Editor’s note: The following is a fictitious look into the future to see what impact the introduction of goal-line technology may have on English football:
On July 25 2012, FIFA introduced goal-line technology in a new regulation covering all professional leagues throughout Europe. In a bid to win the next presidency; Sepp Blatter described the move as ‘A new era for modern football’ and something that will one day ‘influence the beautiful game over the entire planet’. The move was prompted by a successful pitch from Sports technology conglomerate, The Klassman Group. Their ambassador to FIFA, Wim Kollen gave an enthralling speech about the complexities of their new venture in football. Kollen spoke of the ‘responsibility’ The Klassman Group undertook when they began lobbying for the use of goal-line technology in 2010.
The following day, the British media were mostly positive – with the general consensus being a relief in what the guardian called ‘pulling the game into the 21st century’. The Sun newspaper placed the event on their front page with the words; ‘AT LAST!’. A two page spread inside the paper showed infamous goal-line blunders, the centre piece being Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ versus Germany in the 2010 World Cup. The Telegraph, although initially praising the decision; released an article from former referee and UEFA committee member, Pierluigi Colina who rejected the use of technology in the hope of finding ‘a human solution’.
On the opening day of the Premiership season, the media covered the addition of goal-line technology to the game with as much interest as transfer news. The unveiling of the ‘vibrating watch’ which was going to be used by all referee’s was debuted in the previous week with the opening of the lower leagues. No incidents were noted during the opening week, but in a Sky Sports News exclusive – The Klassman Group and Sony unveiled the new watch which would vibrate in confirmation of a ball crossing the line.
Arthur WS Smith, General Secretary of the Referee’s Association spoke positively about the latest development in the game in a detailed description of the process now involved during a goal-line incident. ‘Both manned high definition cameras and infrared sensors are used in reporting a goal to the referee. In the event of a goal-line incident the cameras are immediately examined by the operators, and then cross referenced with the data provided by the infrared sensors.’
The Klassman Group and Sony installed all cameras and sensors to the professional clubs throughout Europe. The costs were split between FIFA, European Football Associations and the clubs themselves. Football clubs with depleted finances were able to apply for ‘Tech Loans’ in order to cover the cost of instalment and maintenance.
Two years passed and in England alone; 26 individual goal-line incidents were decided with the use of technology. FIFA acknowledged the benefits of the system and renewed an 8 year contract with proprietors The Klassman Group.
With this latest agreement, Sony sealed technology rights and advertising on the use of their own equipment. Goal-line incidents were now ‘brought to you by SONY’. The BBC initially restricted the use of the goal-line camera for the entire season of 2014/15. The dispute over advertising reached its peak when the Home Secretary conducted a ‘revised understanding’ of their advertising guidelines within professional sport. In June 2014 the Director General of the BBC caved to pressure from the media and commercial sector. By the following season, the Sony goal line camera is seen on screens all over the continent.
The opening day of the season was marred with controversy as a malfunctioning goal-line camera lead to a disallowed Torquay United goal in their clash at Carlisle United. The goal that never was, sparked a backlash from Torquay United fans and club alike. Consequently Sony were fined £60,000 by the FA. In what was described by the FA’s General Secretary Alex Horne as, ‘An embarrassing, inexcusable blunder.’
In the following months under an investigation lead by The Klassman Group it was deemed that Carlisle United’s improper instalment and maintenance of the goal-line equipment had cost Sony the fine and subsequent impacts on their share index.
In February 2016 Sony then proceeded to sue Carlisle United for breaching the acknowledgement of usage which lead to a defamation of the company profile. The law suit was won by the end of the month with Sony winning in excess of £175,000.
In April of the same year, Carlisle United fell into administration and after two weeks of searching for a potential buyer and the deduction of 15 points, Carlisle dropped into the lower leagues and finally announced bankruptcy on May 22 2016. The club was disbanded over the summer break and Brunton Park was de-commissioned by the local council after a nearby Rugby side failed to raise the funds to purchase the 16,000 seater stadium.
Controversy dominated the headlines exactly one year after the disbanding of Carlisle United, this time in the FA Cup final. Andy Carroll’s headed effort struck the post before bouncing over the goal-line. The vibrations within referee Howard Webb’s watch confirmed the last minute winner.
The beleaguered Manchester United lead the outcry in the following weeks as Carroll was seen to be in an offside position. In a press conference in early June, a Sony spokesman dismissed responsibility claiming that ‘Our cameras are in place to examine whether the ball does or does not cross the line, we conducted our task with total accuracy and precision. The ball did cross the line, the linesman however failed to acknowledge the offside position of the Liverpool striker. Perhaps this is another example where technology can help the inaccuracy of officials within the game.’
