Video replays not the answer

Right-thinking people are happy to welcome technology if it deals with statements of fact: did the ball cross the line, yes or no. What technology cannot do is make a definitive judgement on matters of opinion, and it risks removing some of the unique and distinct charms of football that set it apart. By Martyn Ziegler.

Greg Dyke may well have opened a Pandora’s Box. The far-from-reticent Football Association chairman lost little time after donning the blazer in stating that video replays to determine penalty incidents were “a no-brainer.”

It is perhaps no coincidence therefore that it has just been revealed that West Brom’s chairman Jeremy Peace is demanding Dyke’s vision is implemented straight away, and that every penalty decision should be adjudicated on via replays rather than referees.

But such demands should send a chill through the veins of everybody who cherishes football for the purity and simplicity that sets it apart from most other sports.

Peace, the poor fellow, is feeling hard-done-by. He believes the Baggies have been on the wrong end of too many penalty decisions this season, both in terms of referees awarding them against the club and failing to do so in their favour.

Still smarting over the decision by Andre Marriner to award Chelsea a 94th-minute spot-kick, from which an equaliser was scored, Peace has written to the Premier League highlighting four matches — the others were against Arsenal, Southampton and Stoke — in which he claims West Brom were on the receiving end of wrong decisions.

In the ideal world inhabited by Peace and Dyke, every time a player goes down in the box, the game should be halted — even if the ball is cleared down the other end and the opposing team score — while a team of “experts” in the stands dissect the incident via replays and then after a couple of minutes, during which time the players and spectators have been hanging around, announce their decision.

All well and good, except that if you show footage of one penalty claim to one man, he may well give a completely different answer to the person sitting next to him: just look what happens regularly on the ‘Match of the Day’ sofa.

“A pen all day long for me, Gary,” says the ex-striker.

“He made a meal of it, not a penalty in a million years,” says the ex-defender after viewing the same incident from numerous angles.

Take that Chelsea incident, where Steven Reid was penalised for a challenge on Ramires. There is no doubt that contact was made and that Ramires was in control of the ball when he collided with Reid. Therefore, the decision on the penalty comes down to a matter of opinion. Marriner’s opinion was that it was a penalty; West Brom's, quite clearly, was the opposite.

It is perfectly possible a video replay panel would decide not to award a penalty. And perfectly possible to award it as well.

Take the Arsenal match that Peace also refers to in his letter, where he complains that a challenge on Shane Long was not penalised — conveniently ignoring the fact that many there thought West Brom were lucky not to have conceded a penalty or even two for challenges on Jack Wilshere. Again, it was all about opinions.

There is a tendency for those who champion video replays in football to label their opponents as Luddites, stubbornly refusing to adapt to a modern game where the pace is so fast that officials cannot keep up.

Piffle. Right-thinking people are happy to welcome technology if it deals with statements of fact: did the ball cross the line, yes or no. What technology cannot do is make a definitive judgement on matters of opinion, and it risks removing some of the unique and distinct charms of football that set it apart.

Fortunately, it is not the Premier League chairman nor Dyke who have the power to make the decision: it would have to go to the International FA Board, and FIFA hold half of the eight votes on that notoriously-conservative law-making body.

It is worth reviewing Dyke’s comments in full: “I believe that when we look back in 25 years time we’ll say that (goal-line technology) was only the beginning. And I think it’s inevitable there’ll be more use of technology to help referees. Personally I think penalty kicks is inevitable, a no-brainer at some stage.”

Dyke’s first few months as FA chairman have been, it is fair to say, something of a curate’s egg. Parts of it have been excellent but I would suggest he leaves his love of video replays on the side of his plate. Keep football fast, flowing, gloriously unpredictable and fundamentally contentious. That really is the no-brainer.

© PA Sport, 2013, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.