2010 FIFA World Cup: A Different Perspective on Officiating
Bad decisions and contentious decisions have always been a part of the game, and I bet some of the more casual followers of the game would probably be surprised if I told them that there are approximately 250,000,000 contentious incidents in the sport each year, and yes, you read the right amount of zeros there.
And that's just globally at the top flight.
I'm not including all those games played on parks, in the street, or at the school level.
When I look back to being about ten or eleven years old, there is always one soccer match that sticks in my mind.
It was a school match, and I was playing for the local under-13s and I'd been informed moments before we were about to leave the changing room that the scouts were there to watch me.
Can you imagine what that felt like to this innocent young child?
It was like every birthday and every Christmas had come at once.
At first I didn't know whether to believe it, but a number of my teammates and myself all went and found a window overlooking the pitch, and lo and behold, it was the truth.
There they were, standing by the touchline.
These were the guys that worked with my heroes. These were the guys that were employed by the clubs that I worshiped. These were the guys that could make a young ten-year-old boy's dreams come true.
To say there was a buzz in the changing room would be an understatement.
I was high. High like I'd never been before. It was like I'd scored a million hat-tricks at once.
This was my moment, my chance, my opportunity to be what I wanted.
I walked out of that changing room door with my chest puffed out, on top of the world, when suddenly the guy in front of me got his studs stuck in the wooden steps, and turned his ankle.
Suddenly my day was to change.
The guy that turned his ankle was our left-side midfielder, and he turned it bad enough that our coach decided that he couldn't play, and so instead he elected to shift me from my usual starting position on the right flank, and play me out wide on the left.
This made me nervous.
The scouts hadn't made me nervous, they'd made me excited. But playing out of position in front of them was a whole different proposition.
We walked out to the field, and there were two matches scheduled for that day.
We were on first, and then the under-18s were on second.
We were playing on a slightly smaller pitch, with temporary markings, and the goal at the far end had no net, so that it could be moved backwards, faster, for the senior game that was to follow.
It might sound strange playing with no net, but this was at the school level, and besides, what do you really need a net for?
Anyway, the first twenty minutes of the match went well, within the first ten minutes I'd put our side 1-0 up, with a long range effort, and then about five minutes later, I picked up a loose ball, on the edge of our penalty area, raced through the opposition, and coolly slotted the ball past the opposing team's advancing goalkeeper from the edge of their area.
All was well in the world, and even out of position I felt like I was on fire.
Then, sometime around the twenty, twenty-five minute mark, I was unmarked, on the left, somewhere around the half-way line, when a loose ball sprayed out to me, and I was off and running again.
I jinked past one player, then jinked past another, before turning inside and launching a shot from about 35 meters, that flew into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal.
At that moment of my life it was perhaps the best goal I'd ever scored, in perhaps the best match I'd ever played in, even though I was playing on the wrong side of the field.
I was pumped.
And then the referee gave a goal kick.
He basically robbed me of my wonder strike.
Everyone knew it had gone in.
I knew it had gone in.
All my teammates knew it had gone in.
Even members of the opposing team knew it had gone in, and were honest enough to say so, because they felt I shouldn't be denied of such a wonderful goal.
But the referee's decision was final.
He was adamant that it had gone outside the post, rather than inside the post, and with no net to catch the ball, there was no way to convince him other wise.
I was livid, and completely lost the plot.
About the next two minutes of my life was a red mist.
From the resulting goal kick the ball was pumped up field to an opposing player on the half-way line, who I sprinted across to tackle, with a tackle that was so ferocious I'm fairly sure I sent him into next week, and the ref blew up for it, awarded a free kick, and presented me with a yellow card.
I then sprinted back to the penalty area, to help out in defense, and with the ensuing free kick, I intercepted the ball.
On the edge of our area, I tore through the opposition again, sprinted down to the other end, rounded their goalkeeper, left him laying on the ground, walked the ball over to that same left-hand post, slotted it into the goal, and turned around to the ref and said "Did you see that one?" in the most sarcastic tone I could.
I then sprinted back to the half way line, not even waiting for the ref's answer, and the second the game kicked off again I went through their center forward, taking his legs, which led to yet another free kick, and a final warning from the ref, but like I said, I was seeing red mist by this point.
When the ball was punted forward from that free kick, and again I was the first to the ball, I tried to steer it back to our goalkeeper, who promptly did a Robert Green on us, and spilled my back pass into the net, I just snapped.
