Austin FC

VAR - Bad Takes


Opinion

Newcastle’s season resumes this weekend [(written ahead of the Fulham match) after the short winter break and ‘bad takes’ is back too.

While Newcastle’s season was paused for a couple of weeks, other clubs were in action and of course there was no shortage of talking points.

One topic that caught my attention on a long drive down to Suffolk, was one that has been on the forefront of football conversations since it hit world football at the World Cup in 2018, VAR.

The incidents in question on this occasion were those at the climax of the game between Sheffield United and West Ham. David Moyes was incensed in the radio interview and we then had to listen to an hour of wittering on from various pundits and fans calling in to claim VAR should be scrapped. There seems to be a growing number of voices in the debate around VAR, those who think bin it and go back to how things were.

In fact, this was perhaps most noticeable in the coverage of our FA Cup tie against the Mackems, where it seemed like there was a constant stream of comments on how refreshing it was to not have VAR in action. I’ll admit it was nice to know there was no way the so-called experts in a van couldn’t chalk off any of our goals, although, if we hadn’t have won so comfortably maybe we’d all be a little more upset that the ref missed at least one nailed on penalty and a red card.

So, am I jumping on the anti-VAR bandwagon? No… no I am not. Now it’s important to say VAR does need some work because the way it’s used currently is a bit of a farce, however, the idea that scrapping it will make football ten times better is absolute nonsense.

Since I started watching football in the late 80s (showing my age here), there’s been a growing number of aids introduced to the beautiful game, both high and low-tech.

Let me take you back nearly 14 years, the date is the 27th of June 2010, England are playing Germany in the World Cup in South Africa. Frank Lampard has just levelled the game for England after a deft lob over Neuer in the German goal. Except he hasn’t, the linesman has inexplicably missed the fact the ball was about a yard over the line and Neuer plays on after gathering the ball which has spun back into play. Meanwhile in Newcastle, I’ve just punched a hole in my living room wall in what is still the moment when I’ve been angriest at football.

Fast forward four years and goal line technology is now in place, or about to be, in all the top European divisions and at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. A decade on and goal line technology is an integral part of top-level football across the globe and, with the exception of one high profile gaffe at Villa Park during the 2019/20 season, it’s been a massive success.

VAR was introduced globally at the 2018 World Cup and, after trials in the cup competitions in England, was introduced to the Premier League in 2019. However, five years on and it still divides opinion. It’s at this time I’d like to remind anyone unable to remember football before VAR was introduced, that it wasn’t a land of sunshine and rainbows. It was a dark place with a growing sense of frustration that the standards of refereeing weren’t up to scratch and officials should be aided by the technology that allowed TV viewers to see exactly what had happened on the pitch, mere moments after something had occurred.

Internationally, Thierry Henry’s deliberate handball that prevented Ireland’s qualification for the World Cup had got the ball rolling on the need to introduce VAR. Domestically, officials buckled after several high profile gaffes, including a disallowed goal by Charlie Austin whilst playing for Southampton.

Austin’s post-match rant is immortalised on YouTube for anyone who hasn’t seen it…

From a Newcastle perspective, we’d been stung several times by inept refereeing in big games.

To name a few. A blatant penalty against Man U that was missed at the Leazes End, a nailed on red card against Chelsea at St James’ in the opening minutes, Tiote’s wonder strike against Man City were all missed / ruled out by incompetent referees (some of who are still officiating, I’m looking at you Craig Pawson).

Now critics of VAR will be quick to point out that mistakes are still being made and not always ones that are matters of opinion.

There was the error of process in the Tottenham v Liverpool game (I’m still enjoying that one several months later) and last season Newcastle had a goal incorrectly chalked off because the VAR didn’t show the ref the whole clip against Palace.

However, the vast majority of contentious VAR decisions come down to bad officials and differences of opinion on what is/isn’t an infringement. In essence, this is exactly were we were before 2019 with bad decisions being made, often by officials who aren’t up to scratch.

So what do I say to the people who have the opinion we need to scrap VAR?

Firstly, get over yourselves, football wasn’t any better five years ago, and I’d much rather see challenges like the assault on Sean Longstaff from Raul Jimenez correctly punished, than have him still on the pitch.

Secondly, the problem is that VAR in its current form is rubbish, but the reason for this is the arrogance of the footballing world to not learn from sports that just do video assistance better.

Video intervention in sport may be new for football but around other major sports it’s decades old. The fact that football have gone with this clear and obvious error approach is nonsensical, especially as everyone has a different opinion on what clear and obvious is.

I could write a whole other article on how VAR should be run, and maybe I will, but if anyone tells you that VAR should be scrapped, just remember, Theirry Henry, Charlie Austin and Cheick Tiote!

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