Over the last month we have seen the VAR trial rolled out over six games across The FA Cup and Carabao Cup and it’s fair to say it has thrown up a mix of opinion. It is here where we must remember that this is an experiment and as such we are going to find things that need improving.

Anything that enhances the decision making of referees has got to be a good thing, especially when we find ourselves in a multi-million pound business where there’s plenty at stake. With the VAR having the potential to cut out key match errors, we need to embrace its use going forward because I expect it will be here to stay.

When I was active I would have liked it, in fact I would have loved it. It’s there to pretty much bail me and my colleagues out of a poor decision, but that is not to say that we should be allowed to let our errors go unnoticed.

We’ve seen the VAR in operation at six games so far this season and for me it’s been a steady start. Let’s look in detail at the games and applaud where it went right, and decide where there is room for improvement.

8th Jan – FA Cup 3rd Round – Crystal Palace 0 Brighton 1

Palace players felt a review process should have been triggered after Murray’s winner, with some suggesting he had handballed. Referee Andre Marriner briefly communicated with the VAR (Neil Swarbrick) but did not feel a need to consult the pitch side monitor, he was happy that the goal was legal.

What’s important here, and unbeknown to others, is that the VAR didn’t actually have access to all the angles that we saw over and over again in the replays on TV. Luckily this particular incident didn’t require the VAR’s intervention as the ball didn’t touch Murray’s arm.

Why the VAR didn’t have the same replays we had I don’t know. It must now become a requirement that they have every possible angle available to them and I believe that an experienced TV technician should be sat there with the team assisting them with the coverage.

10th Jan – Carabao Cup Semi Final 1st Leg – Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0

Martin Atkinson consulted the VAR on two Chelsea penalty claims, when Victor Moses tangled with Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the first half and for Danny Welbeck’s last-minute challenge on Cesc Fabregas, but he was satisfied enough with the evidence relayed to him not to award a spot-kick.

The Moses one wasn’t a clear and obvious error so it shouldn’t have been referred to the VAR.

As for the Welbeck challenge, we have the issue of how much time can play elapse before it gets brought back. There’s no time defined or specified in the IFAB protocol but there is a credibility issue to consider. If there’s a big decision in the penalty area, we cannot allow play to continue until the ball is out of play.

For me when the ball leaves the danger zone, you blow your whistle and signal the VAR or you blow your whistle and give the penalty and let it go to the VAR.

16th – FA Cup 3rd Round Replay  – Leicester 2 Fleetwood 0

Kelechi Iheanacho became the first player to score a goal awarded by a VAR. He initially had a goal disallowed for offside from Riyad Mahrez’s through ball.

But referee Jonathan Moss liaised with video official Mike Jones, who told him Nathan Pond’s trailing foot was keeping Iheanacho onside, and the goal was awarded 67 seconds after it hit the back of the net.

Perfect example of where VAR can be used in a positive manner. The goal should have stood, that’s a fact. The decision is over-turned, without the referee needing to see it, and we can all see the benefit that VAR has given to this game.



17th Jan – FA Cup 3rd Round Replay – Chelsea 1 Norwich 1 (Chelsea win 5-3 on pens)

Willian went down after being caught by Klose in the area, but the Chelsea player was cautioned for diving. Video official Mike Jones did not think there was a clear and obvious error with referee Graham Scott’s decision – so they did not review the situation at length.

Firstly it’s a clear and obvious error, the player absolutely did not deceive the referee.

Secondly, as I understand it, again the VAR did not have all the angles that we saw on the television. Again this brings back my previous point that they should be given the replays we get to see, and the need to employ someone capable of being able to provide that, is necessary.

I also don’t understand why the VAR Mike Jones didn’t suggest to the referee to go and have a look at the pitch side monitor. I’d be saying ‘Graham you need to have a look, because it’s not simulation.’

A good ex referee, someone who has been at the top of the game normally can pick up those incidents straightaway, and even better when they can be afforded the luxury of the replays. I might add that the VAR role might be better suited to those who have been at the very top of the game, ex FIFA referees who in those situations might have better judgement than others.

24th – Carabao Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg – Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1

The VAR wasn’t required during this game but I’m inclined to point out that before the game we were told that if there was to be a review we, the TV viewer, would be informed via the big screen.

Football fans are a huge part of the game, so they have the right to know what the situation is, as do the players and coaches. Every stadium needs a way to let everyone know what’s going on, there’s a clear need for better clarity.

27th – FA Cup 4th Round – Liverpool 2 West Brom 3

Craig Dawson has a goal ruled out that would put West Brom 3-1 up when Gareth Barry is adjudged to have interfered with play from an offside position on VAR viewing.

Minutes later Pawson uses his pitch-side monitor to check whether or not to award a penalty to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah after a foul by Jake Livermore. After a three-minute stoppage, Pawson changes his mind and awards Liverpool the penalty, which Roberto Firmino misses.

Shortly before half-time, Pawson checks VAR for two minutes before awarding the Baggies’ crucial third goal.

Another delay occurs early in the second half when Dawson is caught offside following an aerial battle with Simon Mignolet and it goes to a video review.

My main issue here is Pawson made a key match error when he misses giving the penalty to Liverpool. He should be picking that up in real-time but I’m afraid to say he looks complacent, he hasn’t got himself into a great position to get the best viewing angle and he’s missed it.

The VAR covers up his mistake and it seems like he gets away with it. That shouldn’t be the case, we shouldn’t allow this technology to mask over key errors.

As soon as I saw the replay I knew it was a penalty, for me it took a maximum of fifteen seconds to come to that decision. Therefore I’m unsure why it took so long for the message to get to Craig that he needs to have a look at the monitor.

The other concern is we’ve got to make sure that if the referee does change his mind, like Craig did, then he can’t be surrounded by players like we saw the West Brom players do when he awarded Liverpool the penalty.

The referee should speak to the offending team’s captain, explain his decision and the game can then continue. Anyone else involved should be cautioned.

All in all the issues I’ve mentioned are all teething problems which I suppose we should expect in a trial period. Speeding up the process perhaps through better replays and angles available to the VAR; more clarity for the players, coaches and fans are just some of the issues that need to be worked out.

I also think the VAR and AVAR should be based at the stadium. Being in a separate location at Stockley Park doesn’t make sense to me, they are a team and such should be based at the same site to create a trust between all the officials.

As we saw at Leicester, however, we can see the encouraging early signs in VAR that in time can help English football move forward in the right direction.

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  1. Hey Mark, some of the questions you’ve asked, length of time for VAR while ball is in play being one of them, is covered in the video ‘you are the ref’ posted in an article a couple days ago of Howard Webb and the MLS VAR protocols. On the location of the VAR, in Australia the VAR is in the stadium as you suggested.


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