I’m sick of it! Tired of the debate. Weary of hearing the very mention of the name. Bored of podcasts, radio and television programmes debating the issue. It’s a turn off.
I speak of VAR. It has proved to be the final nail in the coffin of my enjoyment of a game I grew up loving back in the much less complicated days of the 1960’s. When the offside rule truly was ‘clear and obvious.’ The era of George Best, Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law, Colin Bell, Bobby Moore, Johnny Giles and many more quality footballers, writes Vernon Grant.
Were there bad refereeing decisions in that decade? Of course there were. Did players dive in the penalty box? Yes, just ask Franny Lee. And even the younger ones among you don’t need me to tell you about the most controversial decision of the 60’s when it came to deciding if a ball had crossed the goal-line.
But I am sorry to confess that I now only look upon football as a means of making money from betting on the sport. Not as someone who likes to watch the game as entertainment. A sad admission on my part, I agree.
VAR was intended to make life easier for referees, players, managers and supporters. We were told decisions would be more consistent. The opposite is true.
I cannot be bothered to get too involved in the latest controversial decisions. The VAR decisions so criticised by many in the games played the weekend just gone. Too many to mention and some decisions so bad that I shall leave others to comment on those incidents.
Alan Pardew was co-commentator on BBC Radio 5 live for the Brighton game. He said of the penalty decision that gave the Seagulls the opportunity to equalise: “Any footballer will tell you that was not a penalty. VAR is not fair on the paying public and it’s not fair to football.”
Alongside him was the respected BBC commentator Ian Dennis. He reacted thus: “Never in a month of Sundays was that a penalty. It’s a joke decision. In America the VAR official is inside the stadium, where you can get a better feel for decisions. VAR is not working in this country.”
The mature Brighton striker Glenn Murray had come on as a substitute in that match, which Brighton won 3-2 with an injury time goal. Murray was asked what players in general thought about VAR. He said: “It’s definitely slowing the game down. It kills momentum. It’s changed the game. Players are appealing more. The one thing I am worried about for the game is that we players and the fans don’t celebrate goals as much because everyone is waiting for the decision to come through and I don’t want to lose that moment because that moment is special.”
It should concern those who run the game that I am far from alone in being a member of a generation for whom VAR is the last straw. While geographically my ability to attend English football matches in person is limited, and thankfully I do not support a Premier League club, I empathise with fans who are suffering form the contagion called VAR. Supporters no longer know how or when to celebrate their team scoring a goal.
Jumping up and down, hugging your mates or loved one, applauding the player who has scored for your team – these are the highlights of supporting your team. In all weathers, and for most of my life, that’s what I did. Celebrating a goal in the moment is a major part of what you go to games for. It’s what you remember the day after the game. You relive the joy.
I would celebrate my team scoring a goal while having one eye out to make sure the referee was pointing to the centre circle. But I cannot imagine what it’s like now. The initial reaction must be to cheer a goal. But then you see the ref listening to some communication through his earpiece. A big screen may announce that VAR is being consulted. But the fans are told nothing about why.
You have to wait…and wait…and wait. If the VAR decision goes in the favour of your team, can you celebrate as enthusiastically had VAR not gatecrashed your party? Jumping up and down minutes after the ball went in the net must look and feel a bit silly.
If VAR goes against you, rightly or wrongly, what then? Do you feel as deflated as the players? How do you learn why the goal was disallowed? Via the radio, or do you wait until late that evening when the bores who analyse the action on Match of the Day dissect the incident? Endlessly.
There have been a few aspects of change in the game that have turned me off watching football. Money, broadcasting rights, scheduling of games, hype and the fact that the very last people some clubs, all administrators and those in television who influence kick off times care about are the fans who still pay to watch games in the flesh. Often paying vast sums to do so.
I always thought that if video replays were going to be used in football it would be for deciding if the ball had crossed the line. Who can forget how England were cheated when Frank Lampard scored a perfectly good goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup? England were trailing 2-1 at the time. Lampard shot from distance, the ball hit the underside of the bar and television cameras proved that the ball crossed the line by some distance. The referee did not give the goal and that decision more than any other led to FIFA introducing goal-line technology at the next World Cup four years later.
Though not an advocate of it, I thought video replays might be brought in for offside decisions. Perhaps, in time, also to decide if a clear foul took place in the penalty area. I never envisaged it would be involved in deciding whether or not it was a foul. I certainly never imagined technology would have a say in whether a handball was deliberate.
VAR has led to players being coached to deliberately aim the ball at the arm or hand of an opponent who is stood inches away. A penalty will almost certainly be given against the player who could not have got out of the way had you paid him to. Intent to handle the ball no longer matters. Or so it seems.
Players are ruled offside because their right toenail is guilty as charged. Penalties are given when a player accidentally stands on the toe of an opponent who reacts as though they have been fired through a cannon.
Someone located on a business estate under the Heathrow flightpath, in a place called Stockley Park, decides who wins and who loses the game called VAR. Not the referee or his assistants at the stadium. The referee at a ground now appears very reluctant to go to pitchside to watch replays and make up his own mind. What happened to that idea? It operates in other countries and in other sports. It seems their masters have discouraged this practice as it wastes too much time. So leave it to someone who may be located hundreds of miles from the stadium in question.
The irony is that fans on the terraces are watching replays of incidents on their mobile telephones while the referee is denied such access. That’s bonkers!
There are good people online who try to explain VAR decisions. I have plenty of respect for BBC reporter Jacqui Oatley. She is quick to tweet explanations of decisions and to defend VAR in general. Jacqui believes that if a goal is ruled offside because the nose of the goalscorer was judged by technology to be offside, then the correct decision has been made and that it should be accepted by all. Literally speaking, of course, she’s right.
But what of spontaneity? The spirit of the game. I’ve complained about many referee decisions over five decades of watching football. But we football supporters have always known that human error will play a part in decisions. I watched the game at a time of some truly terrible referees and a handful of good, reliable, respected ones. Of course we yelled abuse from the terraces when the decision went against our team. We moaned about the ref all the way down the motorway. But you accepted that he had made an honest mistake.
I agree with full time sports journalist Mick Dennis, a part time referee, when he says VAR was the inevitable consequence of complaining football supporters. I guess all of those who have in the past moaned about bad decisions by referees are in part to blame for the current state of play. VAR is the bastard child of every one of us that has called the referee a ******
It’s being employed in a messy, confusing and inconsistent fashion in the Premier League. It works well in Cricket and Rugby Union. It also operates without anything like as much controversy in other footballing countries, such as La Liga in Spain.
Mike Riley is General Manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited. He’s not respected by many a fellow ex ref as former official Mark Halsey once told me on camera. Watch that chat via this link.
Mike Riley has said it would take one, two or even three years to get VAR right, for it to settle down and be accepted. VAR has a long, long way to go before it is. But we all do have to accept that it is here to stay. Sadly.
As for me, I now only study the Premier League games, clubs, player form and match statistics as a means to making an annual profit through winning bets. Something I have succeeded in doing across all the leagues since 1998. I now advise others how to do the same via my VG Tips analysis and betting tips service, which anyone can subscribe to via this link.