Last night saw the first instance of VAR technology being used in a football match and it has split opinion as to whether or not it is the way forward for football.
Little did Kelechi Iheanacho realise as he slotted the ball home in last night’s FA Cup match that he would be making history. The assistant referee flagged for offside. Referee Jonathon Moss immediately blew to disallow the goal, but then pressed his earpiece close to listen. Moss was indicating that he was consulting with the video referee Mike Jones, in an office in London. For most of the next minute, Moss is listening rather than speaking. 67 seconds later Moss signals the shape of a TV screen and points to the spot. In that moment, history is made.
Is it a positive step for the game though and is it fair that it can be used for some games and not for others?
This is the third time VAR has been used in the English game, but the first time such a crucial decision has been made using it. The Brighton and Crystal Palace FA Cup match used it, as did Arsenal and Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. Whilst I see the benefits of it, until it can be used throughout a competition I’m afraid I’m not convinced.
Let’s look at this scenario. Last night Leicester got the goal they deserved, but what if elsewhere a similar situation took place and, as originally intended, the goal was disallowed? Is it within the ethics of football for technology to allow Leicester a rightful goal, but deny Cardiff because Field Mill isn’t covered by the technology? Surely, if it is one rule for one it has to be for all?
Let’s look at it another way, how would we feel if Luton had scored a late winner against Notts County at Kenilworth Road and the game had been covered by Sky and also VAR? The game is poised at 2-2, Luton surge forward and score and the referee wrongly disallows it. He then consults VAR and gives them the win. Would that be fair when contrasted with our own experiences of Notts County this weekend (pictured top), when a perfectly good goal was ruled out and not covered by VAR?
On the whole, I’m actually in agreement that we do need the technology in football. For too long now we’ve seen teams done by incorrect decisions, not just for us on Saturday but throughout history. Northern Ireland are not at this year’s World Cup because of a dodgy decision that VAR could have over turned. Even as far back as 2004, Pawel Abbot’s ‘offside’ goal against us costing us the win against Huddersfield and arguably and easier play-off semi-final against Mansfield Town.
I recall once arguing that it is the ambiguity that makes football what it is, the not knowing whether a goal was offside or being able to staunchly argue your point even if you suspected you were wrong because you wouldn’t have it proven otherwise. Football is, after all, a game of opinions and debate, but it is also a progressive and evolving sport and increasingly, a business too.
Back in the 1920’s the game was very different, played with big heavy balls in stadiums packed to the rafters with working class men smoking tobacco. There were no subs, tackles were vicious and players could pass the ball back to their keepers. There was no money in the upper echelons of the game, the players were more likely to be found in the pub with the fans after a match than in an ice bath. Sports Science was nothing more than two different subjects at school, rarely likely to be conjoined and taught as one. For an alien visiting our planet, the only real proof that football of the 1920’s and 2018 were the same thing would be the objective of trying to put the ball in the net, as well as the fact it was still judged by one man and his two assistants.
Everything has changed from the pace of the game to the application of the rules and yet we still rely on one man and has flag-bearing minions to decide what is right and what is wrong. It is archaic and a stagnant method of controlling the greatest sport on the planet. Of course VAR is a good thing, the ambiguity leads only to distrust of the people controlling our game.
However, it is either at all grounds in a competition, or none at all. I understand the additional official was in London, but in Europe they’re often at the side of the pitch on a monitor. That seems to be a better way of judging, with an additional individual in the stadium. With iFollow broadcasting from every Football League ground it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to make technology available for the top four divisions. The sooner that happens, the sooner we can play Notts County on equal terms without some clown ruining it for everyone.