VAR was sold to us on a lie but don’t be the loser who clings to the sinking ship: we must get rid

Date published: Monday 5th September 2022 7:46 - John Nicholson

After a terrible Premier League weekend for VAR, fans of each and every club must rid the game of a broken system sold to us on a complete lie.


What was the point of introducing VAR? Well, as you’ll remember, it was to correct glaring errors, wasn’t it? It was to make things more fair.

It has failed on both counts.

When it was sold to us, it was not imagined, let alone expressed that this technology would actually make errors, just as the referees on the pitch always have. It was not made clear that it would be subject to the same vagaries of human fallibility as the on-pitch referee, only transposed to Stockley Park.

No, we were sold a system that would work in a narrow and specific way. But, of course, it hasn’t delivered the brave new world promised and is little more than a bloke in a darkened room looking at a screen with line-drawing software.

The parallels with Brexit are irresistible. We changed from a system that was certainly imperfect but largely worked well for many years and gave us many freedoms, to a system that made everything more difficult, more frustrating, more limiting and just plain worse. Advocates believed a lot of lies. Yup, that’s VAR.

And just like Brexit, those who wanted it introduced find it hard, if not impossible, to admit they were wrong. Instead they rely on ‘it’s not being properly implemented’ to excuse all the failures. But how it is being implemented is how it will always be. Remember when people said it’d get better with use. Has it? No, it hasn’t. It can’t.

Those who say ‘VAR itself isn’t the problem. It’s the morons that operate it’ clearly bought the idea that somehow VAR would work independently of humans – the way Brexiteers bought lies written on a bus or thought leaving the EU would stop people coming to the UK from Pakistan – and would be free of human error. They bought the idea that it was some high-end computer technology, not a myopic fella with a headache.

Unless we’re going to breed super humans who are unable to make mistakes, mistakes will always be made.

You’ll notice that the ragged bunch of pro-VAR advocates have been reduced to two basic arguments.

First, it has made the game MORE exciting because you get to celebrate a goal twice – once when it’s scored and then again when VAR approves it.

Second, it has correctly allowed goals that would have wrongly been disallowed and chalked off goals that would have wrongly been given.

The first is delusional. VAR has utterly ruined every goal because as soon as the ball goes in the net and everyone starts dancing, VAR hangs like a curse over proceedings. Time and again, the atmosphere sinks like a lead balloon and the players start hanging around for up to five minutes, like lost children, waiting for approval from on high.

That cheer when the goal is given, that’s not joy, that’s relief. All the joy of scoring the goal in the first place is now lost. This awful feeling of cynicism when a goal goes in is entirely new, a product of VAR and is against the very spirit of football. Every time a goal is scored, the first thing you do is look at the screen, hoping it won’t turn purple. It’s a sort of torment.

West Ham manager David Moyes angrily complains to referee Andy Madley

When West Ham scored their equaliser against Chelsea everyone went wild in the traditional style and then VAR crushed it all, ruling out the goal for a non-existent foul. That feeling of having scored only to have it chalked off a few minutes later is heinous. It is worse than never having scored, made even worse when the decision is just plain wrong, as it was at Stamford Bridge.

Before VAR, the decision was immediate, so you knew if the flag wasn’t up after the ball hit the net, it was a goal. Those days are long gone.

Is giving all this away worth the few times it overturns a wrong decision to give or deny a goal? Of course not. So many decisions are subjective, most of us were perfectly accustomed to accepting marginal calls, whichever way they went. Those who didn’t are responsible for VAR. Their obsession with getting everything correct unleashed the monster.

When Conor Coady scored for Everton to take the lead against Liverpool, his shoulder was ‘offside’ and the goal was ruled out. However, the offside rule was introduced to stop players gaining an advantage by being ahead of the ball; Coady gained no advantage by his shoulder being marginally ahead of the ball. If he’d been an inch further back, he’d still have scored. He was unmarked at the back post, for god’s sake. So while it was a ‘correct’ decision, it was an unfair decision and not what the rule was invented for.

VAR is supposed to make things more fair but too often does the exact opposite. It has given us nothing and yet its existence has taken away so much. It has introduced more frustration and anger while suppressing the joy we all go to football to experience.

It was sold as the all-seeing eye that would punish rule breakers. But it doesn’t. You can get away with a foul that leads to a goal as long as it leads to a goal a couple of phases down the line. But you cannot divorce one section of play from another in this simplistic way. Everything in a game relates to everything else. If a goal is scored from a goal kick that should’ve been a corner VAR cannot intervene. That very fact leads to fans feeling cheated. Why are some things that are wrong corrected and many others are not? It is incomprehensible to have a system that is supposed to correct mistakes whose parameters of operation prevent it from doing so much of the time.

It can’t even overturn unjust yellow cards. But of course if it covered everything, it would break the game up so much it’d be unbearable. So the current situation is a halfway house.

This brings us to the farce that are ‘clear and obvious’ errors.

The VAR was only supposed to intervene for absolute howlers – when they think the ref has made a clear and obvious error. But this is simply untrue. It doesn’t. How do I know? Because if it’s taking four minutes to decide whether a mistake has been made, it can’t, de facto, be clear or obvious. Things that are clear and obvious are clear and bloody obvious otherwise you don’t call them clear and obvious, do you?

Secondly, referees, not being cyborgs, can’t see if a shoulder is an inch offside and if you need freeze-frame technology and drawing lines on a screen to determine if that inch is offside, that also de facto cannot be a clear and obvious error. It might technically be an error, but if you can’t see it with the naked eye, it is impossible to be clear or obvious. That means VAR should not be involved. But it is.

So ‘clear and obvious’ is clearly and obviously absolute total bollocks. The entire raison d’etre that VAR is founded upon is a deceit.

It’s important to remember that football was never meant to be judged in such a precise, digital manner. Its rules are analogue. No-one can point to anything VAR has done that has made football more entertaining, more fun and more exciting, but all of us can point to how it has made it less entertaining, less fun and less exciting. So why do we have to endure it?

We must all stand against it. Boo it at every opportunity, as the fans did at Brighton while they waited and waited to get a decision on Alexis MacAllister’s brilliant, beautiful goal and another glorious football moment was ruined as they ruled it out, after four minutes, for an infringement that was anything but clear and obvious unless you stop and look for a reason to cancel the goal. Football should not be governed in this stupid way.

We have to make it clear that we hate VAR whether it benefits our club in one instance or not. Why should we put up with a system which doesn’t even do what it promised it would do, governs on a false premise and in doing so has made football palpably worse, in the same way being out of the single market and not having freedom of movement is making business and life, palpably worse?

It has gotten so bad that the Premier League is consulting the PGMOL about the implementation of VAR. They should tell them to suspend it. They won’t, but they should. It is spoiling the Premier League’s product in a quite profound way. It will do the same to Scotland’s top flight, too.

No-one voted for Brexit to make the country worse off; no-one wanted VAR to fracture the joy of scoring goals. Both were sold on lies, but both things have happened. Both need putting in the bin of history.

Everyone gets things wrong. It’s OK, but please, don’t be the loser who clings to the sinking ship just so you don’t lose face.

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