Are we sure this razor-thin-margin Tottenham goal was actually over the line?

Tottenham’s first goal of the 2018-19 Premier League season was the antithesis of a 30-yard scorcher that flies into the back of the net. It was a Jan Vertonghen header on the doorstep that clattered off the crossbar and … well, are we sure it was actually a goal?

Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to his wrist, relaying that goal-line technology had ruled that the whole of the ball had crossed the whole of the line. Around 15 minutes later, we got this image:

The goal-line technology view of Jan Vertonghen’s goal for Tottenham against Newcastle. (Screenshot: NBC Sports Live Extra)

So, controversy squashed then, right? Well, not necessarily.

Goal-line technology is wonderful. It’s a thousand times better and more efficient than asking the assistant referee on the far side to judge whether the entire ball had crossed the line. It also, however, is not faultless.

The Premier League uses Hawk-Eye technology, which acknowledges a tiny margin of error – reported in some places to be 5 millimeters, elsewhere 3.6 millimeters, more recently 2.2 millimeters, perhaps even smaller now. That means, presumably, that the system is 95 percent sure the ball was positioned within 2.2 millimeters of where it was adjudged to have been in the graphic.

So in other words, no, we’re not 100 percent certain the ball was over the line. No replay that didn’t cut to the goal-line technology view was conclusive.

But the precise measurement – the distance between ball and goal-line calculated by Hawk-Eye – was apparently 0.35 inches, or 9 millimeters.


So we can be reasonably confident – at least 99 percent sure – that the ball was indeed over the line. Much more confident than an assistant referee would be trying to make a decision in real time. Though still not absolutely, 100 percent certain.

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.