Don’t bother going to an A-League game this season. You’re better off at home on the couch.
That was the message from the opening weekend of Australia’s premier men’s football competition as the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) stole the headlines once again.
Following on from last season’s A-League grand final debacle that allowed Melbourne Victory’s solitary goal to determine the title despite it being clearly offside, you’d think the boffins at Football Federation Australia would have learnt their lesson.
Clearly they have not.
Round one of the new season saw a series of bewildering, frustrating and marginal calls dominate discussion in what was otherwise an entertaining start to the campaign.
If you are going to employ video technology to determine crucial decisions in game then rule No.1 is do no harm to the integrity of the contest. Just as importantly, at all times protect the authenticity of the spectacle.
Referee Kurt Ams’ initial decision to award Melbourne City’s Bruno Fornaroli a free kick on the edge of the area for minimal contact with Melbourne Victory’s Corey Brown was questionable to start with.
That’s when things went right off the rails.
The A-League, having been torched for allowing its VCR to run out of tape during last year’s grand final stuff up, has established its own equivalent of the NRL’s bunker system to review all key decisions.
And we all know what a hit that system has been.
So when referee Ams was asked by the video ref to review his original call he dutifully trotted to the sideline to peer into a pitch-side screen for what seemed like an age as the 40,000 spectators in the stadium grew restless and the players stood about like over-sized garden gnomes.
That Ams then reinforced his original call and awarded the foul as one committed inside the area and thus a penalty only added to the sense that, even with the best of intentions, video technology doesn’t eliminate human error given it is pesky humans who still operate it.
— Mel P (@MelFranjinho) October 21, 2018
So why persist with it?
The reason is that football, like so many other sports, is bankrolled by big television deals and what TV wants, TV gets.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Fox Sports’ coverage of the A-League is superb. If the technology is there for them to critique the game and the legitimacy of a referee’s call in commentary then well and good.
Somehow though competitions like the A-League have crossed over from being a contest to be covered to become ‘content’ that needs to be provided to their media paymasters.
What should be a crucial component of the integrity of the game – a referee’s big call – is also now a commercial property to be sold. The A-League’s VAR comes courtesy to you of McDonald’s.
No one is suggesting that there are quotas for the number of referrals in a match to keep the suits at Maccas happy, but it’s a sure sign that there’s money to be made in making the VAR part of the game.
“Do you want offside with that?”
Not if Adam Taggart’s superb strike to equalise for Brisbane Roar early in the second half against Central Coast Mariners is chalked off because he has a knobbly kneecap protruding in front of the last defender.
That kind of moment is what fans pay for with their hard-earned cash.
You want to be on your feet, celebrating a superb counterattack and shouting your salutations to the sky when it happens, not craning your neck to the nearest video screen to see if you should believe what you’ve seen.
Unless you’re at home, watching with a remote control in one hand and a cold beer in another.
Then this VAR’s for you.
Francis Leach is the newly appointed sports editor of The New Daily.