Can City fans hope for VAR improvements in the Premier League?

A Norwich fan makes his feelings known about VAR at the end of the Premier League match at Carrow Ro

A Canaries fan made their feelings perfectly clear at the end of a home draw with Crystal Place during January 2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There’s no avoiding it. The shadow of VAR is inexorably creeping towards the Norwich City world – but could there be hope of improvements to the controversial system? 

Followers of every Premier League club have their own tale of woe by now. For Canaries fans it's the debatable offside decision that denied Teemu Pukki against Tottenham which will forever hold a painful memory. 

Mario Vrancic’s beautiful pass was converted by City’s star striker in December 2019, to put Daniel Farke’s team 2-0 ahead at Carrow Road before half-time, and on course for a deserved and rejuvenating win rather than the 2-2 draw which eventually concluded. 

Frustrations about ridiculously tight offside calls and marginal infractions have continued throughout the top-flight season, while the Canaries have been enjoying football as it used to be during their Championship title triumph – without having to worry about whether it was safe to celebrate scoring. 

The lack of spectators has taken the heat out of the situation to a certain degree, ensuring that VAR becomes a television spectacle whether supporters like it or not. 

Let’s not forget that Norwich fans were among those to make their voices heard on this matter. 

The chant of “it’s not football anymore” echoed around an angry Carrow Road after that disallowed Pukki goal against Spurs, with supporters in the lower Barclay unfurling a banner which stated “VAR - clearly and obviously not working. Decision: get in the bin”. 

However, there may be a glimmer of hope to cling to ahead of City’s return to the hype and drama of the most-watched football league on the planet. 

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The Football Supporters Association (FSA) ran a major fan consultation on VAR online earlier this year and posted its results on Wednesday. 

Of over 33,000 participants, just 26 per cent said they supported the video assistant referee system. 

An overwhelming 95pc of those who had experienced VAR in a stadium, as well as 94pc of those who had watched matches on TV, said that VAR had made watching football less enjoyable. 

The results have been shared with Premier League chiefs that are working on a similar consultation of players and managers to try and make improvements of the technology from next season. 

FSA vice-chair Tom Greatrex said: “There is a clear feeling among fans that VAR has ruined the spontaneity of goal celebrations, and taken away a big part of our most enjoyable matchday moments. 

“With four in 10 fans saying that VAR is likely to lead them to attend fewer matches in the future we hope that the Premier League and referees’ body PGMOL will hear the fans’ voice and take urgent steps to improve a system that isn’t delivering clear and understandable decisions in stadiums.” 

Players wait on yet another VAR decision. This time it goes in Norwich's favour during the Premier L

Norwich and Sheffield United players await a VAR decision at Carrow Road Road in December 2019 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

While refereeing organisation the PGMOL – which coordinates VAR and its operation from Stockley Park in west London – has highlighted reduced decision times and the use of pitchside screens when appropriate, the survey found that just 13pc of fans believed that overall accuracy of decisions had improved. 

Only 4pc of fans think VAR has had a positive impact on the team they support. 

FSA National Council member, who is part of the organisation’s VAR working group, Steve Moulds said: “One of the main concerns raised by supporters is that VAR decisions are taking too long, and even then they aren’t always clearly communicated to those fans in the stadium when they are made. 

Referee Paul Tierney checks VAR at the side of the pitch for a possible red card offence by Ben Godf

Ben Godfrey was sent off after a VAR check during CIty's win over Bournemouth in January 2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

“Despite being part of our game for several years, there is still great confusion over exactly how VAR operates, and that is having a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of match-going fans, as well as those watching on TV. 

“We’d like to see much better communication and explanation from officials on VAR decisions, which will go some way to improving supporter confidence in the system.” 

With the return of fans to stadiums set to step up in August as the UK continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, those anti-VAR chants are likely to return swiftly, unless significant progress can be made with a system which has become far too conspicuous. 

You can read the full results of the consultation at thefsa.org.uk.

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