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Opinion

Thanks to VAR, football is no longer the game I fell in love with

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lukeparaman new author
Roar Rookie
Yesterday
8

When I was ten years old, my dad took me to a football match at the then Telstra Dome.

It was only the second game of football I’d ever attended, and being new to the game, riding off the back of my dad’s adulation – and that of many others too – at Australia qualifying for the World Cup the year before, I was a completely new customer. And more so, in the eyes of a burgeoning league, I was the interest that needed to be attracted and maintained in order for the A-League to avoid suffering the same fate as the NSL.

After still being quite neutral after the first game I’d attended, the second game managed to do just that.

Melbourne Victory were playing Central Coast Mariners, and I found myself in the most unfamiliar amphitheatre of on-field drama and vocal passion off the pitch that I had ever seen. Forget the fact that the 30,000 in attendance were still recovering from the shock of the score being 2-2 after about 15 minutes and the home team being reduced to nine men for the last hour after falling behind 3-2; the ending would be worth the price of admission three times over.

Closing in on 90 minutes, throw in to come on the attacking side of left field. The ball is played intricately around the penalty area and ultimately a fateful cross to the back post saw the breath of a pulsating stadium collectively held. The cross is met by a thunderous Danny Allsopp volley to draw nine-man Melbourne Victory level.

Sheer delirium.

It’s still regarded by many Victory fans as the loudest noise made at one of our games ever, and as a kid who had nothing to gain from being hooked, I was hooked. I fell in love with everything about the contest. The unlikeliness of falling behind 3-2 within the first hour in a sport that everyone at school told me was boring. The lunacy of our captain, Kevin Muscat, getting himself sent off with an hour left despite being behind. The echo of the referee’s whistle to award the Mariners their penalty after a Roddy Vargas handball. But ultimately it was the almost drug-like euphoria of the most unlikely of comebacks in the dying minutes and the wall of noise that ensued.

Fast-forward 16 years.

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Match referee Adam Kersey views the VAR review

(Albert Perez/Getty Images)

I’m a rusted-on A-League fan and club member and having serious questions about my faith in the game.

Had that particular match happened today, the video assistant referee (VAR) would’ve taken the goal away for a foul throw leading up to the Allsopp goal. Not to mention it probably would’ve added a five-minute wait for both red cards to ensure they absolutely were red cards.

And it would’ve checked the penalty and that nobody encroached in the area during the penalty kick.

It’s resulted in the standard 100-minute game, all the delaying.

I never would have ended up hooked on the sport, and I would probably have gone back to talking about AFL at school on Monday rather than raving about the most incredible experience I’d just discovered.

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You may argue that had the VAR been in place and made the decision to disallow the goal for a foul throw, it would’ve been the correct decision and therefore the best outcome. But would it really have been?

I’m sure football fans reading this have felt their fair share of moments where a decision in a moment of controversy has left them leaving a game feeling utterly heartbroken and angry. I do too.

There was the Gui Finkler’s strike in a Melbourne derby that crossed the line but wasn’t counted which would’ve changed the outcome of the match. Heartbreaking.

And let’s not forget Michael Theo handling the ball outside the penalty area before kicking it long to Matt McKay in injury time to equalise against us. Devastating.

But what I am sure about is that the list of enraging moments of VAR intervention is fast becoming far longer than the other list despite it having been around for only a few years.

Goals have been disallowed for contentious offsides when the on-field linesperson hasn’t even raised their flag. Jason Cummings had disallowed his stunning long-range strike earlier this season because a ball was carelessly or deliberately but harmlessly rolled onto the corner of the field. Play was allowed to unfold and attackers were allowed to go on to score worldies when the linesperson had the intention of raising their flag from the moment the player received the ball but had to appease VAR by letting it play out.

And now the cherry on top of the misery and the actualisation of everything I feared when VAR was brought about is happening at the World Cup, on football’s biggest stage.

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Lionel Messi, probably the greatest to ever play, in his probable World Cup swansong watched teammate Lautaro Martinez masterfully slide in behind the Saudi defence to slot the ball home for a second goal.

Delight around the world watching a master at his best continue a perfect start towards a fairytale World Cup title to end his career. For a moment at least. For VAR would have a look and steal that delight away for a contentious, marginal offside call that not even the linesman had called.

(Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

It was not the obvious type of error the system was intended to be used for when it was brought in. Instead it was the reason that, after being absolutely buzzing all day for the game to start, I almost turned it off, as my stomach dropped in the realisation of what the game has become.

It’s a game in which you no longer feel confident enough to even celebrate a goal anymore as you know it will take an NRL bunker-esque three minutes to analyse its legitimacy.

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A goal used to be unhinged excitement, a split-moment penalty call, correct or incorrect. It was heart-stopping drama. Now we’re left with an anxious and controlled cheer after a goal as it is now seems very likely to be disallowed. Football fans in Australia used to make fun of other sports constantly changing their rules and hyper-analysing on-field decisions. Now we find ourselves arguably the worst of them all.

Are we happy to continue seeing stadiums of potential new customers, as I was years ago, celebrate magical moments only for them to contentiously be taken away moments later? Are we happy to see goals disallowed because two minutes earlier in the possession there was a foul? Where do we draw the line and start accepting the referee and linespeople as humans who make mistakes that are sometimes favourable and sometimes not? Do we really need any technology in the sport beyond goal-line technology?

Maybe if we can start showing respect to the on-field officials – respect they deserved all along for allowing us a game – we can be rid of this VAR system and get the flow, drama and passion back that made me fall in love with the sport. Because right now it seems we are reaping what many of us sowed.

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