SOCCER SHOULD LEARN FROM, AMONG OTHERS, THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, AND COME INTO THE NINETEENTH, TWENTIETH AND/OR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

                                                                                        Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Strange title, no? But the joke that is international soccer took incredible hits the last few weeks. If you are an American and at least interested in the performance of your country, you have obviously learned that a goal is not necessarily a goal. Maybe you have to count to ten after a goal to be sure. But a phantom foul call here, a non-existent off-sides there and no explanation necessary from an official can make a whole sport a laughing stock throughout the country.

Are there bad calls in every sport? Absolutely. But at least some efforts are being made in baseball, basketball, football and hockey. But soccer? These guys are lost in the Dark Ages.

LET’S GO BACK TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY IN HOCKEY

According to well-respected hockey man Colin Campbell, the sport of hockey first used goal judges as early as around 1877 in the Montreal area. If you’ve ever been to a hockey game, you can usually see the goal judges sitting right behind each goal. Their main job is to put the green light on when a goal is scored. In recent years, some rinks have moved the goal judges higher up to ostensibly give them a better view. Critics think the goal judges have been moved in order for the home team to fill that prime area (right behind each goalie) with expensive seats.

Whatever the reason, the point is that, for well over a century and certainly for the entire existence of the National Hockey League (starting in 1926-27), goal judges have been an important part of hockey.

SO WHY NOT BRING THEM TO SOCCER?

While you can understand (maybe) why soccer might be unwilling to have two goal judges at every soccer game due to either the expense or the size of the goal (obviously much bigger than hockey), there is no excuse for not having goal judges at every World Cup game (and, one would argue, every World Cup qualifier, at least).

Many of you saw or heard about the definite goal scored by England against Germany in a World Cup elimination game this past weekend. Germany had gone ahead 2-0, a virtually insurmountable lead in a World Cup elimination game. But England scored late in the first half to make it 2-1 and, shortly thereafter, England’s Frank Lampard took a shot that hit the crossbar, bounced two to three feet past the goal line but, due to funny english (no pun intended), bounced up, hit the crossbar again and came out where German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could catch it as if it had not gone in.

Neither referee Jorge Labbadia (totally out of position to see if it was a goal but, apparently, not his fault) nor his assistant could see the obvious – that the game was tied. A goal judge, situated behind the goal (as in hockey), would have easily seen that it was a goal.

BUT GERMANY CRUSHED ENGLAND ANYWAY, SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Ahead 2-1 at the half, Germany came out and wound up crushing England, 4-1 (and, yes, a 4-1 defeat in a World Cup elim game or any soccer game, arguably, is a crushing defeat). But you don’t have to know anything about soccer to know that a 2-2 game at half is totally different than a 2-1 game when you’ve been robbed of a goal.

While that is not to say that England would have won, it is to say that mentally and the way you play strategically is totally different (not to mention momentum) in a tie game as opposed to a 2-1 game.

BUT THIS JUST MADE UP FOR THAT 1966 GOAL, RIGHT?

Well, also fascinating. In 1966, Geoff Hurst of England scored a goal (in extra time, no less) that wasn’t when, on a similar shot, the ball went off the crossbar and hit the goal line. But England was awarded a goal on their way to their only World Cup Final victory over, you guessed it, Germany.

But two wrongs don’t make a right and goal judges, if they were around in 1966 (and they could have been) would have seen the play and made the right call.

As a strange side note to all of this, Adidas did a 2006 soccer commercial which had soccer superstars in a pick-up game. During the brief “game” in the commercial, Frank Lampard of today’s English team recreates this 1966 goal that counted (but shouldn’t have)(Google Frank Lampard Adidas ad 2006). This past weekend, Frank Lampard scored a goal in similarly eerie fashion, that didn’t count. Weird stuff.

SO, WHERE SHOULD SOCCER STAND ON GOAL JUDGES?

Well, that’s a no-brainer. At least in the World Cup, they are obviously a necessity whether it’s 1966 or 2010.

LET’S MOVE TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND THE NHL

Late in the 20th Century, the NHL decided to go to two referees on the ice (in addition to the two linesmen). The move was controversial but, for the most part, has been viewed to be a success (the stories are legion in the one-ref NHL of players waiting for their opportunity to cheap-shot an opponent when the ref was at the other end of the rink). While cheap shots still exist in the NHL, it ain’t like it used to be in the “good old days.”

Actually, one of the main criticisms of the NHL change was that the ice surface was too small to add another ref. While a decent argument, obviously that would be meaningless on a soccer field.

SO WHY NOT BRING THEM TO SOCCER?

On a field as vast as a soccer field (much bigger than a hockey rink) and with many more players (22 in soccer v. 12 in hockey), there is clearly a need for a second referee on the field in soccer. As Groucho Marx once famously said (in a totally different context): “Outside of the improvement, nobody will notice the difference.”

By definition, two referees would see more than one and at least one of them would often be in a good position to make a call. Now, it’s often impossible for a referee to see everything that is going on. As in the two-referee NHL, some calls will still be missed, but two referees, in general, will see more of the action than if there was just one doing the game.

LET’S MOVE TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, REPLAY REVIEW AND ALL THE MAJOR “AMERICAN” SPORTS

It would be boring here to list how instant replay and review have influenced the four “major” sports in America. Suffice it to say, Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL have all used replay (clearly at different levels) in an attempt to “get calls right.” While there is sometimes some right-minded criticism of replay, the notion that we should go back to the “good old days” is simply stupid. While certainly there is and should be a fear that there could be too much replay review, the trick isn’t to not use it at all; the trick is to use it in appropriate situations.

Like, you know, a game-tying World Cup goal.

This will be the biggest hurdle to climb. It’s taken a long time for sports in the United States to use this and the usage of it is still being debated. But at least in baseball, basketball, football and hockey, the powers-that-be have tried to do SOMETHING.

In international soccer, the powers-that-be still have their collective heads in the sand and have done NOTHING.

For the most popular sporting event on the planet (real football to the non-U.S. masses), SOMETHING has to be done.

Here’s hoping that someone with a brain and some power can implement that 19th Century idea (goal judges) and/or that 20th Century idea (two referees) and/or that 21st Century idea (some form of replay review, at least for goals).

The sport will be better for it, overall, and the view in America will be something other than confusion and ridicule when watching these great sporting events.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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