Micro chips, cameras or umpires!

BBC’s Match Of The Day fair spiked our interest with a breathless introduction to their highlights show last Tuesday night.

“We’re going to Old Trafford for the Manchester United-Spurs game first because of an extraordinary incident at the very end of the match,” they teased.

Well, that got us going, I can tell you. In a medium not entirely unaccustomed to hype - though most of it of extra-terrestrial origin, to be fair - we reckoned something truly mad must have happened to warrant such an excitable build-up on the part of prim old Auntie Beeb.

What could it possibly be? With dangerous visions in our mind of Fr Neil Horan running onto the pitch to tackle Roy Keane, we awaited further developments on the edge of our seat.

And when the moment came, at first sight it was pretty startling. Pedro Mendez whacked an audacious Pele/Beckham/Nayim effort from the half-way line but Roy Carroll saw it coming from a long way out and offered his arms to cradle the ball - only to then inexplicably scoop it over his shoulder and into the goal.

In the annals of great goalkeeping howlers, this was pretty spectacular to be sure. Except, of course, that it wasn’t. What turned out to be genuinely extraordinary - and the slow motion replay quickly made clear that the Beeb had perhaps even understated the case - was that the ‘goal’ would not stand, even though the ball was, to use a technical phrase, miles over the line before the desperate keeper hauled it out again.

By the way, on the subject of the much maligned Carroll, I think the poor chap deserves some credit for retrieving an apparently hopeless situation, even if it was entirely of his own making. After all, in the whole history of football has any goalkeeper ever “saved” a more certain “goal”?

Anyway, since the goal that wasn’t, a few small rain forests’ worth of newsprint have been devoted to the why’s and wherefores. How can we ensure that we never see the likes of it again, everybody wails. Ideas have ranged from a micro chip in the ball to cameras in the crossbar and posts yet, strangely, no-one has suggested the obvious human solution.

I refer to that stalwart of gaelic games - the umpire. Yes, indeed, get a couple of those eagle-eyed lads in sponsor-friendly white coats and flags on the job and we won’t have to deal with this ugly scenario ever again.

Yes, says you, and I’m very much looking forward to Ireland versus France at Croker.

No, as this column has been insisting for years, technology is clearly the way to go, and if the incident at Old Trafford finally helps to concentrate Luddite minds then, in the long run, even Spurs fans may come to see it as a welcome turning point in the history of football.

Unfortunately, most of those newly signed up to the techno ticket still lack the courage of their convictions. Ball over the line, fine, they say; blatant handball in the box, okay - but we don’t want cameras deciding offsides.

Why the hell not? A bad offside call can rule out a perfectly legitimate goal just as surely as an official’s failure to see a ball clearly cross the line. Moreover, under present conditions, top quality play - such as the split-second timing required to beat an offside trap - is frequently punished for no reason other than basic human error.

A recent scientific study - wake up at the back, please - confirmed what common sense has always told us to be the case: with the maximum allowance of two eyes in his head, no earthly linesman has the breadth of vision necessary to simultaneously see every pass and every run.

So, in a situation that’s too close to call, and where the ball ends up in the net - or, yes, even just across the line - why not let video technology decide whether it was the attack or the defence who got their timing right?

I mean, if television viewers can be presented with the conclusive evidence within seconds, why not the officials on the ground? For those who argue that the game will be disrupted - how much time is already wasted by players trying to change a ref’s mind about a contentious decision?

Right, I’m beginning to run a fever here - and don’t doubt that we’ll return to this subject again - so by way of some light relief for Spurs fans and everyone else, what follows is the product of a recent revisiting of Hunter Davies’ famous late-sixties book about life at White Hart Lane, ‘The Glory Game’.

That the former Spurs player and Irish international Joe Kinnear, who recently parted company with Nottingham Forest, has known some ups and downs in his career may be gleaned from the following splendid passage, which describes how the then full back disposed of his 1967 Cup-winning bonus of £2,500.

“He gave £500 at once to his mother, gave each of his four sisters £30 and a complete new outfit, bought his grandmother in Dublin a tv and an armchair, bought himself a Corsair at £600 and then took the whole family, including his grandmother, for a six-week holiday in Ireland till the rest of the money ran out.

“Then he broke his leg and was out of football for twelve months.”

Aye, it’s a funny old game.

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