Highly refined type of mistake

People who think technology is going to lead to a mistake free world are very wide of the mark. What are you going to get is a different argument about a more highly refined type of mistake. And it’s going to come down to scrutiny of inches and millimeters of a television screen, rather than a judgment made out in the middle.

Ed Smith

Ed Smith was talking in 2018 about the cricket review system, but as Liverpool’s disallowed goal in the Merseyside derby yesterday proves again (it being just the most recent example), what he said is turning out to be more than true for VAR in football.


Last night, while explaining to my friend, who has no interest in football, what occurred in the penalty shootout between England and Columbia on Tuesday, I used the pronoun ‘we’ when referring to England. My friend objected: ‘don’t use “we”, you weren’t playing’. I’m sure much has been written about the usage of ‘we’ by supporters and of arguments for and against it, but two things occurred to me.

The first is how churlish an objection it is, and a slightly mean one at that (and it’s strange because it was made to me by someone, who I attest, is neither of those things). For the objector, of course, knows that the person is not suggesting they played, and so leaves them the option to offer up only something abstract in explanation as to why they used that pronoun. So there’s no recourse for that person and so there is no further discussion. The second is: I don’t usually use the pronoun ‘we’, I usually say England. Not that I find the usage odd or object to it like my friend, but I leave it to fans who I feel have more claim than me to the team.

But I used ‘we’. And I used it without thinking or worrying too much about who has any such claim. It was kind of nice doing so. (Apart from where my friend shut it down that is). And it says something about those penalties, what an achievement, and relief, it felt to finally win them and get through.

But more than all this, I think it demonstrates the peculiar intensity of penalties in general; that, watching from wherever you watch (or can’t watch), the tension, the nerves, are felt, that the experience, due to the heightened nature of it, feels (indeed, I’d argue, is) shared with those who are present, involved directly, and with those, like yourself, who are not.

England play Sweden today at 3pm.


Reading: The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro

Quickly pop out

Just briefly on that Guardian piece I mentioned in my last post: I don’t think, to quote from it, that those “watching a middle-aged man stand very still while another middle-aged man watched television in a bunker” is just the preserve of those at the ground, but is experienced by those, who the journalist refers dismissively as, watching “a series of coloured blobs moving on a screen.”

Watching football not at the ground for whatever reasons (financial or geographical) may not have the same excitement, or be the same experience, as watching at the ground, but its excitement and experience is just of a different kind. I remember jumping up on my feet and pacing the living room floor when I heard Louis Van Gaal was to bring on Tim Krul for quarter-final penalties against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup (it worked – Krul saved two), and I was on my own!

So, people not at the ground will be affected by the VAR delay, just they have the option of doing something else while it occurs.

Anyone fancy a trip to the corner shop?

A Waiting Game

Yes, it’s early stages, but it seems VAR is having the effect of delaying play and frustrating fans, managers, players and pundits. As the decisions made with VAR were correct ones (in the end) the general tenor after the game appears to have been one of hopeful (naive?) optimism: “It does need some tweaking,” said Danny Murphy; “It’s going to take a while for them to get it right,” said Dion Dublin.

My question is: where’s more time or tweaking going to get you? You can refine as much as you want; you can talk to the rugby associations; you can maybe show the decisions on-screen in the ground; but it does not change the fact (and please point out if I’m missing something here and this is not the case) that stopping the game takes time.

For good or for bad VAR is here to stay (and the Pacey Winger, in response to this Guardian piece, highlights one very good reason why this will be: money), so really the only considerations are how long it takes for those involved in the game – the fans at the ground and at home, the players, the playing staff, managers etc. – to get used to the delay; and can this delay be merged into the game, but so as not to leave it a poorer experience, accepted only because it contains “correct” decisions; but to leave it, and the many elements that make a game exciting, relatively unscathed, and even, hope against hope, better? I’m cynical but, taking my cues from Dublin and Murphy, trying to be optimistic.


Reading: How To Think: A Guide For The Perplexed, Alan Jacobs


Cricket review system / VAR

People who think technology [the cricket review system] is going to lead to a mistake free world are very wide of the mark. What are you going to get is a different argument about a more highly refined type of mistake. And it’s going to come down to scrutiny of inches and millimeters of a television screen, rather than a judgment made out in the middle. So, all we are getting is a displacement activity where contentious decisions are being moved from the field off the field. You are never going to get to a mistakes free world or a controversy free world – Ed Smith (55m 29s into programme)

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that we can never completely eradicate out those contentious decisions. I think sport needs them. But Smith’s point is worth thinking about after the first competitive club match in England using VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology was played last night (Brighton v Palace).

In cricket the scrutiny of those inches and millimeters on a tv screen takes time, but the game and crowd have managed to accommodate this and so the delay contributes a certain tension to the game. Whether similarly, in football, those off-pitch decisions that take time and slow the pace of the game down (I can’t see how they won’t) add to the overall excitement of the match or detract from it remains to be seen.

People are Kind

Anders has been welcomed in every corner of Britain: from Falmouth Town (Cornwall) to Forres Mechanics (near Inverness).

In Shildon, County Durham, where he visited on August Bank Holiday Monday, he got a full English – and a pint – in the clubhouse before the game.

At Sheringham, Norfolk, which he visited on 18 August, he got a club shirt and a lift back to the station.

“Things like that are typical,” says Anders. “People are kind.”

– The Norwegian who’s been to 445 English football grounds