Is soccer, thanks to GLT, becoming a game of millimeters?

By Paul Gardner

Baseball, they say, is a game of inches. While soccer, of course, is a game of feet (there’s a pun in that, for those who care about such matters). But soccer, too, is a matter of inches. In fact, with the relentless march of increasingly accurate methods of measuring, it would appear to be turning into a sport of microns.

There are two traditionally famous moments in soccer when it is of some importance to apply accurate measurement. Goalscoring for a start: If you’re not sure exactly where the ball is, you may rule out a legitimate goal, or allow one that is not legitimate. And offside: is the attacking player, or some part of him, beyond the second-last opponent or not?

We now have goal-line technology to decide, impartially, the goalscoring problem. And television replays consistently show how remarkably accurate the assistant referees are in their judgment on offside plays.

So, things are working well? Not so fast. They work well until the measurements called for become very small. Not exactly infinitesimal, but where fractions of an inch are involved.

The West Ham United-Chelsea game on Saturday underlined the problems. Chelsea, by my way of looking at things, was denied one, possibly two, goals because of measurement problems.

In the first half, during a confused, scrambling play in the West Ham goalmouth, it looked very much as though Chelsea had managed to force the ball across the goal line for the tying goal. The TV replays supported that view, without being conclusive.

So up came the GLT images. The first one -- call it the long-range one -- strongly indicated that, as the rules require, all the ball had crossed all the line. Meaning a goal. Then we zoomed in, we got a close-up version. The TV commentator was impressed, remarking that only “three-quarters of the ball” was over the line. Which would mean no goal. But his estimate that 75% of the ball was over the line was way off. It was closer to 95%.

We’re relying on GLT being that accurate, that a mere sliver of the ball is measurable. But as the measurements get smaller -- let’s say that 99.99% of the ball crossed the line -- can we really trust GLT to measure 00.01%, or even less, of the ball? Even if we can, is it anything to be proud of that we’re willing to rule out goals on such an ultra-fine and absurdly pedantic basis?

Another version of the sport’s anti-scoring mentality was seen a little later in the West Ham-Chelsea game. In the 44th minute, Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas was ruled offside by the AR when he was in a great position for a clear shot on goal (actually, he did get off the shot, he did score -- but only after the referee’s whistle had blown).

The TV commentators seemed to agree with the call, though admitting that it was very close. The replays suggested that it must have been, yet again, a micro-measurement that condemned Fabregas -- if indeed, he was offside at all. Maybe the tip of his kneecap offended. Also involved in the decision is the exact moment at which the ball was passed to him -- and that is not easy to establish either.

Again, the utter stupidity of such decisions is what offends. You won’t find it written down in the rules, but the generally accepted modus operandi for ARs in close calls is to give the advantage to the attacking player. Not to make call, in other words.

I can find no reason for praising an AR who makes an impossibly close call like this -- even if the use of some super-sophisticated measuring device may later suggest that he was right, by a couple of layers of skin. Such measurements cannot be made by an AR, guesswork is inevitable, and the guess should favor the attacking team. It’s neither necessary nor possible for the AR to show us that he can be as finely tuned as GLT.

Dodgy offside calls of the type mentioned above (fortunately, they’re not too frequent) would be almost eliminated by ARs being quicker to apply the advantage-to-the-attacking–player rule. As far as this business of all the ball having to cross all of the line goes, the simple question to ask is Why? It would be a lot fairer if only half the ball were required. Or better still, for a more attack-oriented game, any part of the ball. Difficulties of measurement? Not more than with the current system, and surely not anything that GLT can’t handle.

Maybe there is a system waiting to be invented that will give 100% guaranteed incontestable measurements all the time. That will be fine for the top pro leagues and tournaments. The rest of soccer, the other 90% or whatever it is, will just have to continue relying on eyesight. Which can for sure spot half a ball just as easily as it can the whole ball.

17 comments about "Is soccer, thanks to GLT, becoming a game of millimeters? ".
  1. Mark Konty, October 25, 2015 at 11:35 p.m.

    You have ZERO evidence that GLT is somehow unable to measure down to the last .0000000001. In fact, technology is the only way to tell if a ball crossed the line but such a small margin, yet you write as if that is somehow a bad thing for the game. For all you know it IS 100% guaranteed in its measurement. Writing an entire article on measurement error, without ANY evidence of measurement error, is irresponsible and cheap, simply a way to generate page clicks I suppose.

