From the stands is a place where I can artfully discuss the atmosphere of a game with you, the reader, after an Aston Villa match. I hope it has benefit especially for readers who are unable to attend the game itself - because I certainly wish the in-stadium game had a benefit for it’s paying attendees.
We are not here to talk about the pitter-patter of raindrops upon the Witton pavements, nor the reflecting lamplights in pools of polluted water, nor are we going to talk about fights or chants, or the match experience. We are going to discuss the sucking void of VAR, and who it benefits - because it certainly - and I can tell you this for a fact now - does not benefit the fan at the stadium.
Who does VAR benefit then? I want to see hands. Who does it benefit? It doesn’t benefit the players, who walk around in a stunned haze of confusion when VAR is consulted, and a refereeing decision overturned. It doesn’t benefit the ref - who may feel that their ‘authority’ is sullied by the intervention of a distant omnipresent colleague. Does it even benefit FIFA or the FA? Their stunningly obtuse rulebook demands the absolute be applied to the relative - and that VAR intervene to question (or ignore) decisions. The true question is this - has VAR made the game of football, in general, better?
For the fan inside a stadium it hasn’t. The fan left bemused, impotent and confused by a lack of communication between a moment of pure ecstasy, and a moment of administration.
I will tell you now - I roared until my heart was set to burst when John McGinn ‘scored’ his first goal. It was a release of pressure. I was depending on this. This goal was for me! I had to make a tough choice in the week in regards to my career, and that goal was my release. Then it evaporated. It was gone, and I have only just found out as to why.
It’s 22:36. The goal happened about seven hours ago.
Was it the correct decision? Absolutely! It should’ve ruled Aston Villa’s goal out because a player was offside in the build-up. What shouldn’t happen, though, is everyone be left hanging in the balance hoping and praying that the goal they have just seen is a legitimate goal. It was the ‘not knowing’ - the forty-odd seconds between John McGinn tearing the ball into the back of the net and the goal being disallowed. In truth, the first inkling anyone in the stadium knew about the goal being disallowed due to a VAR check was when it was disallowed after the VAR check. Then, barely anyone could discern the reason as to why it was disallowed.
It was awful, and the worst part? It turned the match into a spectacle of the depraved. Every single fan desperately wanted to see VAR pick up on every single 50/50 challenge, and burst into hysterics when the referee missed a clear issue. Now, neutral pundits will rub their nose at the known ‘hypocrisy’ of the football fan who is led by emotion - and there have been plenty of comments pitched from the privilege of distance, but they must understand the ‘hypocrisy’ of fans chanting against VAR and demanding it’s involvement thirty seconds later. If VAR overturns a goal, that is a moment of such clear pain to a football fan - because they know their emotional outburst was worthless. Where do you put that energy? That passion? It cannot be boxed back up, Pandora has already opened it. Chaos reigns, and people turn back - if VAR can take, then why can’t it give? They want it to challenge the tackles, the goals, the offsides and the cards - but it doesn’t.
It is operated by a human who is as prone to error as the referee and it is being treated as force of justice. It is not, and it cannot work because of that. Football will now be viewed through the lens of an obtuse rulebook, cronyism and video. Video assistant refs will be reluctant to contradict and overturn their friends at the game, and who knows the rules anyway?
VAR is painful. It doesn’t work all of the time, and when it works it feels like a villainous act of treachery. When John McGinn scored a legitimate goal, the first thing he did was signal for VAR in an act of mockery (an act the ref was probably thinking of booking him for) - the first thing the fans did was wait until the ball had returned to the centre circle to truly take in the goal. Honestly, today ended with me talking to the Police and I can tell you for sure that VAR was the worst part of my day.
It’s the atmosphere killer. It benefits the neutral. It punches down and kills the matchday experience. It dilutes the celebration and numbs emotion. The VAR as it stands, is an enemy, and that isn’t because of it’s concept- but it’s numbskull execution. It's an exhibition of incompetence. It's use transforms a fair decision into an act of grotesque betrayal.
It begs the question - what do we want from football? Do we want results? Do we want wins? Do we want goals? Do we simply want the chance to feel something as a crowd bursts into joy. After a shit week that dissolves into high bar tabs and a guilt-heavy takeaway, people just want to feel anything but numb.
Football is meant to be an escape, but the rules and regulations and the cackhanded use of VAR are drowning it in a sea of bullshit. This didn’t have to be the way.