THE promise of a bonfire of EU laws made by our madcap government to the deranged sect of the Tory Party that seems to have overtaken them will amount to less than a bin fire now, after PM Rishi Sunak made the ceremonial U-turn that has become a trope of his position in recent times.

For the Scottish FA, calls for changes to this law, addendums attached to that one, the scrapping of this judicial panel, the removal of these powers to overrule decisions, for more tribunals, more appeals, yet somehow less red tape and greater transparency, if all granted, would probably amount to a 22-man free-for-all with no officials, no rules and sheer bedlam playing out for 90 minutes on a Saturday.

The current cinch Premiership season was always going to provide points of contention given the decision to introduce video assistant referees midway through the term. The SFA, an organisation that generally shows as much flexibility as an iron rod, would do well to listen to the appeals from stakeholders in the Scottish game about the state of its officiating: namely those supporters who attend matches and whose hard-earned cash goes a long way towards paying for all the cameras, angles, VAR stations, personnel and general hoopla surrounding the whole VAR business.

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While I’m no fan of VAR in its implementation at present, the use of technology to aid refereeing is a natural and potentially highly useful practice in the modern era. A more hands-off approach is required, however, with the supposed mantra of “clear and obvious errors” at its heart. But in order to get to this point, tweaks to the current laws of the game are needed to make those tasked with implementing them better equipped to do so.

So, perhaps SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell could arrange to meet with Neil Doncaster, his SPFL counterpart, under the Kingston Bridge with an iron garden brazier they’ve picked up from Argos, some matches and, while I would never normally condone such actions, some newspaper to get the fire going. First on the flames would go the current handball rule. The any-contact-inside-the-box approach as it stands leaves players, managers and fans alike baffled and frustrated on a weekly basis. Apply the clear-and-obvious principle to this, and none of these decisions should ever reach the VAR threshold. There can be nothing obvious about a ball brushing the fingertips of a player looking the other way. Punishing such “offences” is ludicrous.

Now that we have a fire going, perhaps the biggest accelerant to really ramp things up would be the current application of the offside rule. While Rishi Sunak still hasn’t U-turned on his commitment to the study of maths to 18 for school kids, I’m not sure the drawing of various-coloured lines to depict strands of hair deemed to be offside was what he had in mind when promising geometry lessons for the next generation.

The officials should incinerate their compasses, protractors and rulers and again stick to the principle of clear and obvious. The referees and their assistants judge the offside in real time; if the decision is marginal, we should take their judgement and move on. If, for instance, VAR picks up that the ball was played by the defending team, or that there was a player playing everyone on by a half-yard or so, then brilliant: flag it up and let the assistant referee raise their flag. The line-drawing exercise is an inexact science masquerading as fact: no two-dimensional image can depict a three-dimensional instant in time exactly, and when the lines appear on the screen, we know that these exacting details are going to determine the outcome of the decision down to the nearest millimetre. Mistakes will continue to be made, and the overriding question then is: “Why bother?”

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There is a sense that those in the VAR control room feel the need to justify their presence; that if an important decision does not go to VAR they’ll look like they’ve fallen asleep at the monitor. The truth is, VAR will work far better for everyone the more conspicuous it becomes. Rather than having players standing around for what feels like an eternity while the referee holds their finger to their ear in earnest deciding whether or not to draw an imaginary TV screen with their fingers, a less-is-more approach is the clear and obvious one.

What this season has proved is that VAR was never going to be a silver bullet for shutting down debate over contentious refereeing decisions. If anything, it has given everyone another stick to beat our officials with. If the SFA want to take the heat out of the debate and help their officials in the way I believe VAR was always intended to do, they must scorch the overbearing approach and stick to the clear and obvious.



It’s snakes-and-ladders time in the SPFL as the play-offs roll into action, but there’s no hint of bored games thus far. Queen’s Park found themselves in another right old ding-dong in the Premiership play-off quarter-final first leg against Partick Thistle on Tuesday night, with Brian Graham’s last roll of the dice for the Jags deep into stoppage time putting the Firhill men in the driving seat to reach the semis.

HeraldScotland: Dundee fans find an innovative way to catch the game at Ochilview

Dundee were first to get a foot up back into the top flight last Friday night after defeating the Spiders 5-3 to clinch the Championship trophy and automatic promotion. You may have spotted the two gentlemen caught by the BBC cameras taking in the match atop their own sets of ladders at Ochilview Park. Full disclosure, one half of this ticket-dodging duo was my very own father-in-law, Jim Hendry, the chap with the Dundee scarf strewn over the garden wall. When the sports editor caught wind of this connection and discovered I had failed to produce the exclusive interview of the season, I found myself in a boa-constrictor-style grip and flung to the bottom rung of the sports desk: coffee brewing duties until at least the Scottish Cup final next month.