The Premier League is deep into its third season of the three little letters that have actually changed the game of football – V, A, and R. It’s been three years of hesitant goal celebrations while keeping a half eye on the screens in the ground for a familiar purple graphic to ruin the moment – or save the day, as your opposition’s goals may be a millimeter offside.
In a season that’s provided plenty of VAR-iety when it comes to those not so clear and obvious errors on the pitch, West Ham have found themselves at the centre of multiple controversial decisions – so have West Ham truly been hard done by the powers that be in Stockley Park, or have the odds remainly oddly in our favour? VAR has intervened in most of our Premier League games this season, starting back in the August sunshine.
We were away at Nottingham Forest when David Moyes’ all-time favourite player, Said Benrahma, scored – only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR in a move that angered us Hammers fans. It was ruled that in the build up to the goal, Michail Antonio had fouled Orel Mangala – but when it comes to the idea of a ‘clear and obvious’ error, the jury was truly out.
Former Hammer Anton Ferdinand took to Twitter to say it was a ‘disgraceful’ decision; pundit Karen Carney was on his side, but pundit Graeme Souness was firmly on the side of evil, saying Antonio’s arms were up, and that the referee had no choice. West Ham 0-1 VAR. VAR piled on further misery in our game against Brighton a week later, but it was harder to argue with their VAR-sion of events.
Kurt Zouma was dispossessed and left Thilo Kehrer to bring down Danny Welbeck inside the box. The review took longer than the endless queues to get into the ground each game – and the decision: penalty. West Ham again went on to lose the match; 2-0 down to VAR on aggregate.
Finally, some VAR-iation appeared in our fortune against Spurs. They were initially awarded a penalty when a PeriÅ¡iÄ‡ cross smacked into Aaron Cresswell in the box. Fortunately the eagle-eyed heroes at Stockley Park weren’t convinced it was deliberate and sent the ref to the monitor where he decided to overturn it. West Ham 1 – 2 VAR; a comeback was on the cards.
Our fortunes were starting to VAR-y, and you’d be forgiven if you thought the tides of fortune were turning for West Ham, but in our next match we feel foul of VAR, hook, line and sinker. Chelsea headed into the last minutes of the game 2-1 up, when Maxwell Cornet (remember him?) had the ball in the back of the onion net.
An equaliser wasn’t in the script for the match, so VAR reviewed the goal before deciding that Jarrod Bowen had fouled Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy in the build up. Except that he hadn’t. West Ham fans were livid, but no one more so than an angry David Moyes.
‘Have you seen it?’ asked Moyes, incredulously. ‘The goalkeeper comes to take it and actually fumbles it about five or six yards then he acts as if he’s got a shoulder injury. I am amazed that VAR sent the referee to see it,’ he continued. ‘I thought even if he goes to the TV, there’s no way he’s overturning it. It was a ridiculously bad decision. There is no excuse for that not to be a goal. I’ve lost faith in the people who are putting it up for VAR.’
He may not be the expert on substitutions, but in this case Moyes wasn’t wrong – and West Ham weren’t the only side to get a game-defining wrong decision. Newcastle United were also denied a legitimate goal this week, and the Premier League requested that the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) review the decisions.
The PGMOL accepted that the VAR decisions were wrong. Naturally, neither game was replayed and no points adjustments were made. West Ham 1 – 3 VAR AET. They almost got us again when VAR spent hours checking Gianluca Scamacca’s (admittedly scrappy) goal against Fulham.
First, they checked the goal for offside. But why stop there? Next, it was time to check for handball – and once the footage was released in the ground, fans’ frustration that the incident even needed to be checked, much less for multiple offenses over the course of multiple minutes, was evident. West Ham 2 – 3 VAR.
West Ham were on a roll; against Liverpool, Bowen was fouled but play was allowed to continue before VAR intervened and sent the referee to the monitor – a penalty was given, but it wasn’t converted. West Ham 3 – 3 VAR, but to no avail. Our luck continued in a ‘magical’ scenario against Bournemouth. Two handball claims went in West Ham’s favour in just one match.
Zouma’s header was checked for handball before being given; then Benrahma converted a penalty after VAR spotted a Bournemouth handball. Finally, victory for West Ham against VAR; 4 – 3 to us. The worst moment of the Palace game was not handed to us by VAR (we look no further than Michail Antonio for those honors) but it still had an impact on proceedings.
West Ham were awarded a late penalty that would have cemented their win (well, maybe) when VAR sent the ref to the monitor to review it. It wasn’t the most convincing of appeals, but it still didn’t feel good to see it overturned. 4 – 4.
Given how frustrating this season has been and how aggrieved fans have been towards VAR, it’s surprising to see we’re on an even footing – but don’t make the mistake of thinking an even footing is somehow ‘just’ or ‘fair.’ The point of VAR was to eliminate clear and obvious errors and to get decisions right – and that’s not happening.
VAR has provided more intensive technological tools for officials to get it wrong – and no matter how good the tech is, it’s useless in the hands of people who aren’t using it properly. If you look at the two major incidents, against Chelsea and Forest, that’s four points West Ham desperately needed which would take us from 15th to 11th – and there’s no do-over or compensation when VAR gets it wrong.
The system could work – we’ve seen a number of match-critical decisions which could have been ruled out without VAR to validate their accuracy – two goals against Bournemouth, one against Fulham – but there’s just no consistency, and it’s far worse to rule out a perfectly good goal than it is to let a goal 2mm offside stand.
It’s time to go to VAR on VAR – and review whether or not the system is working, and if correct decisions are being distributed equally across the league. In the meantime, don’t get too excited if and when a goal comes in. Decision: best to wait until the dust settles.