TV Eye, TV Refs

Week Zero, August 2015.

‘I got a TV, you got a TV, we all got TVs. Big fucking deal.’ Iggy Pop, TV Eye.

Well, sadly, it is a big deal for the most glorious game of all because while you and I have dazzling technicolour wide-screen TVs, highlighting every single flick, trick and trip in the book, Fifa does not have one, Uefa does not have one, all of which means neither does the English Premier League – at least not when it comes to refereeing the most watched top-flight football matches on the planet.

Yes, we’re talking about that thorny topic of introducing a little more technology into elite football. You know…like having a slow-motion review when the ball hits the net to be sure of the goal’s validity. Call it GoalCam – an instant slide-ruler for on or offside, a quick rewind to see if the striker handled before slamming home.  

And while we’re at it, how about a PenCam, which springs into use whenever an over-stressed and over-worked referee decides he needs the help of an expert panel up in the stands, who have a maximum 45-second review of the hotly-disputed penalty shout? It must be better than the current situation where an official is compelled to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a split second even if they have a rubbish view of the incident or, quite possibly, no view at all.

That’s it, nothing heavy, nothing too demanding for those stuck in the dark ages to comprehend. Check our manifesto if you want to be sure.

No, this won’t destroy the sublime art of football that already lights up the universe. It will actually improve it. No, this won’t stop the heated debate at your local watering hole or, at the office on a Monday morning, when down at Sky Sports News HQ  Rob and Dermot also chew over the weekend’s controversies and alleged refereeing mistakes. As if. Once again, it will be the opposite. The quality of the content, the deliberating and the expert chat will improve out of necessity. 

How do we know? Well, this is not the first time The Hypothetical Premier League, aka The HPL – an alternative world in which TV replays, along with consensus of top punditry opinion, are used to review every crunch match-defining decision and, where necessary, adjust results accordingly –  has operated. This is the third time in six years.

When in a fit of lethargic lunacy, lounging round a hotel pool in Tenerife, I dreamed up the idea of HPL, it was because, as a 24/7  follower and viewer – tis my job after all – constantly watching evidence of massive catastrophic errors from officials had become too much to bear. These horror moments were genuinely beginning to damage the pleasure, and threatening to kill all thrill-and-spill emotion for the beautiful game. I mean, what’s the fucking point of getting so excited and so hyped over something you know is quite likely to be warped badly in front of your crying eyes? And nobody can do a damn thing about it, save pick the glaring howler to pieces at half-time and full-time, while the incident is replayed over and over and over on our high-definition plasmas. It was driving me nuts.

“And when I look at my TV these are the words I say: “Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!”  Still the irrepressible Iggy…

So the plan was to see if technology would make a difference to the overall standings at the end of a season and, if it did, to make a song and dance about the injustice of elite football on our shores in the hope, vain in more ways than one, that someone, somewhere might take a blind bit of notice. This was 2009-10, still some ten months before Frank Lampard’s three-yards-over-the-line ‘goal’ for England against Germany in the World Cup 2010 was chalked off – and amid the ensuing uproar nudged Sepp Blabber into action with regards introducing goalline technology. It took a few years more to transpire but, hey, we got there in the end. Like the ref’s ten-yard-shaving-foam-measuring tool, its arrival has been a seamless success.

Through HPL, we found technology would/could make a significant difference; that luck does not necessarily even itself up over the course of a season. Chelsea did the Double in 2009-10 under Carlo Ancelotti. Only, according to our research, they did not. In fact, Manchester United should have been English champions that season at a canter. Fergie’s Reds were an unassailable four points clear of second-place Blues going into the final game.

The following year it was at the bottom where things really went pear-shaped. Officially, Wigan survived the drop in May 2011 – but only after a string of dodgy decisions in their favour conspired to propel Roberto Martinez’s men to safety. The HPL 2010-11 ruled Birmingham should have survived instead of the lucky Latics.

Fast forward four years – we took a long break from our intricate, relentless studies – it appeared nothing had changed  and TV reviews for refs were still a pipedream. That’s why last summer we, myself and 18-year-old son Louis (yep, that’s us pictured below),  decided to resurrect The HPL.


Then the football world is turned upside down. Blabber and Uefa bum-chum Michel Platini are bombed out of office by the FBI and the English FA join Dutch football’s long-running campaign to be allowed to test TV replays/reviews over the course of a season or a competition – to see what works and what does not. Proposals to review goals, penalties and mistaken identity have been forwarded for the International Football Association Board, who are the only ones who can change the laws of football, to consider at its next General Annual Meeting in early March. Tense…that’s not far away now.

Loathe it, love it or, even if you couldn’t care less about it, make no mistake, people, football is moving towards a new age of technology. The debate has swung from: ‘Do we need technology?’ to ‘How do we implement it?’ (without destroying the very fabric, the very movement and colour of football’s spellbinding canvas.)

Let’s make one thing clear. Here at HPL, we totally get the anxiety that TV reviews for refs, if used wrongly, could ruin everything. We understand hook, line and sinker that to fix something not broken is a sign of total madness, that meddling with your most precious sporting gem is fraught with danger.

The trouble is refereeing at the highest level of football is broken. So many decisions end up being proved wrong, with everybody at home or, in the TV studio or, with a replay to hand, knowing it pretty much instantly. The only people who don’t know immediately are the officials, the players, the managers and the fans at the game.  How insane can we get? Surely, these days we recognise the elite game is  simply too swift and quick for referees to keep up. Yes, Premier League referees earn £90,000 per annum but that will not improve their ability to make correct calls in real time with the naked eye.

Now, though, as every other sport going utilises the TV replay and challenge systems, and for the most part benefits from doing so and finds it produces a fairer, better more entertaining product, it appears football has little choice but to try to move with these far- out times. Better late than never.

We don’t really need to at HPL. We know already from past examination that reviewing anything beyond goals scored, major penalty decisions and violent red-card acts is boring and, thankfully, utterly pointless. This becomes more apparent the more we delve into the subject. Yet we are still stumbling upon other matters as we go that need more thought.  For example, how far to rewind the GoalCam is a dilemma. That needs reviewing, too. 

Anyway, time to stop rambling. So, other than to hope you find some interest, relevance and enjoyment from our non-scientific data, results, tables found in Matchdays and insight into the footballing future, I wish you well.

For the good of the game, always. HP

All views, moans, groans, wild protest or, heaven forbid, mild praise most welcome.

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Twitter: @HypotheticalPL



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