VAR: Very Awful Refereeing

At least a decade after rugby and cricket introduced video technology to help on-field referees and umpires fairly adjudicate matches, English football is now experimenting with it for FA Cup games. The results are rather amusing:

At times, fans had no idea what was going on as the referee waited for instructions in his earpiece and the half-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos from home supporters.

Lamela’s early goal was disallowed after the VAR ruled Llorente had pulled Harrison McGahey’s shirt – but it took about a minute for the officials to reach their decision, by which time both teams had lined up for the game to restart.

After Son had fired Spurs ahead from 12 yards when he was afforded too much space, the hosts were awarded a penalty when Trippier was fouled by Matt Done. At first, the referee gave a free-kick on the edge of the area before pointing to the spot after another VAR delay.

Son scored from the spot but the celebrations were cut short when Tierney ruled it out without allowing it to be retaken because the South Korea forward, who was booked, had stopped in his run-up.

Video technology had teething problems when first introduced to rugby and cricket, but not like this. For a start, there seems to be some debate over what the rules actually are, never mind how they are applied in a video replay. The video assistant referee (VAR) awarded the penalty last night because, although the foul had “started” outside the area, it “continued” into the penalty area. This could well be the first time in footballing history that such a justification has been used to award a penalty. It happens occasionally in other sports, but rarely does one get the impression watching replays in rugby or cricket that the assistant referee or third umpire is watching entirely different footage and applying quite different rules from what we’re used to.

Moreover, the entire system is a shambolic, amateur effort. In a previous match, the screen the referee reviews was propped up at the end of the tunnel, and he had to run over to watch it.

This happened at Anfield, where there is no big screen. Then during a Manchester United match this graphic popped up on millions of TV screens around the world as viewers waited for the VAR to rule on an offside call:

Somebody later explained this line wasn’t actually used to make the offside call:

But nobody explained what the hell this “wrong image” was supposed to be depicting. Why did it even exist?

I suppose I should have known better, this being football, but I’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals, trained the referees and technical people properly, coordinated with the broadcasters, and done several weeks of dry practice-runs using old footage to iron out any teething problems. Instead, it looks as though they’ve handed the whole lot off to a bunch of amateurs who are making it up as they go along. Sure we can expect a few problems in the first few weeks, but given how long this technology has been around, you’d have thought the world’s number one sport could do better than this.

I’m half-minded to think this is being done deliberately, to justify not taking the VAR system any further. If so, they’re doing a good job of it.

Share

18 thoughts on “VAR: Very Awful Refereeing

  1. “I suppose I should have known better, this being football, but I’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals”

    “FA” and “serious professionals” do not belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.

    Just ask Oliver Kamm.

  2. “FA” and “serious professionals” do not belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.

    I know. What was I thinking?

  3. My theory is they are deliberately cocking it up just so the FA can avoid adopting VAR. All it serves to do at the moment is make incompetent referees look completely useless. (Yes Antony Taylor, I’m looking at you, you bastard).

  4. Is it possible that the rules are so badly-written and ambiguous (the one about a tackle ‘starting’ and ‘continuing’ sounds particularly bad) that any two referees, whether both on the field or not, could have totally different interpretations of what happened, and this is merely showing that up?

    Perhaps it will show the need for some revision of the rulebook to make it clearer what is supposed to be happening.

    Of course, some of it is to do with expectations: the expectation is that the game will flow, and the job of the referee is to get on with it as quickly as possible. By contrast, I watched the final of the super bowl tournament a couple of weeks ago, and nobody seemed to mind that there were breaks of minutes while the videos were watched, because everybody expects American football to be stop-start, unlike actual football.

  5. “I suppose I should have known better, this being football, but I’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals, trained the referees and technical people properly, coordinated with the broadcasters, and done several weeks of dry practice-runs using old footage to iron out any teething problems.”

    We know how poor football is, so maybe they couldn’t afford it?

  6. This VAR stuff, it be bollocks.

    First of all, football is — offside apart — a relatively simple game. Players do make errors, and so do referees (an acquaintance of mine was a qualified referee and he told me the essence of adjudication was better a controversial offside decision than a controversial goal.) There is also the fact that fouls do not “continue”; there are fouls at the point of impact/contact. To me this is like saying a goal “continues” once the ball crosses the goal line.

    But the appeal of football (for non-Brits, ‘soccer’ if you really, really must) is that it is, more or less, a continuous and flowing event for 45 minutes. I recall teams being urged to get the ball back for a throw-in quickly rather than the game be delayed while people fetched the ball. In this, the change from using ‘the match ball’ to ‘any match ball’ made a huge difference. But now we are bringing in, supposedly, a system that stops the flow of the game. I might add that even the extension of half-time from 10 minutes to 15 was nonsense, but that’s another matter; as it is any half-time interval breaks up the flow of the game.

