Although I’m a young fan compared to many of the readers of this site, I am very much a traditionalist. I love the minimalistic things about football and even being a fan of Norwich.
I like the sense of community you get being a football fan, the tale of Norwich being a small city in the middle of fields with a football team who keeps writing history, the fact (controversially) we’re owned by people who love the club and are City fans. I loved that, until recently, we stayed with British managers and I loved how in 2013, the entire starting eleven of English-born players beat Tottenham Hotspur.
I also love the chills you get every time you watch your favourite moments in history, the complete sense of “did that just happen” when a Jonny Howson vs Nottingham Forest goal flies in, and also the “where’s my phone” moment when you just forget about everything and your phone decides enough is enough, which happened on consecutive weekends against Middlesbrough and Derby (and maybe even Ipswich had I attended).
So, when it comes to changing the norms of the game of football, count me in to protest and when Video Assistant Referees or what we all know as VAR came into play for the FA Cup, I was already sorting out my banner, pitchforks and Twitter rants.
VAR will clarify decisions (hopefully), it will support a referee whose got thousands against him, but it will never be conclusive.
Football, for the most part, is a subjective matter. Unlike goal technology where it’s either in or not, the likes of red cards, goals and penalties are all matters that one referee, one former player, one manager or one fan can think differently of compared to their counterparts, despite years of experience in the sport.
That was proven in the catastrophe that was Liverpool vs West Brom, where Craig Pawson became the first referee to inspect the penalty decision himself rather than trust those at Heathrow, dragging out the wait for fans in the ground who had no idea what was happening.
For VAR to be broadcast to the ground would be a game-changer. Rugby have it. Cricket have it. Tennis have it. Yet football fans have forever been used to controversial moments blacked out and replaced by advertisements to avoid an already hostile environment for the referee.
And to be able to master showing it on the big screens, we might have to make sure it works for those watching with a pint in hand in their armchair – which certainly didn’t in the Huddersfield Town vs Manchester United match, where someone forgot to press the one button to mirror the images making him worthy of the phrase “you only had one job”.
Possibly one of the hardest things to get to grips with is the use of VAR to check the validity of goals.
The first ever VAR match at the King Power Stadium where Leicester beat Fleetwood in the third round proved teething problems could turn out to be a much more concerning issue to the game we all know and love.
There will be fans who argue “you wouldn’t care for those 67 seconds if a goal for your team at Wembley was ruled offside when it shouldn’t have been” – it’s true if that one goal is the decider between promotion or another year in the Championship, you’d probably take it. But would I exchange losing my absolute brain, not even knowing my surroundings for a good two minutes (maybe even more) after Cameron Jerome scored against Middlesbrough in 2015 for not being able to celebrate a goal until a good minute after seeing it hit the back of the net? 100 percent, no.
There’s the argument that it works in the likes of Rugby, Cricket and Tennis because they each have regular stops and are slower paced sports in general – which I agree – while others also say football itself regularly stops for fouls and the duration after goals.
That’s true but after a goal, play stops for one team as they slowly make their way back to the centre but for the other team, they are running all over the place, adding a couple of cartwheels and backflips if you’re Rob Earnshaw or dancing to the sadly-missed Samba de-Janiero.
And although 67 seconds may not seem a lot to wait for certainty over a goal, in football, it’s an eternity. Leicester’s Iheanacho never celebrated that goal as you’d expect a player to, he believed the linesman to be correct, and by the time, it was confirmed, players had returned to the halfway line. For an outsider, you’d have thought Iheanacho had scored against a former club due to his muted celebrations.
I could even go as far to say it’s repeated within cricket. Have we ever seen a bowler run away in the same delight as when he sees that wicket fly away than when the wicket is given through DRS?
By the time it’s given, everyone’s huddled together and offering a couple of muted high-fives around but once again, it’s nothing like the Stuart Broad celebration we all know with his arms stretched out, sprinting around in a moment of madness and yelling at the sky.
Cricket and tennis have both embraced the appeal system which accompanies their VAR-alternative of Third Umpire and Hawkeye respectively.
Within Cricket, the use of DRS (aka VAR) is almost a sense of hope for both who review, whether they may be in need of a wicket or desperate to keep their good batsmen on the field – would the ball have struck the wicket if it hadn’t been stopped by the body part of the batsman? Was the batsman really run out?
While in tennis, watching the ball appear on the screen builds tension. When the ball hits the virtual court, you start negotiating whether it would be in by the tiniest of margins and when the angle rotates and zooms in, a laughter is shared around the crowd.
But tennis is a completely different sport to football. Tennis has that patience, the history of tennis, the polite manner to it (barring the odd occasion) and the numerous times I’ve heard my dad call the game slow and boring proves that. Hawkeye also doesn’t overcomplicate the game, the ball has already gone out and the system only applies to one thing – the line call – and when your appeals have run out, it’s a matter of tough luck.
Norwich’s tie against Chelsea played with this theory of appeals (unsuccessfully) but not forgetting, Chelsea’s attempts at drawing TV screens in thin air, while the ball was still in play, in hope of a review.
VAR was also hyped to give back fans a part of the game they’d lost with players appealing for penalties left, right and centre and diving in the most comical of manners. It will do that, eventually. No respected player would want to be caught out for diving, especially if it ever got to the point of being broadcast around the ground. While I’m sure after the game versus Derby, James Maddison wouldn’t be too against his penalty shouts being broadcast and proven to be penalties – as long as they are exactly that.
VAR currently over-complicates an already complicated game. It can be used to overturn “clear-cut” mistakes in goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity. There’s a reason for and against each.
Of course, I want a fairer game and ensure Maddison was well and truly fouled in the box so we’re not called “cheaters” afterwards.
Yes, I want to ensure a red card has been given fairly and to the right person.
And more than anything, if a goal is wrongly said to be offside, it should be corrected.
But that latter issue is the one with the greatest argument against VAR. It’s not like a foul when all 22 players on the pitch are hovering around waiting for the freekick/penalty to be taken. The game hasn’t stopped for one team and VAR could risk taking away the part of the game that I and many others love – losing your mind (and your phone) when that ball hits the back of the net.
I couldn’t possibly think of how I would have celebrated Timm Klose’s goal last Sunday had it been rewarded through VAR but I know, it sure as hell wouldn’t have been the same. I’d still be joyous, leaping for joy and laughing at Ipswich’s ruined celebrations but it just wouldn’t have been that feeling, a feeling I couldn’t possibly begin to describe.