When Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland met at White Hart Lane this weekend what ensued was a tight affair. Though Spurs took an early lead, with centre back Jan Vertonghen’s diverted effort finding the back of the net just three minutes into the first half, Sunderland came back after recent purchase Jermaine Defoe, a former Tottenham player recently returned from the MLS, won a free kick in a promising position for the Black Cats. 25 yards from goal, midfielder Sebastian Larsson flighted the ball towards goal, which eluded Costel Pantilimon as it nestled in the top corner.
With over half an hour of the match remaining Sunderland were resolute, resourcefully keeping Spurs at bay and countering effectively, Danny Graham coming close to snatching the three points. It was Spurs, though, who found a late advantage, with increasingly-perennial late winner Cristian Eriksen scoring what turned out to be the winning goal when, following industrious wing play from Andros Townsend, he met a teasing ball with an expert finish.
Still the game was far from over, with Graham again coming close. With time running out and a corner opportunity presenting itself Sunderland goalkeeper Pantilimon, standing a physically imposing 6 foot 8 inches, made his way to the opposition box. Clearing the ball Tottenham sped up the field with an open goal to aim for. Picking out Vertonghen, the centre back found space and put the ball in the back of the empty net, only to find himself astounded by the outstretched flag of assistant Stuart Burt, who had signalled him offside. Astounded primarily because he was four yards inside his own half when he received the ball.
That Burt, as well as referee Chris Foy, who was perfectly positioned to see that Vertonghen was onside, were either subject to significant lapses in judgement or unaware of a basic rule of the game, has resulted in questions over refereeing standards. In a season noted by pundits as particularly marred by questionable decision making from officials, the misapplication of a fundamental rule of football has led to questions over what steps might be taken to improve referee’s performances.
The first, and perhaps most obvious change that might be implemented is increased and improved training being made available. While understanding the rules is, as is necessary, a constituent part of current training, measures might be taken in retraining and refresher courses, ensuring that officials are kept on their toes with more consistent evaluation and allowing the FA to identify those cases where retraining is necessary.
The second, and perhaps more beneficial change might be the introduction of video technology. Long established in a wide variety of sports, from tennis to cricket to rugby to American football to name a few, the benefits of its implementation have been observable for years. Ensuring accurate decisions and providing the opportunity to review incidents, its productive effect on those sports in which it has been introduced has led to man fans calling for its use in football – a call partially answered in the introduction of goal line technology, though yet to reach the extents many hope for. With a range of possibilities for its use, from the replay being available to the referee’s discretion as in rugby (made particularly alluring for fans by video replay in televised broadcasts making them party to useful footage unavailable to match officials) to a tennis-esque challenge system for managers, the opportunity now presents itself to implement these changes for the betterment of the sport, supporting officials and ensuring final results are reflective of the game played.
In addition to improving refereeing standards, the implementation of video review might have the added bonus of reducing instances of the more subversive side of football. With particular regard to diving, which would be far easier to identify with the benefit of slow motion and clearer angles.
In the wake of Vertonghen’s disallowed goal, and with referee’s performances a common topic in the press, the implementation of these beneficial changes might reap reward in improving officiating standards in modern football.
What improvements might be introduced to aid referees in their judgement of the game?