Graham Dougan was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.
In his latest column, he looks at the issue of VAR after it was announced the Premier League won’t be introducing it next season.
I was delighted to see the news today that Premier League clubs have voted against the use of VAR in the competition next season.
Some people might call me and old stick in the muff, but I’m very uneasy about the increased use of technology in football today. Everything is about aerodynamics and microchips, even the footballs are tested in wind tunnels. What next, shirts made from a fibre which allows the material to draw moisture away from the skin to help keep you dry during exercise?
You see managers on the sidelines now giving instructions to players using laptops and tablets. Back in my day a laptop was what you got when you went to Stringfellows after a game and tablets were for Moses or a headache. What’s wrong with a good old piece of paper and a HB pencil?
We’ve seen VAR used a number of times this season and it has been inconclusive to say the least. All of a sudden the game it stopped and we’re all waiting to hear from a mysterious Video Assistant Referee who exists in a deep, dank storage room somewhere near Slough.
More often than not they’ve got the decision wrong too. If it’s not wiggly lines, it’s a subjective interpretation of the rules which leaves nobody any the wiser. Alan Shearer called it a shambles after an incident in which a player did something and the referee wasn’t sure and then the VAR came back and it said something but further replays showed it was something else entirely.
It’s like VAR is the police, but who will police the police? The last thing we need is for some bright spark at the FA to suggest Sting, but in this celebrity obsessed world you could see that happening. If Usain Bold can train with Borussia Dortmund then anything could happen, and I don’t need to hear from the do-do-do-da-da-da-dah man every time I’m enjoying a live match on the telly.
We have to trust in the eyes and ears and mouths of the officials. They can see and hear what goes on better than anyone despite the fact we can all have ultra slow-motion replays from multiple angles within seconds and they don’t. But they have something none of us do, and that’s proximity. Location, location, location – they’re right beside the action and a camera is far away, even if it can zoom in.
I recall some years ago, during my playing days, we faced Manchester United in a cup game, and I was up against Ashley Grimes. When the referee wasn’t looking, I gave him an enormous root up the hole which got the crowd going. As the referee turned around, he retaliated by boxing me in the mouth, which got him sent off. It was one of my proudest achievements.
That couldn’t happen nowadays and that’s a real shame. The dark arts were as intrinsic a part of football tackling, shooting, heading, or institutional racism, but people these days are robbed of those golden moments because everything gets replayed on the say so of Sky Sports and their ilk.
I want to make it clear that I’m not against technology in all circumstances. I wouldn’t have this column if it wasn’t for the AOL World Wide Web, but we have to ask the difficult questions. How can a video referee, which is simply a machine into which tapes are fed, bring about an improvement to the game?
Unlike the computer systems that run this gadget, decisions in football are not binary 1s and 2s, there’s often context to take into account. By the ladder of the law, a VAR would have sent an instant fax communication to the referee to tell him to send off Gigi Button, the legendary Juventus goalscorer, at the Bernebeu this week. Sure, the actual referee did the same thing after he was called a ‘Rubbish Hearted Bastard’ but we all had the comfort that the decision was made by a man with a weak chin who looks ridiculous in shorts and not a machine who might decide to ‘go rogue’ and play ‘War Games’ which could bring about the destruction of mankind.
Too much of what’s great about this game is being eroded, like our shorelines, but unlike so called global warming and climbing change, we can do something about this. Let’s remember the glorious days when the man in the middle, with his whistle and notebook, was all we needed to run a game of football.
We don’t need your VAR. It’s a stepping stone to having officials who are those terrifying indestructible dog robots that you can’t even knock over with a bat. Video, not content with killing the radio star, now want to kill our referees too.
And I, for one, say NO MORE.