Many years ago, the word shameful was associated with football to describe the actions of so called supporters, who plagued the game with despicable acts of violence on the terraces, writes Gareth Davies.
Thankfully, those days are very much in the past, mainly due to the introduction of all-seater stadiums and improvements carried out after recommendations made in the Taylor Report.
Unfortunately, change for the better came after the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives due to institutional negligence from authorities, and a shameful cover-up.
Ironically, at a time where hooliganism was rife, it was actions brought about by a tragedy that was nothing to do with supporter misbehaviour, that shaped football into what it has become now.
To show how things have changed, I took my four-year-old son Toby to watch his first ever match last Saturday as Plymouth Argyle entertained Cambridge United. Would I have felt as comfortable doing this 30 years ago? Maybe not, but in the here and now, our safety wasn’t even a consideration. Despite the 0-0 draw, he loved the whole day and the Green Army now have a new member.
Since the findings of Taylor were gradually introduced, football has evolved at its own pace, with small, subtle changes occurring, rather than anything ground-breaking or wholly necessary.
On the pitch, stopping goalkeepers picking up the ball has increased the speed of matches no end and whilst from a purely personal point of view, as someone who loved to see players thundering into tackles, the strict guidelines on tackling mean the game is safer than it has ever been for the 22 who step over the white line.
Granted there are other slight annoyances which should be consigned to the scrapheap like booking players for taking their shirts off when celebrating. I, like many others, will never get to experience just what it’s like to see ripple the net on the grandest of stages. For that reason alone, the emotions are unknow but to only a select few. Let them enjoy the moment, whatever that may feel like.
Feelings being actuated by football – and any other sport – is what makes competition in any discipline at any level so special. It is something which is sporadic, instant and is often born out of happiness and despair in equal measure.
However, this season, purely because of the introduction of video assistant referees in the Premier League, this is all being sucked out of the game – both on and off the field.
Last weekend, one our clubs from the West Country were involved in a match where ceratin events that unfolded can only be described as shameful. Now this isn’t just because Bournemouth lost 3-0 as whatever the result, VAR absolutely ruined the game as a contest and it will continue to ruin many more if it continues to be used for more than just a single season in its present state.
Firstly, the Cherries had a goal ruled out when the ball struck the shoulder of midfielder Philip Billing before Joshua King rifled home. Before VAR stuck its most unwelcome five eggs in, there was the usual scenes of unbridled joy as the hardy band of Cherries gathered at the cricket club end of Turf Moor celebrated wildly.
But no sooner had the revelry died down, referee Mike Dean had his hand to his ear, VAR was checking for handball. After lengthy deliberation, the ‘goal’ was ruled out. Worse was to come for Eddie Howe and his side as in the second half, Bournemouth thought they had grabbed an equaliser after falling behind when Welsh loan star Harry Wilson scored. Again, Cherries hopes were dashed because VAR spotted that Adam Smith may have handled the ball in the penalty area, before Wilson scored.
Once again, the Bournemouth celebrations were cut short and from the resultant penalty-kick, Jay Rodriguez scored for Burnley and 1-1 suddenly became 2-0.
The process brought in to try and correct ‘clear and obvious’ errors is now looking for any kind of way to not rule that a goal has been correctly scored. As was rightly pointed out during the Gloucester v Sale Sharks rugby match on Friday, when television was called upon to look at the awarding of a try, referee Wayne Barnes said ‘is there any reason I CANNOT award the try?’, while in football it would appear to be the conversation at VAR headquarters at Stockley Park go something along the lines of ‘give me a reason why I CAN disallow the goal’?
There lies the key difference between using technology to assist in rugby, opposed to football which is searching for perfection.
If that is the road the game wants to go down then at the very top, it is finished. Despite the money, glam and glitz that the Premier League brings, supporters, the ones who football are considered nothing without, will start turning their backs on in droves.
It is argued that given the eye-watering amount of money sloshing around in football that the game at the very top has alienated itself from everything else already.
That is a little wide of the mark, but if the current VAR system isn’t looked at and a common sense solution reached, then fans will become surplus to requirements. Why bother going to matches if you can’t celebrate for fear of VAR getting involved?
Football improved for the better after Hillsborough, but what a shame it would be if numbers at what are now considered the best stadiums in world football, start to dwindle, because transcendence on the field is more important than anything else.