Remember playing football when you were a kid? The ball bouncing on the concrete until the leather started to peel and the orange inner tube poked through the holes. Stopping when cars went past or watching as the ball got caught underneath the screeching tyres. Annoying neighbours and being scared to ask for the ball back when it went over their fence. Hedges, driveways and jumpers as goal posts. Playing until it went dark. Arguing about decisions until you settled it with a penalty. This was the game most of us fell in love with.
You get older and move into a more organised version of football. Nets replace jumpers, and if you’re lucky you’ll have a referee. There may be the odd spectator, walking his dog on a Sunday morning. Yet there are no TV cameras, no linesmen, no fourth officials. And certainly no technology. You win some, you lose some; you moan, you laugh. Yet you still keep going back, week after week. It’s a drug, an addiction. The adrenaline, the tackle, the through ball and scoring the odd goal remind you why you keep going back for more.
We play the game for the human element. We watch football from the stands, in a local pub or from the comfort of our living rooms for the same reasons. Generally the best teams win matches, then go on to win the available cups and championships. Good players are good players, and bad players are bad players. The best players have off days, and the worst players may score the odd flukey goal, but the cream always rises to the top. It’s a very simple world. Or at least it should be.
Only at the higher echelons of the sport do people seek to complicate it: the Premier League, the Champions League and major international competitions. The amount of people watching these matches and buying into the “brand” is staggering. So much so that the Premier League was voted as the United Kingdom’s biggest and best export in a recent poll. It’s phenomenal. And the reason it is so loved is not only for the brilliant players on show, but also for its unpredictability. Leicester City topping the league this season and being installed as favourites in February is a prime example. Football is a simple, beautiful game and we should keep it that way.
The addition of technology to football leads to the desimplifying of the simplest game of all. In July 2012 the International Football Association Board (IFAB) officially approved the use of goal line technology. The rules of the game were even amended to make a concession for it, stating that it was now permitted, although not compulsory. It would be logistically and financially impossible to implemement it at all levels of the game. When goal-line technology was introduced to top-level football my initial reaction was one of scepticism. “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” was how I saw the authorities and money men reacting to the news that this technology was now in play. I remember telling all and sundry that this will not be the end. That the suits, the powers that be and the excuse makers of the football world will stop at nothing until football is a computerised, controlled, and sanitised environment. That we might as well all stay at home and play FIFA 16 on the Playstation, as that will involve just as much human interaction.
The wheels have been turning on this issue for years now, but in my mind it started to gather pace when Frank Lampard’s “goal” was ruled out against Germany in the 2010 World Cup. It was unfortunate, but the Germans went on to win the game 4-1. “But there is so much money in the modern game, we need to get these decisions right!” goes the modern narrative on why goal line technology is important. Why does money mean that the human element has to be eliminated from football? It’s a cliche but what will people talk about in the pubs, or at work on a Monday morning, if football becomes a game played by robots? A game where individual error and personality is eradicated? It sounds like a cross between Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and George Orwell’s 1984.
Even if we have all-singing-and-dancing technology the facts still remain: only one team can win each league, and three or four will be relegated. Only one team can win the cup. Do people genuinely believe that technology will change this fact? Do people honestly think that Sunderland or Stoke will storm to an unprecedented treble now that the shackles of the antiquated system are thrown from their shoulders? Absolutely not! Although the level of moaning done by by some managers following every supposedly unjust decision would make you think that this was the case. The problem is some managers, players and fans thrive off the excuse culture. They just can’t accept losing a tackle, a match, having a decision going against them. Who will these people blame when we have a full repertoire of technology? At least now they have a veil to hide their inadequacy behind.
In January 2016 the Premier League managers met with the IFAB to discuss further technology in four areas: contentious goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity. FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn proposed trialing this in next season’s FA Cup. West Brom manager Tony Pulis thinks referees should have 2 calls a game. He is naive to think that it would stop at that. Two would become three and so on. Everton boss Roberto Martinez isn’t as keen rightly stating that “Human error is part of football” and that it is “a game of errors.” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino seems against technology, reitirating the importance of human decision and nostalgiacy declaring that football needs to “keep its sense of the past.”
Unfortunately we’ve already let the wolf in the door. Football will soon be awash with technology and this is a curse of the modern, monetised game. Matches will soon take four hours to complete, as was the case with the recent Superbowl #50, and all of the fun and human elements will disappear. While the decisions are being debated by the sponsors can squeeze in an extra advert, and the people in the stadium an extra hot dog and large Coke. The cash will keep rolling in but the fun will be lost forever. When it all goes up in flames, the video technology advocates can then consider it a job well done.
Follow Dan on Twitter @winkveron