  2. Mark Headley, October 26, 2015 at 1:51 a.m.

    Any pervading logic here escapes me. Whatever rules/presumptions are chosen/genuinely enforced, how do we avoid any dividing line whatsoever? Ditch offside? Hasn't pro tennis used similar technology for years? Who wants to ditch that, despite how close, difficult, some calls will be.

  3. Santiago 1314, October 26, 2015 at 6:26 a.m.

    Sorry Paul...GLT is better than a Russian Linesman, Unless your a Brit...Your Theory that the ball just Breaking the Plain, NFL Style, Would mean that a Ball hitting off the inside of the Post, and then going back Into Play would be A Goal...Humm..Not a Good Idea...Offside; you as Correct..."Tie" should go to Offense...Why not Judge it by the Feet of the Players and Not the "Lean"

  4. Kent James, October 26, 2015 at 9:15 a.m.

    Paul, this column makes no sense. I understand your desire for more goals, but your downplaying the need for precision, and bending the rules (or changing them) to allow more goals is (as you Brits like to say) rubbish. There is no room for interpretation or nuance in a goal/no goal call. It is a yes/no question, and there is physical evidence that can prove it, and the more precise we get it, the better. As for offside, a looser interpretation (and one that would be simpler) would be for the AR to need to see space between the bodies of the players in question to call them offside. I've been an AR on professional games, and I think offside is one of the toughest calls for officials to make in all of sports, so in that sense, your praise for the ARs often getting it right is appropriate. But they do get it wrong occasionally, and it can be a crucial call, so anything we can do to help them we should, and when changing the rules benefits the offense and helps the ARs, it should be done.

  5. Gus Keri, October 26, 2015 at 9:42 a.m.

    Paul, you said: "It would be a lot fairer if only half the ball were required." In this case, I bet, you will write an article how 49% of the ball crossing the line is fairer than 50%. You are nit-pickier. The only common sense I got from this article is the fact that "ARs in close [offside] calls [are supposed] to give the advantage to the attacking player." By the way, It's the rule.

  6. Santiago 1314, October 26, 2015 at 9:52 a.m.

    Sorry Paul...GLT is better than a Russian Linesman, Unless your a Brit...hahaha (Just Rubbing it in)...Your Theory that the ball just Breaking the Plain, NFL Style, Would mean, that a Ball hitting off the inside of the Post, and then going back Into Play would be A Goal...Humm..Not a Good Idea...Offside; you are Correct..."Tie" should go to Offense...Why not Judge it by the Feet of the Players and Not the "Lean"

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, October 26, 2015 at 9:54 a.m.

    Sorry, that got Double Posted somehow...Gremlins in the Machine. .

  8. Joe Linzner, October 26, 2015 at 10:08 a.m.

    how difficult is yea or no? All or nothing. Especially goal line tech. Off side should always be feet, based on starting block interpretation. Lean is a method of acceleration and to take that away from a forward is one more artificial way of giving the defense an edge.

  9. Steve Greene, October 26, 2015 at 11:03 a.m.

    I am a referee and I guess am exposed to more LOTG information and training than Mr. Gardner and by no means am I saying anything I am about to type is"right" but it IS how we are trained to interpret and apply the Laws of the Game (not rules).

    Mr. Gardner should state he does not agree with the law and how it is applied rather than misquoting some urban legend about how offside is applied. If any part of an opponent while not in his own half that can legally play the ball is closer to the goal line than the second to last defender (opponent) or the ball at the time the ball is played to them by a team mate they are in an offside position and if they become involved in active play they are offside.

    The urban legends come into play on this notion of "if its close". Only if the AR can not be CERTAIN the player is offside would they not flag them as being offside. There is no "if it's close" or "tie goes the the attacker".

    FIFA has training material that shows the very tip of a defenders toe keeping an opponent onside as they show the opposite with minute portions of the attacker causing them to be offside. If FIFA wanted "close" to be arbitrarily called or not called they wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of providing this training material nor holding their referees to know and train to that standard.

    If you are purely arguing for more goals then well and good, say that and don't blame the AR for doing his job, and in this example doing it amazing well and correctly. Don't spread MORE misinformation about Law 11 that most fans and many players/coaches and also some referees already struggle with.

