IT is to be hoped that Lee Alexander had better things to do on Sunday night than sit in and watch Match of the Day 2. While it was always envisioned that there would be a few teething problems with the implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, if the Scotland women’s team goalkeeper caught the highlights of Norwich City’s FA Premier League match with Manchester United it might have been enough to make her sick to her back of hers.

Alexander, you will recall, was the Scotland heroine who saved Florencia Bonsegundo’s 94th minute spot kick against Argentina, only for the all-seeing eye in the sky to determine that her heels were a nanometre off the line at the instant of impact. With Alexander relegated to the role pretty much of bystander for the re-take, Bonsegundo rolled it in and Scotland packed their bags for home.

That entire affair seemed more and more like some bizarre hallucination when you considered events at Carrow Road on Sunday, a match which saw Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul save two Manchester United penalties – one from Marcus Rashford and one from Anthony Martial – where he was anything up to a foot off his line before the ball was struck on both occasions.


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You can bet that VAR’s crack squad of video refs based at Stockley Park, near Heathrow airport, saw them clearly enough. But as they are under orders – perhaps influenced by the chaos all this caused in the Women’s World Cup - not to check for goalkeepers’ encroachment, neither spot kick was re-taken. Indeed, referee Stuart Atwell didn’t even appear to be looking in the right direction. For the record, it is a similar story in Champions League (and presumably Europa League knockout matches) where goalkeepers apparently now have carte blanche to fly off their lines unless in the most “blatant” of instances.

To be fair to Mr Atwell, it was little wonder if he was starting to think he didn’t want to have anything to do with the VAR side of things. Because these two clear pieces of illegal activity from Norwich’s Dutch goalkeeper almost seemed like a footnote compared to some of the other instances of VAR in Sunday’s games.

The awarding of the first penalty, for instance, was just one example of the injustices routinely being handed out by this coterie of refereeing geeks at Stockley Park. At first envisioned to make the match officials’ life easier, right now they are only doing the opposite. Until all this gets sorted out, Neil Lennon was quite right the other day when he said he is simply grateful that we don’t currently have the money nor the inclination to bring it in north of the border.

When Norwich defender Ben Godfrey went to ground in the penalty box and Manchester United winger Daniel James threw himself into him, Mr Atwell correctly waved play on. Both players picked themselves up and got on with things, both managers were in total agreement that no foul had taken place. Except some bright spark over at Stockley Park – under the guidance of Professional Game Match Officials Limited supremo Mike Riley - thought otherwise and decided this was a clear and obvious error. Displaying all the feel for the game and nuance which made Riley one of the worst referees of his generation, Atwell listened to his headset and faithfully pointed to the spot. While referees are encouraged not to walk to the side of the park and check the footage for themselves, you would imagine he might think better of that the next time.


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With Rashford’s penalty being saved – however illegally – by spot kick save expert Krul, at least that horrific piece of video refereeing didn’t decide the outcome of the game. The same cannot be said for Arsenal’s meeting with Crystal Palace where Kieran Tierney would have ended up with a win from his first league match were it not for another video nasty brought to you by the boys in Stockley Park. Chasing a late winner after being pegged back at 2-2, Callum Chambers pursued a loose ball in the opposing box. He tangled with a couple of players, being nudged by Cheickhou Kouyate and making consequently making contact with Luka Milivojevic but there was no foul there, which referee Martin Atkinson – just metres away from it all – correctly determined. The ball broke to Sokratis, who lashed his second goal of the day high into the net. It was a great moment for the Greek central defender and all the fans in the ground.

Except it wasn’t. Because the Stockley Park squadron had seen something which wasn’t apparent to the man on the street even after repeated viewings at super slow mo. Former referee Dermot Gallagher correctly called it out, with disgust seeping out of the pores of Peter Crouch as the sat in the BBC studio.

I always thought harnessing video technology was the future. I still do, I think. But the comparison with the transparency of the Rugby World Cup where referees are mic’d up and supporters are kept in the loop to the current state of play in the FA Premier League is something to behold.

Teething problems are one thing. But another weekend of this stuff and the English game will be in the midst of a full-blown VAR crisis. Much more of this and they will get football stopped.


It has been a privilege to watch Josh Taylor’s development in the professional ranks and Saturday night at the o2 in London, when he outpointed Regis Prograis to lift the Ali Trophy, was one of those occasions which will live with me for some time. While there will be an understandable temptation to cash in with a couple of easier, yet money-spinning fights, Taylor is battle hardened now. The chance is there to strike while the iron is hot to take on Jose Ramirez to become undisputed world champion and there is no time like the present.