Video ref just another spectator for most of its quiet English debut
New technology proves its worth for deciding goal as Brighton progress in FA Cup
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) equipment on the sideline during the FA Cup third-round match between Brighton and Crystal Palace at the Amex Stadium. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
For the grand arrival of the video assisted referee in English football, there ought to have been a fanfare of whistles, a cheerleading display of referees assistants waving flags and the two groups of players drawing rectangles instead of the pre-match handshake.
As it turned out the handy monitor on the touchline waited, tucked carefully on its stand, quietly inactive, like an unplugged robot, a few yards to the left of the managers’ technical areas. But if that is the glitzy side of VAR, the drama for all to see if and when a referee chooses to use the monitor to look again for himself at something he has doubts about, then the nitty gritty is the quick line of communication back to base camp and the additional officials studying the angles.
The weird twist in this tale came late, and in that manner. Just as it seemed the match was set to finish without controversy, with VAR unneeded and unused, Glenn Murray popped up with a match winner that was accompanied by enough questions to justify another look from the new back-up technology. The word from referee Andre Marriner was quick and to the point: “Check it.”
Neil Swarbrick and assistant Peter Kirkup, who spent the match installed in front of a selection of monitors relaying more than a dozen angles and specialist goal cameras at the Premier League TV headquarters at Stockley Park, referred to the replays to check for two things. Was it offside? No. Did the ball skim his arm as it deflected in off his knee? That was the more complicated area. The angles Swarbick and Kirkup studied were inconclusive so there was no clear reason to disallow the goal.
On we went, Brighton 2-1 up. That wasn’t much consolation for Crystal Palace’s following, who raged with the urge to appeal when the goal was plastered across the big screens at the Amex Stadium. Maybe not the smartest move under the circumstances.
Roy Hodgson had no problem with the goal, though, which helped the cause of VAR moving forwards. The upshot is that VAR was used and generally adjudged to come to the right decision, but just as notable was the speed with which the intervention took place. The exchange between Marriner and his assistants in front of the screens was not even discernible unless you were really paying attention, so the concerns about how much it might delay the flow of the game were not an issue in this case.
The nature of VAR is to attempt to deal with controversy so it will not be surprising to have some minor issues. Teething problems will come with the territory as the game adjusts to this innovation. For all parties with a vested interest - managers, players, officials, supporters, media – it will take some time to settle.
This looked like being the gentlest of introductions. The majority of the game was so devoid of the dubious the mind wandered to a wacky encounter between these two teams in 1989 for a game marked by the award of five penalties in less than half an hour. The footage includes the sight of Kelvin Morton, the referee that day, enacting a speedy version of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks as he races away from players’ complaints. Stick that in your VAR monitor and watch it smoke. – Guardian service