Start of April Sunday Write-Up

Start of April Sunday Write-Up

Last week I joined in with Mel Cusick-Jones’ writing sprint which she posted on her website and Aside from Writing. Both of those links take you to her story and provides the prompts if you want to join.

Don’t worry about being behind the curve, I submitted mine late and went over the two-hour time limit. The final effort is on Wattpad but will probably find its way to this site at some point.

This week it’s my turn to offer the prompts which are:

Sequestered
Pool
Lemon
Ablaze
Trot

Limit yourself to two hours and share here in full or with a link and do the same on Mel’s site and/or Aside from Writing.

Good luck.

Why Premier League VAR has Failed

Why Premier League VAR has Failed

Every week, fans and pundits around the country are talking more and more about VAR. Each week the debate turns from one of learning how to accept the video referee to questioning its existence. There’s no doubt it has failed in the Premier League. I won’t repeat the same observations from A Game too VAR but since then, the evidence against the technology has been sidelined by the application of the rules.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) under the direct authority of FIFA issues the Laws of the Game every season. This year’s (2019/20) rulebook came into effect from the start of June. It is the rulebook every governing body — including UEFA — need to comply with. This includes the application of VAR. To use it, an association or competition has to follow the IFAB VAR Protocol.

You’ll have heard terms lifted from the rulebook all season, the biggest soundbite has been “clear and obvious error”. This simple directive now faces ambiguity because of the way Premier League Assistant Referees have ignored this instruction. A heel offside isn’t clear or obvious. It’s not even correct. The two types of technology required to be that precise do not exist.

The first being the ability to measure millimetres from existing camera angles without exact datum points on opposing players. The second, is the inability to determine when the attacking player’s foot plays the ball forward using 0.25 of a second freeze frames. There is an indeterminate amount of time when the ball will receive the force, slightly absorb it, then visually propel forward.

This isn’t the Premier League accidentally overlooking the IFAB rule book, it is a conscious decision. In their definition and explanation of VAR principles it is stated: Factual decisions such as whether a player is onside or offside, or inside or outside the penalty area, will not be subject to the clear and obvious test.

It goes against the extensive set of instructions the IFAB created when authorising nations to implement VAR, as stated in Chapter 2 of the rulebook: The referee’s original decision will not be changed unless there was a ‘clear and obvious error’ (this includes any decision made by the referee based on information from another match official e.g. offside).

Another clear instruction from the IFAB rule book is that a VAR official doesn’t have the power to make a decision. They can only give recommendations. The Premier League do acknowledge this and have even given a by-the-numbers process for referees in this scenario: Where the information received from the VAR falls outside of the referee’s expectation range or where there is a serious missed incident, they should use the RRA to assist with the final decision. 

The problem is, no referee in England’s top flight ever uses the RRA (Referee Review Area). It is clear the IFAB suggest an RRA isn’t necessary if the VAR official reports back with an overwhelming oversight that is so clear and obvious it isn’t worth the jog to the halfway line. For everything else, the ref needs to be taking a look. 

Perhaps on-field reviews were killed off in this country by the Liverpool FA Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion in January 2018. That particular game saw referee Craig Pawson spend three minutes at the pitch side monitor. West Brom manager Alan Pardew claimed VAR delays caused hamstring injuries to two of his players. The RRA hasn’t been used in big English games since.

If this was the reason RRA was shelved in England, that’s a further indictment against VAR. In the trials that should have highlighted problems, we ignored another issue — to add to the growing list — and forced it in regardless.

An interesting rule about replays reads as such: The referee can request different cameras angles/replay speeds but, in general, slow motion replays should only be used for facts e.g. position of offence/player, point of contact for physical offences and handball, ball out of play (including goal/no goal); normal speed should be used for the ‘intensity’ of an offence or to decide if it was a handball offence.

It’s the final part which really stands out — “normal speed should be used”. This clearly has been ignored in the Premier League. The on field referee who should be reviewing the incidents on a pitch side monitor choose not to. We then watch endless replays of the VAR ref doing exactly what the laws of VAR tell him he shouldn’t: he watches it over-and-over again in slow motion. A non-deliberate handball then becomes a penalty.

