We Need to Talk About VAR

“To Err is Human”.

Variously attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Alexander Pope, and now perhaps Conor Coady––in sentiment, if not in actuality––the simple phrase best summarises why the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referees) has become anathema for football fans.

VAR was introduced in the Premier League at the start of the 2019/20 season, and has been the cause of nothing but controversy––not always a bad thing in football––but, also, and more concerning, despondency.

VAR has a single––seemingly worthy––purpose.  To eradicate error.  Theoretically, it should make the beautiful game fairer.  In practice, it has made it duller.  I hope not fatally so.

At heart, football is about entertainment, and VAR has succeeded in puncturing the fun in football, like a Jack Russell in a park kickabout.

But how has this happened?  After all, most of VAR’s decisions have been correct.  Most of the disallowed goals have been offside; albeit some only marginally; most of the penalties have been rightly given or rightly overturned; most of the red cards have been correctly awarded, or correctly rescinded.

We come back to “To Err is Human”.  It is all about psychology.

No one likes a Smart Alec.  No one likes to be corrected.  There is no question that on-field referees make wrong decisions at times, but human psychology is such that it is more inclined to forgive a natural weakness than it is to accept a mechanical judgement.

If VAR had existed in the past, it would have ruled out the evident injustices of Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup; Reading’s ‘ghost goal’ against Watford in 2008; and there would be no such thing as Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’.  But these are the things of football folklore.  These are the incidents that fans talk about and debate generations later.  In years to come, no one is going to recall and discuss with passion a correctly overturned armpit-offside decision made by VAR.  It is frankly boring.  In the pursuit of accuracy, the entertainment has been lost.

Football needs bad refereeing decisions; needs injustice; needs to be able to rail against the physical being of the bastard in the black; no one cares about the anonymous bastard in Stockley Park.

VAR has removed the humanity from football; the useless, fallible, imperfect humanity from football.  And football is poorer as a result of it.

“To Err is Human”.  One version of the phrase has an addendum.  “Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum”.  “To Err is Human, but to Persist in Error is Diabolical”.  VAR, in its current form, has been an error.  To persist with it would be diabolical.

© Donnie Blake


Donnie Blake is not immune to the odd mistake himself.

Read about a pre-VAR footballing world in Donnie’s novels Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle and Artie Yard and the Bogotá Bracelet.

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