The Last Word: Football needs eyes in sky to expose cheats

It is absurd that technology isn't used to clamp down on fakes and frauds – and prevent refs taking the fall
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The Independent Online

Nobody is suggesting that you should change the name of the Anfield anthem to "You'll Never Fake Alone", but if football can't provide something more edifying and scrupulous than this then what, really, is the point of it all?

Steven Gerrard's late, late penaltywhich prevented Atletico Madrid from qualifying there and then for the next stage of the Champions' League, was extraordinary even by Liverpool's standards of producing rabbits from hats as the curtain is about to fall.

It had to be seen to be believed, but even then it was unbelievable. Gerrard clattered into the defender Mariano Pernia and reacted as if he was enduring some form of crucifixion.

What do Gerrard and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common, apart from being prodigious goalscorers? After retirement, they could both audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company, not least for putting the drama into amateur dramatics.

The blame at Anfield, of course, fell on the poor old Swedish referee, Martin Hansson, who took a while before awarding the penalty that wasn't. It is far easier to criticise officials, in any sport, than it is to question the integrity of players, some of whom, like Gerrard, are hero-worshipped.

Almost immediately after the spot-kick was beautifully put away by Gerrard to give his side a 1-1 draw, the Liverpool captain was asked: did you deserve it? The questioner was probably referring to the penalty rather than avoiding defeat, and Gerrard answered in the affirmative. "I think we controlled a lot of the game." As indeed they did. Then Gerrard's first instinct was to remark: "I'm not sure it was a penalty." Within seconds that had been turned on its head. "For me," he said, "that was a penalty." But Atletico were livid. "Of course they were," he said. "It was the timing of it. We'd have been livid if it had happened to us. That's football."

And that's the trouble. Even cricketand rugby, sports that used to be run by men whose old school ties were decorated with Brown Windsor soup taken at the East India Club, have embraced modern technology. It does not always prevent umpires and referees from making mistakes but it doesn't half ease the burden of responsibility, particularly on key decisions.

At the Northampton-Scarlets rugby union match in the EDF Energy Cup last weekend, the referee, Wayne Barnes, who is one of the younger and brighter officials in the game, called upon the assistance of the video referee on three occasions to determine whether tries had been scored or not. Decisions were taken within seconds (admittedly this is not alwaysthe case) and nobody argued with the results.

Not everybody is in favour and rugby referees are not immune from crowd pressure, which is becoming increasingly influential. It is a very strong individual who remains untouched at hotbeds such as Welford Road and Kingsholm. "Forward, forward!" has become a familiar cry from the stands when a visiting player delivers a pass that is considered questionable. Not that many of the spectators are in a strategic position to judge. A few seconds later the referee, reacting to the noise, blows for a forward pass. If football, as Bill Shankly informed Merseyside, is more important than life and death, it seems strange that the game, which probably applies more pressure and heat on the referee than any other, does not come to his aid by employing an "eye in the sky", if only to adjudicate on incidents in the penalty area. At least there would be a more forensic chance of the cheats being exposed.

If Hansson had had the benefit of hi-tech assistance, the Liverpool-Atletico scoreline could have been very different. There were several justifiable appeals for handball, from both sides, and they simply increased the pressure on the referee to give a penalty sooner or later.

That it went Liverpool's way was, somehow, inevitable. When players, and the crowd, make a song and dance over an incident, especially an appeal for a penalty, they know their efforts aren't wasted. It's like putting a deposit down and waiting for the dividend to come, and more often than not it does. Psychologically, the whistle-blower is being softened up.

What video officials have is the huge benefitof slow-motion hindsight. When Hansson gave the grotesque penalty which amounted to floodlit robbery, Gerrard's excruciating performance was committed in front of the Kop. A referee, even a Swedish one, would have to be made of ice not to be affected by a deafening and unrelenting chorus of thousands of voices. They would not, however, melt the video recorder.

Home advantage is immense and officials always get it in the ear, at some grounds more than others, but their job is made doubly difficult if players indulge in the Hollywood factor. For the away team, home is where the hurt is. It's not the referees who take a dive, but they can expect to take the fall.

Yes, the Gerrard affair was a cop-out. "If it had happened outside the box it would have been a free-kick," Gerrard said. But to whom? Most fair-minded observers would have judged that it was the Spanish who were sinned against. The TV boys described the penalty as "very soft", but felt the result was all right on the night becauseLiverpool didn't deserve to lose. What's the number of the Fraud Squad?

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