Sunday, June 20, 2010

Football needs the video referee

By Graham Cooke

The farcical sending off of Brazilian Ricardo Kaka for a supposed foul on Ivory Coast's Abdelkader Keita in the World Cup of football has finally convinced me. Video evidence must be introduced into the game at this level.

For years I have resisted this call, but things are getting out of hand. Top players are increasingly becoming cynical cheats; the game is now too fast and the cheats too cunning for a referee and two assistants to monitor.

At the same time, technology has never been better. We can view an incident from a dozen different angles. A top-quality referee, sitting in front of a screen, would know immediately which angles to check, a decision could be delivered to the man in the middle within seconds. A cheat revealed will see the red card rather than the opponent he was trying to sucker.

And the fact players know this this will very quickly end the play-acting, rolling about on the ground, stretchers being brought on. We might actually save time in games.

I know the arguments that will be brought to bear against using video evidence: It will create two classes of football because obviously video technology will be too expensive for all but the top leagues; it will change the way the game is played, interrupting its rhythm and turning it into a stop-start spectacle rather like American football; the referee in the middle will lose authority with players demanding he consult the video referee at every turn.

It will certainly change the game, but what's wrong with that? The game is constantly changing, and you don't have to go back to the days when the goal uprights were joined by pieces of tape rather than a crossbar and referees in tweed jackets officiated from the sidelines using a pocket watch.

Check out a few grainy black-and-white videos from the 1950s and 60s to see how the game has changed. Watch the incident in the 1958 FA Cup final when Nat Lofthouse shoulder-charged goalkeeper Harry Gregg and the ball into the net for Bolton's second goal against Manchester United. A modern Lofthouse would have been sent off for that.

Check out the 1966 World Cup and the cynical fouls that put Pele and Brazil out of that tournament. Those were the days when no substitutes were allowed. Remember the four-step rule for goalkeepers or the days when only one match ball was allowed? Remember when football on Sundays was a total no-no? How many times have we changed the offside rule?

Football changes. It has to change to meet the demands of a fast-changing world. The fact it has done so is part of its continued success - and we are now in the era of instant and ubiquitous communication.

And yes, it will mean that top-level football is governed by video evidence while 95 per cent of the game will have to carry on as before with just the referee and his assistants to make the decisions. It was ever thus. Can we honestly say that the officials at the local recreation ground are of the same quality as those in the English Premier League; that playing surfaces are of the same standard; that players have the same support services? Of course not.

Football always was a hierarchical game, and at its top level it is now too much of a showcase to be governed by the same process of refereeing decisions as exist in the Victorian League Division Four. Top games deserve top treatment

Embrace video technology, use it to stamp out phantom fouls and dives in the penalty area. The game will be the better for it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A sad story from another time

By Graham Cooke

I have just received a communication from the National Gallery of Australia. Nothing unusual in that, I am a member and attend many of their functions and exhibition previews.

I have also been contributing to their Masterpieces for the Nation Fund, under which members contribute small amounts - whatever they can afford - which are put together to purchase an artwork of significance for the NGA. The latest campaign is for a work by Robert Dowling - Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly).

The picture is of a young woman with a rather wistful expression on her face, sitting, rather uncomfortably, bolt upright in a garden chair, a book in one hand and a tea service and plate of cakes within easy reach. A dog looks lovingly up at her.

But it was not so much the painting, as the accompanying background notes that stirred me. Dolly, or Elise Christian Margaret Robertson, to give her full name, was the daughter of a wealthy Victorian grazier, William Robertson.

The attractive Dolly - she was in her late teens at the time of the painting - had already attracted a number of suitors, but her father had forbidden them all, saying they were not good enough for her. She never married and died in 1939.

Reading this I felt overwhelmed with pity and anger for this long dead lady, denied the opportunity of married life by her overbearing father.

I rather suspect that William Robertson's real reason was to ensure his daughter stayed at home to take care of him in his old age - this was often considered a duty for one unfortunate child in large Victorian families. However, if this was the case Robertson was rich enough to have employed servants and nurses to look after him.

There is no doubt that Dolly bridled against this restriction on her life. She originally wore a white dress for the siting but asked Dowling to change the colour to dark brown because, as the story goes, "if I am never to marry , then I will be in mourning for the rest of eternity".

And what of Dowling's thoughts in this? The painter was in his late 50s and close to the end of his life, yet there are hints in the painting that he was very much on Dolly's side. The tea service was her favourite as were the vanilla slices. The faithful dog was added later.

There is also just a hint of eroticism in the way her foot protrudes ever so slightly from beneath her long dress, a suggestion that she was a tall, leggy lady.

Perhaps Dowling was a little in love with her, although in those times, and in that society, he would have kept such thoughts very much to himself.

So I will be contributing towards Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly). Denied her right to seek happiness in life, she should at least be displayed to be admired by us in these more liberal, enlightened times.