    For the Spurs and Rochdale fans sitting in the cold and snow, you have my sympathies in sitting and waiting while qualified people appointed to make decisions are now obliged to ponder, discuss and revise them.

    You might also wonder, as a spectator, how many decisions need to be reviewed; I have seen incorrect decisions on throw-ins leading swiftly to a goal, so are all throw-ins to be reviewed by telly too?

    As I say, ’tis bollocks but we are obsessed with ‘fairness’ and ‘technology’ so maybe no surprise there. Footy is unfair to the team that has most of the possession, hits the post three times, misses glorious chances and loses to a solitary breakaway goal. As many fans might admit, these things happen and they do level out over time.

    PS, as my team sinks into the quagmire of near relegation — which is far more important long term than a solitary Cup tie — can we have thorough assessments by unblinking technology too?

  7. I also wonder if this way to bring in more advertising money – tv will be able to show commercial or two while waiting for refs to do review.

    What I enjoy about European football is that it is continuous 45 mins of action while American sports constantly stop/start that wrecks flow. American football is ridiculous, there is about one or two minutes of actual action in one hour game that takes over three hours to play.

    Video review should be done only to confirm if ball crossed goal line, nothing else.

  8. I’m not a fan of the wendyball but as a keen cricket and rugby fan I would suggest that the FA don’t bother. Football fans, you do not want this.

    I would quite happily get rid of replays in both rugby and cricket. They delay the game, they bring unnecessary niggle, are subject to home advantage (crowd goes wild when they see the replay) and mistakes are still made.

    Go back to the ref or umpire on the field reigns supreme and his decision is final. If players argue, send them off and fine them. If coaches argue, fine them and their employers. A few bans and stiff fines will get players and fans to STFU and accept the decision.

    Invest more in training the refs/umpires at the same time.

  9. “This could well be the first time in footballing history that such a justification has been used to award a penalty.” Are you sure? Commentators and their side-kicks have referred to this interpretation for decades.

    P.S. I recently heard a rugby referee say that there are only four rules in football. I suspect he meant

    (i) The pitch.
    (ii) Hands.
    (iii) Fouls of force.
    (iv) Offside.

    Any other suggestions?

  10. Commentators and their side-kicks have referred to this interpretation for decades.

    “He went down in the box *but* the initial contact was outside” is something I’ve heard more times than I can remember. Never have I heard the reverse.

  11. ’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals, trained the referees and technical people properly, coordinated with the broadcasters, and done several weeks of dry practice-runs using old footage to iron out any teething problems.

    Why should football be any different than, say, software development?

  12. LFC have been on the end of decisions both fair and foul, it all balances out so I’m happy to leave it to the officials and the eyeball mk1.

  13. I think it’s being deliberately poorly used. Too many people have a vested interest in keeping refereeing fallibility.

    More than any other sport it’s football where managers and fans talk endlessly about an incorrect refereeing decision. It does t come up as much in other sports through managers using it to deflect t focus from the players or by spectators who don’t want to admit that their religion team, I mean football team, was justly outplayed and beaten.

  14. Ooh, I may have to watch a Wendyball match this season just for the hilarity.

    Cricket and rugby have laws. Wendyball has rules. It may be pedantry but there might be something in the difference.

    Certainly, the few times I’ve had to watch a match I’ve been struck by how little enforcement of what I thought were immutable rules; shirt pulling, crowding the referee to influence a decision, pathetic acting to milk a favourable decision, etc. clearly the “flow of the game” is paramount and the integrity of the rule book is secondary.

    Perhaps that’s why VAR is not going so well; it’s a logical fallacy for Wendyball.

  15. WofO has beaten me too it. Football is incapable of enforcing its own rules even when they happen right in front of the ref. The endless arm-grabbing of the guy running in front of you who looks like he can run faster than you. Leicester winning the Premiership against all the odds because their defenders constantly shirt-pulled (once they finally started to enforce that rule, Leicester didn’t do so well).

  16. This:

    More than any other sport it’s football where managers and fans talk endlessly about an incorrect refereeing decision. It does t come up as much in other sports through managers using it to deflect t focus from the players or by spectators who don’t want to admit that their religion team, I mean football team, was justly outplayed and beaten.

    and this:

    Certainly, the few times I’ve had to watch a match I’ve been struck by how little enforcement of what I thought were immutable rules; shirt pulling, crowding the referee to influence a decision, pathetic acting to milk a favourable decision, etc. clearly the “flow of the game” is paramount and the integrity of the rule book is secondary.

    Perhaps that’s why VAR is not going so well; it’s a logical fallacy for Wendyball.

    hit the nail on the head, methinks.

  17. “…Trippier was fouled by Matt Done…”

    This sounds more like a report on Neasden FC’s latest defeat, in Private Eye.

  18. Pingback: Quick Hits and Dangerous Reads: Guns & Tariffs (2 March 2018) – The Cercle Rouge

Comments are closed.