Sympathy for Liverpool is huge but not limitless – their ‘sporting integrity’ statement is absurd

Dave Tickner
Liverpool players react after Joel Matip's late own goal condemns them to a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham
Liverpool players react after a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham

Jurgen Klopp was very good after Saturday’s uneventful little game in North London.

Very good to the point of actually being a little bit disappointing, because you sort of wanted to see him go completely batshit off-the-deep-end crazy.

But he didn’t do that at all. He was visibly annoyed, had little time for the PGMOL’s non-apology and rightly acknowledged it did Liverpool piss-all good at that stage.

He praised his team’s performance and almost laughed off the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

With Ange Postecoglou – predictably enough in his now established role as the Premier League’s dad – also excellent on the limitations and false prospectus of VAR and its unachievable ideals of a flawless world, it may well have been a contender for the most ‘Spoke Well, I Thought’ post-match press conference of all time.

Anyway, it’s become important to note Klopp’s sane-but-grumpy post-match reaction, because Liverpool have pissed all over it with a genuinely unhinged and really quite dangerous statement.

Klopp could have been forgiven for such a response in the heat of the moment after such a bruising and painful defeat to accept, but he didn’t. For a man who is a famously bad loser, it was quite something to watch him be actually pretty reasonable about it all. Perhaps the sheer ludicrous obviousness and scale of the f**k up actually counter-intuitively made his response more subdued. As a man who has after previous defeats railed at such sharp practice from the opposition as “defending in numbers” or “counter-attacking” it was strange to see him less visibly rattled by something so much worse.

But maybe that’s it. We all know Liverpool’s offside goal should have stood and that the failure to award the goal is a cock-up of staggering proportions. Other decisions can and will be debated at length but that fundamental one is so clear as to brook no argument. It was given offside, it was not offside. When the injustice is as clear as that, there is no need to performatively ramp it up.

And yet Liverpool have now gone and done precisely that. Like a VAR f**k-up, their overblown and frankly hilarious response is less forgivable than an immediate Klopp one would have been. They’ve had the benefit of time to consider their response and had the option not to show their entire arse. They have eschewed that option.

Presumably egged on by the wider reaction and people who are supposed to be their friends, Liverpool appear now to have lost the entire run of themselves.

One of the more profound reactions we saw in the aftermath of Saturday’s game was someone pointing out it was great that something this egregious had happened to Liverpool and not been wasted on, like, Bournemouth or something. In sheer content terms, it’s undeniably true.

If we deploy the standard football fan tactic of denying the linear nature of time, Bournemouth were themselves actually relegated by an even worse malfunctioning of VAR back in 2020. Sheffield United were denied a clear goal against Aston Villa when goal-line technology somehow failed to notice a goalkeeper smuggling the ball over the line and into the side-netting.

It was an incident that taught us all the word ‘occlusion’ but is at best half-remembered now. We actually had to check who it was who got relegated by it because we thought it was Sheffield United themselves and then thought that couldn’t be right.

Nobody has any chance of half-remembering this. Liverpool will make sure of that.

There are other big clubs who would also have shown their whole arse over this – we can think of one in particular – but we reckon only Liverpool could have released a statement quite this absurd. Only Liverpool could truly nail this specific mix of pomposity, wallowy self-pity and utterly futile, directionless bombast.

There are not many things in this world less Tory than the fine city of Liverpool, but its leading football club certainly here appears to be borrowing from the current Tory Party playbook of making loud and increasingly ridiculous noises as you tilt at windmills for the benefit specifically of your base while making everyone else think you might slightly have lost your minds.

Liverpool fans, high on righteous anger and a sense of injustice, have lapped it up. But it’s a ridiculous statement full of errant nonsense.

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Most importantly, an officiating error – however egregious – does not undermine sporting integrity as Liverpool claim. Only if that error is dishonest can that be the case, and given that Liverpool later suggest with extreme pomposity that “any and all outcomes should be established only by the review and with full transparency” it’s a bit bloody rich and also quite possibly libellous of them to have already decided that for themselves.

Liverpool also here leave themselves entirely open to further charges of hypocrisy. Has your team ever had a decision go against you when playing Liverpool? Of course it has. Because it’s happened to everyone against everyone. It is quite literally part of the game and is how we ended up with VAR in the first place.

This statement contains a call to arms for ‘all clubs’ yet were Liverpool themselves this troubled by sporting integrity and the undermining thereof when profiting from a horrible mistake in the cup against Wolves, or any one of countless other examples any clubs could toss to and fro forever? Obviously not, because why on earth should they be? Yet now we’re all supposed to care because it’s Liverpool and This Means More.

Another layer of hypocrisy in this red meat for the base is to ramp up the pressure on officials. It’s an important part of this: if you think refereeing and officiating in England is rubbish and want better referees, then you need to play a part in making it a more appealing career choice. We already know that what’s said by Premier League managers and fans on Saturday afternoon filters down, and fewer referees in the overall pool is unlikely to lead to an improvement in standards at the top end.

Referee Simon Hooper checks the monitor during a game between Spurs and Liverpool
Not the finest hour for Premier League referees at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium

It should also go without saying that whatever flaws referees and officials may have they are, as a group, far more concerned with “sporting integrity” than Liverpool, Spurs or any other club that would throw its hat into the European Super League ring.

The silliest bit of all, though, is the closing intention to explore ‘the range of options available’. Firstly because those options comprise entirely of a) cry and b) cry more, both of which have now been quite fully explored, but also because the necessary vagueness created by the total lack of actual options means Liverpool leave themselves open to attacks on things they’ve not even asked for.

At the most absurd end of this, of course, is ‘replay the game’. Quite why an entirely blameless Tottenham team should be put through that particular insult to ‘sporting integrity’ is never made clear by its proponents, and nor are they willing to consider the full and horrific implications of opening that particular Pandora’s Box and creating a situation where no result is ever final until the lawyers have all had their say. Where exactly would that end, or indeed begin? If you think VAR makes celebrating problematic now, just imagine having to wait until CAS have delivered their verdict on every single contentious decision.

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We’re half-joking here and there is of course no indication Liverpool want or expect this (Klopp certainly didn’t). But this obviously dangerous idea is out there at some volume, and it’s irresponsible of Liverpool to use language that allows something so silly to even potentially be included under a hypothetical “range of options”. The same applies with knobs on to the idea of simply retrospectively calling the game a 2-2 draw. We shouldn’t even have to be talking about things that are this silly, but Liverpool’s vague tubthumping has made it necessary to point out that all of these ideas are obvious non-starters.

At the absolute heart of this is the fact that what VAR has turned into The Worst Decision Ever would in a pre-VAR or non-VAR world have been a relatively humdrum linesman error. It was a bad offside decision, but not orders of magnitude greater than many, many others. It is the sort of error that would certainly rankle for a while, but also that would be and is seen multiple times in any division in any season. It would be neither here nor there.

Yet now it is a decision ‘resulting in sporting integrity being undermined’ and leaving Liverpool with no option but to ‘explore the range of options available’ like this is the first and only time a football match has ever been impacted by an incorrectly raised offside flag.