Sunday, 1 August 2010

Book Review: Geoff Hurst, The Hand of God and the Biggest Rows in World Football

Book Review:
By Graham Poll
Harper Sport

This review was published in The Sunday Times on 1 August 2010.

It is often said that if a referee is not noticed in a match of football, he has had a good game. Retired World Cup and English Premier League referee Graham Poll, infamous for his flashing of three yellow cards to one player at the 2006 World Cup finals, begs to differ.

In his second book, Poll relives memories of the most contentious decisions ever made on the world stage of “the beautiful game”. Seen from a refereeing viewpoint, he analyses the actions and reactions of players, the “men in the middle” and his assistants, paying attention to psychological and non-verbal cues. Taking the modern game into context, he asks himself “What would I have done?” and arrives at interesting but thought-provoking conclusions.
Geoff Hurst’s pivotal on-the-line goal for England (above) which virtually won the 1966 World Cup Final would still have counted today, because the Azerbaijani linesman had said so. His take on the linesman’s decision is this, “Do not award a goal if you are not sure of it”, a lesser evil than ruling for a “phantom goal”, which TV cameras proved was the case. At a time when there were no action replays (let alone video technology) and players were more gentlemanly, it was an acceptable part of the game.
Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England (World Cup 1986, above) was down to a player’s trickery and unintuitive refereeing, he concluded. The Tunisian referee was cheated but he should have been more suspicious about the deception. Poll is however less forgiving to his colleague who ignored the Schumacher assault on Battiston (West Germany vs France, World Cup 1982, below), or the officious by-the-book Welshman Clive Thomas who always thought he was boss.
Poll demonstrated an amazing prescience with his final statement on the Hurst goal that wasn’t, “It could happen in 2010… it could be England on the wrong end of a wrong decision.” And how right he was (below).
Referees (including himself, he admits) are human and error-prone, thus video technology and electronic arbitration becomes increasingly a big help. As the stakes for world football escalate, the sport needs to modernise and keep up with the times. Its credibility is in question, as the evidence presented is nothing short of damning.

If you like this, read:
The Story Of The World Cup
by Brian Glanville
(2010, $36.95, Borders),
A comprehensive history of the world’s greatest sporting event from 1930 to the present.

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