ask the ref

Ask The Ref : VAR – How Has It Evolved?


Has the system evolved since it was launched in the Premier League at Anfield last August for the season’s opener v Norwich.

In my view without a doubt – the operatives are more experienced and see incidents and dovetail with the match officials quicker. There will always be more complex decisions which will entail much more scrutiny – but that is a small sacrifice if it leads to a correct match changing decision being realised.

The communication within the stadia is much more comprehensive and both the graphics and definitive clips shown ensure spectators within the grounds are on top of what is being looked at and why a decision is arisen at.

The RRA – Referee’s Review Area (pitchside monitors) are now being used for incidents which the VAR feels may warrant punishment upgraded to a red card or conversely where they feel a red card may not have been warranted.

Let’s examine the three areas I’ve identified in more detail….


The timings involved in checking decisions was always at the forefront when people discussed VAR.

Like all systems in all industries the more experience a person gains in a system will always assist them to become more comfortable and take less time.

This is evident already – the VARs know what to look for, how to read the images and relay to the referee much slicker.

Many decisions can be made without any interruption to play and not affecting the natural flow of the game. An appeal for a penalty, which the referee doesn’t award, and the ball stays in play can see the VAR checking the incident and possibly cleared before next stoppage and therefore no match interruption.

In a recent match between Liverpool and Southampton we saw an example of this. Danny Ings attacked into the Home team’s penalty area and there was an appeal for a penalty which referee Kevin Friend denied.

Play continued and Liverpool counter attacked with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring at the other end. VAR quickly decides no penalty and no offside or offence in Liverpool’s build up and therefore, within less than 30 seconds, no penalty one end and goal the other – free flowing football preserved.



Ground communication has moved forward immensely. Only Manchester United and Liverpool don’t have big screens for fans to access VAR information. For the other 18 Clubs the graphics shown are much more comprehensive now – fans are informed not only is the VAR checking but what is being checked

  • Is there a possible red card for serious foul play?
  • Is there a possible striking of the hand/arm by the ball before a goal?
  • Was a player in an offside position scoring or in the immediate build up?

All this information is given when there is a stoppage in play caused by the VAR or an overturned decision. This minimises the disruption to the match and ensures spectators are fully informed. A definitive clip is then shown for all overturned decisions – this has a massive positive effect as everyone present has tangible evidence of the reasoning for change.


Another change seen is the referee going to the RRA. It was felt early in the New Year that it would be advisable to test the benefits of this.

I feel this has been a major step forward. Four decisions have been reversed, all correctly, and the reaction, both on and off the pitch, seeing the referee taking ownership of such key decisions has been accepted readily. The four decisions, in order, are all interesting in the type of challenge facing the referee and the manner in which they were received.

Paul Tierney, amazingly, not only became the first referee to go to the RRA during a Premier League match, but also had to repeat the process seven days later.

January 11 saw the first when Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang made a lunging challenge on Max Meyer of Crystal Palace. The referee saw Aubamayang stretching for the ball and catching Meyer. From his position Aubamayang’s body obscured the true severity of the challenge and a yellow card given for recklessness.

Viewing the monitor, Paul could clearly see the tackle, although not borne out of malice, was at speed and intensity and the point of contact was above the ankle across the shin with full studs. A red cad was quite rightly produced and readily accepted.

To his credit Aubamayang came out post match and apologised for his actions. The following week Paul had an almost carbon copy incident when Ben Godfrey challenged Callum Wilson in front of the technical areas. Paul was recommended to review the incident, and again, Paul rightly upgraded the decision to red as Godfrey’s challenge seriously endangered Callum Wilson’s safety.

At the end of the same month the RRA proved it can rescind red cards as well. Palace’s Joel Ward made a challenge on Sheffield United’s Enda Stevens. From his position it looked as though Ward had caught Stevens badly and the onfield decision was red card.

On being advised to review the decision, to his credit, Andy Madley realised it was actually a reckless challenge, which looked worse from his angle as the players’ legs became entangled. He returned to the field where he rescinded the red to a yellow with all players and spectators acceptant of his choice. In fact, United manager, Chris Wilder came out post match praising the referee for getting the decision correct.

The most recent RRA check came just before the enforced suspension of fixtures. At St Mary’s, Southampton’s Djenepo overran the ball, stretching for it, he caught Isaac Hayden across the shin with his studs.

Referee Graham Scott’s onfield call was yellow card for a reckless foul challenge. Graham was recommended to review his onfield decision and, on watching the incident replayed at pitchside, realised the full extent of the challenge and returned to dismiss Djenepo for serious foul play.

So within the seven to eight months elapsed I feel we’ve seen the VAR move forward – quicker; better communication; referee’s taking ownership of serious foul play decisions whether up or downgraded.

It’s very encouraging – without doubt it’s not perfect; but never will be – but it’s aiding referees to get more match changing decisions correct; it’s not interrupting the natural flow of the game unnecessarily; the viewing of the RRA has been met with massive approval.

We’ve come a long way since August – and when we resume it’ll be a case of continue moving in the same direction.









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