The case against the whole concept of VAR and why it spoils the FUN and the spirit of the game by Jon fox
I have been much against the concept of VAR from its outset and in this article I will fully set out my reasons. I will also examine the other side of the argument, as I know many will prefer it to stay, even with its problems. But first I need to explain my beliefs of what football means to us all and how vital it is, especially in these bleak times, to the morale of all who love it and play it. As youngsters we started playing and watching football for the pure joy of being alive. It was and should always be a pleasure. Even, in fact especially, top level football should be above all else, FUN!
Most of us, I must assume, fell in love with football at an early age. I certainly did and by the age seven was lucky enough to be the third generation of Gooners in my family. This was long before the word GOONER became our nickname of course. I already know all about how we were formed back in 1886 and of the several name changes we had in those early days, courtesy of a grandad who used to attend at Woolwich and a dad who was also a Gooner long before he, or anyone else, knew the word existed.
I was brought up hearing tales of Sir Henry Norris – which is why to this day I have a soft spot for Fulham. Of why we play in red shirts – same fondness for Forest of course – of wee Alex James in his baggy shorts, of fierce unshaven Wilf Copping who would terrify opponents, of Cliff “Boy” Bastin, Ted Drake and his seven away goals at Villa, and much more in the same vein. I began going aged eight to Highbury, to thrill at the saves of our own Jack Kelsey in goal and, by the age of twelve, to thrill at the introduction of our best player til then that I had seen in the flesh, in the slim figure of George Eastham.
All those wonderful experiences and tales learned were FUN! FUN is what I, as a boy and now as a fully-fledged old fa*t, still watch football to see. If it was not all FUN, I would have taken up something boring, like well, almost anything else that was NOT football! How humans managed to live on our planet before football is a mystery I still don’t understand. Even lasting a few days between games is purgatory. So, is football STILL fun to me, even now? It is there that I have to think about exactly what fun means. I easily recognise what is NOT fun though. It is VAR (and my previous long-winded fun ramble through my football childhood now brings me back on course to the subject!)
Dear fellow Gooners, VAR is not only NOT fun; it is an abomination that has spoilt that fun for millions of us fans. Think why our Prem league is so hugely loved the world over – it is for its unrelenting pace. In modern life, pace has quickened immensely, in so many areas of life. Attention spans are now shorter than in previous times This is not a criticism but merely an observation about how we all crave pace, excitement, energy and how in these bleak Covid times we especially need our fix of pacey instant football. God knows, I for just one, have spent endless time moaning at the slow unproductiveness of our passing, of slow Xhaka, of sideways/ backwards passing. That is no FUN! I can just about accept these frustrations without cutting my own throat in despair, by reflecting that at least they are OUR team. But when the game stops suddenly, unaccountably and for often ridiculously long reasons, I really despair at the stupidity of those who administer the game. They are also largely members of the old fa*t club and they have introduced a Frankenstein monster that is killing our enjoyment of the game.
Only this morning VAR was the principal topic for discussion on Talk Sport. Though presenter Jim White was firmly for it staying and Simon Jordan, whom I much respect, made the point that it would be better if it were only used when refs actually ASKED for it’s help. Danny Murphy, the widely respected pundit was, like me, totally against it AND all the phone in calls from fans in general were against it body and soul. Ordinary clued-up fans who know what they want and know what they don’t want are in a large majority against it. To some people, FUN matters less than getting ever letter of every law exactly right. They are the pro VAR tribe! No matter to them the game will still have many inconsistencies as they don’t, many of them, even notice those remaining inconsistencies. Example: when a ref is pacing out ten yards for a free kick, he only steps what he thinks are ten yards. This is never exact – (as an “armpit” offside line IS, though it commonly takes over three minutes to show an “armpit” offside) – nor does anyone much worry about it. And why don’t they worry? Because there is such a thing as the spirit of the game. This spirit is all important and the game should always be played in the right spirit. How can it be, when a remote ref sitting at a screen in Stockley Park (it might as well be Jurassic Park!) fancies he knows better than the on-field ref about the context of how the game is going. As any actual spectator will testify, it is always more enjoyable and more helpful being there compared to merely watching on a screen. This spirit of the game is often spoken of but so often sadly abused; by the whole concept of VAR, by cheating, diving, play-acting players, and by all those who seek to gain illegitimate and unfair advantage, like Fulham’s Mitrovic did this last weekend when Soucek of West Ham was innocent but still sent off and VAR compounded the refs original mistake, indeed made him look twice the mistaken ref he was as he has many looks at the TV but still got the verdict wrong. It was rescinded on appeal just this morning. So refs do make mistakes, but VAR makes many of them even worse!
