St.James’ Park Sunday 12th January, Newcastle United had just equalised against Manchester City in a keenly contested battle, and suddenly joy turns to uproar, the goal has been chalked off for offside. The crowd turn on the referee in disbelief. This is football, and this is football that belongs to the public. The City fans brief a sigh of relief and resume their vocal support and the Newcastle fans boo and jeer at the referee until he blows for half time. It was a decision no money could buy, it was a decision not based on financial background or profitability but perhaps a case of human error. Perhaps it was the right decision. It was a decision made in boiling pot and central to our culture, and more importantly the key to the beloved sport that is football. It gives the fans something they can all be involved in, something neither team can do about it. It is fate and it is football.
Football is a social game founded among friends and bringing rivals together. It is a chance for discussion and it deserves to be kept true to its values of belonging to the everyday person. We want to and love to talk about football. After all it is our sport.
Mike Jones’ decision left the stadium full of atmosphere, the red hot electric feel of passion and pride on the line. It filtered across social media, a topic for trends and tweets, it gave the editors of television channels, newspapers and magazines fuel for the fire. It saw young lads back training for their local teams arguing about offside decisions and public houses brimming with discussion. This is the last frontier for football, the room for human error is essential and the chance to talk about our national sport for the rest of the week is the bread and butter of what football is about.
Everyone remembers when their team was robbed; everyone knows the fine margin on which the World Cup was won in 1966 and everybody knows how far the ball was over the line when Roy Carroll scrambled it out of his goal for Manchester United against Spurs. Undoubtedly someone will dive and win a controversial penalty next week, leaving a trail of uproar. Then the national conversation will talk about a red card that should’ve never been, costing a side three points until lo and behold the World Cup is upon us and one of the three lions balloons a penalty over the bar, another element of human error. It will go straight into the history books of how England fell at the final hurdle again and allow us to head home, chatting away about what could have been, again. Why would we want lose something which is part and parcel of the game?
There are millions of pounds in modern football, to be made in the final league standings, in F.A Cup replays, in qualifying for a major tournament. But does this affect the fans? It doesn’t leave them out of pocket, but more the millionaires who run our game. The last real hold we have on football is the ability to talk for hours about long gone contests and tongue wagging about the last unfair decision we have had to endure. All of this heritage, culture and debate could all be lost with instant replays available to the referee or with various other forms of technology in football. It would become a vacuum, the life and soul of the game taken away. Imagine the silence ascending over local bars, in depth and feisty arguments about our national sport no more, just idle small talk about how rubbish television is. Alan Hansen would never again be aggrieved about poor refereeing decisions on a Saturday night, as the game would have been decided by the computers at the ground. Alan Shearer’s shirt selection may become under greater scrutiny as the main talking points have been left behind, overruled by a soulless screen.
For the fans a move towards an age of interference from outside sources would be hard to swallow and take away from something which is so important in football, the great debate. Having managers make mistakes, players mis-controlling and giving away possession and referee or linesman errors are all key components which should not be meddled with. It is a game of opinion, chance and luck. The referees in the English game are often lambasted and criticised, sometimes rightly so, but this adds something so vital to the game. It is a game of science now with the medical facilities and post match reviewing systems in place, but on the pitch, in the heat of moment the game should be allowed to live.
Fans go to football to enjoy the natural ability of their heroes, to see grafters prevail and to vent their frustration at mistakes and take their mind away from everyday life. Why gamble with this by neatly ironing out any mistakes and talking points leaving the sport bland and dour? That is not what people signed up for. They follow football to share opinion, enjoy talent, and feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. They go along and place bets to chance their luck. They go along to follow live, fast paced sport where technology doesn’t interfere and bring the game to a halt to quickly amend a mistake.
Football in this country is played with jumpers for goalposts, on muddy pitches in parks and with room for debate and argument unfolding endlessly. The rules are the same for everybody; you can play with the same key values as your heroes. The game is beautiful and should remain in its natural state.