The former head of the Premier League referees – and the writer of the Observer's You Are The Ref Column – welcomes new technology but insists that referees' credibility remains key
For advocates of sports technology, a summer watching DRS doing its best to add controversy to the Ashes, rather than take it away, has been a faith-tester. But the story has called attention to some key lessons – and football needs to learn them.
On Thursday the Premier League launches its new Hawk-Eye system, installed at all 20 Premier League grounds. It's a historic moment: a game-changing shift in the way the laws are applied, and the first significant intervention of technology in our game. In my view it is a brilliant, overdue development – but how we handle it from this point forwards will be crucial.
We set off on this road back in the summer of 2006 when I met Dr Paul Hawkins, the head of Hawk-Eye, to trial a rudimentary prototype system at Fulham's training ground. Even then, his early, scaffolding-rigged system was most noticeable for being unnoticeable: the decisions it made were instant, accurate and unobtrusive, and relayed in a heartbeat to the referee.
The delay since then in rolling it out was down to a frustrating, stubborn lack of vision from the world game's governing bodies – resisting change despite the evidence, and despite the fact that in England alone we were seeing around 10 valid goals ruled out every season.
But now, seven years on, we are finally in a position to be able to show off this "new" technology. The relief will be immense for those officials who go into the opening day equipped with wrist sensors – small devices which will alert them when the whole of the ball has crossed the line. It is as simple as that – no stoppage, no waiting for a third party, no endless replays. And that is crucial.
The Ashes has taught us two things. First, that the use of technology in cricket – and in rugby and tennis – fits stop-start games in a way it could never fit with free-flowing football. Second, a black and white pre-emptive clarity, one which protects the referee's credibility, is essential.
The beauty of the goalline system is that it makes the decision almost before anyone has a chance to react, and without an appeal. In cricket, the ability of players to call for reviews leads to delays and, most crucially, undermines the umpires' authority, with everyone encouraged to doubt them. We cannot follow that path.
Technology can contribute to football in two ways: for matter-of-fact, instant goalline decisions, and for retrospective punishments where players have committed red card offences which have been missed. On every other aspect of the game, for corners, offsides, cards and so on, we need to resist calls for further intervention.
Our referees are the best trained in the world, and they are employed specifically for their well-tested ability to judge and read a game, and to interpret events in a human way. This season they will be doing that backed by one simple piece of kit which takes only one decision – the most crucial in the game – out of their hands, while leaving their authority intact.
They will be better for it, and so will the game.