I’m not a fan of video assistant referees (VAR). It’s merely technology for technology’s sake, like talking toilets on Virgin Trains. We’ve absolutely no real need for it, but someone with money thought it was a good idea, so now here we are, pissing into the mouth of Tomorrow’s World.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for embracing technology where it helps advance us as a species – the internet, solar power, the George Foreman grill – but VAR doesn’t offer any such kind of great leap forward. It exists purely to suck away the emotion we get from the unpredictability of life. Embrace VAR and you mark yourself as romanceless, someone who thinks whimsy is something that’s a bit like a whim, the type of person who’s never spent more than five seconds mulling over which greeting card to buy.
The truth is VAR isn’t even meant for the likes of us anyway, its for the empiricists of the punditry world, people like Chris Sutton and Robbie Savage; men who simply cannot comprehend the world around them unless it is slowed down and replayed five times whilst Simon Brotherton walks them through it.
Because no-one who has ever been there, right there in the stadium, right in the heart of a moment of pure footballing elation could ever be in favour of VAR. Think back to that day at Brentford, and the leaping, flailing, flare-lit sea of human joy that erupted as Rovers stole a league title. VAR would have robbed us of that. Rather than lose all feeling in our limbs, and scream ourselves hoarse whilst Rob Jones dived amongst us, we’d have had to hold it all in, and wait whilst Michael Oliver trotted over to a monitor and consulted with some distant full-kit wanker desk jockey as to whether James Coppinger was offside. No-one whose ever been so lost in the throes of ecstasy that they’ve tumbled down a terrace, or grabbed at the lapels of strangers, or suddenly found themselves beneath a pile of bodies four rows down from their actual seat and somehow minus a shoe, could ever want to trade that in for the notion of certainty.
“So long as it means we get the right decision,” people say, but where’s the fun in that blurless Truman Show existence? I watch football to escape binary boundaries and technology and actually experience things, and so I want to see stuff go wrong as much as I want to see it work out. I want to get exasperated at a perceived error, but I don’t want to take a two minute time out whilst someone in a far off control room confirms I was right. I don’t want the smugness of instant verification, I want the anecdotes of injustice.
Remember the goal that never was at Belle Vue? ‘Scored’ by Telford United; the ball cannoning back into play off a stanchion in the Town End goal. The only people in the ground not to see that go in were the three blokes in black running about in shorts. The opposition all caught between celebrating and chasing the referee, whilst Rovers counter-attacked. Genuine stomach-hurting laughter the length of the Pop Side at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. There’s none of that with VAR. Just a finger to an ear, a look at a monitor, a point to the centre-spot and we all go home lamenting a defeat rather than chuckling at the image of eleven lads from Shropshire chasing after the officials to a soundtrack of Yakety Sax.
‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘we have shown that we are no longer able to respect the tried and tested method of letting trained impartial people on the pitch tell us whether a player is offside or not, so what other options do we have?’ Well, I’m glad you asked…
Adopt a more louche offside
Abolish offside as a definable black and white construct, and instead adopt offside as a sense, or state of mind. The law is no longer about whether Alfie May is beyond the second to last defender, but whether the little fella ultimately truly feels offside. John Marquis may be physically hanging about on the edge of the six-yard box, but where is he emotionally? What does his heart tell him? Is he offside now, or was he merely once caught offside as a child, and strays there now only in order to channel a happier, more carefree existence?
Pros: Really gets to the heart of what it means to be offside
Cons: Could be construed as ‘ineffective’ by the bloody bureaucrats at the FA
Ask Piers Morgan
This prick seems to have a definite unwavering opinion on every other fucking thing on the planet, so why not let him have the last word on something useful for a change.
Pros: Gives a definitive answer
Cons: Involves Piers Morgan
Officials are allowed to consult video technology, but only the technology of the year at which football began; 1992-93. Is Herbie Kane in an offside position at the point the ball is played forwards? It’s not so easy to tell when he’s juddering back and forth in a snowstorm of static and then suddenly out of nowhere the opening credits to Noel’s House Party start rolling before you can see if the defender’s flicked it on.
Pros: Satisfies the demand for video technology
Cons: Can’t check anything until this match – and the opening five minutes of the next one – have finished.
Dancing with the VAR
In 2019 it seems everything is a reality challenge show waiting to happen – baking, knitting, whacking a load of non-monogamous narcissists on an island. So why not offside decisions? Settle disputes by way of a twelve-week reality television series, in which players are partnered with lithe marital-affair-bait professional dancers dressed in nowt but a handful of sequins. OK, so John Marquis may not have made contact with the ball on its way in, but unfortunately he’d tossed Anastazia beyond the last defender, and her impeccably toned left calf was impeding the goalkeeper’s sightline when she was in arabesque. No goal.
Pros: Ensures a popular decision
Cons: Decisions are somewhat drawn out. Large-scale production costs. Divorce.
Have a referendum
Of course nothing settles a debate clearly, effectively and with a minimum of fuss like a simple yes or no referendum. Was James Coppinger coming back from an offside position? Over to you the proportion of the British public who can be bothered to go down to your local parish hall and draw on a piece of paper. After a lot of footage of the inside of provincial sports halls and dusty town hall curtains, finally, in the early hours of the morning David Dimbleby confirms that he was indeed offside when the ball is played and so whilst he can stay offside, he must return onside by an arbitrary date, three and a half years from now. It was a hard offside you wanted right? Off means off.
Pros: Everyone gets the opportunity to have a say
Cons: Resulting free-kicks may take three years to be applied and ultimately prove a crushing disaster.
by Glen Wilson
This article first appeared in print in issue 99 of popular STAND fanzine