down cross

No need for any replays to expose VAR as a ruinous farce

The Thursday column

Waiting for referee Craig Pawson at Anfield was excruciating
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YOUR ridiculous thoughts and wildly incorrect opinions about the VAR answered …

The fact the decisions the VAR made during the first half of Liverpool v West Brom were correct proves it is a great innovation

No it doesn’t, you oaf. That was the most depressing 45 minutes, or rather 49 minutes (and should have been 55 minutes) of football I have ever sat through.

We should have been marvelling at the brilliance of Jay Rodriguez’s play and the atrocious Liverpool defending. We should have been buzzing after such an action-packed half.

But instead those of us who actually managed to keep track of what the score was were left reeling by just how obtrusive this VAR nonsense can be.

There was part of me that was pleased that the half had degenerated into farce as it did because it heightened the chances of the whole experiment being junked there and then, but then I saw Twitter polls in which there was still widespread support for it and my heart sank.

As long as they get the big decisions right it doesn’t matter how long it takes

Yes it does. It matters hugely. Football is not set up to create delays for painstaking checking of decisions. It has to flow. And fans have to be able to celebrate goals without fear of their joy being snuffed out because someone on TV has spotted an infringement.

But you can’t argue Gareth Barry was offside for the West Brom goal that was ruled out

No, but I can argue – very strongly – that Barry was pushed by Mignolet and that the Baggies should have been awarded a penalty.

It will get quicker. It’s early days

It’s not early days at all. The VAR has been trialled around the world for ages now, just because English fans have only recently had it foisted on them. And how exactly is it supposed to get quicker? Will the operator suddenly locate the rewind button faster? Video refereeing has been used in rugby league for donkey’s years and has not got any quicker.

And it certainly won’t get any quicker if referees amble over to the monitor on the side of the pitch as happened on Saturday. At least jog over there.

People who oppose the VAR are just Luddites who have no desire to change anything

Wrong. Bring in the goalline officials by all means. Allow a fourth substitute to be brought on during extra time. Mic up the refs. Allow all free kicks to be taken as quickly as the team likes. Make fourth officials retired police rather than current refs. Let goal kicks be taken anywhere in the box and with a moving ball. I’m in favour of all these things happening but I do not want the game to be ruined by the introduction of the VAR.

There is too much money in the game for key decisions to be made incorrectly

Why? Whose money is it? It’s not yours or mine so why do you give a toss about money?

How could anyone be against improving the number of correct decisions that are made?

Here’s why: because it’s sport. It’s a bunch of people booting a ball around. If one team loses a match by a goal being incorrectly ruled out because videos showed his toe was 1mm onside it really doesn’t matter.

If someone crashes into the back of my car it is important that the insurance company decides it was not my fault. If a surgeon is operating on my child and decides to make a particular decision that could save their life it is important that he or she gets it right.

But if a referee thinks a player dived when in fact he was felled by contact I don’t really care.

What I do care about is that football continues to flow with the wonderful cadence it has thrilled us with for more a century and a half. Stopping a match as often and for as long as happened at Anfield on Saturday is unacceptable and actually creates a different sport, a sport I have no interest in watching.

Well, there’s no point moaning about the VAR. It’s here to stay

Is it now? We will see about that. The only comforting aspect of Saturday’s farce was that a good number of people who had previously supported video refereeing now realise the extent of its potential to ruin the game.

More will follow and the assumption that the experiment is bound to lead to the permanent implementation of the VAR is extremely premature.

Ruthless Brady bunch inspire little affection

The more the glory is shared around in sport, the more I like it. That’s why Leicester’s title triumph is the most fantastic sporting story of all time and will only get better with each passing season in which the Foxes fall so short of performing anything like Premier League champions.

I disliked it when Manchester United were winning the league pretty much every season, simply because I wanted a fresh set of players to enjoy the thrill of being crowned top dogs.

It is a similar story with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who have been annoyingly dominant for far too long now, something that is all the less likely but more admirable given the NFL is designed to produce a wide variety of Super Bowl winners via the draft system which means the best emerging talent signs for the weakest teams.

The Patriots have been immune to this effect for the entire 21st century and on Sunday they are strong favourites to win the Super Bowl for the sixth time in 17 seasons.

Brady has been at the heart of their previous five victories and has also been on the losing side twice, making him, on stats alone, one of the greatest sportspeople of all time.

But he has not won hearts as successfully as he has won matches. Despite all the amazing comebacks Brady has orchestrated, there is a clinical ruthlessness about him that means he has never connected with the sporting romantics who like the odd rough edge to their heroes.

One of the greatest privileges of my life was to be at the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville. From my seat right behind the Patriots' bench, as well as observing Brady’s excellence on the field as he masterminded a 24-21 victory over Philadelphia, I was able to witness the meticulous work he did when the Pats’ defence was on the field, staring at bewilderingly complex formation charts, talking to his offensive colleagues and coaches, keeping warm, keeping focused.

The Eagles provide the opposition again this weekend and the odds indicate that Brady will end the night requiring both hands to wear all his Super Bowl rings.

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But even if he does engineer yet another Patriots’ success in Minneapolis, the 40-year-old is unlikely to warm the heart. He and Pats coach Bill Belichick, who has been in charge throughout the Brady era, represent the success-at-all-costs philosophy that has little or no room for humour or warmth.

The trouble for many NFL fans is that if New England are a favourite you can’t fall in love with the Eagles are an equally disliked underdog.

Both teams and their fans are consistently voted among the least popular in the league.

And that’s why, unless my stupidly long list of bets is going unusually well, I am long odds-on to be asleep well before Justin Timberlake does his thing during the half-time break.

More clarity on the cards for jumps fans

Here's a little thing that strikes me as a potential disincentive for people to engage with racing on certain midweek days.

On Tuesday the three British meetings took place at Lingfield, Newcastle and Southwell. Many racing followers start their day by looking at which cards are being staged and a proportion of them may well have seen those three venues were hosting the action and taken an instant decision not to bother delving deeper because they are not particularly keen on all-weather racing.

They will not, therefore, have realised that Lingfield and Newcastle were staging jumps fixtures and only Southwell was using its all-weather track.

This happens more than you might think and it could be beneficial to the sport to find a way of ensuring that crucial cursory morning look at what’s on makes it clear how much of that day’s diet takes place on synthetic surfaces and how much provides something for the jumps fan to get stuck into.

Exciting festival enhanced by 48-hours decs 

Those behind the creation of the Dublin Racing Festival, which takes place at Leopardstown this weekend, deserve a huge pat on the back as well as fine weather and huge crowds.

It is a brilliant idea and hopefully it will be a massive success despite the woeful lack of interest from British yards, which will erode their argument considerably the next time they moan about low prize money.

Another reason to love the new two-day meeting is that all fields will be finalised two days in advance. It is another step towards the happy day when all races in Britain and Ireland, whether being run on the Flat or over jumps, will be subject to 48-hour declarations.

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Those of us who actually managed to keep track of what the score was were left reeling by just how obtrusive this VAR nonsense can be.
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