Robin Sainty: fans are not happy, but ignore them at your peril

Todd Cantwell scores against Crystal Palace ... when it is acceptable to begin celebrating? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Todd Cantwell scores against Crystal Palace ... when it is acceptable to begin celebrating? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

And so we have said farewell to 2019, a year that has had more than its fair share of ups and downs for City fans as we scaled the heights of the Championship only to see the Canaries cursed by injuries and struggling in the toughest league in the world.

Sign of the timesSign of the times

It was also a year in which we, along with the rest of the Premier League, were introduced to the horrors of VAR, and that was the big talking point of City's final fixture of the year, and indeed the whole of that weekend, as numerous clubs suffered at the hands of a group of people sitting in a room in west London.

There has been plenty of debate about the fact that PGMOL, the body that controls professional referees, is using VAR in a different manner to the rest of the world, but the continuing flow of controversial offside decisions as VAR teams pore over lines and dots, trying to pretend that technology with an inherent margin of error can produce an indisputable decision based on fractions of an inch is hopefully starting to sow the seeds of its own demise.

It's significant that Keith Hackett, an ex-Fifa referee and a former head of PGMOL, tweeted the following on Monday: "When the football family lose faith in those offside lines drawn on the screen then the only step is to stop using them. Richard Masters, time for you to intervene and stop this nonsense." Masters is the Premier League chief executive.

Fans across the league are beginning to come together to make their voices heard, and whilst I don't believe that the Premier League, the FA or particularly Sky (who think they invented football in 1992) give a damn about them, we are seeing and hearing protests and supporters threatening to walk away from the live game, something that could result in a blow to the only area in which these bodies have any sensitivity; their pockets.

Teemu Pukki's 'goal' against Spurs was chalked off by the VAR officials Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdTeemu Pukki's 'goal' against Spurs was chalked off by the VAR officials Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

For the authorities, football is a product; a cash cow, but to the fans in the stands it is a consuming passion that is being diluted by the interminable delays and unfathomable decisions as games are effectively being refereed remotely with spectators at the ground largely kept in the dark.

In the Palace game we had the ridiculous situation of their fans and players celebrating a goal some five minutes after the ball hit the net and once the VAR officials had studied countless replays while paying fans froze. I don't think that the ancient Greeks designed trigonometry as a spectator sport, but that's what PGMOL are serving up, and it's destroying football as a form of entertainment.

There are some positive aspects of VAR, like the fact that it could help to eradicate diving in the penalty area as perpetrators know that any cheating could be picked up and punished, but even then the final decision should be left to the on field referee via the pitch side monitor.

However, the way in which it is being used to judge offsides is ridiculous. From time immemorial strikers have been told to play off the shoulder of the last man, but with players being ruled offside due to the position of armpits or hands, neither of which can be used to score goals, that's no longer such helpful advice.

Football is an expensive business for the fan in the stands, but it's worth it for the pure visceral joy when your team score. However, PGMOL are rapidly taking that pleasure away and I know I'm far from the only City fan who didn't fully celebrate Todd Cantwell's goal against Palace, so sure was I that VAR would rule it out.

Richard Masters, Sky and PGMOL need to remember that the game belongs to the fans, not the bureaucrats or the TV companies and that they ignore us at their peril.

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