The Thundercliffe Files: who would want football with VAR?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

16 August 2019

Football with VAR is football with reduced emotion. Who would want that?

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For those of us who enjoy a full English every now and again, please picture a big plateful in front of you. Familiar sights and smells, nuzzling at your nose, asking you to dig in.

Now take that plate of beautiful breakfast and take away the beans. Not that important. Now the tomatoes. And the mushrooms. Still got the main men in there. OK, now remove the egg. The sausage. The bacon. In fact, remove everything apart from the toast. You can keep the toast.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a couple of slices of toast first thing in the morning, but not every morning. And if it wasn't what you ordered, you would be disappointed.

Well, substitute breakfast for football and the food for emotions like joy, frustration, ecstasy, and anger. And slowly but surely take away those emotions, that passion and those feelings. One at a time until you're left with a rather anodyne version of the beautiful game.

I'm pretty certain fans didn’t ask for VAR. They want their breakfasts full and plenty, not reduced to an efficient item of food that gets you started in the morning. Going to football is a human experience. That's the point of it

Still functions. Still simple. But lacking any context, controversy or instinct. Plodding and methodical. Clinical. Football, but not as we love it.

Football with added VAR.

I'm still unable to work out why anyone thinks VAR is good for the game. I'm pretty certain fans didn’t ask for it. They want their breakfasts full and plenty, not reduced to an efficient item of food that gets you started in the morning.

Going to football is a human experience, played by humans and refereed by humans. And humans can make mistakes, like scoring an own goal or not sending somebody off. That's the point of it.

Last Saturday was a great example. Was Bradford's goal offside? The players certainly thought so, as did some fans who gave the lino some stick for five minutes afterwards. But you know what, the possible slight injustice galvanised the team, the fans. And that pure emotion carried us all forward to create chances and momentum.

Was Harry's shot over the line? Possibly. Moses Ogbu was rightly adjudged offside but that was only clear after the game. The perceived injustice, again, spurred us all on – and culminated in the equaliser. Football is a game where wrongs can be righted, not by a video referee but by a palpable, collective, rallying roar. It’s what makes the game what it is.

Last season we laughed at the Hand of Cod. A ridiculous moment but, oh, how we laughed. Imagine not finding things funny at the match? We shouted "handball" for a good five minutes afterwards, such was the fun we were having.

Then there was the Palace game. VAR did us no favours there. I still don't think it was a red card, and it was only given because the ref played advantage, giving the dicks in the studio a chance to review it. It spoiled the game because the Jolley masterplan of man-marking eight of their players would have been very interesting to watch.

There will be some who point to other injustices such as Joyce at Wembley. Would VAR have sent him off? Possibly. Would it have changed the outcome? Maybe. But what it did was fuel our collective emotional states and – almost – carried us over the line. It certainly helped us prepare mentally for the season finale a year later.

People point to the successful introduction of video reviews in other sports, but actually it's still part of the skill of the game. Tennis and cricket allow for appeals to be referred to review, but with limited chances if you are unsuccessful. Something similar in football – say one review a half – would mean captains have to be tactical with their remonstrations.

Football doesn't need VAR. It's an emotive, passionate game which gives us moments of joy and moments of frustration. It's why we come back game after game, leave with voices hoarse and money well spent.

Take the Exeter game in 1991. Town had to win to go up, which they duly did after a scary second half. Now imagine that game with VAR. Was Cockerill onside for the first? Possibly, but who's to say his shoulder didn't put him an inch clear. His second, when he ploughed through a defender to put the ball in, would probably have been disallowed by the video assistant.

Or, imagine that both goals stood but only after five minutes of waiting around. Pure, unadulterated bursts of joy are what makes football what it is. Having those celebrations strangled in mid-flow, reviewed and then half-heartedly re-celebrated? It sounds about as palatable as toast for breakfast every single day of your life.

What do you think?