Goal Umpiring: Technology vs Tradition

by Damian Watson

It is an issue which continues to accelerate debate in the world of sport: Do we adopt new forms of technology and implement it to combat mistakes within our respective sports? Or do we agree with a traditionalists view and maintain the current regime which allows human error?

The use of technology regarding the interpretation of calls from an umpire/referee has been successful to an extent in sports such as tennis, cricket and rugby league. However, sporting codes such as the AFL and World Soccer have been reluctant to introduce forms of technology which have the ability to confirm a mistake from the umpire and ensure that the right call is made. The two codes mentioned that have not implemented a video replay format are currently facing intense scrutiny in regards to this issue.

Indeed FIFA are continuing to face criticism following the Frank Lampard fiasco at the recent World Cup in South Africa which was partly responsible for England’s early elimination from the tournament. The English midfielder’s strike that seemed to have deflected off the crossbar and over the goal-line was not recognized as a goal.

Now it is the AFL’s turn to face the music following a string of goal umpiring errors in the recent round of footy. Although the issue has suddenly accelerated to large proportions, the truth is that the issue has always been amongst discussion within the football public. It was suggested as far back as 33 years ago by footballing legend Ron Barassi that two goal umpires should occupy each end of the ground to prevent any incorrect or farcical decisions within a match, particularly a Grand Final. In the past decade however, many have requested that the AFL claim hi-tech support to assist goal umpires within a match as the expansion of technology in sport continues to rapidly rise.

In my opinion, the goal umpiring debate stems from a particular incident at Etihad Stadium six years ago when the issue first became an extremely hot talking point and people began to ask the question regarding goal umpiring: do we resort to Technology or Tradition?

As we have witnessed this weekend the issue is still prominent in our game today.

The Triggering Factor

St Kilda v Brisbane  Round 6 2004

What Happened? Video Replays convey that a flying shot by St Kilda midfielder Austinn  Jones from the forward pocket late in the last quarter clearly travels out on the full. However Goal Umpire Craig Clark made the dubious call that he interpreted the kick had snuck in for a behind indicating that the Saints now trailed the Lions by five points in the dying minutes. From the resulting kick-out, much maligned Saint Troy Schwarze becomes the unlikely hero by booting the winning goal from outside the 50 metre arc. St Kilda by a solitary point in a bruising encounter.

What They Said: “From my angle behind the goals, the ball clearly went on the wrong side of the behind post”- Stephen Silvagni, Network Ten Commentator.

” We need to introduce an extra two goal umpires or the use of technology to combat mistakes, even if only for the finals”- Ron Barassi, Legendary AFL Figure.

The Aftermath: The AFL took action by standardizing the height of all goal and point posts at all League venues. However as we have recently observed, this implementation has failed to reduce the amount of goal umpiring mistakes.

–          An unfortunate punter from Ringwood lost the chance of receiving over $250 000 in the Footy Quad after predicting a draw in the big match. He felt strong resentment towards the goal umpire.

The Alarm Bells

Geelong v St Kilda 2009 Grand Final

What Happened? Late in the second term with scores level, a snapshot towards goal from close range by Geelong’s young key forward Tom Hawkins is adjudged a goal despite various replays indicating that the ball clearly hit the post. This incident gave us the first indication of the ramifications an incorrect goal-umpiring decision on the result of a Grand Final as the Cats led by a slender 6 points when the final siren sounded. The goal umpire was on a relatively difficult angle to interpret whether the ball hit the post sparking more discussion as to whether technology should be used in these circumstances.

What They Said: “We are always open to looking at any technological advances that may assist umpires in their role or create greater interest for our fans.”-AFL Operations Manager Adrian Anderson.

“People say his first goal hit the post but the record books have it down as a goal.” – father and former Geelong champion Jack Hawkins.

The Aftermath: Despite the large amounts of criticism directed towards the goal umpiring gaffe, the goal from Tom Hawkins will always stand.

