VAR: The death of football as we know & love

This weekend Premier League football is back and with it we’ll see the introduction of the much debated Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

The German Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A were the first European leagues to implement the technology two years ago and last year Spain’s top flight also began using it. But VAR in football hasn’t been without controversy, with many hand ball decisions hotly disputed and – as we saw in the recent Women’s World Cup – goal keepers being adjudged to have moved off their line by a matter of inches when making a penalty save. Yet the biggest gripe for a lot of supporters is just how long it can take for a referred decision to reach its conclusion.

Last month Heart of the Holte put a poll to our Twitter followers. The question was simple: do you consider VAR as a positive for football? From a total of 3,054 votes 44% said no it’s not, 32% believe it to be of benefit and 24% were undecided. The post itself received dozens of comments, some of which I shall be dissecting in this article, and explain why I believe VAR will be the death of football as we know and love.

“I think if they put the incident on the big screens inside of the stadiums to get fans interacting with it and stop the clock as (they do) in rugby, why not? It will stop diving as well.” – @1981Carl

A couple of respondees touched upon the possible interactive aspect of VAR and making sure match day goers are fully understanding of a decision and why it has been given. Fortunately, this is something that the Premier League already has covered. Graphics will be displayed on the giant screens in order to explain any VAR-related delays to a match and any overturned decision. Along with this, if the VAR believes there to be a definitive video clip which helps explain an overturned decision then this will be displayed on the screens inside of the stadia.

VAR decisions will be shown and explained on the big screens at Premier League stadiums

“Positive? I’m not sure. But a necessity – yes. Too much riding on games now not to have it.” – @danieldelaney88

A bad refereeing call could conceivably have a catastrophic impact on a club; say a last day of the season relegation battle in which a poor decision results in sending a team down. The Premier League provides a money-spinning sanctuary for football clubs and relegation could lead to a much greater demise. In theory, the introduction of VAR to the top flight should stop this from happening.

By comparison, the exact same thing could happen further down the football pyramid but there will be no referral method in place for those on the wrong end. Hardly fair when you consider that relegation from the Football League could lead to a club facing up a winding-up order.

Due to the ever-increasing broadcasting deals along with all the other superior commercial advantages playing top flight football gives to a club, the gap between the Premier League and the Football League is only getting wider year-on-year. I guess we’re now just adding technological advancements to that fact.

I, however, believe that if the authorities are going to make significant changes to the sport then they ought to do it across the top four divisions so that near on every professional outfit in England are included. For this to happen then we’d need to see a slight of wealth distribution and investment in the lower leagues – but I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Some supporters think that VAR should be used as a method to challenge a decision.

Whilst I understand why some people would like to explore the concept of a capped challenge system of sorts, especially as it works so well in sports such as cricket and tennis, I just can’t imagine being compatible in football.

For starters, football is far too quick for this idea to work where during a match their can be an untold amount of contentious decisions. Whereas in cricket they’re limited to the occasional leg before wicket appeal or a run-out that may go upstairs and in tennis it’s simply a case of whether or not the ball has landed in or out. This type of referral method in football would be far too chaotic and a lot of time would be taken for the process start-to-end.

But the primary reason for me not backing this concept is that it goes against the principles of why VAR has been implemented in the first place. The person(s) responsible for the challenging of a decision – whether that be the on-field captain or the manager – can miss something the same way in which a referee or linesman can.

“Takes too bloody long. Should be a max time limit of 30 seconds for ref to review. If still undecided then go with the refs original decision.” – @RScollick

A lot of comments were made about the length of time that it takes to come to a decision when reviewing. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the clock does not stop as soon as the referee is called to check on the pitch-side screens.

Just several weeks ago at the Women’s World Cup we witnessed one of the most farcical ends to a game of football. In the 86th minute of the Scotland v Argentina match the referee was called to review a penalty decision that she had initially waved away. She correctly overturned her decision and the penalty was saved by Scotland goalie Lee Alexander but a re-take was ordered due to the keeper coming off of her line (rather harshly if you ask me). The re-take was slotted home and by this time the four minutes of added time had been ‘played’. This whole break in play had taken about 8 minutes and Scotland were given around 60 seconds to save their World Cup dream before the final whistle was inexplicably blown.

The time taken to come to a decision doesn’t necessarily bother me too much for as long as the correct call has been made and the right amount of time gets added on. Even without VAR there has been many a game I’ve been at, or indeed watched on the television, and I’ve been left wondering just how the officials have come up with such a small or indeed large amount of added time.

“Football isn’t a game that’s made to be perfect. The disagreements in pubs, the debates and the opinions after the game. It makes football what it is. VAR will kill it.” – @kurt_1874

Bravo! Hear, hear… my thoughts exactly! Sometimes you’re on the wrong end of one but on another day you’re on the right end of one. Besides, the majority of the time the referee and linesmen will make the correct call. Statistics suggest that 98% of decisions made by match officials are right and most games pass without any glaringly obvious decisions being missed or made incorrectly.

Villa could’ve perhaps done with VAR in the Carling Cup Final in 2010 as last man Nemanja Vidic brings down Gabby Agbolahor after just four minutes

One of my main grumblings when it comes to this type of technology is that the referee may get something wrong, deemed innocuous, just a couple of minutes prior to consulting VAR – to let’s say award a penalty. But had he got the decision correct a little earlier then this later incident wouldn’t have occurred anyway.

In my example I’m not referring to a foul in the build up to the penalty decision but multiple phases before, when the ball may have been turned over two or three times leading up the VAR penalty award. This later event would have never occurred had the referee got the ‘minor’ decision correct a few phases previous. And so it all just seems pretty pointless unless you just be rid of match officials and do everything via video analysis.

Besides, I am also a firm believer in the cliché that over the course of the season things do tend to even themselves out.

You may wish to label me old school and I guess in many ways I am. I enjoy overseeing the referee as being the pantomime villain and the occasional expletive being bellowed from the terraces – just so he knows what we all think of that marginal or indeed incorrect call that he made. I like leaving the ground and debating the odd decision, the ‘whole was it or wasn’t it?’ and later watching it back on Match of the Day and seeing whether or not the pundits thoughts on said incident matches yours.

Football is an emotive sport that has provided me with some of the best highs during which I’ve lost all sense of myself. Pure ecstasy. And I guess I see VAR as something that could easily take those moments away from me and every other football fan too.


Please let me know your thoughts on the VAR in the comments below.

Whilst you are here you may wish to take a look at an article I published last month about racism in football ‘Rooney Rule… BAME old problem? Football needs to change’.

Written by Ryan Pitcher

One thought on “VAR: The death of football as we know & love

  1. I just read your piece on VAR and I have to say it was really good reading!
    I get some of your points about decisions evening out through the course of the season plus the point about the Women’s World Cup. Although I do think sometimes the time it takes for them to decide a penalty issue for instance could be problematic this season and beyond.
    Like I said, this was a fantastic read. I have done a piece on VAR myself (albeit a shorter one) on my new website Sports Scoop Action. Could you if possible have a read of it and comment on that for me?


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