I ran right over to him, called him about every name under the sun, then punched him clean on the nose.
I don't know whether I got a second yellow card for that, or a straight red, but it was the end of the game for me.
Now, in retrospect, nothing can condone what I did in that match, but my aberration was well and firmly rooted in an officiating mistake, and so the subject was one that I always took an interest in from then on in my career.
At the time, being a silly young kid when that decision was given against me, I thought that was my career over.
I'd later learn it wasn't, but I know the pain of a bad refereeing decision.
Most of the time, most of the world misses it, either because it's a minor incident, or involves a club you don't follow or have an interest in, but when it's somewhere like the World Cup, because it's on a global stage, in front of a global audience, then we all see it.
Then we all throw our hands up in the air, and react like it's something amazing, unusual, and unique, rather than just another in a long list of events that take place every year.
And if it's our team, then we demand answers and solutions.
So it is, and so it's always been.
"We was robbed!"
In 1966, in the World Cup Final in England, there was perhaps one of the most famous examples.
With the scores tied at 2-2 the game went into extra time, and with eleven minutes of extra time gone, Alan Ball put in a cross and Geoff Hurst swivelled and shot from close range.
The ball hit the underside of the cross bar, bounced down—apparently on or just over the line—and was cleared.
The linesman awarded the goal, England went on to win the World Cup, and the rest is history—except for the next 44 years in which the world has argued over whether the ball crossed the line or not.
Even universities and super-computers have tried to figure out the truth of the matter with differing conclusions.
I wasn't even alive in 1966, but I can imagine the German players were mightily pissed.
I bet the German FA complained to FIFA, and I bet Sir Stanley Rous, the then-President of FIFA, was embarrassed by the affair, more so because he was English and this must have lead to many fans making accusations and counter accusations about his honesty and, more importantly, his integrity.
FIFA have been living with that incident and millions more every day since.
Do fans not think they would love a solution?
It's easy for us, here in the knee-jerk world of fandom, as all we have to do is scream at the screen "goal line technology!" or "video replays!" and then moan to our friends for the next six weeks about how if the ref had done his job properly we'd have surely gone on to win the game, despite being down 6-0 at the time of the incident.
They would also complain about how we would have won and there would have been a dramatic improvement in our performances, and then we'd have won the World Cup or whatever other tournament it was that we were watching at the time.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, it's not so easy.
FIFA has been looking at this ever since the first televised controversial decision happened in front of a global audience.
But they also have to make sure that any solutions they introduce work, and don't further damage the game.
So they actually have to think about it, instead of just screaming out buzz words that they heard on the TV.
Every couple of years FIFA sets up new panels to explore options and to look at ideas as well as ways of stopping these incidents or dealing with them.
There have been decades of thoughts, committees, studies, trials, experiments, and yet it always amazes me that a fan thinks in a few lines he somehow has an answer that no ones thought about or looked at before.
"It will be easy!" they say, but then they don't have to explain to an audience of over a billion why their new idea screwed up the World Cup Final, or to millions of others why their team lost last weekend because they introduced a change they hadn't thought through.
I guess it is easy in that world.
But for FIFA, who have a degree of accountability, they have to get it right, and not just spout nonsense on the Internet.
Sure the system isn't perfect at present, but that's down to human error, and that's an act of God.
If a new, flawed system was introduced that would be an act of FIFA, it would be a whole different ball park.
Hundreds of people have spent millions of dollars, over hundreds of hours, trying to find solutions.
The reason it's not there is because there has not been one found yet that works.
When FIFA trialed two refs in some places, do you think they were not thinking, as one of the byproducts of the experiment?
Did they think that the ref would be closer to the play and better able to see?
The trial failed because refs in soccer have one of the greatest degrees of latitude when it comes to enforcing laws, and are not only allowed to use a degree of interpretation when enforcing the laws of the game.
What FIFA discovered could lead to a scenario where you had a disciplinarian at one end, and a liberal at the other end, which led to very strange matches.
Do you not think the first time FIFA trialed four linesman down the flanks, it didn't have in it's mind that might help with these sorts of scenarios?
That was a funny one, because not only were mistakes still made, but because you had two linesman facing each other, at each end of the pitch, you also started to have disagreements.
From what I heard, where it was trialed, there was even a couple of matches where the linesmen came close to exchanging blows—especially in the case where one saw something as offside and the other disagreed.
What about goal line technology?
