What rogue referees do well

Football is not just about acts of inspiration - moments of madness are equally important. Technologically literate referees will undermine both.

As a betting tipster for a national newspaper, it is my job to predict the outcome of football matches.

I have lost count of the number of times that referees have influenced results by making a ridiculous decision, or players have conned officials into awarding a dubious penalty, sinking my weekend wager in the process.

So it might seem sensible for me to join the plea for professional soccer referees, and to support the increased use of video footage as a means of settling tricky moments in a match. What better way to guarantee a fair outcome than arming the men in black with replay facilities and all manner of electronic gadgets to check their decisions as a game progresses?

In fact, nothing could be more detrimental to football as we love and hate it. Moves to create a more professional adjudication process will diminish the game’s entertainment value and fundamentally alter its character as a competitive sport.

Football depends upon the power of unexpected controversy to retain its unique appeal on the world stage, and the presence of a referee with the authority to interpret events in an autonomous and relatively subjective manner is a key factor in sustaining the appeal. Unpredictable referees encourage spontaneity and audacity among players on the field, coupled with suitable levels of excitement on the sofa or in the stands.

So the potential for officials to make questionable decisions or mistakes during a match should be welcomed - not criticised. Video replays reduce the chance of daft decisions or turning points in matches and undermine the magically maverick role of the referee, which is instead effectively relegated to the role of button-pushing.

Happily, controversial episodes shape football hugely - fans still discuss whether the ball crossed the line in the 1966 World Cup Final, or how Diego Maradona got away with his ‘hand of God’ goal against England in a subsequent tournament. Every supporter has a hard luck story, and these only add to the game.

Football is not just about acts of inspiration - moments of madness are equally important. Technologically literate referees will undermine both. When Real Madrid’s Raul punched the ball in against Leeds in the Champions League, or Roma mysteriously saw a penalty turn into a corner at Liverpool without any explanation, viewers experienced the emotional turbulence of competitive football in all its wayward glory.

It may soon become impossible to have a football bet sabotaged by a rogue referee or a cheating striker. Enjoy the outrage of such moments while they last.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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