There is a West Wing episode which I particularly enjoy. It’s one of the “Josh centred” ones, where we follow the deputy chief of staff for much of the running time as he tries to convince a Democratic senator named Chris Carrick to cease blocking military promotions. Carrick will grant his request, but he wants something in return; an anti-ballistic missile shield system.
The only problem is that it doesn’t work. It has never worked and they have no way of making it work. Carrick counters that just building it is enough to demonstrate to the Russians and Chinese that America is serious about defending itself, and besides, you never want it to work because you would never want to have to use it.
But Josh counters with the obvious; if you’re going to spend a lot of money on a new technology, you do want it to actually work. You want it to do what it’s designed for. Otherwise, as he succinctly puts it, you might as well give him the money for a toaster that doesn’t make toast.
I wanted VAR to work. God knows I did. I wrote about my hopes for it, and how it would take out of play any number of the “honest mistakes.” Besides, the clubs were spending big money on it and there was little point in doing that just to put the same brainless dolts who have been refereeing games in Scotland this whole time in charge of it.
Other people told me it would go this way. They saw more clearly than I did that there was something rotten about the whole concept, and that far from giving us a fair shake that it would turn out to be something we deeply regretted supporting.
And now it dawns on me; maybe it was never supposed to work.
Maybe it was enough just to build it.
Hell, it now seems clear that the SFA never actually wanted to use it in the way it was meant to function. The point was to make it look like we were taking a giant leap forward in our game so that the people running it would not have to do any real or meaningful reform in the areas that mattered; better refs from neutral backgrounds, proper training and accountability.
That seems so obvious now that I don’t know how it escaped my attention for as long as it did. I should have picked up on that right away, and it’s taken until now for the penny to drop. I feel like an idiot. But the con-job was a good one, at first glance anyway.
All of that is over now.
This technology is a scourge on the game, on both sides of the border. In some ways the SFA is lucky that it’s been a disaster down south. Because that takes some of the heat off them. But in some ways, they’re unlucky too; when you see the carnage it has wrought in England and the backlash against it, that reduces the odds of it being used too far into the future. People down there hate it. If there was a vote to get rid of it, that vote would go through.
What’s become evident in Scotland is that it’s being used by the same old people in service of the same old agenda. It’s been in place for more than a year now, and it hasn’t spotted a single incident in a league game involving the Ibrox club which justifies a penalty against them? Really? Is that credible? But they just keep piling up at the other end for Tavernier to put away. How are we meant to look at that and conclude other than it’s business as usual?
Except it’s worse than that now. The decision given at Ibrox last week against Hearts would never have been given before VAR, so VAR was weaponised for a day to make sure they got some sort of result. And then you see the way it has been used against us; every goal we score gets a second and then a third look.
Do we get equal treatment? The odd decision falls for us, yes, but if you ask Celtic fans what they think of it they’ll tell you that most think it’s being used against us and they’d be right because it is. Most Celtic fans would vote to get rid of it.
Some of those decisions yesterday were a disgrace. The technology itself works just fine. But in the wrong hands, almost anything can be used counter to its intended function and this is no different, and you only needed to look at the names to see it.
Andrew Dallas for God’s sake?
We wouldn’t have trusted him out on the pitch with a whistle in his gob, so why would we trust him sitting in the VAR box scrutinising every major call, and with the ability to penalise stuff that his colleague doesn’t catch? Why would we expect VAR to function fairly when this guy is at the helm, and we know he wouldn’t give us a drop of his piss if we were dying of thirst? The family name is the giveaway if nothing else has convinced you.
And you can see how this is going to go. When the likes of Beaton are done as refs this will be their gig, and so on and on it will go, perpetuating this cycle; the Lanarkshire Referees Association, still running things, still promoting The Brethren to do their worst.
We are not alone in believing that VAR has failed. Even Neil McCann, who doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories, recognises that the SFA is running this the way they run everything else; like a little closed shop, a little cabal answerable to nobody and he wants to see it more transparent. When its obvious to someone like that it’s obvious to everyone.
As long as people like Maxwell can point at VAR and say “Look! We’ve introduced new features! We are a progressive association after all!” they don’t need to do much else. I mean, look at the rule changes in England which have introduced the new time added on … there’s no earthly reason why the SFA could not introduce that here, and the stated reasons – that nobody wants to sit through 100 minutes instead of 90 – are preposterous.
The truth is, when a team is playing against Celtic and puts eleven men behind the ball, and wastes every second they can, the SFA doesn’t want that being nixed because every one of those wasted seconds gets given back to us after the 90 minutes are up. They see this as a leveller and they would rather persevere with the system we have now.
That’s a genuine reform to how the game is officiated, one that would grant us some basic fairness and punish strategies which depend on running down the clock. There’s no reason not to do that, except that it would advantage us too much. That it would also give Ibrox the same opportunity matters less because they don’t need that advantage when the officials will never award spot kicks against them and can always be relied on to throw one their way.
That Dallas with that colourful family history even has a gig as an official is disgusting. That Beaton can get massive games involving us and the Ibrox club when everyone knows his affiliations astounds me. Those two should be nowhere near Celtic games but there they are, as if we don’t know what they are. But that’s not a secret anywhere in Scottish football.
So much of our game labours under pretence and make believe. That’s just one part of it. But the greatest make believe now is VAR itself, and the very idea that it has made the game better. Even if you don’t accept bias you’re still left with the same people running the show whose mistakes made VAR seem like such a good idea in the first place … and guess what? Instead of making less critical errors they’ve multiplied.
This is a failed experiment. Celtic fans, more than anyone, know that it just hasn’t worked, not to level the playing field anyway, not to make things fairer or better across the sport. This is just another means of screwing up … and screwing us over.
Celtic should be voting to rid ourselves of this nightmare as quickly as we possibly can. I daresay that other clubs would be happy to join us at this point.