I will soon write a fuller article about how this abuse of the spirit of the game is spoiling football. Though I digress slightly from this VAR subject, I have long contended that to get a mere booking for a deliberate dive is pathetic. I would instantly ban without appeal anyone found guilty of a deliberate dive, and that ban would be 6 PREM games, doubled for a second offence, and then doubled again, at least, for a third time, and still given a sending off in the game itself.
But some will ask, what if refs get decisions wrong! My reply then is of course refs will get decisions wrong BECAUSE they are human beings. It is foolishly naive to expect them to get all decisions right. In the spirit of the game, it is unhelpful when fan sites (just like this one) are filled with fans who regularly accuse refs of being biased against their own team. I will not join this mass silliness and have never thought refs are deliberate cheats, which is what accusations of “bias” really means. Isn’t it! Even mature members of this site regularly accuse refs of bias against our team and that is NOT in the spirit of the game at all. They seem not to care that fans of other clubs say precisely the same thing about their clubs. PERHAPS REFS HATE ALL CLUBS THEN, which seems a tad unlikely when they make football their career, I’d suggest!
So, administrators, players and fans’ acceptance of the real spirit of the game is paramount to FUN in football. When people, routinely, distrust others simply because they are refs or opponents players, it actively works against this spirit and against FUN. It is a price not worth paying and has shown the stupidity of mistrusting refs so much that ANOTHER remote ref is assumed to be needed to question his decisions and to hold up the excitement when a goal is scored – A KEY ELEMENT OF ALL FANS ENJOYMENT OF FOOTBALL, IN ORDER TO CHECK THAT “NASTY BIASED CHEATING REF”, JUST IN CASE HIS CLEAR BIAS FOR ONE OR OTHER TEAMS MAKES HIM GIVE THE DELIBERATE WRONG DECISION!! Pathetic mis-thinking, and I want no part of it! The way out of this mess is to return to the way we were before VAR, but for us all to accept that refs will at times make HONEST mistakes which will sometimes be against us, sometimes for us. THAT is what in the spirit of the game means.
Mistrust is what is spoiling the game and those who misbehave, instead of being properly punished, which would in time remove most of the cheating, are merely given a proverbial wrist slap, which means they carry on cheating. Get this accomplished and refs would be under far less pressure from players, media, managers and fans and far more likely to get important calls right in consequence. VAR itself adds a huge pressure as those who are against it can see only too well.
Fair minded folk will always try to examine the other side of the argument so, though I will now be playing Devil’s Advocate, here goes:
VAR corrects important mistakes made by on field refs. In a highly professional game, financed by corporate money, costly mistakes are no longer allowable nor acceptable. The advent of VAR has rectified many critical mistakes that have previously cost some clubs harshly. Fans like honesty and fairness and will accept decisions made against their own team in the greater good of the game. ((Oh yeah? Try reading fan sites then if you believe that nonsense!)) VAR will in time become more efficient and take a lot less time to make more definitely accurate decisions. The price we pay for undermining the on-field ref IS a price worth paying!
THE LETTER OF THE LAW MUST BE RESPECTED AND THE SO-CALLED SPIRIT OF THE GAME IS OVERRATED AND BELONGS IN THE DISTANT PAST, when only Corinthian sportspeople bothered about fairness and what is technically right far exceeds any fun that people should expect.
Well, my Gooner friends, though I am biased against what I see as this VAR nonsense, I have presented, (an admittedly biased) presentation both against and for VAR.
If I may act as a judge though and do my own summing up, while I await you, the jury, to give the final verdict one way or the other, I say that most of the games ills could be cured by enforcing respect for the existing refs by players, fans and managers alike and that we all must accept that a mistake free game is not possible, unless you make each game hours longer and examine every decision made by a remote TV ref, and that is a price that is never going to be acceptable to pay!
LET US RETURN TO CHERISHING THE VITAL SPIRIT OF THE GAME THAT WE ALL LOVE AND ALL NEED TO PROTECT, OR WE WILL LOSE ALL THE FUN IN OUR GAME AND THAT WILL LEAD TO ITS DEATH. A game without fun is not a game I want to watch! Do you?
Thanks for reading this article and I much hope that at least a few of you who have been pro VAR will now start to see the harm it is doing to our precious game.