New boys and their video toys have got it wrong

Nick Townsend says that judgement calls should remain at referee's discretion
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The Independent Online

So, the good men of the FA's Video Review Panel have issued their verdict on Monday night's events at Highbury. Such is the Football Association's apparent desire to appease players and managers that it's surprising the British Board of Film Classification haven't been asked to adjudicate, too. Just about everyone else has had their say on that Arsenal-Liverpool encounter.

So, the good men of the FA's Video Review Panel have issued their verdict on Monday night's events at Highbury. Such is the Football Association's apparent desire to appease players and managers that it's surprising the British Board of Film Classification haven't been asked to adjudicate, too. Just about everyone else has had their say on that Arsenal-Liverpool encounter.

Gary McAllister has had his red card rescinded, and replaced by a caution, so Gérard Houllier will be at least partially mollified, the pundits of BSkyB will feel thoroughly vindicated in their observations, despite Patrick Vieira's dismissal being allowed to stand. The new post-match referral system has been thoroughly endorsed.

Well, perhaps not. And it may not be just the officials in danger of being emasculated by the new procedures who feel that, upon reflection, that this is not the way forward. The Liverpool midfielder was despatched by referee Graham Poll for a late challenge high on Patrick Vieira's leg. It may have been merely "mistimed", but your first instinct when watching was to classify it as reckless. Having seen the video evidence, you would give it a yellow plus or a red minus, if such punishments were available. It appeared a dangerous challenge, but it was not the worst of its kind. However, you certainly could not condemn Poll - hardly a novice for heaven's sake, he was England's representative at Euro 2000 - for brandishing a red.

However, the crucial point was that Poll did not see the video evidence. He did not have the advantage of slow-motion replays and obscure angles. The view was unique to him and his judgement had to be instant. Neither was Poll unsighted. He took action as he saw fit, bearing in mind new directives on dangerous play. It was not a wrong identification or an error of fact; it was a question of interpretation, which will always be subjective.

With that in mind, there can be no justification for these boys with their new video toys overturning Poll's verdict. Gilles Grimandi has also been charged for appearing to stamp on McAllister's hand, but it will be interesting to see just how many players who commit calculated off-the-ball offences will be called to answer for their indiscretions.

The concern, apart from the fact that it could be seen as an insidious move towards the use of video technology during games, must be that it will lead to even further erosion of the authority of a group of men, and women, who are under sufficient pressure from managers, players, and even some directors, already. It may well satisfy managers in the short-term when referees are brought to book, but the game will be ill-served by officials being aware that their judgements could be reversed when they have adjudicated in good faith on potentially damaging challenges. Only in absolutely exceptional and transparently obvious circumstances should that be the case.

Meanwhile Vieira's dismissal stands. His second yellow, following a two-footed tackle which took the ball and not his opponent Dietmar Hamann, was still dangerous, despite the comments to the contrary of Sky's Andy Gray and the commentary team. Poll was condemned during the game for issuing both those first two red cards, and then, afterwards, the interviews with managers were conducted in such reverential manner that the issue was never debated fully. There are many virtues of Sky's presentation of football to be admired, but their desire to become members of a mutual admiration society with Premiership managers is not one of them.

Most observers rightly have a high regard for the achievements of Wenger, but frankly, on the subject of discipline, some of his utterances deserves to be challenged. At the Stadium of Light, Wenger was quite correct to question Sunderland's treatment of Vieira. Constant shirt-pulling and tactics which are designed to aggravate require due punishment. However, every player knows by now the penalty for raising an arm at an opponents.

Similarly, both Vieira's cards were merited on Monday. If you'd listened to Gray and Richard Keys on Sky, though, you'd have though that the only subject of interest was whether the Frenchman would remain in this country. The problem, quite simply, is Vieira's. He is flawed; not the system.

Thankfully, by the end of the week, a little sanity had been restored. Bobby Robson had accepted, without a hint of complaint, that Newcastle's Warren Barton had been correctly sent off. Kevin Keegan described Gray's comments as "ridiculous" and pointed out that what the referee sees is different from the pundit who has the advantage of replays and slow-motion. It was also encouraging to hear Keegan's Scotland counterpart Craig Brown lend his support to beleaguered officials. The message must be that referees need support, not continual chastisement. And certainly not having their decisions rejected by appeal courts.

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