At 19.45 Greenwich Mean Time tonight, English football emerges blinking from the Dark Ages into the Digital Age when Brighton Hove Albion’s FA Cup 3rd Round Tie with Crystal Palace inaugurates the first use of Video Assisted Refereeing in the country that invented the beautiful game.
To some, its 32 years late – too late to reverse super-cheat Diego Maradona’s disgraceful punched goal past England’s Peter Shilton in the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 – but it has finally arrived on English shores having been introduced successfully in Germany and Italy:
Tonight’s FA Cup match is VAR’s first use in a competitive English football match and it means that in the following four key match scenarios:
2. Red Cards
4. Cases of Mistaken Identity
the instant decision made by the on-pitch referee can be ‘corrected’ by an external video-replay-assisted referee team afforded the benefit of instant replays at different angles – as long as the referee agrees to the alteration for his is the final call. (See How VAR Works)
In Italy, for example, it has been introduced this season with success (via BBC):
“ESPN reported there were 309 incidents reviewed using VAR in Serie A up to 30 October. Of those, 288 backed the referee’s initial call and 21 decisions were overturned, which is equivalent to 7%.”
so the referee making the square signal with his hands to indicate VAR is being used after a decision is seen roughly every 3 or 4 matches.
Like similar implementation in the sports of cricket and rugby, VAR is not a perfect system and controversies can arise espeically in the highly-nuanced game of association football yet its early introduction in 2018 is a huge sign that the refereeing powers-that-be are taking their role as guardians of the beautiful game highly seriously once more.
Why it has taken this long to come about in the sport of soccer – when in the 1986/7 Season, Video Replay technology was introduced into America’s National Football League allowing gridiron officials to examine key events on video screens – is a matter of real conjecture.
Yet welcomed it must be as it has the power to finally eradicate corruption and cheating from the world’s most popular sport and game – football.
Football in the 21st century is a multi-billion pound, dollar, Euro, Yuan industry and the prizes played for are economically significant enough to have been targetted by professional, organised cheats and thieves and the morally corrupt betting industry who would pervert football’s glory.
Key decisions are massive in football – a goal or penalty or red-card – can decide a football match, transform a season or the destination of a trophy, even transform a player’s career or alter a club, city or country’s destiny.
For too long, there have been equally massive questions about whether the best teams have been winning or are simply benefiting from being given all the right decisions by a very corruptible man in the middle who does not have access to the camera angles afforded by every single armchair fan watching games at home on TV.
Eschewing errant logic that ‘the League table never lies’, football across the world has been rocked by scandal after scandal from Italy’s Calciopoli match-fixing in 2006 proving a network of corrupt referees, managers and players helping Juventus to success in Serie A to Thierry Henry’s deliberate handball guiding France to World Cup 2010 instead of Ireland.
Closer to home in English football, there have always been serious question marks about the reign of Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who enjoyed a special relationship with referees during the Red Devils’ glamour years including the notorious FergieTime in which he and his side physically benefited from more time in games than their rivals:
Current Newcastle United boss then Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez famously questioned the objectivity of Premier League referees in his infamous ‘Facts’ rant as his Liverpool side wrestled with Man United for the 2008/09 title.
In the modern era, it is now the richest club in the world, Manchester City, whom the microscope is trained upon and the Sky Blues have benefited from decision after decision for years often ludicrously so like when a 25-yarder from the late, great Cheick Tiote was wrongly disallowed by very questionable officials at St. James’ Park
calling for SKY’s Gary Neville to actually ask for the introduction of VAR as a necessity in modern football, which he accurately pointed out is too quick for the human eye:
From tonight, at least in sproradic fixtures including next week’s Arsenal – Chelsea Carabao Cup Semi-Final, the VAR trial will be extended into English football to accustom English audiences and then the global audiences who watch The Premier League to the new mode of refereeing and technology, which is here to stay.
Professional Game Match Officials Ltd Mike Riley talked the press through what he hoped the new video technology system would achieve though stressed it wouldn’t make the game ‘perfect’ over night:
“Video Assistant Refereeing is not about making a perfect game of football.
“It’s about saying, ‘Have the on-field refereeing team made a clear and obvious error?’ That’s the only question the VARs should ask.
“If the answer to that is yes, then you need to communicate with the referee. If the answer to that is no, then you keep you out of it by letting the referee’s decision stand.”
Finally, after decades of tens of thousand of people leaving football stadia across Britain cursing the referee and officials post-match, a big technological step has been taken to solve the perennial problem and more right decisions will mean a fairer game closer to a true football meritocracy. Now we wait for offside technology and the rest to follow….
In a brave new refereeing era, You VAR The Ref…