The Controversial Weekend

Round 19 2010

Essendon v Carlton

What happened? Two separate incidents occurred on this vital Friday Night Match between the two old rivals. The first came early in the third quarter with the Blues leading by 23 points as Carlton forward Jarrad Waite appeared to have brushed the ball with his boot in his attempt to score a goal, however goal umpire Adam Wojcik believed a behind was warranted when ruling that Waite failed to make clear contact with the ball. The Bombers scored a goal from the resulting kick-out indicating a two goal turnaround. The other dubious decision came late in the term at the other end when young Essendon forward Jay Neagle appeared to have converted a close range goal but goal umpire Chelsea Roffey was adamant that the ball mage contact with the post. Judging by video replay, Roffey was arguably not in the best position to make the adjudication as the ball snuck through which possibly enhances the call for technology to be introduced.

What They Said: “It was definitely a goal. I got a little bit of my boot to it. I was pretty angry at the time, but at least we got the win and that is all that matters”. – Jarrad Waite, Carlton Forward.

” I haven’t looked at the Neagle replay but it appeared to have gone through”.- Matthew Knights, Essendon Coach.

Geelong v Collingwood

What Happened? Early in the third quarter in arguably the most anticipated match of the season at the MCG, Shannon Byrnes was effectively robbed of a goal. As a consequence a two goal turnaround occurred, indicating that instead of the Cats holding a two goal lead they were almost level pegging with the Magpies. The Cats appeared to have gained the momentum when Byrnes seemed to have made contact with the ball on his boot on the right side of the goal line. However goal umpire Daniel Wilson deemed that Byrnes failed to make sufficient contact within the field of play. The video replay sparked wide criticism from the public as it indicated that Byrnes clearly made contact inside the field of play. The goal umpire’s error has certainly accelerated this debate.

What They Said: “The AFL is wary of things that might slow down the game. But as technology continues to improve, we will keep looking at it to improve the game. If there is an opportunity that is accurate and does not slow down the game unduly we will consider it. The best way to trial it will be introducing it into the NAB Cup.”- Adrian Anderson, AFL Operations Manager.

“If you lose a game through a bad decision who’s to say what the ramifications are. We have to get to the point that if technology is available it should be used. It is time perhaps that there is an aid that can help the goal umpires. They don’t get a second go at it and the way the ball moves at times it doesn’t give you enough breathing space. The actual implementation has to be quickly done, it cannot be procrastinated upon.”- Mick Malthouse, Collingwood Coach.

“It is time that the AFL fast tracked the prospect of video technology for contentious goal decisions for next year’s NAB Cup. Give it a trial to see whether it works or not”. – Glenn McFarlane, Sunday Herald Sun.

“They have to add two goal umpires to each post.”-Nick Maxwell, Collingwood Captain on Network Seven.

“That is an absolute disgrace, the goal umpire should be sacked!”- Stephen Quartermain, Network Ten Commentator.

“On each occasion the goal umpire was in a fantastic position, unfortunately on each occasion they also made the wrong call. Had the goal umpires applied themselves properly to the circumstances and went to the consultation process, we might have come up with a different result.”- Jeff Gieschen, AFL Umpiring Director.

The Aftermath: The AFL has undergone the course of action in dropping Goal Umpire Daniel Wilson regarding the controversial Shannon Byrnes decision. The AFL will continue to stand by the current goal umpiring procedure if it is applied in a proper manner.

So do you believe we should continue with the status quo or should we implement the use of technology to help solve dubious goal umpiring decisions?

Feel free to add your opinion on the goal umpiring debacle.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.


  1. FANTASTIC JOB Duckie!:)
    This piece is well thought out and researched.
    i think there should be two goal umpires at each end, its quicker than video.
    This report sound very Detective like, its cool :)

    once again, top effort Detective Duckie. :)

  2. More umpires = more errors.
    First adjustment is to the pre-season and every other sports rule of ignoring the goal post. Wherever it deviates dictates!
    Beyond that, the famous SS rule needs to apply.

  3. Perhaps a possible halfway measure might be in order – introducing video replays only for the finals?

    That will prevent major gaffes in extremely crucial matches whilst still retaining the traditional single, all-deciding goal umpire.

