Supporters' celebrations are now being curtailed VAR too much
When cheers turn to jeers is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a soccer supporter – as long as ‘you’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong. It’s sickening when it’s the other way round.
That sound used to only come seconds after away fans had erroneously celebrated, thinking that one of their players has scored at the far end of the pitch – only for the home support to jubilantly correct them, letting them know that the ball had struck the outside, not the inside, of the netting. Or that it did go into the net but had been ruled out for some reason, such as offside, handball, or some other foul.
Given how few scores there are in soccer compared to most other sports, disallowed goals can be just as important as goals which actually count, and are celebrated with almost equal gusto and delight.
However, the rise in the number of disallowed goals is not something to be celebrated.
Sadly, now the judgements aren’t being made by the eyes of supporters and match officials but by VAR (Video Assistant Referee) officials in a studio near Heathrow.
You might think that the fun for fans would increase with the number of goals/ ‘goals’ being checked out by VAR but the reality is that the time delay is sucking the joy out of spectating.
That automatic, instinctive explosion of happiness when your team scores is being replaced by doubt and hesitation.
Was there a slight offside in the build-up? Did the ball brush off an attacking player’s tricep? Will that slight bump between opposing players be deemed a foul barge by someone sitting in a room miles away, rather than the referee and his team of officials?
Ruben Neves scored a beauty for Wolves on Monday night - but a needless VAR review made the home supporters sweat for some time.
The justification of ‘only applying the laws of the game’ is straying dangerously towards ‘only obeying orders’ territory.
VAR is supposed to bring ‘maximum benefit, minimum interference’, overturning only ‘clear and obvious’ errors – but all that’s clear and obvious is that there’s too much interference and too little benefit.
It’s not all the fault of VAR, of course.
It’s patently ludicrous to only penalise the attacking side for accidental handballs. Everyone understood and accepted a ‘goal’ being ruled out if it went in off an attacker’s hand or arm, even if he hadn’t deliberately handled the ball. Yet to rule out a goal because of an accidental handball earlier in the move is daft.
Equally, everyone agreed that a defending player shouldn’t be penalised if the ball hit his hand or arm when it was in a natural position and there hadn’t been time for him to get out of the way. Now, though, defenders will be claiming ‘accidental’ even if they have made no effort to avoid the ball.
The new law isn’t entirely stupid. It makes sense not to penalise a player if a ball strikes his hand or arm when they are within his body shape. Logically, the ball would hit his face or torso or legs anyway, so if he wants to protect his good looks or his unmentionables then so be it.
Still, no one but no one (not even any Spurs players or supporters) saw anything wrong with Manchester City’s ‘winner’ on Saturday evening - except some stickler in that studio at Stockley Park.
Equally, Raheem Sterling was so marginally offside that it was borderline offensive to rule out the ‘goal’ he scored away to West Ham on the opening weekend. There was only less controversy then because he scored three goals which did count.
VAR will bring benefits to players like Sterling, admittedly. Far too many times over the years quick players who timed their runs brilliantly were wrongly flagged offside. Now officials can wait and see without a flag stopping play.
The problem is that supporters have to wait and see for far too long.
Premature celebration is embarrassing – yet sitting on your hands isn’t much fun either.
In the greater scheme of things, the mocking of early celebration has become extremely tedious and tiresome, as annoying as umpteen lengthy VAR reviews.
Early celebration is slightly different from premature celebration.
Early celebrators aren’t actually wrong, merely happy or optimistic, neither of which are crimes – but are increasingly treated as such in the toxic world of social media.
Supporters of teams who make a good start to the season, or even to a game, are sneeringly told ‘Pipe down, you won’t win anyway’.
Perhaps that’s true. Certainly, only one club will win each league and each cup, and probably it will be one of the limited usual suspects.
Yet should that mean supporters of a lesser light shouldn’t get excited when they beat one of the bigger guns? Or even when they take the lead (subject to VAR review, of course)?
That Watford shouldn’t have enjoyed reaching last season’s FA Cup Final because the likelihood was that they were going to lose to Manchester City anyway?
Way, way, way into the 2015-16 Premier League season the naysayers were still telling Leicester City that they couldn’t possibly win the title…
My own personal pessimism stops me from getting carried away or over-excited but I try not to rain on anyone else’s parade – even if they probably shouldn’t order the open-top bus before the trophy has actually been handed over.
There are too many sad, twisted types whose only enjoyment comes from the ‘failures’ of others rather than any successes for their own side.
Obviously if you’ve shouted your mouth off all season and then your team ends up empty-handed then you deserve all the stick you get.
Of course, everyone supports in their own way - but surely it’s better to enjoy your own team rather than be a joy-sucker?