Neil Warnock, writing in The Sun noted that; ‘In the blink of an eye we are right back to where we started 5 years ago. It’s time to get rid of these ridiculous regulations and let video technology determine the game. It’s no use having just the goal-line covered, football games are won and lost all over the pitch.’
Huddersfield’s promotion hopes were shattered when a 115th minute West Bromwich Albion goal is fumbled over the line. With goal-line technology once again concluding the ball had crossed the line, the referee Mark Clattenberg hesitated and conferred with assistants to then allow the goal despite desperate Huddersfield claims of handball.
The West Brom goalscorer, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain insisted that ‘I didn’t mean to handle the ball over the line, I can see how it would seem like I did. Football always has controversy, before and after video technology – fact of the matter is the ref would have given it with or without the cameras.’
In an interview with the BBC the chairman of the Referee’s Association Colin Harris suggested that Clattenberg’s decision was influenced by the video technology. When asked later to expand on these points he responded ‘Having video technology at our disposal is obviously advantageous. Yet, having a fool-proof system in our arsenal can often distort other incidents. Mark felt like he wasn’t in a position to override the technology, and consequently the goal was given.’
Harris was then asked if Clattenberg was aware of the handball when making the decision, to which he replied, ‘On this occasion, Mark was alerted by his assistant that a hand had been used in the build up, yet he was also notified (by his watch) that the ball had crossed the line. Mark Clattenberg made a natural reaction and chose the more accurate resource, which in this case was the video technology.’
In an attempt to control recent events and protect the image of themselves and their clients The Klassman Group urged FIFA to remove the restrictions on video technology. The EFA, The Klassman Group and various investors instigate a referendum within FIFA, forcing the issue to a vote.
In June 2018, the vote proved inconclusive and a new regulation structure was drawn by FIFA president Zhang Jilong. The revised video technology rules allowed coverage of the entire penalty area, with authority to recognise, what Jilong labelled ‘any discrepancy noted by the officials’.
The Klassman Group’s ‘tech loans’ are re-distributed allowing for the introduction of twelve new camera set ups in each ground. Due to the tight regulations camera positions are to be allocated 6 yards apart on each side of the pitch with a ‘total, uninterrupted view of the penalty area’.
Aldershot Town, Gillingham FC, Port Vale and Exeter City all required inflated loans to restructure their stands, not only meet the latest video technology guidelines but to cover initial health and safety measures.
Early 2019 once again saw English football thrown into disrepute as two Javier Hernandez goals in a Manchester derby clash are given; despite retrospectively proven to be offside. Sony were quick to point out that they weren’t to blame as both replays clearly showed that when the ball was played, the striker was outside of the penalty area.
The linesman who called the offside, Robert Pollock signalled ‘a misunderstanding of jurisdiction.’ as the reason for the decision he made.
In light of these events and of his decision to not include the entire pitch, FIFA president Zhang Jilong admitted that, ‘the decision was rushed and we failed to set out accurate guidelines for officials.’ After recognising his initial mistake, Jilong then continued to hint at future plans; ‘it’s time for us to recognise that some of our officials are dragging down the integrity of our football games.’
Inevitably a total video technology authority is put into place. The first plans drawn up by FIFA required the removal of linesmen from within the game. This was immediately rejected by The Referee’s Association, as a strike from officials around the nation delayed the opening of the season. The newly appointed Chairman of the Referee’s Association, Nigel Genner labelled FIFA’s decision as an ‘underhanded slap in the face to loyal servants of the beautiful game.’
The delays continued despite negotiation talks as 12 Football League sides required total re-construction of their stadia to incorporate the latest camera set ups. The ‘Tech loans’ increased by almost three times their initial projections. In the case of Exeter City, St. James’ Park had to be reconstructed on a second occasion.
The season finally kicked off seven weeks behind schedule, with linesman still working within the game due to the action taken by the Referee’s Association.
By the end of the second season with ‘total video technology coverage’ crowds began to plummet citing the ‘stop and start’ nature of the game as their motivation. The average game time rocketed to almost 99 minutes. A clash between Stoke City and Birmingham City reached an astonishing 110 minutes of play.
Teams within the football league suffered even greater losses in their attendances, as without big screen TVs punters were left unaware of decisions being spotted by the cameras.
On one bizarre occasion a red card was awarded to Cardiff City defender Lloyd Martin, for what the referee Mark Dennis suggested to be two distinct vibrations on his watch – which signalled serious foul play. The replayed footage showed that cameras were acknowledging an offside. The Referee’s Association pointed the blame at ‘faulty technology’, a claim which was ignored by Sony representatives.
In September 2022, the Guardian sports journalist Sam Wescott broke a story about the hidden financial constraints that the ‘Tech loans’ inflicted on low league clubs. With payments reaching ‘un-sustainable’ figures, he suggested that ‘for perhaps one reason, or a whole plethora of reasons – the smaller clubs are being priced out of the league. Are we moving closer to a European Super League? It certainly seems like only the big guns can compete in this hostile, twisted version of our beautiful game.’
