We knew it would be tough at Millwall, it’s always tough at Millwall. We accept this every time we go there, without necessarily being able to deal with it. Under normal circumstances, the failure to deal with it is down to us and, unpalatable though the usually inadequate results are when we play at the New Den, we just have to take it on the chin.
Defeat, after all, is part of the game, something we have to accept if not exactly relish. What no club should be expected to accept, certainly not on the regular basis that is the experience of Leeds United, is defeat as a result of blatant cheating by the opposition, backed up by incompetence verging on idiocy by a succession of referees and assistants. It’s a factor thrown under a merciless spotlight at the moment, because of the use of VAR in the Premier League. A few days back, man u looked set, for the umpteenth time, to escape an equaliser by their opponents to win an undeserved three points. I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve seen this happen in favour of that particular establishment-beloved club, but this time it was different. The goal was shown to be onside by a margin of at least a yard, with the original call exposed as criminally incompetent – and, lo, man u had to settle for a point, all thanks to VAR.
At Millwall, it was a decision – or rather, two decisions – of comparable incompetence by referee James Linington that cost Leeds the match. Up against a team that habitually treats this fixture as a cup final, Leeds had to hope at least for a level playing field. Instead, they got a referee who saw a foul where there was none, and compounded his mistake by sending off the non-offender Gaetano Berardi, even though Kalvin Phillips was in a covering position to negate an obvious goalscoring opportunity. It was a situation in which the ref had to lean over backwards to rule against United, but he willingly contorted himself, as so many have done before him. After that, Leeds had a mountain to climb, a goal and a man down against highly-charged opponents.
It’s just the latest in a long line of similarly sickening situations for Leeds, a thought clearly in the mind of owner Andrea Radrizzani when he later tweeted his frustration about “wrong decisions”. United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was also in evidence on social media, angry and frustrated as he posted on Instagram the image at the head of this piece. These are not sour grapes, they are the legitimate complaints of professional men who know they’re not getting a fair shake. I’ve been told that this particular referee has sent off United players on the last three occasions he’s officiated us, all defeats. If that’s true – and I’m just too heart-sick to check – then it would appear there’s some sort of case for Linington, the EFL, or both to answer.
What happens next will be interesting to say the least. Will the Millwall swallow-diver be held to account for “simulation” (cheating)? Will he be accused of successfully deceiving a referee, even if one might argue that said referee was quite open, nay eager, to be so deceived? Will Berardi’s red card be rescinded as it certainly should be? On none of these issues will I be holding my breath for justice from a Football League bang to rights on incompetence, complacency and corruption.
It’s difficult to see how things are going to improve. To secure the possible protection of VAR, we need to be in the Premier League – but in order to get there, when the Football League seems determined to hold us in its clammy embrace, we would probably need VAR to spare us the serial incompetence of the League’s officials. So it’s apparently a Catch-22 situation for United.
The strange thing is, I’m not really all that keen on VAR, having always been of a traditionalist point of view, believing that a bit of controversy here and there is a necessary spice for our football fare. But, when that spice is unevenly sprinkled, with Leeds in particular being almost smothered by controversy as victims of half-baked decision making – well, what can you say or do?
If VAR can actually stop, or at least reduce, an endless torrent of dodgy decisions in favour of the Media-Beloved United, then maybe it could also mitigate the decades-long suffering of the Damned United.
And, for that alone, I’d be willing to embrace the technology. Yes, even at the cost of a little bit of football’s soul.