James Lawton: Football keeps scoring own goals with its refusal to tune into replay debate

An inexpensive innovation could wipe out at a stroke the travesty that afflicted Palace
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The Independent Online

If it hasn't happened already, Crystal Palace manager Neil Warnock will no doubt be told that he must put away the extreme indignation he felt when his team had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed at the weekend.

You probably know the speech by heart. It's not so much a speech as a bromide, droning as it does on the need for an understanding that mistakes by match officials are bound to happen from time to time and that however egregious they may seem they are simply part of life's unpredictability. They thus have to be absorbed by all those of a reasonably mature disposition.

This exceedingly debatable premise is based on the belief that things tend to level out, that life has some inherent fairness. Of course it doesn't and if it did there would never have been the need for a single revolution.

Even in sport it is an appalling speech, not just to the ears of someone like Warnock, who spends a large part of his life figuring out how to steal some kind of edge over the opposition in a highly competitive, professional world. It is also offensive, surely, to anyone who believes that, in the first decade of the 21st century, the football authorities who have waxed so fat on their total surrender to the needs of television are still so mind-numbingly complacent in the matter of using some of the more basic technology of the ruling industry. A relatively inexpensive innovation could at a stroke wipe away the kind of travesty which has most recently afflicted Warnock and his team.

It is arguable that no one in football is in less need of an army of advocates than the forthright Palace boss, but then his anger on this occasion demands widespread understanding – and support.

Ridicule is surely appropriate at a time when Fifa is talking tentatively about the installation of "goal zone" judges of something as fundamental as whether the ball has crossed the line.

Nearly 30 years ago one's first encounter with big-league ice hockey in North America was filled with many mysteries, not least why coaches were so unsure of their strongest line-up they kept sending on new shifts every two minutes. It was also intriguing to wonder why both squads didn't line up on the ice and beat hell out of each for five minutes before playing some hockey.

However, there was one absolute certainty in all the frantic and often beautiful action from stick-handlers like Wayne Gretzky. It was that even though quite frequently it was a matter of millimetres, you always knew when the puck had crossed the line. A red light flashed with the technologically confirmed fact.

Warnock's outrage was at the indisputable end of the spectrum, more solidly based even than Liverpool's Rafa Benitez's chagrin that what should have been a sure-fire penalty was denied him at White Hart Lane. However, Benitez's mockery of the match officials was a rather chilling example of the futility of the FA's "Respect" campaign when professional football men see a game that is subject to endless video review for the enjoyment of the viewers neglecting utterly some simple steps towards proper supervision.

Warnock is right, also, to reject with contempt the olive branch offered by Keith Hackett, the supervisor of referees. What good is the suspension of the guilty officials and an inquiry to him? The points that went missing when a goal was ruled out are not about to be reinstated. The only real solace for managers who find themselves in Warnock and Benitez's position would be the sense that the administrators accept that there is a major problem and are taking some meaningful steps to solve it.

The Palace manager's refusal to shake hands with the Bristol City players and their manager, Gary Johnson, may be seen in some quarters as an act of petulance, another refusal to accept that life isn't always fair.

Not here, however. Johnson, as Warnock pointed out, had the means to right a shocking injustice. He could have ordered his players to play the ball into their own net, which would have immediately righted something that was so transparently wrong – and also made a bracing statement about the need for football to tackle an issue that is going to run at an ever-increasing rate.

It will run so hard because there is supposed to be a certain truth at the heart of competitive sport, and the more professional it supposedly becomes the greater the need not to entrust its outcome to the vagaries of human error. In this particular case, we should say, we are talking about an absolute breakdown in the idea that a professional sports contest was being controlled by competent officials.

Yes, we know these things happen, but this knowledge should ensure that we reach a point quite soon where they cannot do so any longer.

At the heart of all this there is one huge misnomer. It lies in the high-minded but misguided Respect campaign. We want, presumably, our sport to be hard-edged and as competitive as possible. We want to see managers fighting for their lives, and shouting for their corner. Their fans surely would want nothing less. However, when we talk about respect we should remember where that most needs to be applied. It is to the game itself, its integrity as a contest where every possible step is made to ensure a just result. That is an ideal that is being currently mocked at the highest level. So march on, Warnock, tell it how it is – and how it should be.

Chambers due credit for lining up against amazing Bolt

It was possibly the most momentous anniversary in the history of modern sport, Usain Bolt pushing back our perception of human possibilities with another sublime, world record-breaking 100 metres dash in Berlin on Sunday.

Twelve months after his invasion of the senses in the "Bird's Nest" stadium in Beijing he reclaimed the fragments of time lost in the showy climax to an equally pulverising dash in the Olympic final.

For a year Bolt has sustained the hope, almost the prayer, that his remarkable achievements are purely the result of God-given gifts and the character to work to develop every morsel of them.

Such are the beauty and seamless power of his running it is becoming unthinkable that he has ever had to resort to the means that have ravaged the career and life of the man who came trailing in his slipstream, the much reviled Dwain Chambers.

Yet Chambers, surely, is due a nod of respect. He served his sentence and swore that he would compete as a clean athlete. That he has done well enough to operate even in the margins of the phenomenal Bolt shows a remarkable degree of reassigned effort. If the great man is promising to redeem all of his sport, those such as Chambers also have a role to play. If we can still make the act of faith, he too was a winner on Sunday.

Can the Tiger who lay down like a lamb rekindle that old menace?

Those of us concerned by the degree of Tiger Woods' failure at Turnberry now have reason for a hint of dismay.

The great man's inability to win while coming from behind was some time ago accepted as a weakness in an armoury of otherwise awesome, maybe unprecedented dimensions, but now we have a new problem in what could indeed prove a mid-career crisis. His failure to come through in the front-running role in the USPGA, his defeat by a previously obscure Korean, calls into question with a new force one of the most valued certainties in world sport.

Some said it was boring when the Tiger suggested that anything was possible, any flight of brilliance, any surge of blood. Of course, it wasn't for anyone who puts most store in the ability of a great sportsman to keep reminding us of what separates him from the rest of the field.

Now the worry is that the Tiger is being tugged away from such excellence by the changes in his life which have come with the claims of domesticity and the long, injury-enforced lay-off. Could it really be that the Tiger will never again burn quite so bright?

Of course, it will take some time to shed the belief that this cannot be so, that one fine day he will re-emerge in all his unbeatable glory. In the meantime, we can only acknowledge what he has represented so brilliantly, for so long.

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