Yesterday we got the welcome boost that Joachim Andersen’s dubious straight red card against Newcastle has been rescinded meaning that we won’t lose him for any games at all over the busy Christmas period. First of all I was relieved, then came the anger. Anger at what is basically an admission that the wrong decision was made by the on-field referee and the VAR, meaning that in a game were Fulham were comfortable ended up being a scrambled draw with 10 men. We were good value for our lead, and I really believe that we would have walked away with all 3 points against a team who look like they will be dragged down into a relegation battle. Points for any team are crucial, but when you are fighting for your Premier League lives, it can be the difference between survival and going down. These decisions from referees matter.
During the first season of having the VAR in the Premier League, we had a whole load of weird and wonderful decisions. From the armpit offsides to the confusion over handballs and penalties, it was a frustrating time for footballers and fans alike. I do passionately believe that the game will at some stage be better for it but the quality of referees using the technology has to improve. It absolutely has it’s use, but I admit that the forensic way that it’s being implicated is sometimes ridiculous. It’s use for offsides is generally fine (bar the armpit and toenail offsides). Look at last night’s Carabao Cup Quarter-final between Arsenal and Manchester City for example. The third City goal was clearly offside but with no VAR in action in that cup competition, it was given as a goal. It’s use for obvious offsides is an important part of the game and it’s very noticeable when it’s not in use. I’m not one of these people who thinks that we should get rid of VAR altogether, but improvements need to be made on how it is implemented.
Let’s turn to Saturday’s events though as it’s a clear example of how it isn’t being used right. I was furious on Saturday when watching the match when Graham Scott only used the VAR to decide whether or not to give a straight red, and not to check the penalty decision or the clear dive from Callum Wilson. We don’t know who made that decision, whether it was Scott himself or the VAR Andy Madley and his assistant Stephen Child at Stockley Park. A lot of people have made comments about why the VAR didn’t show any other angles of the incident, but I think that’s because the penalty itself, for some bizarre reason, wasn’t what was up for debate. They were only deciding whether it was a straight red or not. I believe that there was a foul outside the box. Andersen did appear to tug him back, but when he let him go well outside the box, Wilson continued to run into the box before chucking himself to the floor. This is clear simulation and achieved exactly what he wanted in gaining a penalty. It also meant that the referee decided that the tug wasn’t what he was giving the penalty for, it was for a clip inside the box – a clip that we can see didn’t happen. Now the decision to rescind the red card shows that there was no clip inside the box which in turn means that a penalty should not have been awarded. Whether the Premier League can now look at the dive is another question entirely. I’m not aware of any other occasion were a red card given through the use of VAR has been rescinded. We do have cases were the Premier League have admitted that penalties shouldn’t have been awarded (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53357841) , but to actually rescind a red card only given because of VAR doesn’t look good at all from the referees’ perspective.
My issue is about how they came to that particular decision on Saturday. On the same day I watched the Ulster Rugby match with Gloucester and there was an example of the TMO (television match official), rugby’s version of VAR, being used perfectly. One thing that many other sports that use some sort of video ref does that football doesn’t do, is mic up the referees. It means that we can hear the conversation and understand why decisions are made. Hockey, Rugby League and Rugby Union all mic up the TMO/VAR and on-field referee and it is so effective. Below is an example of the TMO and on-field referees working together to come to a decision in a rugby union match in 2019. It’s 7minutes long but if you jump to 5minutes in, you’ll get the idea.
If football brought this in it would be a huge step forward in my eyes. The decisions being made do not need to be some sort of secret, the referees should have nothing to hide so why not? I also think with full transparency, it would improve the standard of refereeing in general. I don’t think the mic needs turned on for the full match like in rugby, but for when the VAR is being used, it would help us all understand how the referees come up with their decisions.
As for Fulham, we need to remember that all teams in the Premier League will have had some dodgy refereeing decisions. That doesn’t make it OK, but we aren’t the only team to feel aggravated by a decision that looks to have cost us some points. We can only control our own performances and we have to focus on that above anything else. Thankfully Andersen is available for Southampton. It will be a hugely difficult game, but we have to start picking up more points. Every game is an opportunity, eh?