Trent Alexander-Arnold handled against Manchester City but the Premier League’s VAR Chief, Neil Swarbrick, defended the decision saying, “It was from a short distance, his arm did not move towards the ball and it was not deliberate. His arm was in a natural position for his body position at that time and he was happy for that to go.”

The same could be said — if not more so — for Çağlar Söyüncü’s handball when Leicester played Liverpool. His arm was by his side, he made efforts to wrap it around his back, it was close range, yet it was a penalty. The replays used were slowed down rather than accept the intent — if any — in real time.

There was always going to be human error with VAR, what exacerbates the situation is when the humans involved are picking and choosing which VAR protocols the IFAB have written into law they’ll actually use, then appearing to be inconsistent with the redrawn lines.

Back to the Alexander-Arnold “handball”, another facet to this debate is how it appeared to touch Bernardo Silva’s arm before Trent’s. By the letter of the new law, any contact with the attacking player’s hand/arm, is a foul regardless of intent. Liverpool went on to score from the breakaway. Should they have been under review for giving away a penalty then redeemed by Silva’s arm but denied the chance to score?

The “phases of play” argument is now alive and well thanks to VAR. Foden’s goal for Manchester City against Everton ruled out because a “pre-assist” pass was offside. By the letter of the law: correct decision. But there’s not a clear marker for when a phase of play can be reviewed from, most weeks it changes. Sometimes even in the same game week.

Liverpool versus Wolves, Virgil van Dijk handles the ball then whips it long into Adam Lallana who assists Sadio Mané. Same principle, a “pre-assist” pass. No longer using the rule the attacking player handling — regardless of intent — is classed as a foul, supposedly because of the phase of play.

This article isn’t meant to take aim at Liverpool. Wolves are the team most affected by VAR (at a cost of -7 points). Liverpool’s lead at the top would be halved if VAR hadn’t been used but there’s no denying they have been head and shoulders above the competition. Because of that, poor VAR officiating in their games will draw more attention.

The disallowed “heel” offside in the Villa game this weekend received a fair amount of media coverage. Imagine if that had been against Liverpool? VAR would really be at risk of cancellation.

Which brings us to the ground swell of public opinion that VAR needs a review to the extreme idea it should just be scrapped altogether. Mid-season, there’s zero chance of the Premier League even modifying the application of the system. To do so would call into question the integrity of the competition. The problem is, the Premier League’s integrity falls away with every bad, incorrect or pedantic VAR call.

The Twitter account above has a 14,000 strong petition on Change.org to remove the use of VAR in the Premier League. That number will continue to rise. People in the stadia need to take action too. One fan on Twitter suggested:

Perhaps a co-ordinated walkout of the 15:00 kick offs, or the refusal to return after halftime will send a strong message. The global TV audience will see empty stadiums because of the mess VAR has become. The Premier League doesn’t care about the law (it’s not using the IFAB protocol correctly), it doesn’t care about the fans in the stadium, it does care about it’s global image.

We need to hit them where it hurts and make the product appear tarnished and in disarray. Back in August, the majority were prepared to accept VAR and grow accustomed to its effect on the game. Months later, it’s clear that acceptance would be akin to assisted suicide for domestic football.

VAR has to go, before the fans do.

2010s: A Decade that invited the next Great Depression

2010s: A Decade that invited the next Great Depression

I once asked the question: why did I join Tumblr? The answer is probably for post likes this. The sort of post that is a personal reflection of something a wider audience doesn’t expect (or want) on my main site (but they’ll probably get anyway). The sort of post that looks back at a year, and then a decade. The sort of post that does so with a somber mood.

The Great Depression started in 1929, by then the world had seen one World War and was heading toward another. The turn of the new millennium has at least avoided this fate. It has followed history in other respects. The rise of the far right; anti-Semitism becoming commonplace, first with language and then actions; the poor being left further behind by the rich. 

Okay, we’re not heading to the sort of depression that was incorrectly labelled as Great. It’s a different type of one. The last decade — so devoid of colour it doesn’t even have a moniker like the swinging sixties or even the bland noughties — has invited a collective mindset to emerge that prays on fear and insecurities.

I wasn’t a massive fan of being a teenager, it’s apt that I’m not big on the decade with the teenage years in its numbering. The Tens (that’s what I’m going with) saw us accept the reduction of aspiration. We can thank austerity for this. If after years of being told there’s no money, a tightening of the belt required, it permeates into the collective mindset. Even for those that have disposable income.

