Wolves Fans Parliament members were given a detailed insight into the workings of VAR when Molineux’s International Suite hosted their second meeting of the season.
Present to answer questions and offer explanations on what the meeting chair and club supporter liaison officer Dave Wood called ‘the biggest talking point in football’ were former referee Chris Foy and the Premier League’s supporter liaison manager Tommy Guthrie. They had attended a similar meeting at Chelsea and are due to go to one at Arsenal next.
Dave thanked and welcomed members, expressed gratitude to the two visitors and invited Neil Dady to pass on the news that he, Dave and Anne Bott had travelled to London after the Wolves Fans Parliament was nominated for the “best supporter engagement award” at the recent Football Supporters Association awards. “We were one of five nominees but didn’t finish first,” Neil said. He also thanked Kevin Thelwell for his loyal service, for attending numerous Parliament meetings over his 12 years at the club and never ducking questions.
Chris Foy, a Premier League referee for 15 years and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited’s head of community & public engagement, kicked off the main business of the evening by saying he felt many complaints about VAR were more directly related to changes in the Laws of the Game. He said the intensity and tempo of the game were borne in mind when it was brought in and VAR’s aims were minimum intervention, maximum benefit and getting the big decisions right.
“We have a high threshold for intervention,” he said, explaining that goals, penalties, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity came under its microscope. “The referee, rather than VAR, will always have the final decision.” Chris, who said he was at Stockley Park for the epic Wolves v Manchester City game just after Christmas, admitted VAR wouldn’t achieve 100 per cent accuracy. He also said it meant there was a renewed emphasis on the play-to-the-whistle mentality in the game. Peter Bradburn was told that there was a dedicated VAR for each fixture at Stockley Park. VARs do not communicate with each other and concentrate only on their own match.
Chris stated, “There is no such thing as just onside or just offside. A player is either on or off. Subjective decisions always cause debate. VAR will not remove controversy because there are still subjective decisions.” As an example, he showed on screen Vincent Kompany’s tackle in the Manchester City v Liverpool game last winter. “Was it two-footed?” he asked. “Was that decision clearly and obviously wrong?” In answer to a question from Darren Bennett, he said he didn’t think the decision to not send the defender off would have been overturned had there been VAR.
Chris also showed the penalty awarded for a foul on Riyad Mahrez at Molineux eight weeks ago – something that prompted John Woodward to ask why Martin Atkinson hadn’t consulted a pitch-side monitor. Chris pointed out that referees had started doing this now, as shown by Michael Oliver in the Crystal Palace v Derby FA Cup tie. He added that the fan engagement element for supporters at the match was very important, including putting a finger to the ear to show that a discussion was taking place.
He cited the New Year’s Day Watford v Wolves game as an example of positive VAR. “That (the upgrading of Christian Kabasele’s yellow card to a red) was a really good overturn.” He also pointed out that spotting such incidents was more about angles and getting an unobstructed view, than close proximity.
Dave Benton went back to the opening-day draw at Leicester City and complained that he didn’t know until he was walking out of the ground why Wolves’ goal had been disallowed. “There was just one still photo shown,” he said. Chris replied: “That has now changed. We are the only competition in Europe that shows the definitive clip.” Tommy Guthrie pointed out that Manchester United and Liverpool didn’t have screens and there was no competition regulation to say clubs must have them. Neil Dady said Wolves fans were totally in the dark at Liverpool as to what was happening.
Mark Evans complained that the relevant clips weren’t being shown at Molineux and said it would help if fans could see the whole extended incident. “Fans get agitated and are losing their passion,” he said. Dave Benton said it was wrong that the paying fans saw less than the TV audience. “People are getting really cheesed off with it…..I am utterly sick of it,” he commented. “It’s making me not want to go to games.” Dave Wood was adamant that the in-stadium experience for paying supporters had to be protected. Members were assured that Tommy Guthrie would feed strong feelings like this back to the Premier League.
