Football is sexy and VAR is coitus interruptus; can we just get back to banging please?

John Nicholson
VAR used to make decision at Elland road

Sunday revealed just how deeply embedded the VAR system is in the Premier League: No VAR, no football.

At Elland Road, a game could not go ahead without the all-seeing eye when the Leeds v Arsenal game was suspended due to an electrical fault causing VAR to fail and the officials being not able to communicate with each other via ear-pieces.

Football was played without VAR for 150 years, it was played for almost all that time with officials communicating by the simple means of talking or shouting at each other. That VAR has so occupied football’s real estate at this level that games literally cannot go on without it, shows just how complete its takeover of the game is.

It is tempting to think they were scared to show that football can be played perfectly well without VAR and show that it has made football worse, that it has neutered and blunted every player and fan’s reaction to every goal. That it is thoroughly inconsistent and leaves many of us bewildered and confused.

VAR is often called ‘technology’ but it’s not really technology. It’s not some nuanced algorithm crunched by a big giant brain of a computer in a bunker under a volcano inhabited by men in white coats. It’s a bloke looking at a telly. Calling it technology is to aggrandise the process in order to make it seem more sophisticated and thus important. That conned some into believing infallible robots would be in charge, not the pesky fallible humans. But no, it’s just a bloke and a telly.

The vast majority of fans do not want VAR but it is now a legal obligation to play games with it. So we fans don’t matter. Oh no. We saw that at Elland Road as they held up the game for 40 minutes until they’d fixed VAR without any thought for the Arsenal fans who had to get back to London on a Sunday evening, without thought for the home fans too.

Football happens in the context of our lives. Many haven’t got 40 minutes to stand around. They’ve got to pick the kids up. Got to take their mother to the bingo. We have places to go and things to do in those extra 40 minutes. It just showed just how disregarded fans are. VAR always was the television broadcasters’ lover, broadcasters with hours to fill with content provided by VAR.

Apparently, a game played without VAR when all other games are, would be deemed unfair and unequal. Not a level playing field. But that makes no sense. It suggests that every game is VAR-ed in the same way. They’re not. Not any more than every game is refereed on the pitch in the same way. Football is fundamentally not an even playing field in any respect, VAR or no VAR.

The weather alone is just one of an infinite amount of variables, macro, micro and granular that underlie all games of soccer. So pro-VAR advocates can’t argue that all games must have VAR because it will somehow make it unfair or unequal if any are played without it. Football is never played on equal terms between teams or between games.

For God’s sake, no-one can even tell us what is and isn’t handball any more. It varies from game to game. No-one knows what an unnatural position of an arm is conceptually. Surely any position an arm can achieve is innately natural. Only a dislocated arm is unnatural and even that is up for debate. And you think VAR makes things more fair? Delusion.

As every humiliation that pro-VAR people have to swallow from the millimetre offsides, to the prolonged waits, to the clear and obvious errors that are neither clear nor obvious, the more the pretence that it isn’t VAR’s fault, it’s the people who operate it, has to be pushed. It’s their only get-out clause.

But don’t you see? That’s the argument you made for the introduction of VAR in the first place. Referees couldn’t be trusted to apply the rules properly or would just get things wrong and now you want to blame the VAR for being rubbish too. Will no-one just put the robots in charge?

What do you want? A VAR for the VAR? C’mon, man, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The real problem is wanting to outlaw human error. That. Cannot. Happen. No system will do that. Be you a fan, a player or manager, just deal with that fact. Let it go.

Yes, VAR gets some things right, usually after some tortuous wait, or it makes a decision that was perfectly obvious in the first place without squinting at a monitor, but look at what we lost for those small numbers of decisions. Goals, football’s money shot, can no longer be trusted. VAR has undermined the biggest moment of joy in any game. Nothing is worth doing that.

We’ve all heard VAR’s defenders making up tortuous long-winded fictional situations where if a game is played without VAR and something happens at some point which VAR would have allowed or not allowed, and if that leads to something else happening at a later date in another game, which leads to yet another thing influencing another game which leads to relegation, then boo hoo, think of the money. Whaaa! It’s not fair. Whaaa!! It’s infantile and fails to understand something basic about the nature of being alive.

Football outcomes can’t be reduced down to any one decision made at one moment of time. If, in a VAR-less world, a goal is wrongly awarded and sends a club down, that goal didn’t cause relegation on its own, it was everything else up to that point. You can’t cauterise and amputate that one moment from everything that preceded it, let alone invent an administrative system to deal with it. Selling us VAR as the salvation from such unfairness is selling it on a wholly false premise. And anyway, what if that goal is wrongly awarded by the VAR? Then the whole point of the system collapses.

VAR advocates need to release themselves from their corseted mindset. Stop trying to control everything. Let it go. Football is chaos, that’s not an opinion, it’s just counting.

If you don’t like that fact, it doesn’t make it not true. VAR is just another layer of subjective officialdom but with added coitus interruptus. You have solved nothing with VAR, just found an extra wholly superfluous expression for the chaos.

VAR has become an extreme system of thought by its advocates, so extreme that games cannot now happen without it in the Premier League, for absolutely no good reason at all. Anyone would think football outside of its strictures was not popular, when the truth is, non VAR football has about six million more attendances than those who have to tolerate VAR. That should tell us something.

Weirder still, the position that we should just accept that officials try and get it right, but that occasionally things will be wrong is now viewed by the headbangers as the extreme position. It’s not. It’s the sane position. If you can’t already see how extreme VAR is and how it has bent football out of its beautiful shape, you are an extremist and you never will.

Its fatal flaws and inadequacies are staring us in the face but still get the support of a minority of the population. Last year, 74% supported the abolition of VAR and 95% of those who had experienced VAR in-stadium and 94% who had watched matches on TV said that VAR had made watching football less enjoyable. Given those numbers, what the f*ck are we doing making the game worse?

In the Premier League, the people’s game has been taken away from the people and handed to VAR, to such an extent that football can’t even happen without it. It is shameful. We don’t want it. But what do we matter, eh?

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