  4. Damo, point of contention about the 2009 GF. You can’t say or hint that cost St Kilda the GF, as it was so early on in the day. If that had’ve been deemed a point, who says Geelong couldn’t have intercepted the kick-in, giving them a 7-point lead which would go on to end up a 40-point belting?

    Everything would have been different, not just that one instance. Furthermore, the umpires handed Saint Kilda a goal down the other end from a VERY dubious decision. So Geelong actually ended up one point worse off.

    It was different in 2004 when the decision came in the last couple of plays in the day. That had a direct effect on the outcome.

    But to your actual question, as I was saying the other day on msn, I’m all for video referees, as long as we had set rules. For example, I believe it should be deemed:

    In the event of a contentious goal decision, the players involved have the right to challenge the goal umpire’s decision, up to a total of two times if both appeals are overturned. However, if the appeals are allowed, the strike count stays at zero.

    A total of twenty seconds can be taken to make a decision by video referee. If a decision cannot be made in that time, the original ruling shall stand.

  5. Steve Healy says

    Good work Damo it’s nice to see you with another article next to your name

  6. Good reporting Watto.

    More goal umpires would be bad for the game I think. One goal umpire dancing and gawking around on the goal-line trying to get the best view possible is enough, we don’t need an extra one.

    I think we should get some iPads or whatever to the umpires sitting on the benches doing nothing, and when a contentious goal decision happens, the umpires can look back on the incident, and judge whether it was a goal or not. That would take, 30-45 seconds, not that bad. Whether the iPads can do that, I don’t know.

    I hope they don’t act on this new goalpost rule, where it’s a goal if the ball deflects from the post through for a goal.

    I’m happy for the AFL to leave the game alone, mistakes happen, it’s apart of life.

  7. Damian Watson says

    Thanks for the Comments,

    Susie, I’m not saying that the Hawkins decision directly cost St Kilda the Premiership. However the incident does provide us with a glimpse of the implications a costly decision in a Grand Final.

    What if it had occured late in the game?

    As many have claimed in the past, the football world does not want to see an ambitious decision affecting the result of a Grand Final.

    The Milburn outburst up the other end on the stroke of Half-Time probably did warrant a free-kick judging by his demaenour etc. regardless of how dubious it was and the fact that a senior player ultimately conceded the free-kick indicates that Milburn should have acted in a more reasonable fashion within the situation. But that is another issue.

    However I do agree with your suggestion to introduce video referees to an extent as the process of overuling a decision shouldn’t take a lengthy period of time.

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    The mooted solution of a ball touching the goal post but still going though the goals counting as a goal is going to cause more issues than the problem they are trying to solve.

    Scenario: Bouncing ball hits post and bounces obliquely out away from goal.

    Current rule: score is immediately counted as a point

    Proposed rule: ball is alive until it comes to rest or passes through goal line. (this is my guess – haven’t actually seen it stated)

    Issue: What happens if ball is then kicked again by an “offensive” player and passes through the goal? Is it a goal or a point? If you say the ball is still alive, what if the siren has sounded? Does the point not count? Can the defending players rush the ball away from the score line with no score resulting.

    Whenever comparisons are made with other sports such as soccer or rugby, the “rule changers” fail to identify the major difference. In those sports, the score is either “on” or “off”. In football, if it is not a goal, it is a point, and a point has a value.

    Fix the problem. Don’t come up with a solution that is going to cause more problems that any original solution (referral or appeal process – not necessarily more goal umpires) would have fixed anyway.

  9. Andrew Fithall says

    Damian, Please don’t think that any of the bile in comment #8 was intended for you. It was all aimed at that moron Kevin Bartlett and his rule changer moron mates. Has that bloke ever played the game???!!!…

  10. sarah sammut says

    wow, you sound like a fully fledged reporter. i was reading the article and i was thinking my gosh this information is extraordinary this guy has obviously had years of experience then i found out that it was a 14 year old i was astounded. great job!!!!

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