A blog on matters Arsenal and related issues off the park today. Monday night saw Arsenal Supporters’ Trust organise its first ever foray into Parliament with a meeting open to AST members with ministers.
The AST board really did the business, laying on the presence of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Andy Burnham MP and Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP. Both spoke and answered questions from AST members, as did Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools, a Gooner himself. Work & Pensions Secretary James Purnell MP, another season-ticket holding Gooner and an AST member also put in a brief appearance but couldn’t stay for long. As you might imagine he’s got rather a lot on at the moment!
A short video clip was shown covering the work of AST since it was founded five and a half years ago. The room was packed with many standing which was impressive for a foul February Monday evening. If you live or work in London you’ll know it was bucketing down all day in The Big Smoke.
Andy Burnham is a big friend of supporters’ trusts. He chaired Supporters Direct (SD), the “trade association” for mutual ownership organisations in football (and rugby union and rugby league too) when he was a back-bench MP. SD gave £1,000 towards the launch costs of AST which was matched by the same amount from those nice people at Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA). SD also paid the legal costs of registering AST as an industrial and provident society, a form of mutual member-owned company with limited liability.
Just in case anybody thinks Gooners can only be found on one side of the House of Commons, those from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat benches couldn’t make it last night. There are also Gooners to be found in the House of Lords too.
Andy Burnham said he wants to see fan ownership widen and deepen at the elite level of the game. Here at Arsenal, ever innovators, we’re really up and running ahead of the race. Burnham offered to facilitate a meeting with the Financial Services Authority and Treasury officials to help iron out some problems the AST board has hit recently with regulatory issues.
All in all a top evening and very well-organised. Forthcoming events include a meeting with the club’s commercial team to talk about Arsenal merchandise and other issues (has anybody ever come out of one of the Arsenal shops or used the on-line shop and said, “That was a blinding example of how to keep the customer happy”? This is an area where the club seriously needs to raise its game. New managing director Ivan Gazidis has also agreed to hold a “state of Arsenal” meeting with questions and answers open only to AST members on the evening on Monday 11 May 2009. A date for your diary, but only if you’re an AST member!
If you pay by monthly standing order it’ll cost you just £2 a month (you choose which day you want to pay, so no going overdrawn) or a £250 one-off payment will secure you AST membership for life. Aside from having a say, you’ll also own your own thin slice of Arsenal heaven. All AST members mutually own the AST’s shareholding in Arsenal Holdings plc, the parent company that owns the club.
The reasons for joining AST should be even clearer than usual following events at Stamford Bridge in the last couple of days. A classic reminder of why we don’t want to become a rich-man’s plaything. James Lawton said it all far more eloquently than I could manage about Chavski and Abramovich in The Independent yesterday.
Moving to another subject, the game’s law-making body the International Football Association Board (IFAB) meets in Northern Ireland on the last day of this month. Contrary to what many think the game’s playing laws AREN’T determined by FIFA but the IFAB. IFAB’s members are the Football Association (FA), Scottish Football Association (SFA), the Football Association of Wales (FAW), the Irish Football Association (IFA) and the world governing body of football FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). Each of the “home associations” has one vote and FIFA four. To pass a law change needs six votes so neither FIFA nor the home associations can change the rules on their own.
Up for consideration this year are:
·       A proposal from the SFA to allow four substitutes rather than three where a game goes to extra time.
·       A proposal from the SFA to introduce a “sin-bin” as used in rugby union and rugby league for yellow cards with the carded player going to the bin for five or ten minutes.
·       A clarification of the offside law to confirm that any defender leaving the field without the referee’s permission is still “active” and can therefore play an attacking player onside.
·       A proposal from FIFA to extend half-time from 15 minutes to 20 minutes.
The IFAB will also receive a report on the experiments at UEFA Under 19 Championship qualifying matches with two additional assistant referees on each goal-line acting as goal judges and assisting the referee with penalty decisions and other fouls in the box.
The clamour for goal line technology and/or video replays has been building in recent years. It’s been used for yonks in cricket, rugby league, rugby union, ice hockey (where goal judges have been replaced with electronic sensors and video equipment to judge the puck over the line) and American football. Cricket is experimenting with player video appeals against decisions of the field umpires at the moment, similar to the coaches’  “red flag” appeal system used in American football.
Personally I’m VERY sceptical about video replays in football. The nature of the game makes it difficult to implement. In other sports where it’s used it’s relatively easy. Play has already stopped. It’s a question of where and how it re-starts or whether a batsman is in or out. There’s no doubting the drama it can bring. We’ve all become familiar with the referee stopping the clock and signalling for a video replay in rugby league and now in rugby union too.
Let’s take one vital decision in football, a possible penalty. There’s three possible decisions – a penalty (and possibly a yellow card or a red card for a last man foul), an indirect free kick and a yellow card for simulation or play on, no foul, no dive. What do we do if the correct decision is “play on” if the game has been stopped for a replay.
I don’t buy FIFA’s objection to technology on the grounds that the laws should be uniform throughout the game all over the world. There is already a difference. Not every league, in fact a small minority of leagues around the world, mainly in Europe,  have the referee and assistants linked up by radio head-sets. In England & Wales it’s only the Premier League and games officiated lower down and in the Cups by the elite officials in which the head-sets are used.
I do buy their caution though. I would however like to see the experiments continued. The goal-line technology proved to be very reliable in judging the ball over the line once some bugs were worked out. FIFA should continue with the experiments in competitions willing to act as “guinea pigs” (as the Isthmian League did here in the early 1990s with kick-ins and an option instead of a throw in, an experiment correctly abandoned in my view, especially in this country. We’ve had enough Blitzkrieg football!)
That’s all for today my fellow Gooners. Keep the faith!

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