Tottenham had scored a winning goal. Because the views of the referee and his assistants are the only ones that matter we were left with the travesty of a 0-0 scoreline. But if Spurs are the martyrs of the moment it is surely in a good cause.

The injustice that enveloped them at Old Trafford was extreme and bizarre but if it is indeed true that a picture is worth a thousand words the one of United goalkeeper Roy Carroll escaping the consequences of fumbling the ball so far over his own line is unquestionably the most eloquent contribution to the debate so far.

This was an utterly needless perversion of competitive truth and against it the old argument that the referee's authority needs to be protected at all costs shrivels into absurdity. Week in, week out that old aura of the referee is being systematically ravaged. Last weekend a vital shift in the balance of the Premiership race was cancelled when Mike Riley failed to see what any casual television observer was able to note without the benefit of a rerun - the Chelsea midfielder Tiago handled the ball in his own penalty area.

When we argue against a role for technology we ignore the fact that match officials are scrutinised now as never before Pressures, and the pace of the game, have increased with both financial and physical evolution.

When it was argued with some weight that the referee had always to be seen to be right cheating hadn't passed from being an epidemic into an institution and his every error wasn't instantly replayed across millions of television screens. There were also a few statesmen around in the manager's offices, men who had values beyond their own self-interest.

Some say that technology would be too time-consuming and expensive. It's a bit like arguing against air traffic control.

Of course, its installation would be have to performed with care and should involve only the three most vital aspects of diving, offside penalty decisions, and goal-line issues like the one at Old Trafford. In these areas, a fourth official wired to the man in the middle, would be the ultimate arbiter and if the whole process put, say, five minutes, on a game, who could legitimately complain if it meant that grotesque - and now routine - errors were eliminated? In the end it is not a matter of remaking the football future. It is living with the one that has already happened with such disastrous results for both the image of the game and the status of the referee.

No says Sam Wallace, Football Correspondent

Among the reams of praise heaped upon the late Brian Clough last year was the observation that, for all the eccentricities of the man, you never saw his players crowding around a referee to argue a decision or to labour a point. The notion of the forceful appeal, Clough always maintained, was abhorrent.

Introduce video technology and you make football a game that legitimises the appeal. But don't expect it to be anything like the pleading roar of a fast bowler. Or anything like the NFL coach with mike and earpiece who has recourse to replays and the opinions of a 50-strong coaching staff. Football will devise a style of appeal that is unmistakably its own.

Think Roy Keane chasing Andy D'Urso across Old Trafford with a vein like the cord of a telephone pulsing in his forehead. Think of spending Saturdays watching 11-strong lobbying groups of footballers howling their opinions into the face of the official. Then imagine the counter-effort by the other side.

If television was to decide every offside, every elbow and every handball then the referee would simply become a cipher for the cameras in the stands. On every single close call, he would be pounced upon.

The question of limiting the amount of appeals a team can make to a referee makes no sense unless you can guarantee that there will not be more than, say, three contentious moments a match. Roy Carroll's gaffe was in the 92nd minute, so what would have happened if, by then, Tottenham had used up their allocation of video replay appeals? Could football still console itself that it had done everything in its power to get it right?

If you have a season ticket anywhere near pitch-level in the Premiership, or have a rudimentary understanding of lip-reading, you will know that respect for referees is already at a pitiful low. They are sworn at as a matter of routine, they are forced to explain every decision to their uncomprehending charges and when it's all finished they get another working over in the television studios.

There is no simple way of introducing video replays without enfeebling the man in the middle. The referee has become someone to be manipulated and cajoled by famous footballers rather than listened to and obeyed. The good ones, like Graham Poll, can handle it. The less able, and the less experienced, are panicked into mistakes.

A milder temperament than those found mid-battle in the Premiership would remind Tottenham fans that they live in a country that won a World Cup with the help of an outrageous refereeing decision and were eliminated from the same competition 20 years later by an equally bad one.

Life goes on. Tottenham's Pedro Mendes seemed to have the right idea: he caught up with the referee Mark Clattenburg on Tuesday night, but only to shake his hand.