Your mileage may VAR-y: Why I unashamedly love VAR

I unashamedly love VAR. It might have cost England a late goal in the Nation’s League semi-final, but that didn’t change my mind. I think getting crucial match-changing decisions right is important, and VAR steps up the accuracy of decision making in football’s highest profile matches.

People complain it takes the drama and debate out of the sport, but the to and fro during the England-Cameroon Women’s World Cup match in June was as much on-pitch drama as I’ve seen in years. And VAR doesn’t stop teams or fans celebrating when a goal goes in. Yes, you know there might be a VAR review, but which of us hasn’t immediately cast an anxious eye at the assistant referee’s flag when we’ve just scored?

“It’s not a great experience for fans in the stadium” is another common refrain. But I think we need to accept that in matches at the very highest level, the TV audience absolutely dwarves the number of “real” fans there in person, let alone the corporate hospitality prawn sandwich brigade. And if millions at home can see that a mistake has been made, it seems crazy that the only people not allowed to have a look at a replay are the match officials.

People say one of VAR’s problems is that it means that the elite level of the sport is now operating under a different set of rules to the rest of us when we get the chance to play. But growing up we weren’t all religiously sticking to The Laws of The Game when we were playing rush-goalie. We’ve always accepted that the standard of the pitch on Hackney Marshes isn’t going to be the best, and that finals at the old Wembley were challenging due to the wider-than-usual pitch. And other sports cope with the fact that village cricket doesn’t have DRS, or that on the local courts you can’t rely on Hawkeye. Trust me, little kids playing football now shout “VAR! VAR!” the same way we used to moan about offside, even though there was no linesman.

I’ll admit VAR isn’t perfect in the way it is currently executed. It notably seemed less efficient during this summer’s Women’s World Cup than it had been in Russia. I’d love to see IFAB experiment with an approach where coaches had a set number of challenges during the game. That way, you’d only get the interruptions when coaches really felt there was a mistake, not the rolling review. In cricket and rugby, you get to hear what the officials are discussing, and it seems that might make decisions a lot clearer for everybody too.

VAR shouldn’t ever really trouble us at Orient though. I expect after it is introduced to the Premier League, there will be inevitable pressure to extend it to Championship matches that are being televised. But to have VAR at every Saturday 3pm kick off you’d need more than 100 extra officials on duty each weekend, and the expense of that alone should make it prohibitive.

People say that football with VAR isn’t the game we fell in love with. But you know what? I think I might have fallen in love with football a little bit more watching World Cups in the 1980s if I’d seen that cheats didn’t prosper from punching the ball into the net, or that goalkeepers got punished for knocking opponents unconscious.

My main argument in favour for VAR though is what I consider the greatest moment of 21st century football: the look on Neymar’s face at the World Cup as he had a penalty rescinded because VAR eventually showed the on-field ref what we all knew – that he had dived. I could watch endless replays of that.

This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Leyton Orient fanzine Pandamonium.