For the second week running, columnist and Stamford Bridge season ticket holder Giles Smith feels compelled to tap out words on football’s most contentious current topic, and that despite plenty to celebrate (for a nanosecond anyway) during Saturday’s win over Spurs…
As we completed the traditional league double over Tottenham, and thanked them again for stopping by, there was the feeling, perhaps, of a wider curse lifting. As against Manchester United, we converted two of our several chances – but this time VAR didn’t find imaginative ways to rule them out.
And even though, for the second successive game, the remote official failed to intervene in the matter of a clear-as-daylight rogue assault by a member of the opposition on one of our players, you could tell our luck had finally turned. A match or so ago, Lo Celso would have gone on to equalise – probably in the 93rd minute of the 94.Reasons to be cheerful, then. Quite some oversight, though, wasn’t it? Even the people responsible for that Lo Celso decision ended up backing away from it in horror a little while later. In a moment thick with irony, the video jockeys at Stockley Park (the ‘VJs’, as we used to call them, back in the glory days of MTV) found themselves apologising for ‘human error’. Of all things!I suppose it would be amusing to suggest that maybe we need a second remote unit to review the verdicts of the initial remote unit: ‘VAR2 checking inexplicable verdict of VAR1 on potentially leg-breaking act of violence by Tottenham player.’ But, of course, we already have that. It’s called BT Sport (or Sky, at other times of the day).
Still, so much for the notion that VAR would mean fewer fallible referees getting horribly exposed. On the contrary: VAR turns out to mean a whole other layer of fallible referees getting horribly exposed. It turns out that, in order to eliminate a problem, they’ve ordered up an even bigger helping of what was wrong in the first place.Lo Celso will now escape a retrospective punishment on the usual shaky grounds (these days plainly absurd) that the referee ‘saw the incident at the time’. Except everyone, including eventually the VAR official, agrees that, whatever the referee saw, he saw it wrongly. So, in other words, the referee didn’t really see it at all – or not properly. It’s the age-old philosophical conundrum, given a whole new PGMOL twist: if a tree falls in a forest and Michael Oliver sort of witnesses it, but sort of doesn’t, can it be said to have happened? And the answer is: apparently not.What a mess. And it can’t go on, can it? With the timing for which VAR is now famous, the buzzing ground had begun to resettle and the players had lined up for the restart before it was announced that Olivier Giroud’s opener was under review for a possible offside. Groans and boos greeted that screen-shot and, even after the review left the goal standing, the boos grew and turned into a full-throated song cursing VAR’s very existence.
Here was a strong corrective to the notion that the only bad VAR intervention is one that goes against you. On the contrary, the popular tide is now firmly against VAR in all of its guises. The goal stood, and so did the dismay. And this is why nobody who pays to watch football in a football ground likes VAR. It’s not because it fails to punish Manchester United and Tottenham players for clear and obvious acts of dangerous behaviour – or not solely because of that. It’s because it’s a passion-killer, a digital fire bucket – a serving of damp sand ready to get dumped across the seats every time excitement threatens to overwhelm us.Remember celebrating goals? I mean properly, unselfconsciously celebrating them? Back in the day, it was the most fun football offered. If you were unusually self-possessed, you might occasionally have allowed yourself a glance across to the assistant on the touchline to see where his flag was, or a look at the ref to see where he was headed. For the most part, though, you just celebrated, lost in the moment. Now you’re catching your reaction before it has formed, just in case someone miles away with an armoury of camera-angles and a spotter’s badge cancels the goal on grounds so slight and so undetectable by human eyesight that they might as well be entirely imaginary.Even when that Marcos Alonso shot hit the net on Saturday (a goal, in all its angles, seemingly hand-crafted for those of us in the eastern reaches of the Matthew Harding), there was a nagging voice somewhere in my head, saying, ‘Did he..? Was there..? Could anyone have..?’
All this collateral damage. As my son said, as we walked to the car after the game, ‘We just beat Spurs, and we’re talking about VAR.’ Indeed. And isn’t that exactly the shame of it? And isn’t that exactly why VAR needs to go?
Read: Giles Smith's reaction to VAR after the Man United game