Two months after this story broke, the financial constraints on the lower league sides increased with The Klassman Group introducing the requirement of large screen TV’s at all professional football grounds. Rules specified that the screens must reach a minimum of 150 inches across.
Bury chairman Donald Mills criticised these latest guidelines stating, ‘Its not about requiring another loan to cover the cost of this monstrosity, is that we have to lose around 150 seats to fit the damned thing.’
In 2023 FIFA introduced what was nicknamed the ‘3 strikes rule’ which allowed the game to flow as usual, with the added rule that team captains were permitted 3 opportunities to appeal a decision. Jilong emphasised captains to use their chances wisely before seeking ‘video technology, which as we know – provides the unmistakable truth.’
This introduction was hailed by the FA as an ‘inspirational idea to not only motivate our teams but allow our supporters to fall back in love with the game.’
The Referee’s Association called it ‘A decision from FIFA that makes the game feel human again.’
The three strike rule got underway and was subsequently hailed critically and rewarded financially as Premiership sides attracted full crowds again. For the big clubs team captains became elevated in the hierarchy of the squad. New wage structures were allocated among football’s giant clubs as the decision making ability of certain captains was able to change the outcome of a game. Manchester United manager José Mourinho was given a 5 game touchline ban in January 2024, for instructing his captain Phil Jones to appeal a decision. This instruction was spotted by a fourth official and punished weeks later.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was sacked after a ‘bust-up’ with his own captain Rain Davis for what he later described as a ‘stupid decision by Rain, which cost me my job’.
In February 2024 the Football League was rocked by the ‘Football Winter’ which was a nickname given to a financial downturn which resulted in 8 League two and 4 League one clubs all facing administration and inevitable bankruptcy. The Klassman Group’s then president Wim Kollen resigned over the decision to call in, what he described as ‘insulting late payments’ from lower league sides. The ‘Winter’ was echoed throughout Europe as entire leagues and Football Associations required a total re-structure.
Under intense media pressure, the English FA was able to ‘sustain’ League Two – despite initial predictions of having to remove the league from the professional game. Welsh and Scottish football associations merged with the English FA to create the British Football Association. This mutual decision was able to fill the gaps of League two and cover the spiralling debts of the Welsh and Scottish clubs.
In what seemed to be a fairly straight-forward appeal against a referee’s decision, regarding a handball in the area – Manchester City won the Premier League. City’s central defender and captain Danny Birch was initially penalised by referee Jonathan Harman for handling the ball in the penalty area. Birch’s appeal however concluded that Harman had misjudged the situation.
Harman immediately resigned in protest after the game and took his case to The Referee’s Association who supplied a statement to BBC’s Match of the Day.
‘Jonathan has informed us that he will be supplying his immediate resignation to the FA regarding today’s Captain’s appeal. Mr. Harman has insisted to us that he spotted the incident and can say with absolute clarity; that he saw the Manchester City defender Danny Birch handle the ball in the area. Jonathan refutes the images supplied from FIFA’s cameras as a distortion and that he had “the perfect view”’.
Despite the spike in crowd numbers which was inspired by the ‘3 strikes rule’ crowds hit an all time low in the 2028/29 season. Staggering figures from surveys regarding the big clubs revealed that 60% of their income was now from overseas.
The Premier League introduced the long awaited 39th and 40th games. At the end of the season, the final Premiership games were held in Singapore and then Dubai. Manchester City became the first club to lift the league trophy outside of England.
Upon his retirement, Danny Birch released his auto-biography which shocked football with his confession that Harman was correct to blow the whistle. The passage from his book read, ‘As soon as I appealed I thought, this is going to be a complete waste of time… I knew full well that I handled the ball and I even saw Harman’s line of vision. When the cameras didn’t see it – I was stunned.’.
Although Harman himself didn’t comment on these latest revelations, the Referees Association claimed that ‘Football has finally lost all human influence.’
As a means to continue the sport without video technology, The Football Guild was established on July 27 2029. The founding members were two referees, seven football chairmen and a collection of former players. With this construction of the Football Guild; two divisions were created to allocate space for newly formed teams.
There were 24 teams placed over the two leagues, among these included Manchester Federation, Guild Football Club of Liverpool and Edinburgh GFC. The first ever Guild Football match took place on August 12 between Leeds City and Glasgow.
In June of 2032 the FA finally abolished league two citing it as; ‘a constant financial burden with no continuity’. Nine former League two sides hastily reconstructed their finances and submitted their applications to join the Guild Football Association in time for the 2032/33 season.
On the 1st of July 2032 Ryan Peacock became the first player to be transferred between Association and Guild teams. He moved from Chelsea to Cardiff United for nine million pounds.