  10. Kent James replied, October 26, 2015 at 1:17 p.m.

    Yes, it was sort of inexplicable that Paul would fault the AR for getting a very close call right.

  11. Ric Fonseca, October 26, 2015 at 2:05 p.m.

    Steve Greene, thank you! I suppose that this past week must've been a slow one for PG. And yes, folks, I was also a State Referee and then a State Assessor in my neck of the woods, back in the day late in the 20th Century, and ran many lines, made mistakes and was properly corrected by both the center official and then the assessor, so I had a lot of OJT (on the job training) I dare say and challenge Mr. PG and anyone else to also put on a referee uniform, grab your whistle, cards, flags, and a dose of kryptonyte and go out and do a game at any level, then and only then, comment or diss the game officials and then show ignorance of the LOTG. PLAY ON!!!

  12. Jim Romanski, October 26, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.


    I agree with you on the offside calls. A tie or very close call is supposed to go to the attacking player. Therefore, most replays should show if an advantage was given it went to the attacker not the other way around.

    But as for GLT, I have to disagree with you. If the technology is that good then so be it. They zoom in on tennis shots all the time and no one says "oh it was close give it to them." Once the decision was made to use the technology then we have to accept its accuracy even if most naked eye views would have given a goal.

    Many out of bounds calls are given for balls that look just like the one in your picture and they should be ruled in bounds. But most referees use your logic. I don't have a problem with it for out of bounds since it usually doesn't decide the game, will typically average out and we don't want the game to stop on every out of bounds call to do a video replay.

  13. Charles O'Cain, October 26, 2015 at 6:05 p.m.

    Remember, as Steve points out above, there is no law which states that the attacker is to be given benefit of the doubt on "close calls". It's the presumption of innocence. Unless the AR is certain (based on his/her now senses) that the player is offside, the flag stays down. Sensory input depends on perception and positioning, and mistakes will be made. It is without doubt the most difficult decision, and it amazes me that so few calls are clearly erroneous.
    Remember also that the GLT images (and Hawkeye in tennis) are not "real" but rather computer-generated, and they will ALWAYS show the computer's decision to be correct (based on the computer's "sensory input" and the algorithms put in place by the programmers). GLT has a place in deciding goals, as frequently neither the Ref nor the AR is in ideal position (sighting down the goal line) to judge whether or not the whole ball has cleared the whole line. Changing the percentage of the ball or line necessary for awarding a goal would not make this any easier, and could complicate matters as pointed out by Santiago.

  14. Ric Fonseca, October 26, 2015 at 7:56 p.m.

    GLT has been discussed now for quite some time, in fact back in the late '70 a computer wizzard, Zvi Friedman toyed with the idea, but this idea was not introduced until "recently" but before this topic is beaten to ground, why aren't more games, FIFA, using the goal line judges that are used in EuroCup (?)games. I remember a lot of discussion on this very theme, yet I've only seen their use sparingly and IMO they function quite well clearing up a lot of confusion for everyone. So that works pretty good, so why bicker over GLT since it will be here for some long time, or is it that leagues, federations, etc., don't want to pay for the two additional game officials? And I agree with Steve and Charles that there is no law or IBD "which states the attacker is to be given benefit of the doubt on "close calls...(sic)" because if that is the actual case under the LOTG and IBD (International Board Decisions) then we'd have a helluva lot confusion, etc. etc. Lastly one MUST remember and know that the AR must and has to be even with the last player in a defensive role at the exact time the ball is played forward and hopefully towards an attacking player, and if the AR lags by just a blink of an eye and is not even with the last defender, then all heck breaks loose.

  15. Kent James replied, October 26, 2015 at 8:56 p.m.

    And of course, while being in line to judge offside, if the attacker shoots at goal, the AR should get to the endline when the ball does to see if it was a goal or not (which is another reason we need GLT).

  16. Michael Saunders, October 27, 2015 at 1:16 p.m.

    This sounds like a revisionist historian trying to justify an event that has been proven otherwise numerous times.... Hmmm... could it be that a bit of jingoistic pride is still trying to call the 3rd goal in the '66 WC final as truly in? On a serious note, can anyone tell me what FIFA's cost was for GLT vs that for the NHL or for Tennis? Somehow I would not be surprised if FIFA paid much more for its version... and if that is the case, then the question is why?

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, October 27, 2015 at 3:28 p.m.

    Probably in a Cayman Bank Account somewhere..

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