Enough Already — British Soccer’s VAR and America’s Instant Replay Totally Suck…all the Fun out of Our Sports
“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom” while waiting for instant replay — paraphrasing Danny Blanchflower’s famous quote
During the NFL playoffs, The Gist podcaster Mike Pesca suggested that watching football was no longer just glorious enjoyment of fantastic plays, that with the NFL’s frequent use of instant replay (IR), it’s become an exercise in scrutiny and doubt. He also echoed what an increasing number of us feel about instant replay’s encroachment on our games in America — that IR totally sucks the fun out of our sports. Hear, hear!
That’s over here. But back across the Atlantic, in that other game of football, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has been tested in the FA Cup (soccer) competition. There’ve been missteps that culminated in a recent horror show at Wembley Stadium in a replay match between Spurs and Rochdale. Before this game, the matchup had all the special hallmarks of what the FA Cup is about, the magic of a giant playing a possible giant killer. But in a late winter snowstorm, the game descended into abject astonishment and hair-pulling confusion by the attending fans and millions watching worldwide, including us at the Greyhound Bar, LA Spurs “home patch.”
The game was marred by referee Paul Tierney’s constant first-half stoppages to use the off-site VAR system. Fans jeered as the long stoppages left the players and fans freezing their butts off. The calls — a seemingly legal goal disallowed, a questionable penalty given, then another penalty goal disallowed — were dodgy at best. And it hoovered up all the fun out of the game for us fans.
Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs manager and former Argentinian international player, spoke up for us fans and the spontaneous beauty of the game: “Football is a contest of emotion and if we are going to kill emotion in football, the people who love football are not happy about what they saw. The first half was embarrassing. Everyone was confused and we need to respect the fans. Emotion is why you pay for the ticket. That is why you come to the game when the conditions are so bad. Then you (will) say ‘OK, I am going to watch the game through the TV because if I cannot shout when we score because we need to wait two minutes, you cannot express yourself’.”
Here’s what fans worldwide had to say when I posted a FB comment, “Who Hates VAR?”
First, some spontaneous reactions:
Tom Kelsall: “Can’t stand modern football!”
Ted Semeniuta: “This is ludicrous!”
Austen Merritt: “I got the impression that whoever was controlling it wanted to be centre of attention!”
Barry Howorth: “It’s very amateurish the way it’s done too.
Should have stuck to goal line only.”
Scott Johnson: “My problem is that even when it’s right, VAR can ruin the pace of a team who has momentum working and/or allow a team on its heels a breather that it doesn’t deserve.”
Charles Crawford: “My son left Wembley last night at half-time in utter fury.”
Daniel Windler: “The VAR ‘just need to improve’ crowd needs to understand that replays haven’t improved in the 15 plus years we’ve had it in the NFL and College football…Pochettino was spot on. Think about the spontaneous release of celebrating a goal. We’re really going to turn this into a sport where we have to wait two minutes before we can celebrate a goal? The truly shocking decisions are really few and far between…Are we really going to ruin every single game of a sport so that one truly shocking decision every 20–30 games can be rectified?”
Now, some suggestions:
Joe Erskine: “(Soccer) should study rugby union — Rugby manages it well and keeps the focus on entertaining the crowd whilst the clock is stopped.”
Brandon Cline: “The NFL did replay quite well in the past. It only turned horrible when Commissioner Goodell realized a few rule changes to allow more timeouts for advertisements in the name of fairness. (Soccer) Manager-initiated replays (could be) the way to go. Have only two and only two. Only up to four potential stoppages in play for VAR. Have a maximum of 1 minute which is a lot of time to make a decision or original call stands. Referees disobeying get fines/suspensions/demotions.”
Mat Pieri: “Even ignoring the mistakes and unnecessary delays, the idea is fundamentally flawed. It sucks away all the huge excitement you get a handful of times a game — goals…it should be scrapped and replaced with a 4th official with 10 TVs following the game and offering the ref input.”
Mark Banuelos: “Loved it. I got to eat lunch, take a conference call, and get my car washed during the 1st half breaks and didn’t miss a second of the match!”
And now some heartfelt thoughts from award winning author and blogger Alan Fisher (“A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur…”), who’s been sitting at Spurs home games for 50 years:
“Last night was a debacle for VAR and the referees who administer it, their faults exposed like wiring after mice have chewed through the cable…For the hapless souls at Wembley, it was bewildering. Freezing cold, unsure if they could make the journey home, it was a stark reminder how little they mattered…And here’s the nub. VAR has a context. It exists in a football universe that prioritizes the fan at home over match supporters. This has been a trend for several years now, once the PL allowed Sky to dominate the football schedule. Last night could well be the tipping point…where a tiny incident on the fulcrum of change shifted the balance irrevocably in favour of the sofa rather than the supporter…Change football at your peril. Football is messy, ambiguous and thrilling…because your expectations are constantly threatened by the fact that you have no idea what is going to happen next. From disorder comes pain and anguish, joy and fulfillment. They co-exist: can’t have one without the other. And sometimes, from the chaos emerges beauty, a moment of inspired creativity that knocks you sideways, punches you in the gut and forces the breath from your lungs. Moments that you share with the like-minded. That you remember for evermore. Nothing else does this, only football. For now.”
So, VAR, don’t wreck the spontaneity of our beautiful game!