In his great days, the late Jock Stein preached that it was pointless getting upset over decisions. It was excellent advice

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The Independent Online
Anyone like me who has been following football longer than it is comfortable to remember must wonder how some of the most evil players imaginable would have made out today under the intense scrutiny of television.

Two who spring immediately to mind, both internationals who performed beguilingly in the role of what was known as a scheming inside-forward, concealed their spite with such cunning that it often went undetected by referees and never caught the public's attention. Opponents approached them with the utmost caution but they never figured on bar room lists of the nastiest footballers.

By now you have probably guessed I am coming to the controversy surrounding televised proof that Julian Dicks of West Ham got away with a dreadful foul on Andy Cole of Manchester United at Upton Park on Monday seconds before Nicky Butt was sent off.

The outcome is that Dicks claims he is being victimised by the Sky presenter, Andy Gray, who highlighted another incident involving him earlier this season, entering the renewed debate over the difficulties imposed on referees by television replays.

Some sympathy is held out personally for Stephen Lodge, the match referee, who has more or less made it clear that his eyes are where you expect to find them, not positioned in his backside. "With the number of cameras Sky have at their live games these days I could referee from the stand using all their angles and technology," he said. "They see everything. Referees have to make split-second judgements with only two angles, theirs and that of the adjacent linesman. We have to live with television but it is making the job a nightmare."

Times have changed, maybe for the worse, maybe for the better, but it is not all that many years ago since the old Football League, through its splenetic secretary, the late Alan Hardaker, demanded absolute discretion when first allowing the BBC to show televised highlights of Saturday matches. Even to criticise referees in studio reports was to invite the wrath of Hardaker - who said, incidentally, that the game would be shown live over his dead body.

It is anybody's guess how Hardaker would have reacted to today's state of affairs, but mine is that he would have turned purple with rage. As for calling referees to account on the basis of television replays, forget it.

Doubtless on account of the trouble that seems to follow his club around and perhaps suspecting a vendetta, the Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear has advanced what you may think to be the quite ludicrous idea of having a referee in the stands to settle controversial incidents.

To my mind, when you start talking technology in sport you start talking trouble. Where will it end? How long would it have taken at the Parc des Princes in Paris last week to establish from a television replay that Tony Underwood did not correctly ground the ball when claiming a try against France?

Twice in two weeks recently, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved towards the Super Bowl against Dallas Cowboys on Sunday with the help of illegal touchdowns. Because there is no time in the play-offs for bad calls to balance themselves out it was felt generally that the National Football League's decision to dispense with instant replays was a blunder they will live to regret. As Dave Anderson of the New York Times put it, "It's inevitable that sooner or later Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be presenting the Lombardi Trophy to an undeserved team."

The incident that sparked this off came in the American Conference championship game between the Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts. None of the officials noticed that Kordell Stewart had stepped out of bounds behind the end zone before catching a pass. Thus the Colts were exceedingly put out by a 20-16 loss. Different games for different tastes, but similar problems.

In his great days as manager of Celtic, the late Jock Stein preached that it was pointless getting upset over decisions because it interfered with concentration, and usually they evened themselves out. It was excellent advice.

Much the same can be said about decisions in cricket other than run-outs. In any case, what would the heroes do without something to moan about?

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