We’ve all been watching a lot of English football on TV over the last nine months. Like many others we are constantly considering the effect of using VAR to determine that the correct decisions are given for disputed incidents. As time has passed we are hearing considerable disapproval from numerous match pundits.

I personally feel that there is not enough consideration of the benefits that this system brings to the game.

I actually first proposed the use of VAR over 10 years ago when I was on the Football Committees of both FIFA and UEFA. Both committees were made up of ex-players, including Pele, Beckenbaur, Eusebio, Platini, Charlton, Stojkovic and Zoff, and we had a responsibility to consider changes that were proposed for the improvement of the game.

VAR was something I had been in favour of for some time after the situation that had occurred in the World Cup play-off between France and Republic of Ireland. Thierry Henry had created the winning goal for France after controlling the ball with his hand.

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At the meeting with both bodies I brought up this case and made the point: “If I’m watching this on TV along with millions of others and realise the goal should be disallowed, then why can’t the referee be informed immediately in order that the decision is corrected?”

I put forward the case that, as players have in tennis, both teams should have two challenges per game. If their challenge is proved to be correct, then they retain their two challenges.

Amazingly enough, the other committee members all voted “no” and said that they didn’t think this kind of interference was appropriate as one of the great aspects of the game are the arguments that arise afterwards. They’re opinion was, collectively, that bad decisions are just a pub argument. I couldn’t believe it as they had all played at a high level and must have been the victims of bad and, indeed, costly refereeing decisions on quite a few occasions during their playing careers. However, the system has now been accepted and used at a high level in Europe – including in England.

I personally don’t understand why it has to be such a complex system to operate the VAR. We are told that this is the reason we don’t have it in Scotland yet. It’s expensive to implement and the match officials all need to go through a protracted level of training in order to operate it. I don’t personally understand why we need to introduce a system that is so elaborate and time-consuming in order to determine what the correct decision should be.

Surely, if the game is televised, the fourth official can look at any incidents on an iPad and immediately communicate with the referee. I don’t understand why the referee would need to go to view a monitor. The fourth official is a qualified referee so surely his opinion should be accepted. This would speed up the decision-making process. I still believe that each technical area should have a maximum of two challenges so that we don’t need to be constantly subjected to analysing disputed incidents.

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If there are cameras covering the match then VAR is of huge benefit to aid the referees in their decision-making. It can be operated at reduced cost and would prove to be an important development in making sure that “pub arguments” are changed. If the games are not being televised then the VAR is not required because there is no real evidence that the referee’s decision was wrong. This could be brought in immediately in Scotland in a cost-effective and efficient way.

My final point on this is that I’m continually annoyed by the VAR decisions given by referees regarding penalty incidents. They seem to be following the same line as the pundits who annoy me greatly in their analysis by saying “there was contact there, so it’s definitely a penalty”. I believe that the player should go down as a result of the contact but this doesn’t appear to be the case these days. It’s simulation, but this doesn’t seem to be the judgement at any time.

 

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

Looking back at the after-match incidents at Celtic Park last Sunday, I have to agree with the overall opinion that the behaviour of the Celtic fans was generally inappropriate. I can fully understand that, principally, all Celtic fans will be disappointed in the team’s results and, in essence, angry too with the level of performances they have had to observe from home over the last few months. However, they were out of order to firstly defy the strict health regulations set out by the Government during this pandemic and, secondly, to be so hostile in their criticism of Neil Lennon and the Celtic players.

When you consider the job they have done for the club over recent seasons it was unbelievable that they should be subject to such vitriol because they’re on a bad run. I actually believe, however, that the fan behaviour was the catalyst that resulted in Neil keeping his job. There’s no question that his position was in jeopardy because of these results but I do believe that Peter Lawwell and the Celtic Board decided that they could not make it look as if his departure was a consequence of the fans’ hostile demonstration. I hope these fans realise that this could have been the outcome of their abhorrent behaviour and that they mustn’t behave in this manner again.