Football is a game. It’s not science. It’s not maths.

Date published: Monday 3rd July 2017 12:01

I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup and it’s only confirmed my long-held view that I don’t want ANY video technology involved in officiating football. Nothing. Not even for over-the-line calls. I’m against all of it, feeling it’s the football equivalent of auto-tuning; using soulless technology to compensate for human inadequacy, when what we really love is precisely such imperfection.

And I know I’m not the only one. When I raised this on Twitter last night I was overwhelmed by how many people agreed with me, including the estimable Zonal Marking football brain that is Michael Cox. And before you reach for the easy insult and try to dismiss how we feel as some sort of old git analogue knee-jerk, this isn’t a Luddite twitch.

Football is a human game, not a computer game. It is a test of the skills of players and officials. The challenge is to do your best in real time, while accepting all the while that to err is human. The mystery of football lies in that fact. It will be both unfair and fair, and in that it is an expression of our humanity. Technology is trying to bleach out that humanity.

VAR will be a creeping force which will eventually lead to a fractured, fragmented game. A review process for a couple of specific things in specific situations, as is the current state of affairs, automatically casts every other decision in a different light. How can it not?

You can ask for a video review to decide if a goal really was a goal, or if a penalty was a penalty. But, hey, ten moves previously to the penalty, there was a foul in the build-up that won’t be reviewed, even though the team that gets the penalty should never have been in a position to do so. Or how about the goal ruled to be onside via video but six passes previously, there was a handball. What do the fairness warriors think about that? Once you swallow the VAR pill, it will poison the whole of the body.

You can’t divide up a match and apply extra scrutiny to the bits you randomly deem most important. It exists as a whole. The things that happen in the penalty area are no more or less significant than that which happens to put the ball there, so to have additional judgment on a couple of things in the box is like saying only the denouement of a novel matters and the plot is irrelevant.

As VAR does not review earlier stages of moves, you’ve automatically made the game much more unbalanced and unfair. You either review everything – which is impossible – or you review nothing, and that’s before we even start to address the situation at lower levels of the game, which cannot rely on this technology. Thus, automatically, we end up with a national, indeed, global game, being adjudicated differently depending on which league or competition your team plays. More elitism. Great.

No, it doesn’t matter more when there’s money on it.

This introduction fractures the unified nature of the game. Remember, only a small percentage of football is played in front of TV cameras and thus can never enjoy this uber-analysis.

Thanks for making the game more unequal, you tech lovers. How fair is that?

While there has been much debate about how quick or slow VAR is, how well the officials indicate what is going on, and on the quality of the decisions the video reviewers make, it doesn’t matter. They can be brilliant or terrible and every shade in between; this is a fundamentally philosophic issue. If wrong decisions are made in a game I totally accept mistakes as part of the experience. So should we all.

It’s a game. It’s not science. It’s not maths. The desire to smooth the bumps and creases in such a random, multi-variables sport with the hot iron of technology goes against every poetic, romantic, creative instinct. It is for people who take a 1 + 1 = 2 approach to life, whereas I take a 1 + 1 = cocktails, dancing under a summer moon and red hot sex approach.

But there’s millions of pounds in football, people argue. Small fortunes won and lost on a bad decision. My answer? Don’t care. Football is a community activity and pastime, it’s not gambling on the futures markets. It’s not investing on the stock exchange. If it’s all about winning or losing money, then we might as well stop now.

I know this attitude is very puzzling to many people who just want the game’s rules applied correctly. I do see the logic of that and I want it too but as I say, only in real time. And it is very annoying when a bad call causes your team to lose. I understand that too. I totally get that wrong calls can spoil a game, I totally understand it is unfair. I totally understand it causes distress.

But I still don’t bloody well care.

And that is because all of those supposed negatives are ultimately positives. Such vagaries make the game wonderfully unpredictable, wonderfully…well…human. Football is chaos. This seems to upset some people. Checking on video film to find out what REALLY happened disinfects the game of that chaos of human nature. It makes it considered, instead of wild. It makes it straight instead of freaky. It makes it all neatly coiffured hair, instead of messed-up post-shagging bed hair. Is that really what you want?

We have got to this situation because of the over-emotional noisy hysteria of those weaned on TV football’s endless frame-by-frame analysis into believing that everything must be right, or everything is wrong. It is the product of taking football far too seriously.

Football will always be an expression of our imperfection, an expression of our flawed humanity. That’s not just fine, it is fundamentally life-affirming. And you want to take that away from us? Pffft.

As the chant goes: “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

John Nicholson

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