Why do people go to football? What is the reason that they fork out £35 for a matchday ticket, give up their Saturday, pay £3.20 for a bag of Starbust (THREE POUND TWENTY), all to watch 22 blokes kick a ball around a patch of grass for an hour-and-a-half?
It’s because of goals and the euphoria they bring. There aren’t many better feelings in the world than celebrating your new £17m winger crashing home an unstoppable volley from 25 yards on his home debut.
That’s why, with 28 minutes played between Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham United at the Amex on Saturday, the place erupted. Leandro Trossard had just lashed in an unforgettable goal in his first appearance in the stripes.
The place exploded with noise. Graham Potter threw his arms in the air. Maty Ryan sprinted 80 yards down the pitch to join in the celebrations. Brighton were top of the Premier League table for the first ever time in the club’s 118-year history.
And then, two minutes later, someone in an office 74 miles away in Uxbridge watching a super slow-motion replay decided it wasn’t a goal. Sit back down people, it’s still 0-0. Welcome to VAR.
Technology in football is a good thing – when it works. Goal line technology for example has come into the game seamlessly. Within seconds of the ball possible crossing the line, Hawkeye can let a referee know whether it’s a goal or not and we can all get on with our lives. No delay, no drama, no stress, no anger.
What we saw at the Amex was the opposite of this. Not one West Ham United player realised that Dan Burn had a toe offside in the build up to Trossard’s goal. Not one Hammers fan spotted it and neither did any of the officials.
Yet because we now have a bloke sat next to the M40 watching everything back, goals that those of us in the stadium wouldn’t even think twice about the legality of are going to be ruled out on a weekly basis. It might be great for those at home, but it’s going to kill the idea of watching football live in the stadium.
Scoring in the VAR era is a lot like getting a match on Tinder. It’s a great start to proceedings, but until somebody you don’t know on the other end of a screen somewhere decides that it is going somewhere, there is no point in getting excited about it.
VAR in its current form takes away the spontaneity and the rush that comes from scoring. There’s no point in celebrating that glorious moment that the net bulges anymore. Instead, just wait a few minutes until someone watching on television on the outskirts of London says it’s okay for you to go crazy.
People might say that if it was a West Ham goal that was disallowed rather than Trossard’s, no Brighton fans would be complaining about VAR. But this isn’t about one result in a 38-match season – it’s about the damage that video referees are going to do for the game as a live, spectator sport.
Perhaps things will get better. The length of the delay between Trossard scoring and the referee ruling it out was longer than a Wagner opera, which certainly didn’t help. If the decision was within say 30 seconds, then that would be much more acceptable.
Given that VAR was originally intended to be used for “clear and obvious” mistakes, those should be picked up in a fraction of the time it took to rule Trossard’s goal out. The fact that it took two minutes and multiple camera angles to work out that Burn was offside tells you that it can’t have been “clear and obvious” at all.
Sticking a time limit on how long the video referee has to come to a decision would ensure that only “clear and obvious” errors get overturned. It would also prevent the debacle of a two-minute delay for VAR and then only one minute of added on time at the end of the first half.
The other way in which they could improve the system is by better communication. Nobody had a clue what the goal was disallowed for inside the Amex as there was no information. The big screens only said it was no goal. Maybe if they’d shown that Burn had a stud in an offside position, people might have been more accepting of the decision. Instead, it was a guessing game as to why we weren’t 1-0 up.
In its current form – the one we saw on Saturday – VAR is going to ruin football. Changes are needed and hopefully the Premier League will realise this. Otherwise there are going to be two or three games every week which are overshadowed by a VAR incident.
Nobody wants to spend their weekends moaning about what has happened in a call centre in Uxbridge. Sort out VAR, and then we can divert our attentions to more important matters. Like how on earth can the Albion justify a bag of Starburst costing £3.20?