7th March – Varsity football is rank amateur.

It’s boring I know, but I must devote the first of these posts to saying something about VAR.

And I want to focus on its application to the offside rules in particular. That is the arena where, for many us, VAR is not just at its most culpably lacking, it’s also the place where the roots of its general failings are most exposed.

In the land of the myopic bureaucrat, the man who can look along two parallel lines, twenty-five yards apart, at the same time, is king.

Here’s the thing – any physicist will tell you that VAR cannot accurately measure two independent events simultaneously. It does not even attempt to measure the exact moment at which the pass is made with the same accuracy with which it measures the position of the intended recipient. It estimates the former, and it calculates to pixels, the latter. Small margin offside decisions must, therefore, always be invalid. Full stop. Learn this simple argument, and repeat it to every naysayer.

Here is not the place to make the argument that fine-line VAR decisions are misguided because they fail to address the very mischief that the “broken” rule is seeking to prohibit. That is for another day. Here, this fact is merely acknowledged, whilst we concentrate on presenting an argument to dismantle the fundamentals of this misguided experiment in faux-science.

When deliberating over a VAR decision, the far-away administrator draws lines on the screen, attempting to show the body part of the defender, furthest back, and the body part of the forward, furthest forward. Sometimes, one of them transgresses by part of their upper arm, other times a knee, most often, something less than the length of a toe. But they NEVER attempt to take the same pains to measure the exact moment of the pass. Never do they try to calibrate that moment against the precise point at which they fix the attacker’s position. As far as the ‘moment of the pass’ is concerned, their attitude changes, from one driven by the quest for precision, to one of ‘That’ll do.’ Yet, still, it is used as the baseline for all subsequent calculations.

So, we have one measurement that is made in fractions, and another in feet and inches. Anyone possessing the merest scientific analytical capability, will accept that there is a margin of error at play here; one that is far in excess of the amounts by which decisions are made. That alone, should be enough to motivate sensible people to disband the system.

Someone said all this in the Daily Mail, pre-Covid.

The article explains why this margin of error may be as much as 25-30 centimetres. We’ve known this since VAR was first introduced. In those early days, we still held out hope that the system’s administrators would be guided by the ‘clear and obvious error’ criteria. They weren’t. They went the other way. And by monomaniacally pursuing the notion that offside is a strict liability offence (you are either on-, or off-side), they have taken to measuring one end of their assessment of it as accurately as possible. What they don’t acknowledge is that there are two components to committing the offence. It’s like measuring the time of a 100m sprint to the hundredth of a second, having started it with a flag.

And if the article does not convince you that ‘toe nail’ offsides are simply wrong, then look at it this way. To play an opponent offside is an important aspect of the game; a skill which defenders have developed; and to be adept at the skill as a defensive unit is to add a significant advantage to your team’s quest to win matches.

It is a nuanced art, the leading exponents of which, will possess an attacker’s nous to move out of defence the instant before the pass is made. Their skill is to be aware of the relative positions of all the players around them, and to play ‘at the margin.’ And it is reasonable to reward that skill. It is not reasonable to expect that those judgments be executed to the nano-centimetre; no human exists that can do that. To do so, is to reduce this crucial element of the game to the arbitrary, beyond the control of the game’s participants to influence.

There’s more to it than meets the eye, you know.

Now, obviously, to backtrack from where we are now with VAR will be shaming for the many people who have aligned themselves behind it. And the chances of having it dismantled, never to despoil the game again, are vanishingly small. So, we must find a way for them to exit without loss of face, which seems not to ‘waste’ the investment made. And, more importantly still perhaps, not require any of the idiots who have supported it for too long, be forced to admit their error.

How about this? Instead of having a far away administrator of the system making the ultimate VAR judgments by drawing the lines, and zooming in on freeze-frames, you give all these duties back to the referee. The administrator may do no more than suggest that the referee may like to have a look at something. The referee may also refer himself, or one of his assistants might too; you might even add a captain’s appeal to the mix, like they have in cricket and tennis. But this is the point: only the referee can look at the monitor, and draw the lines, and make the decision.

It’s obvious he won’t have the facilities at hand, nor the time, or inclination, in the middle of a match, to go into the sort of analysis that results in a fine-margin decision. He may only make decisions on the basis that he, or one of his assistants, has made an absolute howler. And further, by restricting their analysis to watching the replay in real-time only, again, only obviously bad decisions will be overruled.

A final thought. The people that run football are not motivated to preserve the integrity of the great game for the fans. But there is another constituency in football – gamblers. Some of us are in both camps. Already, gamblers are reducing their commitment to football, because they can no longer rely on the correct result happening. Before long, the bookmakers will notice this turn in trade, if they haven’t already, and it is they who sponsor football clubs, and take out adverts with the broadcasters that show the matches.

What might happen if this funding were to be withdrawn? What would its impact be on the bidding wars by which the broadcasters sustain this product at higher and higher levels? Football’s own venal pursuit of ever-growing riches, may yet be thing that brings the VAR house down.

And otherwise? Fail to take on the inept, clipboard-carrying, out-of-touch blazers, who have never kicked a ball in a professional football match, and these same broadcasters might come to learn that football’s stakeholders are not as loyal as they once imagined. Some of us are old enough to know that football hasn’t always been so popular. And with the benefit of that historical perspective, Premiership football does look a little like a bubble, and less like a robust market destined to grow forever. It may not go pop, but a prolonged deflation is far from out of the question.

The economy has already returned to the 1970s. Why not football too?

6 thoughts on “7th March – Varsity football is rank amateur.

  1. Also whilst I’m here
    WTF are linesmen?
    Are they there to carry the inept refs bag?
    I honestly cannot see any point in there existence….maybe they could be replaced by cheerleaders or nutters with T shirt guns


  2. VAR is not used in proper football! But referees who still manage to screw up in the fancy-Dan Premiership despite having more cameras than a south London McDonalds are shipped out to The Championship as punishment for being shit, which is demeaning for everyone.

    The rule that needs to be changed is the bounce ball. When did it become illegal to challenge? Surely that’s the whole point? Otherwise it’s just a free kick that the ref hold for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great to see someone thinks the same as me.
    It was originally a good idea but we forgot that feckless idiots are still making the decisions

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Referee sometime look wrong eye innit? I mean, player, it’s as if one leg bad with naughty mind on him own, brain don’t say it, other leg don’t say it, but one leg just go naughty part on its own. Just like ref sometime arm go up in the air, he look on, and there he see red card at the end of it. He don’t know how it end up there, just get carried away in excitement, like me throwing vase at tele. Obvious.

    Here’s me thinking sometime not yellow, not red. Give orange, but just to one leg. Player go, eat orange on side ten minutes. Then when come back, if bad foul with naughty leg, orange turn red, got to, even if accident and brain don’t mean it. Bad foul with other leg, maybe just yellow this time – who know? If this case, go side, eat a lemon which is worse. Very naughty foul other leg, need to ask, did he mean it? If not mean it, second orange, why not? But this time, eat two oranges, longer so, more punishment really. Maybe drink a pint orange, not squash which is kind athletes, Fanta for longer sentence. All this save a red, keep match good, and not punish legs for being wicked when only accident. But, good thing: no player want to be eat too much time with citrus on the side. Even might give packet Opal Fruit one day – spend all match undoing the wrappers! Player going to be try and cut out accidents future matches. Brain can’t control leg when mind of its own, obvious, but maybe encourage buttock to take better charge that area? Make world better one leg at a time innit? Concentrating on not making error – like go to aunty house for tea. Face it, we can all do it (even though we get orange squash, Digestive at Aunty’s – LOL).

    Liked by 2 people

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