Fans have always been a massive part of football.
Waking up at 4am to see the blood moon brought back memories of the World Cup.
Generally the scene played out like this: my wife would ask if I was going to get up, I would pull back the blankets, note how dark and cold it was and tell her, “It’s OK. I’m recording it.”
I don’t know what it is about these big sporting and astronomical events, but in Australia we always get a raw deal with time zones.
This time it was my wife’s turn to comment on the cold. “Don’t worry, we’ll record it,” I said.
Using technology to catch up with the football, and the blood moon (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the new A-League ball), got me thinking about VAR and how good it was in Russia and how bad it was in Australia.
After last year’s A-League season I was a complete VAR opponent. It was messing with the game, messing with our heads.
Unlike many countries, Australia has an entrenched video officiating culture. Who hasn’t had arguments about whether Clarkie’s bat was behind the crease or whether a rugby league player has grounded the ball.
So Australians had high expectations of VAR. Years of images of fried chicken accompanied by a ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ has made us a tough crowd. We could tell that the A-League experiment was tanking.
The great test was at the A-League grand final. The goal looked offside and most of us were expecting it to be overturned. But somehow, the VAR flopped and failed the test.
In contrast, the implementation of VAR at the 2018 World Cup was an eye opener.
VAR adjudicators were confident and operated within the guidelines they were given. They made their minds up quickly.
The key was that VAR officials would only flag decisions that were clearly in error. In other words they let all the 50/50s go.
In Australia, I feel that many controversial decisions were made just to remind people that there was a VAR.
Some of the VAR directed red card calls in the A-League should never have been made.
What else did the World Cup VAR get right? The decisions for starters. Was there one truly bad VAR call in the whole World Cup?
Was the French penalty against Australia justified? When given a clear view, the referee decided to rule on what he regarded as the interpretation of the law. The argument was about interpretation, not the method.
Perhaps the most talked about decision was the penalty in the World Cup final itself.
There was enough doubt about the original call for the VAR team to refer it. This in itself flagged the referee that he might have got it wrong.
You could almost see the referee trying to justify not awarding it, the last long peer at the screen was probably more in desperation than anything.
Unless you are a Croatian supporter, it was hard to argue against the penalty, There would have been a far bigger reaction if the penalty was not given.
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More importantly, the overrule of the Neymar penalty and the non-overrule of the Harry Kane penalty against Panama, provided some value-add for VAR.
After these events, players rarely took a dive in the penalty area and some of the wrestling matches at set-pieces settled down.
So how do we make the VAR experience in Australia more appetising to our hard-bitten fans?
A centralised bunker system is one. This is something the FFA has decided to introduce so that’s a good move.
The VAR should not be over used. Like in Russia, use it only for the penalty box and offsides. Anything more sucks the momentum out of the game.
And have a back up plan. There’s a reason there’s so many IT jobs on Seek; technology stuffs up when you least expect it.
Here’s hoping that the Australian VAR system can finally bring some positives to the game, and that mistakes are rarer than a blue moon, or dare I say, a blood moon.