Skip to contents
English Premier League

VAR Isn’t The Only Way To Piss Away A Game

David Moyes
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

There are few things as entertaining as an apoplectic Rebecca Lowe. So the VAR-inspired offside call that negated a glorious goal by Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister in the Hove Albion’s 5-2 slagging off Leicester City, and turned her incandescently purple, is almost surely the highlight of the football weekend.

Now you may be obsessed with fairness and logic and the beauty of the game and the outrage of dulled celebration, but not here. A rant like this makes every arsed-up video-assisted review intervention of the weekend a victory for those of us who prize athletic chaos over justice. After all, only when a system fails completely is it willing to reform itself, and VAR has been trending toward the shambolic almost since it was introduced to blighten the atmosphere.

West Ham was rogered by the technology in a 2-1 loss to an undeserving Chelsea side on Saturday, and Newcastle lost a goal against Crystal Palace in a match that ended scoreless. Those two goals are being “urgently reviewed” (well, gummed into irrelevance, more like) by the Premier League’s most overstuffed shirts, and though there were other incidents that irked coaches and fans about VAR’s essential failure, well, that’s what coaches and fans are there for—to be torqued off by the cruelties of technology and letter-of-the-law rules interpretations.

Not that English football will give up on VAR. We know that much. The FA is pot-committed to having technology save the sport from its true shortcoming—failing to understand why people watch the damned sport to begin with. The cameras aren’t the problem, and frankly, neither are the people reviewing the calls. They are clearly instructed to deliver what they are delivering—strict adherence to rules that get in the way of the Alexis Mac Allisters of the world.

But let’s be honest here, kids. People hate VAR for the same reason they hate officials and the same reason they hate rules—because they don’t get what they want in their entertainment. Yes, VAR is a clumsy and stupid way to interpret a sometimes fast-flowing game, but all review mechanisms are flawed because humans are involved, and the only thing worse than humans in this context is not humans. I mean, if you could train a zebra or a box jellyfish to run the VAR booth, I think we’d all be happier, but inanimate objects or machines would definitely be worse because they are. What, you want to argue with Rebecca Lowe?

On the other hand, we’d have loved to have Lowe’s emotive skills for the FA Cup qualifier between Blackfield & Langley FC and Shepton Mallet FC, in which B&L’s Connor Maseko was red carded in the 76th minute of the scoreless draw for leaving the pitch to have a urgently needed whizz into a hedge.

The referee checked the only available replay apparatus—the puddle at the bottom of the hedge—and determined that Maseko had committed a punishable infringement. No review, no calling up to the replay booth because Gang Warily, where B&L play its home games, is clearly not big enough for a replay booth and barely big enough for a hedge. Unlike Leeds United’s Jesse Marsch, who screeched about getting no respect from officials after being sent off in a 5-2 loss to Brentford, B&L coach Conor McCarthy defended his goalkeeper by saying simply and quietly, “He protected himself. He was inside the hedge. Sometimes when you have to go, you have to go.”

The greater problem (VAR, not the swiftly named Urinategate) is still considered severe enough that ESPN hauled out an instant data-intensive review of VAR’s impact on the Prem, and purists will declare that any system that crowds out the sport itself requires changes. This, though, would wipe out any chance of seeing a pundit get so angry and frustrated that they leap from their chair and punch a producer on air. If VAR is to serve any kind of useful purpose, let it be that.

Oh, and in case you are now intrigued, the Urinategate replay is Tuesday night. Find some way to stream it.