December 6, 2023
AND IT’S LIVESo this was VAR. The great Satan of football, the Deep Thought supercomputer belching out erroneous football decisions like ChatGPT att.......


So this was VAR. The great Satan of football, the Deep Thought supercomputer belching out erroneous football decisions like ChatGPT attempting to write William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch with added Greater Manchester bias, finally had its curtain pulled up. The sound of VAR, as revealed by a smart casual (black, natch) Howard Webb on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, is a group of earnest blokes chatting about football. At high-speed, commentating on each possible contravention of the laws like Martin Tyler on a crystal meth jag, and all at once. In the style of close working relationships, everyone has a nickname.

At Stockley Park, Baz, Kaz, Łaz, Trev, Bev, Kav, Ledge, Hayesey, Maisie, Daisy and Titch chunter together through incident after incident, down the earhole of a mic-ed up ref and his assistants. It looked and sounded chaotic, especially when players and managers start trying to referee the games themselves. Oleksandr Zinchenko, we all saw you, claiming offside when you had played Kieran Trippier on, caught red-handed and red-faced during the extended dissection of a Jakub Kiwior handball at Newcastle that never was.

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were the audience on Monday, the latter’s brow furrowed deeper than the Mersey tunnel as someone whose run-ins with officialdom almost certainly still rankle. The effect was like listening to Cape Canaveral during a space shuttle launch, disembodied voices over TV pictures, except with mostly northern English accents, give or take Australian Jarred Gillett: Jazza/Gilly, if you flamin’ will. For the tinfoil crew to chew on, there was the odd tinge of Manc, though the more pertinent question might be why southern county associations don’t produce enough refs these days, rather than blaming the World Economic Forum, Lord Ferg, Mick Hucknall and the BBC setting up shop in Salford for that.

Webb himself pointed out that officiating involves “a whole swathe of subjective decisions”, highlighting why refs can never satisfy everyone. Then there was the drawing of lines for offside, which looked a bit complicated. Webb also admitted that on occasion, pictures can be sequenced at the wrong time, leading to decisions like Ivan Toney’s penalty against Bournemouth being awarded despite him committing a foul seconds before. Human error, then, just what VAR was supposed to prevent but cannot as it is a very human process. “Fans need to see this,” howled Neville. More regular expositions are likely from next season. “We can’t play it live within the laws of the game,” sighed Webb, Fifa preventing that. A useful exercise, definitely, but one unlikely to have changed many opinions, since what VAR can never stop is people believing what they want to believe.


Join Michael Butler from 8pm BST for hot Big Cup semi-final second leg MBM coverage of Inter 0-0 Milan (agg: 2-0), when Luke McLaughlin will also be on deck for the Championship playoff semi-final return game as Luton beat Sunderland 2-0 (agg: 3-2).


“I don’t like playing Monday nights, I don’t think it’s right” – Leicester manager Dean Smith laments the Foxes’ run of four consecutive games at the start of the week after they lost the third of them 3-0 at home to Liverpool. Next up, potentially being relegated at Newcastle next Monday.

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Leicester fans get their vent on. Photograph: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC/Getty Images

Re: knee-sliding celebrations (yesterday’s Football Daily). Let’s say that Brighton qualify for one of the lesser European competitions next year. Let’s say that Roma do the same. Let’s also suggest that Messrs De Zerbi and Mourinho don’t decamp for pastures greener over the summer. Is there anyone who isn’t looking forward to a meaningless dead-rubber group match between the two clubs that ends in some serious knee-sliding, eye-poking argy-bargy?” – Mike Wilner.

For a few years, our group of ageing Leicestershire golfers had enjoyed a day out in Mansfield, encouraged by my life-long support of the Stags and having club legend Jim McCaffrey in our midst. We would watch the match at Field Mill, enjoy lots of Mansfield Bitter, and have a laugh in a pre-booked curry house. The Stags even won a few times. So, we were well into our usual routine in 2000 by the time kick-off came around, plenty of liquid taken on board and anticipating a fun day. Around 20 of us scrambled up into the Ian Greaves Stand, shouting to each other, bellowing Come On You Yellows, when a shovel-sized fist grabbed hold of my shoulder and the owner said: ‘If you don’t effing shut up I will kick you all the way to Kirkby.” We had clambered in during a minute’s silence for Stanley Matthews” – Martin Reece.

Send your letters to [email protected]. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day is … Martin Reece, who also lands a copy of Nige Tassell’s new book, Field of Dreams: 100 Years of Wembley in 100 Matches. We’ve got more to give away all week, so get typing.

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