Did the ball cross the line? Who knows for certain?

Bloemfontein Celtic, playing away to title chasers Mamelodi Sundowns in the local Premier Soccer League, was robbed this week of a legitimate goal.  Who were these wretched match officials?

I was the middle referee. Moi, me.  I robbed the visiting side. There, I said it!  Therefore, I plead guilty to the charges of:

(1) I was not able to cover/run 30+ yards towards the goal line in just 1,46 seconds, being the total flight time of the ball from kick to bounce on the ground;

(2) Being complicit in not cajoling my assistant referee (AR2) to cover/run 18 yards in the above flight time to reach the corner flag/goal line;

(3)  Not being able to have the gall to guess – from where I stood – if the ball that bounced off the cross bar did in fact cross the goal line completely, i.e. the whole width of the ball and not just the centre of it. Parallax anyone? (I’ll come back to this funny word soon)

(4) Not having any video aid or even an assistant colleague standing on/near goal line at all times to clarify the call for a legitimate goal.

Humans have limits. Technology seems limitless, judging by Moore’s Law. How I wish I had some aid/technology/help to decide if the rocket shot at goal from the skilful and powerful Bloemfontein Celtic player, Kanono, had indeed crossed the line when the ball hit the cross bar, bounced (apparently) just behind the goal line, only to end up in the field of play. All this happened in 1,46 seconds from a 24-yard shot at goal. Yes, I timed the ball’s flight. Call me pedantic.

No hope in hell – from my position anyway – that will even allow me to guess where the ball bounced. Making a guessing call from that distance and that angle is a sure way to end with zero credibility as a referee. I need to know with 100% certainty it crossed the goal line. No match official should guess any decision from our natural (and hopefully correct!) positions on the field of play. Parallax again!

The golden rule of officiating is still applicable; if you or your assistant are not sure, then you cannot call any infringement …. or award a goal in this instance. Full stop.  As one match commissioner/referee assessor remarked about this incident in particular: 

“Do nothing, and if you did call that goal, I would’ve had a serious problem with you.”

He is referring to parallax, an optical illusion phenomena. It’s grade 6 school work. Well, it was in the 1970’s anyway. Parallax is an apparent displacement (or difference) in the apparent position of an object (the soccer ball), viewed along two different lines of sight (the referee’s current, oblique angle as compared to the correct viewing angle – the ONLY angle! – along or on the goal line), and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.

A simple everyday example of parallax can be seen in the dashboard of motor vehicles that use a “needle” type speedometer gauge. When viewed from directly in front (along or on the goal line), the speed needle may show 60 km/h, i.e. the needle appears against the ’60’ mark on the dial behind; but when viewed from the passenger seat (i.e. from an oblique angle, i.e. the referee’s view in the middle of the field of play) the needle can appear against a slightly lower or higher mark, depending on whether it is viewed from the left or from the right, because of the combined effect of the spacing and the angle of view. End lesson 1a.

Being aware of the optical illusion of parallax, and if he wanted to negate the effect thereof completely, my assistant referee (AR2) had some yardage gain on me to possibly set the record straight; he had to run only 18 yards to the corner flag in  1 second flat to see along the goal line and to give a 100% correct call if the ball crossed the line entirely or not,  thus making Mr. Parallax look silly. Alas, he’s no Usian Bolt either. Yes, despite the illusion of parallax, it would have been relatively easy to make the decision if the ball bounced meters behind the goal line. But this was clearly not the case.

It is not the first time that such an incident occurred in my match. It leaves a frank taste that I cannot avail myself to some form of aid/technology with so much riding professionally on this particular match.  And all other professional football matches for that matter. Let’s also be clear here: I do not support any football team in South Africa. In fact, I don’t support any football team anywhere. Never been a staunch supporter of any team, whether it’s football, rugby, baseball, basketball, underwater hockey …  you catch the drift?  Boring, I know.  But you have it now in writing and you can hold me to it –  so much for the South African football conspiracy theorists.

One of Mr. Blatter’s explanations for denying video technology inter alia to aid match officials are that such aids will rob the public of “talking points” on the match. I suppose being the referee and being subject to such a “talking point” encounter –  and more often being called various unsavoury things in between – are indeed points to talk about.

I know that in the EUROPA league EUFA is currently experimenting with 2 additional referees next to the goal nets. Their presence on the goal line next would certainly have helped to make the correct call. I just don’t envy these officials, having to stand for 90 minutes at roughly the same spot, so close to the always vocal – and hostile – supporters of the various teams.

The time has passed were we, and Fifa, can emphatically (and automatically) say no to any form of technology aids to assist in the accuracy of referee calls for the professional game. Who would have foreseen the referee communication system and bleeper flags 20-30 years ago? I sincerely believe that technological aids will be gradually introduced by Fifa, not after some thorough testing and criteria worked out before their introduction at international tournaments.

Be it as it may, I apologize sincerely that I, given the limits of human nature, but given the possibility of limitless technology advancement, was not able to award an apparent legitimate goal to Bloemfontein Celtic on the night. It is a talking point. Now discuss. One request though: stop calling me unsavioury names ;-). I will let this matter now rest with the following quote:

We call it as we see it. Although television can give you 15 different angles, the only angle they can’t show is the referee’s — Paul Durkin, ex-FA Premier League referee, 1998

The still sequences below were taken during my match this week, Mamelodi Sundowns vs. Bloemfontein Celtic.

Kanono (white circle) about to unleash a powerful shot. The middle ref is the slacker that cannot guess.
Sundowns GK Baloyi well beaten, with the ball hitting the bar and about to travel downwards.
The ball seems to have crossed the goal line. The Assistant and I had an oblique angle given our respective positions, and given parallax, we were not 100% certain.