Would VAR Get Man United Relegated and Leeds United Promoted? – by Rob Atkinson

LUFC red card

Referees just love Leeds United

I’ve never really been in favour of the intrusion of modern technology into professional football. I was generally supportive of the view that the game needs its bits of controversy, things to talk about and argue over in the pub or, as years went on, via social media. And that, ideally, the game at its elite level should stay as close as possible in its essential character to the thud and blunder affairs fought out on parks pitches every Sunday morning.

But the old maxim of “the referee’s decision is final” has started to wear a bit thin, as with that other cliche “these things tend to even themselves out”. We were always asked to believe that, yes, referees made mistakes alright, but that they were honest mistakes, human errors. We were told that, over time, all clubs would get roughly the same amount of good and bad decisions, and that, ultimately, ability and fitness would be the decisive factors. And for a long time, many of us would believe these fables, we’d even repeat them to each other, wanting our beloved game to be straight.

The worm of doubt for Leeds United fans crawled out of the bad apples among the refereeing fraternity as far back as the sixties. I’ve written an article on this blog about the very worst decisions my club has been on the wrong end of – even limiting myself to the truly appalling travesties of justice, it it could have been a much longer list, space permitting. Leeds fans started giving wry smiles when referees were defended as honest Joes who were bound to make the odd mistake. We knew better, out of bitter experience. We knew exactly who would get the breaks and the dodgy calls, and we knew just as well that it wouldn’t be us.

The situation has never really improved for Leeds as far as getting a fair go from referees and the game in general is concerned. As I write, it’s 58 games since we last got a penalty kick awarded, during which time ten have been given against us, including some proper howlers. You get used to it, you come to expect it, but naturally, you never really accept it as your lot. I well remember Thomas Christiansen‘s ashen face after one match early last season; he was unable to credit what he’d seen with his own eyes, and I just thought, welcome to Leeds, mate – welcome to our world.

Things are different for other teams, of course, and it goes without saying that life at the non-crappy end of the stick is best exemplified by Manchester United, or the Pride of Devon, as I fondly refer to them. Their long penalty runs are matches without conceding one; it’s frequently said that nothing short of the cynical murder of an opposition player in their own penalty box will lead to a spot kick being awarded against them. One referee from the nineties, Graham Poll, frankly admitted that the best a ref could hope for when taking a Man U game during the tyrannic reign of Alex Ferguson, was to get the thing over, with as little controversy as possible, and ideally with Man U having won. That’s a mindset which must have yielded many victories in a game of fine margins; Man U were the beneficiaries of intimidated referees who wanted to avoid the Fergie treatment in the press, with a subsequent blacklisting from big matches.

This was a situation that applied throughout the Ferguson reign at Old Trafford, a period in which there was really no excuse for Man U failing to win the league in any one year. With everything in their failure, and the media vicariously lapping up the glory, Man U went from strength to strength. The learning curve their players were on under Ferguson was more than simply curved – it was totally bent.

But now, Fergie is long gone, and the major silverware eludes Manchester’s second-best football club. And yet still the “controversial” decisions accrue in their favour. Last night’s home game against Arsenal demonstrated both manifestations of the modern game; the old fashioned “lino’s call” for offside which resulted in Man U’s first goal, and the beginnings of modern technology ensuring that a goal stood which you would never see given against Man U in the days when eyesight alone judged whether the ball was over the line. Goal line technology, for a side that have seen so many narrow decisions go in their favour, is bad news for Man U. How much worse for them will it get when the video assistant referee (VAR) comes in for the Premier League next season, presumably taking away from the hapless Red Devils the marginal decisions they invariably get now?

It’ll be interesting to see what actually happens. My theory is that a club which has always suffered under the naked eye method of making decisions will be bound to do better when such a fallible system is superseded by state of the art cameras. And, equally, clubs that have always tended to get the rub of the green under “human error” will find themselves suffering disproportionately as those errors start to vanish from the game.

Could such a revolution actually result in the previously favoured club losing their exalted status, while the erstwhile pariahs come to the fore? Well, that’s probably just my over-active tendency towards wishful thinking. Still, it would be vastly entertaining and deeply satisfactory, if it ever came to pass. But the whole culture of the game and its supporting media is ranged against anything so unthinkable. During the Man U v Arsenal game last night, BT Sport‘s resident ex-referee “expert” Phil Dowd acknowledged that Man U’s first goal was narrowly offside. “But it was so close,” he demurred, “it would have been very harsh to give it. So, good goal.” That type of Man U-centric thinking still takes my breath away, even after decades of hearing stuff just like it. And it makes me think that, technology notwithstanding, the Old Trafford team will probably still be getting that annoying rub of the green for some time to come.

