The goal is to get it right

Guessing isn’t good enough, not anymore.  There is too much on the line to guess.  The AFL’s goal review system needs tweaking.  The third umpire must be given greater responsibility and the players must be offered the chance to contest decisions.

There are so many grey areas in football, so many interpretations to the rules.  What is paid a free kick one week isn’t the next.  The fans put up with that because umpires, like players and coaches often make mistakes.

The umpires, like coaches and players, don’t make mistakes on purpose.

But there can be no more interpretations when it comes to goal umpires.  They have to get it right all the time.  There are no excuses, because goal umpires are the only umpires backed up by a review system.

The goal umpire can have all the reviews necessary to get it right and it’s not happening.

At the weekend there were several decisions made by goal umpires that should’ve been reviewed and weren’t.  Two clubs, Richmond and North Melbourne, can feel aggrieved, given they lost by less than a goal.

On Sunday Jarryd Roughead put Hawthorn nine points up midway through the second quarter.  Unfortunately for North Melbourne, Roughead’s kick clipped the post.  The decision would’ve been overturned on review.

North might’ve won by two points instead of losing by three.

On Saturday night, during the final quarter at Docklands, Geelong’s Billy Smedts curled in a helicopter punt from the boundary line.  Somehow the goal umpire awarded a point as Smedts was celebrating.

That decision didn’t affect the result but that isn’t the point.

On Friday night, Richmond’s Matthew White found the goal umpire in the goal square for what should’ve been a certain goal.  The umpire was over the goal line, positioned in and outside of the play.  The ball bounced into his balls and rebounded back into play.

If the umpire was behind the line, Richmond may have come away from Subiaco with a win.

But the goal umpires are instructed to straddle the line so they can see when the ball crosses over.  Their rationale seems sound but the execution was inadequate.  If it hits the goal umpire and rebounds into play, it is play-on, and that means the goal umpires can’t straddle the line anymore.

It is no longer acceptable to watch a ball hit the post and be awarded a goal, or hit an umpire in the balls.  The third umpire must be allowed to stop the game and overturn the score when he finds an error.

Holding the game up shouldn’t be a consideration.  The fans may get edgy, but if the right decision is made there is nothing to complain about.

Would Damien Hardwick care if it took 45-seconds to review White’s kick on Friday night?  Brad Scott wouldn’t have cared if it took a minute to overturn Roughead’s goal.

What if it happened in a grand final?

Simply, the third umpire must review every close call.  He can watch three different replays in fifteen seconds.  Given it takes about thirty seconds for play to restart after a goal, there is plenty of time for the third umpire to freeze frame.

If the replay is conclusive enough for all watching to know the decision was wrong, the third umpire needs to say, stop the game, it hit the post.  Cancel the goal and award a point.  It’s a kick-in to North Melbourne.

The players should also be able to question decisions.  Despite their bias, they are often in a great position to see if it was a goal or not.  Limiting the referrals to two would cut out the frivolity.

Besides, few footballers would ask for a review for an obvious goal or behind.  It’s the one’s the players and umpires aren’t sure about, maybe one or two per week, that players need to be allowed to ask about.

The review system has had two years of teething problems.  There were enough issues in three games at the weekend to make immediate changes.

Goal umpires need to be infallible.  Stop the game for as long as necessary, just get it right.

Every goal is too crucial to continue with the same, faulty review system.  Being human can no longer explain obvious mistakes, not when the backup system is unreliable.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Rick Kane says

    It is remiss of your essay to ignore the Breust goal that wasn’t allowed following the video umpire review. Even though the footage wasn’t conclusive as to whether the ball was touched or not the umpires over-ruled the initial decision the goal umpire had made and a goal became a point. Anyway, I don’t believe we should expect umpires and umpiring to be 100% correct. The examples cited here (including mine) did not determine the result. Footy has too many moving, changing variables to pin a result on one specific point. Cheers

  2. Nice article Matt. Umpires – you either hate them or hate them more – are a necessary evil (obviously), and they obviously go out there with the intention of giving it their best. I have noticed however, both at AFL and SANFL levels, (or perhaps it’s just an illusion) that when there is a stoppage, with players stacked up one on another, the field umpires seem to wait for an inordinately long time before blowing the whistle, almost as if to wait for the crowd shouting ‘ball’ to determine the way the call should go – holding the ball, or ‘give it to me’. I know that ‘they who should be listened to’ have decided that the game needs to be more flowing, but waiting for so long before making a decision smaks of indecision, and not trying to get the game moving on. Is it just me, or am I being too picky?

  3. daniel flesch says

    Let’s get serious … all this trouble started when goal umpires stopped wearing long white dustcoats tied at the waist , black pants , football boots and a white hat. A real hat with a brim , not a stupid cap. There was never any problem with goal umpires then and it’s just been mayhem since. Get the goalies properly attired and problems will cease. Then we can also get the field and boundary umps back in white shorts , white shirts with long sleeves rolled up and black socks. (The umpies in Collingwood socks worried me a bit as a kid , but then anything Collingwood is a worry .) Back to the future ! (And Gough for P.M. while we’re at it !)

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