I’m still not quite sure what happened yesterday.
My team, Manchester City, drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur. Which is fine, really, in spite of the fact that it was a ludicrously unbalanced match.
Truth is, the game was more like Whack A Mole than football. City were utterly dominant throughout yet somehow the Diggers XI left the Etihad Stadium, blinking into the late evening sunlight, wondering how on Earth they’d earned a point after being utterly hammered by the Manchester Mallets.
But it happens all the time in football. Only… not like this. No, after a lifetime of footy watching, I don’t ever remember seeing anything like this.
Because, for a whole minute or so, City had won the match, through a late strike from Gabriel Jesus.
The referee, once a man whose word must not be questioned, had awarded the decisive goal and returned the ball to the centre circle for the game to be restarted. But then he got a message in his ear.
The sudden and utterly unexpected decision by the VAR officials in Stockley Park caused pandemonium.
We hadn’t been informed that a VAR check was in progress. The first thing we knew was when a sign flashed up saying simply, ‘No Goal – VAR’, followed by an inscrutable video clip that showed, apparently, that something had happened. Still nobody knew what.
Apparently, the ball had clipped Aymeric Laporte’s arm in the buildup to the goal so it must be chalked off. Maybe it had. I still haven’t seen it but I’m sure it must’ve done.
But none of that matters. This does, though;
1. The referee’s decisions are now provisional.
I felt sorry for Michael Oliver at the end. The furious home fans hissed and gesticulated powerlessly at him as he and his refereeing team sloped off. But he had had no say in the matter. Like us, he had merely been at the game.
2. Goals are now provisional too.
The quintessential joy of football is in scoring a big goal. But that is now gone. Every euphoric moment must now be qualified. Every punch of the air must be held partly in abeyance.
All supposed goals are now merely candidates for evaluation, an exam paper submitted in term time, with the long wait till Summer Results Day stretching agonisingly before them.
3. The fan experience is now changed forever.
We bought the dream of goals and the net billowing explosively and we got – well, what? A killjoy’s dream? A never ending game of Torture the Customer?
Who asked us whether we were okay with this?
4. This was supposed to fix ‘clear and obvious errors’. This was neither.
Hugo Lloris, Spurs’ captain, admitted afterwards he thought it had been a goal. There was nothing clear nor obvious about any of it.
No Spurs player appealed.
And I know. Because I was there.
5. The only people who mattered weren’t there.
The referee, the paying customers, the players; we were there but not one of our opinions mattered.
Someone unknown. unnamed, wearing a headset in Stockley Park, wherever that is, made the decision.
They mattered. Because they weren’t there.
Is this it then?
Does the fan experience – the customer experience – change forever, from now?
Maybe so. And it’s all our fault.
All that howling at the ref, down through the years, really wasn’t on. We were to blame.
“Bring us technology!”, we said.
“This must change!”, we demanded.
On and on. What fools we were. We should’ve been far more careful about what we wished for.
Because I fear the killjoys who did this will never admit they are, clearly and obviously, in error.