Friday, 18 March 2022

Referees called for a form of VAR 100 years ago

New technology is always controversial in football, note the row this week when a goal from Coventry City was shown not to have got fully across the line.

As I have noted in earlier articles [for the Leamington FC programme], tensions between football crowds and referees were on the increase in 1922.  In the Leamington area the police had to be called on more than one occasion to evict spectators who had abused the referee.  It was also claimed that crowds had started chants which questioned the capacity of the referee to officiate. 

  The Football Association was so concerned that they launched an overall review, but as a first step they decided to ban referees who wore glasses, following a number of complaints about the poor eyesight of some officials.   This caused some confusion at the meeting of the Birmingham FA. Should all referees who had been seen wearing spectacles be struck off the list?  It was eventually decided that it should only apply to new officials.

Writing in one newspaper, referee ‘Solo Whistle’ argued that some sort of X-ray machine might help to resolve disputes on the field of play, clearly anticipating VAR.    What was needed was some scientific means of determining what was intentional and what was accidental.   

Among the incidents where an authoritative decision was needed was ‘when a ball goes to hand, when a player kicks an opponent in playing the ball, and when a player goes down apparently injured, or may be only pretending to be hurt so as to give his side an advantage by temporarily stopping the game.  There is a wide margin of contrast in the attitude of different officials in cases of injury, or supposed injury.  One spectator writes describing an incident in which two opponents went for the ball together, one clearing the ball, and, as he drew his foot back, accidentally kicking the other man in the wind [sic], placing him hors de combat.   The referee’s attention was called, but he ordered play to proceed.  The ball went out of play, whereupon he called the trainer and had the player carried off.   

I am reminded of another case in which a referee ordered play to proceed to the extent of the ball being worked up and down the field, passing the prostate body of the injured man three times before he called a halt after the ball passed over the line.’   Solo Whistle’s conclusion was that ‘Accidents are inseparable from the game of football, and are all in the game.’

In some cases referees were attacked by spectators.   At a game in Scotland between Tullibody and Tulliallan football clubs ‘the referee had an exciting experience.  Attacked by a spectator at the interval, he collapsed in the second half at the game and had to be carried off the field.’   The spectator appeared at Alloa Sheriff Court.  ‘It appeared that he was a supporter of the Tulliallan club, and was evidently dissatisfied with the ruling of the referee.   When the interval came he took the referee by surprise, butted him with his head, broke his artificial teeth and lacerated his mouth.’  It is no surprise that when the referee tried to carry on he collapsed.   

The Sheriff told the defendant that he lacked a sporting instinct and fined him £5 or 30 days in prison.   This is £300 in today’s prices, beyond the pocket of a labourer.

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