7:43 pm Saturday January 27th: “VAR, in use here for the sixth time in a fixture in England, the fourth time in the FA Cup. Today’s VAR sitting 200 miles away in suburban London is Andre Marriner” – Ian Darke
To be honest, I had completely forgotten that Liverpool-West Brom was going to be one of these trial video-ref games. Due to academic commitments and my boredom of watching anyone else apart from the Reds, I’ve seen very little non-LFC football this season. I had missed the last few VAR games in the cup and I was looking forward to seeing how it went. Either way, it was going to be good television. What an understatement.
What a joy it is to know that the first half was televised and therefore has been archived for the rest of eternity.Liverpool were appalling, but I’ll have plenty more columns to talk about Liverpool conspiring to lose seemingly easy games in between now and May.
The first half: Three goals inside 11 minutes, Hal Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez bullying the most expensive defender in history, a goal ruled out due to VAR, a penalty given due to VAR, the decision taking around 4 minutes, Firmino missing the penalty, two hamstring injuries in two minutes for West Brom, West Brom not really celebrating their third goal because it might be offside and then there’s somehow only 4 minutes of added time at the end of it all. *Exhales*.
According to BT Sport, Andre Marriner was watching the whole thing unravel before his eyes in front of a monitor in suburban London.In my mind, he’s sitting in a tiny little concrete office with no air conditioning and a phone line that can only make outgoing calls. He has a small satellite TV where the picture comes and goes intermittently.
Marriner is on the coffee for the first half but by 8:30 he’s swigging Smirnoff by the bottle. An FA representative finds him unconscious on the floor by the time the second half has kicked off. Word is fed back to Craig Pawson that the pressure has got to his mate from the West Midlands and that he’s not allowed to go back to VAR for the next 45 minutes.
After Liverpool’s two penalty shouts in the second half Pawson pretends to speak to someone in his mic for the cameras, but in reality he’s just moving his lips up and down like a bad ventriloquist. The experience of watching it on the TV was fine and I completely understand that it’s being run on a trial and error basis. Therefore implying that during the trial, there will be errors and that those errors are there to improve the system going forward.
But, wow does it have some amount of errors. Also, it certainly can’t be as enjoyable experience if you’re at the game. The celebration issue is by far and away the biggest problem. When West Brom scored their third goal just before half-time it was a huge moment. A team that’s managed three league wins all season and three wins at Anfield in the last 50 years somehow secures a two-goal lead in front of the Kop inside 45 minutes.
Yet players and fans, half celebrate the goal for a few seconds before waiting around for a minute to see if it’s actually going to count.
VAR is not for fans it’s for TV and to keep rich clubs happy
Must not upset them must we
Soon there will be nothing to talk about on way home from game every decision right
— Neville Southall (@NevilleSouthall) January 27, 2018
It’s one thing that most people involved in football actually don’t realise. There’s actually very few goals scored which have no hint of contention in them.
Is there any way to use VAR for goals without all celebrations becoming mooted. Probably not. The full euphoria and ending up 6 rows further down then where you were when your main striker pulled the trigger can’t exist with the knowledge of knowing it’s going to get looked at a few times to make sure no one cheated.
As I say pretty much every week in this column, it’s supporters who make football, not the millionaires chasing a football around on some grass or even the footballers making the square TV signal with their hands over and over again.
Supporters should be the priority and stripping down of the best thing about football can’t and won’t happen. A thousand poor offside decisions or soft red cards are all worth the undiluted rush of the last minute winner. That’s not to say VAR can’t work while also keeping the experience a joy for supporters.
It did ultimately make Saturday’s game fairer and gave Liverpool a deserved chance to make it 2-2 when two minutes before they were momentarily 3-1 down. VAR for red cards, off the ball incidents and diving will help the game become fairer, even if it’s only slightly.
It’s another crossroads though in modern football and the experience for supporters, who have suffered in England in the last 20 years. The decision to use it at this year’s World Cup seems a bit hasty and does it make that much of a difference in the end?
In the end, it surely pans out evenly anyway. The law of averages would suggest that teams will lose as many points over the course of a season due to referee mistakes as they will gain. Yes, I am officially “Yer Da”. Anyway, what do I know? Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to watch that first half again. All the best.