Would it have helped me? Are you kidding?
I would have welcomed it with open arms – helping me correct match changing decisions at source.
It would have saved me beating myself up at times wondering how I’d missed certain things; misinterpreted situations; or sometimes just real bad luck.
Either way I’m sure it could have righted three key errors and stemmed a lot of debate about a decision I believe I got right.
Let’s have a stroll down Memory Lane and see how VAR would have made my refereeing life a lot easier.
Hartlepool v Crystal Palace, FA Cup round 3, January 1993
Nicky Southall surged towards the Palace penalty area and under challenge from Richard Shaw went to ground. I felt foul and blew for a penalty.
Palace argued there was minimal contact and then that it was outside the penalty area – protests that were ignored – resulting in Andy Saville scoring and leading to Second Division Hartlepool knocking Premier League Crystal Palace out. A match covered by Match of the Day – their first ever visit to the Victoria Ground.
Nowadays the penalty would have been checked and with myself telling the VAR what I had seen I think the outcome would have been penalty as not a clear and obvious error.
The additional check before making that judgement would also have been the location of the foul. You must bear in mind the line belongs to the penalty area, and although tight, I’m convinced it would still be given.
One to me you may argue – throughout the next three I wasn’t as fortunate and would have desperately wished for the VAR to act as a safety net to right my errors of judgement.
Arsenal v Chelsea, Premier League, February 1998
A long ball is played upfield to Gianluca Vialli halfway inside the Arsenal half with Steve Bould in pursuit. My first instinct was to look towards assistant referee Ray Olivier to check offside. When I looked back Bould had halted Vialli’s run and the ball had ran away towards the Arsenal goalkeeper.
I had to decide whether Bould had denied Vialli an obvious goal scoring opportunity; I wasn’t sure. Was Vialli in control of the ball? Would the ball have travelled through to the goalkeeper anyway?
I erred on the side of caution and yellow carded Bould. Post match the assessor disagreed with my call and felt a red was the appropriate sanction.
Looking at the video I have to agree – VAR would have definitely recommended a dismissal and Arsenal would have played 51 minutes with ten men.
West Bromwich Albion v Aston Villa, Premier League, November 2002
In my view this was my worst mistake throughout my 22 years as a professional referee for two reasons but I learnt so much from both and never put myself in a similar position again.
Just before half time Mark Delaney moved into the penalty area with the ball at his feet. As he powered forward it looked to me as if he was leaning forward and I thought ‘he’s going to hit the ground’ – mistake number one!
He did hit the ground – but I hadn’t allowed for Albion defender Phil Gilchrist catching him hard across the shin.
For whatever reason I threw my arms out in the cutting the grass motion and pointed for a goalkick – mistake number two!
This would possibly have been the easiest penalty overturn the VAR would ever be able to recommend – it was as clear as clear could be.
What did I learn?
Firstly, I’d already decided in my mind Delaney was going down and clouded my own judgement. I committed a massive error by making a decision on an incident before it occurred – never to be repeated.
Secondly. I asked the active assistant at half time did he think it was a penalty. ‘The most blatant I’ve ever seen,’ he informed me.
I was stunned. ‘Why did you not tell me then?’ was my response. To be told: ‘when you waved away all appeals so adamantly what could I possibly say to change your mind?’ I’d closed my options; any possible help I could glean from my assistant had been lost by my own hasty actions.
It’s not a race to make a decision and using a few seconds to glean additional information can aid that decision – and if I’d done all that the VAR wouldn’t have had to tell me to point to the spot – I’d have been able to do that myself.
Manchester City v Portsmouth, Premier League, August 2006
A corner is taken by City on the right hand side. It clears the penalty area and goes towards the far touchline with myself inside the D of the penalty area looking outfield. As Pedro Mendes went towards the ball he was challenged aggressively with speed by Ben Thatcher resulting in him being sent into the advertising hoardings.
I felt Thatcher had aggressively body checked his opponent and mentally decided to yellow card Thatcher for this. Before action could be taken players were concerned for Pedro and realised he’d lost consciousness and after attention from medical staff he was taken to hospital where he spent the night.
Before recommencing play Thatcher was yellow carded.
Post match I was informed the challenge was far more serious than I’d realised and watching the video I could clearly see Thatcher had run at speed and caught Mendes violently with his elbow to the side of his head – a view obscured to me due to my start position for the corner.
The FA subsequently charged Ben Thatcher and found him guilty of a violent nature banning him for eight matches with a further 15 suspended should there be any similar act throughput the following two years.
Without doubt the VAR would have recommended I go to the pitchside monitor with the view to raising my onfield sanction.
On going to the monitor there is no doubt I’d have produced a red card – the camera side view offered all the information I needed; information I couldn’t access onfield.
I know it wouldn’t have helped Pedro on the night; it wouldn’t have negated the FA’s disciplinary stance; but it would have allowed me to mete out the right punishment at the time – and it would have helped me come to terms with the incident there and then.
As it was, I pondered for what seemed forever, what could I have done differently; could I have been in a different start position; could I have identified more clues to ensure I didn’t miss what I did?
As you can see, I’m very pro VAR. I fully concede it will still lead to debate re subjective decisions – but as you can see, it can and will aid referees to get more match changing decisions right.