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By James Restall
It’s very rare in football fans get what they wish for, not unless their club is the subject of a billion pound Sheikover. In their 1998 reworking of ‘Three Lions’, Baddiel and Skinner went Nostradamus and triumphantly proclaimed “No more years of hurt, no more need for dreaming” as England looked to lift the World Cup in France. 14 years and four penalty shootouts have served to stamp out the last ounce of optimism lingering in any English supporter that their national team might one day achieve glory.
Amidst the trials and tribulations supporters will have experienced both during the club season and Euro 2012, FIFA has finally ensured that one dream will come true. The football governing body’s decision to introduce goal-line technology will put an end to a debate which has rambled for far too long. It’s staggering that the sport hasn’t crossed the line earlier.
The injustice of a blatant goal not being given is a far worse feeling for a football fan than any penalty pain. Andrea Pirlo’s deft chip in the England Italy shootout demonstrated how confidence and mental reserve must be the determining factor in knockout football after a goalless 120 minutes. Even though it hurts every time England exits a tournament in this way, at least Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Italy legitimately defeated us. The denial of a perfectly good goal however undermines the whole point of playing football.
This issue stretches from the upper echelons of international tournament football to everyday lower league matches. Having bawled my eyes out at England’s defeats in 2004 and 2006, I was considerably more outraged by Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany in 2010. While the record books will show a below-par England outclassed 4-1, had the Chelsea midfielder’s effort counted it could have been a different story. Fighting back from 2-0 down before half time could have knocked the stuffing out of the inexperienced Germans and given England the momentum to win the match. When we’ve gone out on penalties, there has always been a sense of what could have been; before the second half in our 2010 quarter final one could have rightly argued for what should have been.
The injustice is augmented by the fact that technology has been used in sport for years. Since 2001, Hawkeye has been utilised to great effect first in the media coverage of cricket, then as a method of reviewing wicket decisions. In the intervening 11 years, Pedro Mendes has scored one of the greatest goals-that-never-was, Freddie Sears has seen a strike disallowed for quickly bouncing back out of the net and Reading grabbed a goal against Watford which actually went behind for a goal kick.
Despite these ridiculous decisions, the naysayers argue that technology would kill the debate sparked by human error in the beautiful game. Pub discussions on whether Geoff Hurst’s second in the ’66 final was over the line have raged on for decades, but in an age when the goalmouth is covered from every angle there is no debate whatsoever. When Adam Boyd scored what looked to be an 85th minute winner for ten-man Leyton Orient up at Leeds in 2007, he thought he had secured an historic win for the East London outfit. But ‘keeper Kasper Ankergren spooned the ball back over the line and the Os were robbed of two points. I bet the last thing Boydy wanted to do that night was thrash the issue out with his mates over a pint.
It won’t slow the game down – on the contrary, it will add to the excitement at games if tennis and cricket are anything to go by. Last week, Andy Murray’s match-winning point to put him in his first Wimbledon final was decided by Hawkeye, while a correctly-reviewed LBW decision gave Steven Finn the opportunity for a rare hat-trick in the fourth one day international against Australia. When it comes to implementation, football should stick to the electronic Hawkeye or Goalref systems. Even the men with sticks standing two feet away couldn’t spot Ukraine’s goal against England in Euro 2012.
Ex-England captain Rio Ferdinand last week tweeted: “Goal line technology approved….losing the essence of the game, debate, human error etc…saying that Hawk eye in tennis is exciting!” I don’t care about the excitement technology will bring; I just want correct decisions to prevail. Technology has made redundant the post-match pub debates over in-game incidents; technology itself has become the subject of discussion. I for one am glad it can be put to bed.