The beautifully unfair game of football
Life & Style

The beautifully unfair game of football

THE miscarriage of justice is a part of the game of football that the people in charge seem strangely keen to protect. Why? Because unfairness is part of life and there’s no good pub arguments left without it.

In the olden days (before iPhones) you could make up a wild statement like “Mario Balotelli has never missed penalty in a televised game”, spit it out in the middle of a pub during a World Cup match, take a self-satisfied swig of your pint and watch the row unfold. “That can’t be true”, “Bollocks!”, “You’re talking out your hoop there, Jar”.

If you stood your ground, “Name one so? Go on? Name the last time you’ve seen Balotelli miss a peno?”

Nowadays someone would have Googled it before you finished the sentence.

Back in the old days the only way your drinking buddy could prove you wrong was by going to a thing called a library, visiting UEFA headquarters or by appearing on RTÉ’s Know Your Sport and asking Jimmy Magee to settle a bet.

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And even then you could argue that the book they used was not up to date; that UEFA are out of touch with the game and Jimmy Magee still thinks cameramen wind the side of the camera when televising matches.

The truth of the matter is the internet has ruined good old fashioned pub debate between idiots and the only footage of Mario Balotelli missing a penalty is from a training session.

The absence of a video referee in football is the final refuge of the age old tradition of pub argument because you can’t Google the answer. You can’t definitively prove something was or was not a foul.

And even if the truth is as obvious as the chin on Jimmy Hill’s face you can sit there with your arms folded, smiling internally while saying, ‘that was never a foul’, just to drive your friends mental.

We need to protect the element of human error in the game because errors, just like pub arguments, are the spice of life.

“Did the ball cross the line?” is an entirely different matter. It’s a circle, they drew a line. Did the circle cross it? This is not the subject of rich discourse, it is simple algebra.

The only good row that this has ever produced is over what calibre of clown is the linesman who wasn’t watching at the time of the incident and why hasn’t goal line technology been invented yet?

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I’m happy to see the Hawk-Eye-type system employed in this World Cup just as it is in tennis. At the time of writing it has not been needed to decide whether a goal should stand, but when it does come into play I would estimate it will be one of the most dramatic highlights of the competition.

So far they have only used the technology to rub in the scoring of a goal into the faces of opposition fans. It’s a novel idea which I support 100 per cent. Seeing the exact point at which the ball crossed the line in super slow motion adds to the joy of scoring against your most bitter rival, especially when there is no question over whether it was a goal.

It’s the real life equivalent of beating someone at a computer game and forcing them to watch the CGI highlights afterwards while you dance around the sitting room.

The absence of a video referee has provided us with countless hilarious moments such as Rivaldo’s 2002 Oscar-winning performance of ‘my face my beautiful face’ against Turkey, Graham Poll’s majestic three yellow cards for Josip Simunic and everyone’s favourite, Henry’s double handball against Ireland.

As terrible and unavoidable as these calamities were, I can understand why UEFA are not in a hurry to change officiating to prevent them. They may not say it publicly but they need to protect the random unfairness of the game.

It’s been said countless times by the likes of Shankly, Pele and Best, football is like life — it can give you joy you never thought possible and it can be desperately cruel and break your heart. But it’s at those times that we learn not to take football or life too seriously.

Download Jarlath Regan’s weekly podcast An Irishman Abroad on iTunes

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