Unlike the fine, thoughtful folk of the cricket world, football fans and players seem just too angry to accept video technology in the sport
When the Decision Review System was introduced to cricket in 2008 it was met with an initial wave of scepticism and resistance, before the objections eventually melted away.
DRS wasn’t perfect and there was legitimate concern about how long it took to make decisions, but it reduced umpiring errors and perhaps more importantly took the venom out of the equation. Players no longer simmered with rage after contentious lbws and umpires were no longer the target of withering remarks like Allan Donald’s embittered suggestion that Merv Kitchen had “had a shocker” during South Africa’s defeat to England in 1998.
The testosterone levels in football have always been higher than for the gentlemen’s game and the introduction of VAR for the Champions League knock-out stages brought the usual knee-jerk criticism this week, but in time it should detoxify the atmosphere around the game.
The former Wales manager Chris Coleman was way ahead of his time in this regard, installing a tv monitor in his dug out while at Fulham so he could check whether decisions he thought were “shockers” on first viewing were actually as bad as he thought.
Coleman estimated the camera saved him a significant amount of money in fines as a second viewing would make him realise his initial impression had often been wrong.
Is football running out of referees?
Refereeing in England exists in a permanent state of crisis. Every year a story appears suggesting referees are quitting in record numbers and that abuse is reaching “epidemic proportions.” Initiatives with the word “respect” in the title come and go. A media organisation I worked for during the 2000s started a “Kick out soccer violence” campaign that was an abject failure, partly because one of the company’s employees was both an advocate and a keen practitioner of soccer violence, both on the field and in the stadia.
VAR can do more to humanise referees than any token internet campaign, if, like the DRS, it’s given time. On Tuesday night, however, the usual suspects were giving it a kicking before it had even been used.
Once Ajax’s goal against Real Madrid had been ruled out, the English broadcaster Danny Baker went into meltdown: “How are we meekly sleep walking into this totalitarian horse s*** and not tipping over the f**king cameras and smashing them with rocks?”
This was the same Danny Baker who was once sacked from his BBC show after the referee Mike Reed, was conned into giving Chelsea a penalty against Leicester in an FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester back in 1997.
Rather than attack the player who dived, Erland Johnsen, Baker heaped the blame on Reed in a now infamous rant, in which he called Reed a “worm” and said of referees that “most of them need a good slap round the face.”
Little has changed in the intervening years. Baker continues to hammer both referees, (calling them “attention-seeking maggots”) and the only system that stands a chance of making their life easier, while his army of social-media acolytes queue up to tweet things like “Spot on Dan!” and “They’re ruining our game!”
Perhaps the real issue here is that some football fans have a psychological need to be enraged by referees. And if VAR works, there’s nothing left for them to be angry about, except VAR itself.