That’s not really any of my concern, though I’d like to think it vexes a few of you out there just as it does me. But my priority is Leeds United, and – eventually – we’re going to be playing our games under the electronic eye of VAR. And maybe then, if not before, we might actually get the odd penalty, or at least not have so many utterly crap ones given against us. And, if that proves to be the case, then I’ll happily declare myself a convert to this new technological approach. After all – who can afford to go down to the pub for an argument these days?

17 responses to “Would VAR Get Man United Relegated and Leeds United Promoted? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. It’s nice to hear some one speaking the same language as me, you said it makes you think at times, it makes me sick all the time . You get sick of them insulting your intelligence mate, that referee on Saturday, totally bent ! What’s been done about it ? Zilch, if we’d have made a tackle like Macgoldrick did even if it wasn’t in the referees report we’d have got done. The bent referee at the Brentford game what’s happening, Pontas gets done for saying { SHIT} kids on the street use it and wouldn’t turn a blind eye if they heard it, but you’ve got Norwich, and Forest, players and Scumchester manager Moanrinho effing and blinding in full view of the punters, Psycho Austin, blew 4 gaskets night and day And got a slap on the back, good man eh, i don’t forget a few years back it might have been young Lees when he bwas getting sent off regular for nativity, supposedly brought a man down in the box, it was a yard outside the box he never touched the guy and got sent off, he appealed and lost , it was all on camera and if that isn’t bent i don’t no what is, but i could go into the cups and Europe but what have any of them got { Zilch} i can go back nearly 60 years and we’ve never had a fair crack of the whip , from day one the guys at the head of football league and FA have always had it in for us and it’s been passed down for decades but who is there to Judge and penalise them ? Themselves, AkA Zilch, That’s why we are Leeds, a special breed that no one can imitate or copy or get down were made of special stuff ! M O T


  2. Looks like I’m the only leeds fan up at this god unearthly hour. A simple yes to the Leeds side of the question, for the third best team in Manchester they may still scrape enough dodgy points to avoid relegation.Bring it on I say apart from the odd questionable handball from Roofe we would be quids in.
    On a different note are you looking forward to visiting the dark side next week?Put a few quid on a pen for us in that one .As usual It would be good to see as many leeds as possible in my local( The Crown) before the game in Horwich. Keep up the good work you are head & shoulders above anthing else on newsnow. MOT.


  3. Ken Jarvis

    Hi Rob,

    Well after that horror tackle by McGoldrick on Klich last Saturday, right in front of the referee, it’s time for technology to help Leeds United.

    You’ve already mentioned the penalty stats, which is utterly unbelieveable, but the horror tackle count on Leeds United players is growing at an alarming rate & it’s not been punished retrospectively by the FA.

    The VAR official would have spotted that McGoldrick horror tackle & told that bloody INEPT referee. I’m convinced Dallas was injured by one of those cyncial tackles in the first half when even Sky Sports commentators ADMITTED Sheff Utd sbould have been reduced to 9 men.

    It appears McGoldrick won’t be cited by the FA, which is distrubing but what’s new, just add it to the Brentford headbutt.

    Penalties, offsides & horror tackles would even themselves out for both teams if this technology was brought in (on the day) & Leeds United needs it NOW.

    VAR for LEEDS


  4. howard mackey

    Good article Rob, but i do not think it will ever change, the strange decisions that are always made against us until someone has enough money to challenge the F.A.and the F.L.and enough guts to do it.Andy P good to see someone from my home town who supports Leeds keep the faith Andy.
    Regards H.


  5. Life is LUFC

    They would still contrive to show a blank screen on VAR if it was to look at a decision in favour of Leeds. They would they say something along the lines of “Oh heck VAR has failed we are not sorry though”.
    I always try to look for the best in people but when it comes to those two bodies I never fail to see the worst.


  6. Can’t wait for VAR, but then again it might take (what must surely be) our 58 and counting record of no penalties. Ah well, maybe a QPR player will take a chainsaw on and cut Roofey’s leg off in the six yard box 🙂


  7. Rob, a serious question: do you think there may be some whistle blowers among the UK’s referees? I can’t believe that all refs are corrupt and it has to be worth asking: what whistle blowing policies the FA and FL have in place, how often they have been used, and what were the outcomes? It would be good to use the Freedom of Information Act to get this information about the authorities governing our national game but, as they hide behind private company status, this may not be possible. An alternative would be a Panorama investigation. Since it exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal Panorama has had its funding cut – on ‘audience rating’ grounds! A documentary about corruption in football could reverse the programme’s fortunes and deliver its biggest audience ever. And be a brilliant opportunity for an enterprising freelancer!


  8. This one probably won’t get posted but it was worth a try. Cheers.


  9. Worked a treat Rob. Same article next week please. Penno for us and one against the p.o.d. Great stuff.


    • Devon result could have been better, but I suppose we mustn’t be greedy. Apparently, Leeds are going to install a blue plaque or maybe a brown “historic site” sign on the Kop End penalty spot.


  10. Lets wait and see if Mclaren gets done for his “ref” comments after the game.


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