BRENDAN RODGERS faces a touchline ban for the upcoming derby against Rangers over his criticisms of VAR John Beaton following last weekend's 2-0 defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle.

The Celtic manager felt the match had been refereed "far away" after VAR intervened as his side were reduced to 10 men after just 16 minutes before Hearts were awarded a controversial penalty to allow them to go 1-0 up before half time.

While Rodgers fell foul of the Scottish FA's rules in his post-match assessment of the key decisions, it is easy to sympathise with the Northern Irishman's view. It might even be more fitting to rename video assistant referees at this point as virtual assistant referees, so far removed from reality is the whole process which continues to blight the Scottish game.

Football in this country has become almost a kind of tribute to the astonishing CGI effects of a blockbuster sci-fi movie which convince viewers they are in another world for a period of 90 minutes or so, what with the impossible camera angles, slow-motion sequences and laser-like lines drawn on images denoting whether a player has traversed over to the dark side beyond the last defender.

The latest woeful spectacle VAR made of itself in Hearts' 2-0 victory over Celtic at Tynecastle last weekend was a fitting portrayal of its scourge in Scottish football. After the match, Celtic manager Rodgers suggested the game had been refereed “far away”. It’s unsure whether he meant in the context of the VAR control room some 40-plus miles away at Clydesdale House in Glasgow, or as a nod to the Star Wars saga set in a galaxy far, far away.

The Herald: VAR check interrupts Hearts v Celtic matchVAR check interrupts Hearts v Celtic match (Image: SNS)

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In the Scottish football-verse, the unquenchable thirst amongst its top-flight clubs for increased transparency in the governing and officiating of the game has brought many an unwanted sequel to rival George Lucas’s distended film franchise: the cinch-sponsorship dispute between the SPFL and Rangers leading to Episode II: The Governance Review, in which a clutch of Premiership clubs just about toppled a creaking regime like a band of rebels accompanied by Ewoks on the planet Endor.

With these clubs now at loggerheads with the league governing body over their handling of the whole affair, the sorry situation reads like that rolling script which treads the cinema screen while John Williams’ unmistakable theme blasts like a Fox 40 Classic referee’s whistle at kick-off.

At Tynecastle last week, Referee Don Robertson watched Yang Hyun-jun take a heavy touch with just 14 minutes on the clock and the score at 0-0. As the ball lofted into the air, Alex Cochrane closed in on the South Korean on the right touchline, who lifted his leg to try to flick the ball away from his onrushing opponent, before a coming-together like two elderly citizens in a Post Office queue sent Cochrane to the turf clutching his face.

The Herald: Yang Hyun-jun is challenged by Alex CochraneYang Hyun-jun is challenged by Alex Cochrane (Image: SNS)

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"Possible red card: Serious foul play", read the screen inside the Gorgie ground. But this was far removed from any serious foul play and Robertson, in full view of the incident, awarded a foul, dished out a customary yellow card, and everyone was ready to play on.

What is often lost in these still-frame images is that the challenge being made was by the Hearts player. This was not malicious, it was a simple coming together in which Cochrane did well to intercept the ball and deservedly won a foul. The idea that it required a red card is something only today's overbearing VAR regime could come up with.

But cue the inevitable finger to the ear, VAR review, monitor check, elaborate hand signals, and yellow soon became red with Robertson looking like he was in the grips of some Jedi mind trick. And a match that was shaping up to be a classic Tynecastle tussle was spoiled for many of those paying to watch the action in the stadium and on screens around the country.

"They're [officials] not looking at the reality of the action and the move,” Rodgers said after the match. “If you freeze frame, which I can see, then of course it looks dangerous, but that wasn't the reality. That's not the reality of the move. There's no force there. The ball has popped up. If it's a booking then it's a booking.”

"No force there," says Rodgers in an irresistible invitation to continue to flog this Star Wars theme. This wasn’t reality, it was a virtual reality – one which allows the Scottish FA’s head of referee operations Crawford Allan to parade figures of increasing percentages of “correct” decisions since the introduction of the technology in the middle of the previous season as if this positive spin negates the real aims of the game: to entertain. Surely for some officials, even, VAR is simply the emperor’s new clothes – and by that I don’t mean a new tunic worn by Darth Sidious.

What is it the SFA, Allan, and those blasting whistles and waving flags on the touchline think people are paying to watch when they purchase tickets for matches and take out expensive TV subscriptions? It is cliched to question what makes someone want to be a referee, but a decadent dose of narcissism has always been levelled at those willing to carry the whistle. When Allan boasts of a few percentage points’ improvement in refereeing decisions as justifying VAR’s overbearing effect on the spectacle of the game, you get the sense he actually believes referees are the main attraction.

The Herald: Scottish official John BeatonScottish official John Beaton (Image: SNS)

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Later at Tynecastle, there was another VAR check, this time for a possible penalty to Hearts. This incident was not even in the margins of the original script, let alone a footnote, but was concocted 44 miles down the M8 when VAR official John Beaton spotted a disturbance in the force.

In the VAR command centre, the FIFA referee felt compelled to bring the ball landing on Tomoki Iwata’s arm behind his back as he stumbled forwards inside Celtic’s penalty area to the attention of match official Robertson. Having given no second thought to the incident in real time, Robertson was again persuaded by a colleague in a neighbouring orbit to take another look himself.

"I never like to comment on officials, it's not something I do,” Rodgers continued. “But that cost us today, the officiating. To John Beaton on VAR: that was really, really poor.”

That dry, parched drouth for transparency in Scottish football is only prolonged by the need to sanction such honest assessments. The Celtic manager’s breach of the SFA’s disciplinary rule 72, wherein no club official can publicly criticise match officials, led to his being charged by the governing body following those criticisms at the start of this week. Yet it was both Rodgers and Beaton who were victims of this faceless VAR enterprise.

While I agree with the principle that individual referees do not deserve to be blamed for the failings of the system, this is the quandary the whole cloak-and-dagger, far, far-away approach virtual officiating brings to the real-life individuals involved.

Yet we need look no further than to the conclusion of The Return of the Jedi in some other galaxy far, far away to see parallels with how Rodgers' words operated. When Luke Skywalker removes Darth Vader’s mask to reveal his father’s face, suddenly this big baddie terrorising the galaxy is shown to be just some old geezer heaving for breath. 

And maybe there is a message in there for Scottish referees like Beaton. While, understandably, club officials are precluded from criticising officials, surely VAR is the emperor’s new clothes for these individuals. If the real reason they chose to be referees is, as I suspect, out of a love for the game, then perhaps they need to grab VAR by the tunic and toss it into orbit.