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Missed Call Spurs Questions Over Replay and Ethics in Soccer

September 23, 2008 05:07 PM
by Josh Katz
A badly botched call during a U.K. soccer match between Reading and Watford has incited a debate over the necessity of the replay and even athletic chivalry.

The Reading-Watford Fiasco

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A soccer game between Reading and Watford at Watford’s Vicarage Road Stadium this past Saturday went awry when the officials awarded a goal to Reading 13 minutes into the game, even though the ball had clearly not gone into the net, The Telegraph reports. Linesman Nigel Bannister made the call, and 25-year-old referee Stuart Attwell—the youngest Football League referee in the country—gave his senior official the benefit of the doubt and awarded Reading a 1-0 lead.

The game would end in a 2-2 tie, but the “phantom” goal, as newspapers are calling it, has caused a stir in the United Kingdom. Although Reading manager Steve Coppell said he would replay the game, the Football League has decided that the game is final.

“The laws of the game give no discretion in these matters,” said the League’s chief operating officer Andy Williamson, according to The BBC. “The referee’s decision regarding whether a goal is scored or not is final and binding.”

Former Premier League referee Graham Poll commented on the game to BBC Radio 5 Live, saying, “This is the most bizarre situation I’ve ever seen in 40 years watching football and 27 years refereeing.”

Some analysts have said that Reading, recognizing the bad ruling, should have allowed Watford to score and even the game up. Coppell has defended his team from such criticism, saying, “I was bitterly disappointed by the holier-than-thou tone of some of the radio commentators,” according to Sky Sports. Coppell went on to say, “We play to the whistle.”

As punishment for the poor call, Attwell was pulled from refereeing the Carling Cup third-round match between Ipswich and Wigan, the Telegraph claims. Assistant referee’s manager for Professional Game Match Officials, Paul Rejer, said that Bannister would receive “operational advice” according to ESPN.

Opinion & Analysis: Is instant replay necessary?

Major League Baseball recently began using instant replay to determine disputed home run calls. MLB had previously avoided using replay, fearing that it would undermine umpires’ authority and slow the game down too much. But a Carlos Delgado home run that was ruled foul during a May match-up between the Mets and the Yankees , coming on the heels of a few other blown calls on home runs, changed all that.

The same argument about slowing down games has been used in soccer as well. “One of the oldest arguments against the use of television replays is the stopping and starting of the game,” according to Geoff Shreeves of Sky Sports. But he admits that, “Television itself has become quicker and incidents can be turned around in a matter of seconds; when you see the officials in cricket or rugby call for a ‘VT decision’ it only adds to the entertainment.”

Tony Cascarino of The Times of London asserts that the recent controversy indicates that referees cannot be trusted to make decisions without the possibility of help. “OK, it is human nature and when you trust in it mistakes will happen. But whereas that might have been tolerated, even accepted, in the 1960s, it is just not good enough in 2008.” He also suggests that replay might benefit the referees emotionally: “The referees and their assistants look like nervous wrecks before the match. And after the game they are cannon fodder for everyone.”

But Jimmy Calderwood of The Press and Journal indicates that bad calls are just a part of the game. He also says that if he were the coach of Reading he wouldn’t have told his team to give up a goal out of fairness. “I’m confident even an error of that magnitude will balance out over the season,” he writes. “Of course Watford will not get a goal like that awarded in their favour, but the chances are they will get a contentious penalty at some stage and score from it.”

But in a Yahoo Sports blog, Jim White objects to the notion that the Reading players should just play on as normal following that call. “Their captain should have approached the referee and pointed out his error. If the ref had insisted that he had to stand by his decision, then the Reading players should have stood aside as one and let Watford equalise the phantom goal.” He cites Italian Paolo di Canio as a soccer player who stood on his “principles” and opted not to score an easy goal when the goalie injured his knee in 2000. Regarding the Reading-Watford match, he said, “what the incident demonstrated above all was the need not to forget that the game has a soul.”

Reference: Soccer guide

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