Most of us ended up in houses we wished were bigger, working more hours than we’d like, mixing in shrinking social circles, watching others lead perfect lives on Instagram while being old enough to complain about it all on Facebook. Or in my case, not even bothering with the moan on Facebook because I can’t stomach the trawl through people’s dinners or exercise regimes.

It was a decade where Coldplay became the biggest stadium band on the planet. Now, I’ve been to several Coldplay gigs in the last decade so it’s safe to say I’m a fan but think about that for a minute: Coldplay are the biggest draw the globe has to offer. Coldplay.

They should be a great side act while generation defining entertainers shape the mood of the day. Instead, we see all acts from all decades converge via YouTube into every popular music venue around the planet. The time of today has become unstructured. Nothing defines The Tens. It was a place for compilation moods and the new blood was lacking any telling contribution.

Justin Bieber — a man with staying power and a massive fanbase — made the news in 2013 for not getting in a Manchester nightclub. A true global superstar that epitomised this decade could not enter a club incase he tarnished its image. That’s a club that no longer exists but were right at the time.

Of course, music is one aspect of a decade’s image. Politics is another that’s already been touched upon. The division will last another ten years unless a true centre-ground leader can unite the nation again.

Sport was better from this Man City fan’s perspective. Boxing saw some great fights and new household names emerge. It also saw some sports enter a beige state that’s indicative of the decade. Formula One hasn’t thrived since being sold to Liberty Media. It faces another year of purgatory before rule changes take effect.

Football is being damaged by the poor introduction of VAR. Real fans are becoming disillusioned with the clamouring to corporate types while the working class struggle to keep up. All the time, TV revenue rises and so do subscriptions. 

All this comes from a negative perspective. I’m sure there’s further evidence that less people are in poverty (on a global scale), there are less wars than ever and the standard of living has risen over the last forty years. It could be the forty year mark that has made this mindset appear. Hitting the big four-O creates a period of introspection.

The last year would be rated 4/10 if IMDb existed for dates and not movies. There have been personal achievements and life changes that viewed from the outside would make people expect it to be at least a 7/10. But the end of an average decade has been decidedly below average. Perhaps this is a natural decline in the order of things. My sister told me I was entering the Winter of my Life when forty came around. It was a joke with substance. 

The previous decade did appear like summer in comparison.

This is where a younger person will (rightly) complain about hearing the old “it was better in my day” line. For teenagers and young adults right now, I’m sure they can list many pop culture instances that — to them — match my own from yesteryear. They need to remember, this is my winter (or a very cold autumn).

The younger people also need to appreciate this decade is going to be remembered as the Snowflake Generation. It’s a time when people melt before your eyes with anything that slightly deviates from the clinical, politically correct handbook. Humour has been replaced with self-righteous application of impractical moral codes.

We all should respect one another. There should be fairness and equality for all. We shouldn’t stamp out any non-malicious viewpoint because of how it makes us feel. Comedy notoriously — and quite rightly — toes the line between offence and laughs. If you can’t laugh at something a comic says, it means you kinda have some intent when laughing along with other edgy jokes.

It’s also created a sub-culture of conditions. Everyone no has one. When I get depressed, I am depressed. It’s incredibly difficult to share that with anyone (99.9% of the time, I don’t). The “It’s okay not to be okay” campaigns have been great for raising mental awareness but over time they have been hijacked by those looking for the next fad.

The decade’s been so grim, people have been giving themselves faux conditions to be on trend.

That last remark will undoubtedly offend some people but it’s just my observation. It hasn’t been a collective time of improvement but one of whining. The Brexit situation comes to mind. People moaning about what is wrong rather than working to make it better (I’m aware of the irony this post represents here).

Big pressure on 2020 to step up to the plate. It’s got an uphill battle. 2019 left it in the shit. An impeached President, Boris Johnson the saviour of the British working class and Rod Stewart top of the album charts.

I remember Mad Dog 20/20. The idea of 2020 itself back then was futuristic; flavoured alcoholic drinks a little juvenile. The mad dogs are now here and everyone is necking more varieties of gin than a shelf of early alcopops could have ever dreamed up. 

Does this indicate a return to headier times? I’m going to buy some Hooch, just in case.