Millions have been pumped into that, with several systems proposed, and offered to FIFA. There have been at least two having been trialed.
The first one I'm aware of being about a decade ago, the second one in the last couple of years.
The problem is both systems didn't work. There's no way they can introduce such a system if it doesn't work.
They have been looked at to and have been found to be inconclusive on a number of occasions and prone to problems on others.
For example, imagine this scenario:
Chelsea are in the Champions League Final, against...let's say Barcelona, and it's the 88th minute, the score is 0-0 when Lionel Messi picks up the ball on the edge of the area, jinks inside of Carvalho and let's loose a thunderous shot from the edge of the area.
The ball strikes the bar, and comes down and John Terry hooks it away, towards the left of the field.
Ashley Cole picks it up, sees that Puyol is out of position and Drogba is unmarked, so he sends a diagonal cross field pass to Drogba, whose turn of pace takes him clear of the field and leaves him one on one against Valdes in goal.
All Drogba has to do is keep his head, beat the goalkeeper, and it will be almost certain that the Champions League trophy will be heading back to Stamford Bridge.
But then the referee blows up, and says, "Hang on guys, bring the ball back, the fans will say we're idiots if we don't review the video replay, to see if the ball crossed the line or not!"
So they drag the play back, and guess what?
The ball didn't cross the line, so they start the game again with a drop ball, on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area.
Now is that a fairer system?
Some will say at this point let the play run and decide at the next convenient break then.
But is that any fairer?
Let us rewind to the scenario above.
Drogba has been allowed to carry on, and Valdes rushes out to meet him.
Drogba's touch is heavy and Valdes intercepts.
He has three options on.
One, he hooks it out of play, pumping it into row Z, killing the game so they can review the replay.
Option two, by now Puyol is running back towards goal, and he can pass it out to him.
It's a safe pass but Barcelona would have to build any fresh attack up from the back again.
Option three, he could punt it up field, and hope someone like Messi gets on to the end of it, and does something creative.
Which option should he take?
If the ball has crossed the line, if Barcelona are 1-0 up, and there's now only a minute and a half left of the game to go, the ball to Puyol is the right solution.
If the ball hasn't crossed the line, and it's 0-0 with about a minute to go, the long ball upfield as a counter attack is his best solution as playing it safe might not allow time for a final attack, and a final chance to score an unanswerable goal.
The trouble is, he doesn't know whether the ball has crossed the line or not.
So either decision could alter the outcome of the match.
If he plays it long then there's more chance of the team losing possession, and more chance of Chelsea getting one last crack at goal, which isn't the wisest, if they concede a goal, end up playing extra time, and losing because of it.
But if he plays it safe, then he might deny his team that chance to seal their destiny.
Is that system any fairer?
It's a hard call when you start having to think about it, isn't it?
There's all sorts of permutations, that we don't consider, when we're just yelling at the TV set, or ranting to our friends in the bar or online.
But FIFA don't have that luxury.
Nor do FIFA's TV Division.
What, you didn't think that the FIFA's TV Division had ever been charged with looking at the problem?
Most recently FIFA have been experimenting with two extra linesman, one behind each goal, most notably in the Europa League tournament, but also elsewhere, and it's been a moderate success.
So like some of the other experiments I've talked about it's being extended, both to other competitions, and for a further two years.
But again it's not been perfect.
There's been plenty of incidents where human error has slipped in already, including incidents like the one in the England match (they really are more common than a lot of fans think).
And they will keep on looking at the problem, and they will keep on experimenting, and they will keep on thinking about the problem.
And that's the key word in all this, "thinking," because those involved with the game really do have to think about it, rather than just having the luxury of being able to spout things off, after knee-jerk reactions to incidents that they saw, and usually ones that effected their side.
But what is important for FIFA is getting it right.
And I don't often defend FIFA, but I will give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge that getting it right is important to them.
Whilst these schemes may sound great to the uneducated, the uninformed, and those who haven't actually given much, if any thought to them, to those who have, many of the flaws are very clear, very visible, and negate their ideas.
I'm still the same guy I was, when I was about ten or eleven years old.
I still hurt when my team is denied a goal they should have had, or someone gets sent off whilst doing nothing wrong or a bad offside call is given.
But it's part of the game.
Soccer can be ugly, and it can be painful.
And I still want solutions.
I still want change, but I've come to understand that change is harder than many think.
I certainly don't want any change that harms the game in any way, because I still love the game, faults and all.
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