Tiniest margins count in football

One talking point last week was a question of millimetres. This was the disputed touch line decision by the assistant referee at the Manchester City v Everton League Cup semi-final, second leg. Everton manager, Roberto Martinez, claimed the ball was clearly out of play before City’s Raheem Sterling crossed it for Kevin De Bruyne to score the vital goal.

There is only one place you can be certain and that is not from the dug-out or a seat in the stand, it’s standing on that line. Several football correspondents said that the replays show that it was out of play. I’ve looked at a number of still photos of the incident and in my opinion they show nothing of the sort. Only one photo was taken from along the line and that is very inconclusive.

When training new referees I draw an illustration of a ball with its base well over the line but part of the ball overhanging it. The Law says the whole of the ball must cross the line, which is part of the pitch, so the trainees accept that the ball is still in play. Then, I put a real ball behind a line on the ground and ask for their decision from their position three feet in front of the line. 85 to 90 % say it is out of play until I get them to stand along the line when they change their mind.

A football reporter said that it showed the need for more video technology but even that would not satisfy some people. Recently where it was thought a goal had been scored, the goal line technology showed by the narrowest of margins that the ball hadn’t completely crossed the line. ‘So that’s it,’ complained another reporter, ‘we’re going to be denied goals in future by millimetres’.

You can’t have it both ways. Millimetres do count, even on the touchline and from the photos I’ve seen, my money is on the assistant referee’s judgement.

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