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Luddite and Proud!

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 09/10/2000

I don't want to cause an argument (well, maybe just a little one) but I'm becoming increasingly concerned by the slow but sure infiltration of technology within football. Some of it is expensive and gimmicky.

Sure we can all think of occasions when we have felt hard done to, by a lack of technological involvement. A certain 'hand of god' by Maradona, he shoved so much stuff up his nostrils he probably believed he could also fly when he robbed England of progression in the World Cup.

Nearer home, there was the notorious 'non-penalty' at home against Bolton Wanderers late in the 1990-1991 Season. Both teams pushing for promotion the decision went against Town and luckily we went up on goal difference ahead of the trotters.

But both games demonstrate the injustices that occur within sport and the potential for impacting big time on the fortunes of teams on the receiving end.

Fortunately the latter was not fatal, but a trip to Wimbledon in the fifth round of the FA Cup demonstrated how a series of cameras and microphones would have made all the difference. The Wimbledon players tried every professional trick in the book and got away with them. By the way, did you know that the referee that day referred to all the Town players by their numbers and the Wimbledon players by their names? How do you think that made the Town players feel, especially with the Dons getting away with murder?

I'm not dead set against technology per se, but it needs to be very carefully considered. When the human eye is found wanting and an objective decision is possible then it has its merits. For example, determining whether the ball crossed the goal line and a goal is scored, I support its introduction.

But overall, I believe that just as the skill and speed of all athletes steadily improves over the years so do the abilities of officials and supporters to read and follow the game. The only major change within athletics has been the use of more accurate digital technology in the photo finish and timers. Crucially nothing is used now that was not already used many years ago when it was patently obvious that the human eye on the finish line would be found wanting.

And I believe that when the 'hand of god' has helped Town out, we tend to put it down to being 'our turn' and conveniently forget about it. So we remember the injustices.

Technology isn't the panacea it's made out to be. Last season that not so gentlemanly Wolves' Muscat decided to pound the kidney of Town's loan player Mark Nicholls. Neither the fourth official nor the video footage showed any record. Is this an argument for hundreds of cameras showing every single bit of the pitch and every little bit of niggle between players or are we to start castigating the cameraman for missing the incident instead of the officials? Either way it's not a healthy way forward. Better to abuse Muscat at every opportunity for not getting the punishment he deserved! And much more fun to boot!

Take those electronic boards, technology for its own sake and so much more expensive than two sets of plastic cards. Hands up all those that have failed to read the electronic board used by the fourth official with the sun beating down on it or seen the poor old official wrestling with getting the right numbers punched in while the substitution has already been completed. The substitute has had his first touch -usually poor - and the substituted player has nearly always got his kit off and is taking an "early bath".

Talking of the early bath, rugby League is embracing new technology in the forthcoming Lincoln World Cup. I didn't realise the city of Lincoln was so keen on rugby league, still after the Imps suffering the long ball of Colin Murphy anything's possible! According to a report by Ian Laybourn of PA Sport, a referee's assistant, seated in the stand, will be linked by high-tech headsets to the pitch officials and instantly relay decisions over the Stadium' PA to supporters. The system was trialed in a qualifying tournament in Orlando with the aid of two-way radios from Motorola.

"For the first time ever, people in the crowd will know exactly why the referee has gone to the video referee," said RFL director of Rugby Greg McCallum. Nothing to do then with the minority sport of rugby league desperately trying to generate some interest outside of the terraced streets of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Oh, by the way, Motorola were also unveiled as Rugby League's 'official global communications partner'.

Funnily enough, I like the idea of knowing what the referee has decided but in footie, I KNOW when he's wrong and I'm sure of his parentage or lack of it. But I suspect that it's pure desperation why rugby league is trying technological gimmicks to widen its appeal. But who cares?

Unfortunately, the technological creep into footie is happening. And one initiative will have a major impact on the game we watch week in week out. A Belgium, Antoon Soetens, has invented the world's first offside machine. Soetens reckons it's 100 per cent accurate and, "whether you're testing it on Ronaldo or your local village side, it makes no difference. If FIFA gives me the go-ahead, the device can be ready to go by the start of 2001"

The offside machine works by sending a signal to a central receiver every time a pass is made to an attacking player. A second emitter sends a separate signal whenever a player strays offside. If the receiver gets a message from the second emitter before the first, the pass was made to an offside player and another device in the assistant referee's hand vibrates. So assuming it works and is reliable, we still have the subjective decision as to who is interfering with play.

FIFA are not convinced, with the major stumbling block being the principle that all games, at all levels, should be refereed in the same manner.

Football's governing body are also wanting to maintain the human side of the game. "In the same way as strikers miss shots and keepers miss crosses, referees also make mistakes," said a FIFA spokesman.

Let's just ditch the offside rule but that's an argument all of its own.

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