In the final month of last year, we managed to hang onto fifth place in the table with two of the so-called Big Six – Tottenham and Manchester United – below us.
Our beloved captain Mark Noble tied Di Canio’s record for 47 goals in the Premier League and also retained his record of scoring a goal each year in the Premier League since 2006.
This should be welcomed news for us but there is an uneasiness of fans about the disruption to this success.
Watching our hopeful bubbles ascend, we’re wary of the consequences of an injured back line, a depleted squad, and still left smarting over the burst of a failed cup run; in all of this there lurks another existential threat to West Ham’s 2022 success and is has been exposed loudly in chants heard from the terraces – F**K VAR!
Our form dipped in December, with only two wins from seven matches in all competitions, but in five of those matches, we had VAR decisions go against us, with two of them leading to losses, and two leading to draws.
There was the penalty not given for a collision in the box against Dawson versus Burnley, and then the penalty given against Dawson for an outside the box body check versus Southampton.
There was the disallowed goal versus Brighton because of a possible touch on Antonio’s foot though originally attributed as an own goal, and Coufal’s second yellow card which led to a red and a failed penalty for Arsenal – this would lead to his absence from the League Cup tie versus Tottenham.
That’s a possible seven points lost which would’ve put us in fourth place, three points off Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as a chance for better results against Arsenal in the league, and the Spurs in the Cup match.
Whilst our woes in December were unfolding, there was a touch of luck for the ‘bigger’ teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea all won their matches on penalties by singular goals.
Two of those were VAR decisions based on replays, with VAR not denying the other two penalties.
And the following week Harry Kane was not checked on VAR for a studs up, mid-calf, double foot challenge where he received no punishment yet everyone at the match or watching from home could spot the foul play.
All this would lead any club suffering from VAR’s decisions to either believe that VAR is flawed or that there is a conspiracy benefitting the so-called Big Six.
It’s difficult to conjecture on the conspiracy theories of “Big Six Bias”; nefariously manipulated outcomes can’t be proven without a whistleblower, and internal bias is hard to detect.
It’s only apparent to the common eye when the recognised elite clubs receive positive decisions while smaller clubs suffer from fouls that look obvious.
‘Did Salah Dive Today?’ is a Twitter account that illustrates this point with a slow motion replay of Mo Salah receiving positive calls for Liverpool on a weekly basis, with which the answer is always ‘yes’.
To the argument that VAR is inept and just as poorly managed as some on the pitch refereeing, we had two red cards revoked last season after arguing them.
According to an article written by Mark Wyatt for football.london there were also two bad calls this season including Coufal’s second yellow, and Dawson’s missed penalty award.
‘David Moyes has revealed that PGMOL – the group formed in 2001 to “improve refereeing standards in the UK” – have told West Ham that both of those big calls were the wrong ones.’
There are sports sites out there that are tallying VAR results, but most go for overturned decisions.
According to a recent ESPN article about how VAR results have affected Premier League clubs this season, we are at a +1 result even though three of those decisions for the positive weren’t related to calls and the two negative decisions were for goals, which would have given us six points.
As stated within the rules of VAR, it is only used as a check and doesn’t have the power to overturn – that all relies on the on-pitch referee.
While fans now expect the video-assisted referees to use the same video analysis they have been able to make from their television screens for years, they can not inject the common sense that goes with that, so the fault or failure of VAR is still dependent on the subjective observation and authority of the referee.
Perhaps we’re not getting angry at VAR but at the hopeful promise of a level playing field, that VAR has not produced due to the subjective nature of man determining our fates in a hopefully unbiased referee.