There’s a rule-of-thumb in lefty British football journalism: if a TV pundit believes something, it must be wrong. Hence, When Saturday Comes’ James de Mellow’s masterstroke in opening his anti-video goal-line technology op-ed with a quote from BBC talking head Mark “Lawro” Lawrenson:
“Thank you Sepp Blatter,” said Mark Lawrenson moments after Frank Lampard’s shot crossed the line without a goal being given at last summer’s World Cup. “I hope he’s here and squirming in his seat.” As the head of an organisation that plumbed new depths of farce during its presidential election two weeks ago, there are many reasons why Blatter should be squirming. His caution regarding the adoption of goal-line technology, however, is not one of them.
What follows is the familiar, party-line argument against video replay or goal line tech: it violates the “purity” of football, a game in which the Champions League final should be played in the same spirit as a dusty back lot pick up match in Kinshasa. If that purity involves not giving goals when the ball crosses the line in plain sight to everyone on Planet Earth save the referee, then so be it. Part of the “fun” of soccer we’re told is arguing over missed calls for years and years (although good luck explaining that peculiar “fun” to fans of a newly-relegated club).
But de Mellow specifically goes after the argument that says because there’s so much money involved in top flight football, video-technology is indispensable in protecting everyone’s investment:
Football maintains an essential purity that is important given how much has changed off the field since 1992. Those changes are often brought out by the pro-technology lobby, who say that incorrect decisions are more intolerable than ever given the money that now swirls around the game.
De Mellow expertly rebuts this bit of false logic, how neither fans, players, clubs nor managers lose money from referee mistakes. He then goes on to dispense with the idea that video-tech would increase players’ respect for the ref (a new one to me), and then goes on his merry way.
It’s true that some managers advocate for video tech because where a club finishes in the league table now determines whether it will be solvent in future seasons. But there is another, simpler argument de Mellow ignores: some football supporters may simply want teams to win based on the laws of the game, not based on the hilarious possibility of a hand-ball in the box in a World Cup quarterfinal, no matter how literarily-rich it might be.
To my mind, the only important argument is whether video tech will a) not significantly interrupt the flow of a match and b) correct for human error. If it can do neither of these things, it should be consigned to the dustbin of football history. But to bring in overwrought, abstract ideals like “purity” into a sport which fans pay thousands of pounds to watch every year is naive.
Football isn’t going to go back to what it was when Dixie Dean was a strapping lad. Players aren’t going to start having to drive lorries any time soon, and the FA Cup Brought to you by Budweiser isn’t going to regain its old magic. So let’s stop talking about video tech like it’s some sort of purity “Alamo.” Opponents of video tech (and de Mellow is no different) always say, “it’s just a game,” to which I would answer, “Yes, it is just a game, not the embodiment of all that is sacred and pure. Introducing a technology that would ensure teams that score are awarded goals won’t change that.”