A Time for Improvement

Adding Duties for Fourth Official Can Create Viable Replay System

By Jeff Kassouf

Ipswich Town FC has been wronged. The FA Cup, known for making dreams of upsets come true, could have had another one on Saturday had it not been for one of the most terrible pieces of refereeing in recent memory.

Man-in-charge Mark Halsey decided to send off Ipswich youngster Liam Trotter in the 24th minute of a third round cup tie against Portsmouth for what he thought to be a rash challenge. At the time of the incident it seemed to be one worth a talking to or a caution. To everyone’s dismay, it produced an inexplicable sending off.

The red card unjustly stripped the League Championship side of the rightful opportunity to knock of its Premiership foe. The lack-luster Portsmouth team that came out lazy and uninspired should have been punished, and they would have been had Ipswich rightfully had a full squad of 11 men on the field.

Who knows who Halsey was talking to in his little earpiece before he issued the red card, but whoever it was – be it an assistant or the 4th referee – helped in the terrible screw-up. The problem causes some of the questions that football purists hate to hear be resurfaced. One of those is the controversial idea of instant replay.

Terrible decisions such as the one made in the aforementioned game need to be reviewable. All too many times, a thing like this happens and a game that could have been amazing gets ruined (to their credit, the undermanned Ipswich Town still almost equalized against a nonchalant Portsmouth).

Should FIFA come up with some type of American football-style review booth that takes five minutes to figure out? I don’t think so. It would take away from the one pure game left on earth that doesn’t go to a commercial break whenever there is a stoppage in play.

But, Mr. Halsey’s earpiece got me thinking. Who knows who he was talking to, but somebody was telling him something. In the future, that somebody could be giving him information on what the proper call would be.

Think about it: What does the fourth official actually do? Besides dealing with substitutes, he just stands around and keeps managers in their boxes, which is something the head referee could do if things got that bad on the sideline.

Why not have the fourth official sitting at a table with a television. He follows the game live and when something extremely controversial comes up he immediately hits the rewind button for a closer look. So, in that dead time between when the whistle blows for a foul and when the card might be issued, the fourth official could review the play and put that telecom system to use by telling the head referee what to do in his earpiece (assuming he needs the help).

Unlike a replay booth, this would be instantaneous and wouldn’t require any stoppage in play. The head referee could pause if need be, but by the time he is done making his way to the situation and talking to the player, the fourth referee could have already told him the verdict.

In order to uphold the purity of the game, such a task would only be used for possible bookable offenses (rash challenges, etc.), fouls near the edge of the box (in or outside of the penalty area) and goal-line scrambles that the assistant referee has an obstructed view of. Sure, there would be some kinks to work out, but such a system could work wonders.

If done properly, a system of replay similar to the one above could prevent teams from unjustly having men sent off or having a true goal be discredited. Not only is this fair, but it will prevent any games from being ruined due to poor decisions at no cost to the flow of the game. All it would mean is that the fourth official, who doesn’t do a whole lot now, would have to be a bit more attentive throughout the game.

Portsmouth Versus Ipswich Highlights


(Hat tip to Futbol Cuyuz for the video)

Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: jeffkassouf@yahoo.com