James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Standing up for those the game is choosing to ignore

Imagine, if you will, that we're inventing a new game

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 4:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th November 2019, 10:25 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

After being given the brief to create something so beautifully simple, its appeal spans entire continents, crosses oceans and cultural divides. But perhaps more importantly, because our client also wants us to devise something capable of drawing in a huge television audience, is engrossing enough for folk to spend a large chunk of their pay packets actually watching it inside stadiums. Because, without the atmosphere they create, it would be a pretty dull spectacle for those sat in front of a screen at home.

Then consider your reaction if I told you the key decisions, the ones which can actually decide the outcome of a contest, should take place in almost absolute secrecy. That the only way those sat in stands or stood terraces could discover how they were being made was by logging onto a satellite channel's live footage app or by phoning a friend who wasn't actually there. You'd laugh, right? Think I'd lost my marbles or grip on reality.

But that is exactly the situation football has found itself in thanks to VAR; something which was supposed to rid the game of controversy but is now creating more than Jose Mourinho, Paolo Di Canio and Massimo Cellino put together.

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Unfortunately, following Saturday's shambolic scenes during their team's Premier League fixture at Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield United supporters discovered yours truly's ridiculous idea has actually been given the go-ahead. Because after watching David McGoldrick 'score' an equaliser, they then spent nearly four minutes in not-so-blissful ignorance before learning, for reasons which were not actually relayed to them, that the goal had actually been disallowed; by someone sat over 20 miles away playing with technology on a monitor at Stockley Park. Those of us inside the press box, where footage of Jon Moss' scribblings and geometrical calculations was being relayed in real time, realised it was because John Lundstram had strayed offside earlier in the move. Well, his big toe to be exact. Unfortunately, those who had spent a large chunk of their pay packets or pocket money savings on tickets and travel had no clue whatsoever. Which surely, even though I get the impression the powers-that-be increasingly view them as an annoying irritant, something to be patronised when it suits, can not be right. It's a bloody disgrace in fact. George Baldock eventually did level for United. And this time, his strike stood.

Regular readers of this column will know that I'm no fan of VAR or everything it represents. Which, given that it will never be rolled out in the lower divisions or semi-professional competitions, include the notion that those with money deserve better treatment, further erosion of the referee's authority and science's fraudulent claim that it can bring perfection to something played and governed by fallible human-beings.

But unfortunately, now it has been introduced, it is almost certainly here to stay. And make no mistake, as always happens with things like this, its influence will spread. Sooner or later everything, be it throw-ins or conversations on the pitch and inside the technical area, will also be reviewed. Mission creep is inevitable.

Rectifying the ridiculous situation United's followers found themselves in last weekend is simple. Relay the same pictures being provided to the media onto the big screen inside a stadium. It will never happen of course, because the authorities still think fans can not be trusted to behave. Even though hundreds of thousands do exactly that when they visit grounds during every round of the entire pyramid's fixture calendar. It will also never happen - at least not in the same detail - because 'simple' is apparently a dirty word. Even though, as VAR's cheerleaders investigate ways of making it even more complex, simplicity is what made football so great. That and the very supporters its latest project chose to ignore when deciding how it would be implemented. Which, inadvertantly or otherwise, tells you something about those who run or influence our wonderful sport.

VAR is used to check Sheffield United's David McGoldrick's goal before it was eventually disallowed during the Premier League match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: Bradley Collyer/PA Wire.