A damp squib as video assistant referee controversy stays away

You wait 130 years for video technology in football and then,with pundits poised and the world watching, nobody could decide if it had been used or not!

You wait 130 years for video technology in football and then,with pundits poised and the world watching, nobody could decide if it had been used or not!

 Brighton’s Third Round FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace at the Amex was the first competitive game in Britain ever to feature a video assistant referee (VAR), even though the Football League has been around since 1888 and the technology to help referees available for quite some time, too.

 But although broadcasters were no doubt praying for a controversial moment to test its effectiveness, confusion reined when Glenn Murray scored the late winner.

 The fact that this was Brighton Reserves against Palace Reserves in a half-empty stadium on a Monday night hadn’t helped until that point - but perhaps we were expecting too much. The system has been used in Italy’s Serie A all season and, after an early flurry of incidents, has been brought into use on average only once every three or four games. It is designed to resolve controversy, not create it.

 The system used at the Amex saw referee Andre Marriner have access to an assistant based not in the stadium but in the Premier League’s television studio in west London, where they used up to 15 camera angles – plus four cameras in each goal – to study the action. But the only hint of its operation came when Marriner pressed his finger to his ear after each goal to check he hadn’t been contacted.

 There excitement in the television studio came when Brighton’s second hit the net – could Murray have been offside when touched Uwe Huenmeier’s  header on the way in? Could it have come off his arm? But the answers were clear enough without any help from west London. Or so we thought.

 Palace manager Roy Hogson, however, believed the VAR system must have been used to aid Marriner’s decision 

He said: "It looked like handball but when you see it again there’s a good chance that it wasn’t. Congratulations to the VAR system.

"One can only hope that the VAR system assisted in the matter. Hopefully it has made the right decision. It was always going to happen, there would be a decision which would come up. It worked well. They decided that the goal should stand and I can’t disagree with that."

 Murray was adamant he turned the ball in with his knee - and the video proved it.  But had VAR played a part? It was a mystery.

In a bid not to slow down the game, the system is designed to be used during breaks in play –  when a goal is scored, a penalty is given or a red card shown; and even then only when a clear and obvious error has been made by the officials.

In contrast to other sports, Marriner was not allowed to ‘call for the video referee’, instead he was told to officiate the game as normal until contacted by the video official via an audio link. So although fans will in future see referees making a rectangular ‘television’ signal with his hands, he only does so after being told it is appropriate. Also, unlike other sports, fans play no part – the footage is for the referee only. So nobody knew.

 "It has been very clear that we didn’t need VAR," Brighton manager Chris Hughton said.

 Both managers were briefed about the system in the build-up to this game, while players were reminded to ‘play to the whistle’ and told they could be booked if they aggressively pressured the referee to use VAR. 

 The experiment will next be in action at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday when Chelsea face Arsenal in the Carabao Cup. Maybe VAR is saving itself for Arsene Wenger – who has spent years calling for it to be used.

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