Neil Dady had the impression referees were being influenced by players while reviews were in progress. “Can’t the ref go into a neutral zone where players can’t go, like the centre circle?” he asked. Chris said a lot of VAR work had gone under the radar but admitted it would take two or three years to function at its best. Tommy said that showing players’ numbers on the screen during reviews of decisions was one option under consideration.
Tony Grocott commented on how long play would sometimes go on before being pulled back and Dave Benton said: “It kills the game…Leicester, Liverpool, Southampton home, it killed the game. We used to have cheating players who would fall over and get the physio on to waste time. Now this is doing it for them.”
Chris Foy said the same technology was being used at Premier League grounds as in the Bundesliga in Germany and Italy’s Serie A but Neil Dady retorted: “We don’t believe the technology. We do with goal-line but not with offside.” Chris went on: “This is the technology we go with now….what will happen in the future, who knows?” Steve Brown said attackers should be given more benefit of the doubt. Peter Bradburn said there should be just one line on viewers’ screens in offside calls….on the boot. Chris said offside could be given if any part of a player’s body that he could score with was offside. Caroline Martin asked why offside reviews could not be used for obvious mistakes only and not extremely marginal ones.
A Southampton-Liverpool clip was shown to demonstrate situations when referees had to decide when one phase of play had ended and another started. Dave Azzopardi asked whether there had been teething troubles in rugby, too – a point Chris answered by saying he felt there were more natural stops in rugby anyway and cricket had taken some time to refine its review system.
Chris Foy went on to show Willy Boly’s handball at home to Manchester City last season and used it as an example of a goal that would have been ruled out under VAR. Neil Dady said it was wrong to have one handball rule for attacking players and one for defenders. Glenn Aston added: “This law change is stupid. If it hits a defender and goes away, you don’t give it a foul. If it accidentally hits an attacker and there’s a goal, it’s disallowed.” Neil continued: “You have stolen football from us, stolen the moment. We don’t know whether to celebrate or not. Celebrating a goal is why we travel thousands of miles and pay big bucks.” Chris replied: “That (handball) law change is not the Premier League’s. It’s a global change made by the International Football Association Board.
Wolves head of operations Steve Sutton said the there was a noticeable increase in hostility at the Manchester City match especially at the time of the VAR decisions around the penalty, “We all have a duty to behave and I do not condone bad behaviour but this has raised the hostility level,” he said. Diane Jordan was told by Chris that there had been VAR meetings with managers, players and stakeholders and he himself had addressed the Wolves squad on the subject pre-season. She said referring incidents to Stockley Park was just making it subject to someone else’s opinion…..”I’d be happier with a consensus,” she said.
Steve Brown described it as ‘very admirable’ of the two visitors to attend but summed up: “My view is that it will never be for our game. Goal-line technology is great. And please time the game correctly when the ball goes out of play etc.” A straw poll before Chris and Tommy left showed that a large majority of members would be happier without VAR.
REST OF MEETING
Members were asked whether the change of format had been enjoyed and, amid general enthusiasm, Jon Babb wondered whether such a meeting could be filmed in future. Stuart Alves asked whether Tommy Guthrie, who promised to relay the mood of the Parliament to his employers, could be brought back for a second. Glenn Aston described VAR as the hottest potato in football and said: “We have got some things off our chest.” Mark Evans said VAR was here to stay, so it had to be accepted, but Steve Brown asked: “Why do we have to put up with it? People said we would never come out of the EU. Populism can come to the forefront. Fans have some power and say and that’s important. Wolves have the means to ask every fan on their database whether they want it or not.” Jack Finch said Wolves fans could vote against it but other clubs might be for it.
Turning to other matters, Dave Azzopardi said he thought gold and silver members were given too long to buy tickets for Espanyol, to the detriment of others. Stuart Alves said the European experience had been brilliant and thanked the club for their part.
Jas Bahra asked about the ground redevelopment and rumours regarding temporary stands going up. He was told there was nothing new to say on the subject. Dave Wood agreed with Anne Bott that it should be minuted that fans’ consultation on any plans was a good thing. Jack Finch said the match-day experience sub-group with Russell Jones was working well.