VAR: The Death of Our Passion

by | Football | 9 comments

Limbs. Scenes. The bounce.

If you’re a proper football fan, regardless of what you call it, you know what I’m talking about. That surge of pure, crystallised adrenaline and the madness that ensues when an important goal hits the back of the net.

It’s impossible to explain to the uninitiated how you feel in that moment. Try to vocalise it and you’ll be met with a polite nod or a blank gaze. Attempts at comparisons are lame because in truth nothing compares. You don’t have the words to do it justice; you’re not sure those words exist.

The bounce is the sole preserve of the fanatic; those that realise that real emotions aren’t transmitted through your TV screen. Once you’ve endured the near-constant torture of football fandom at the coalface, once your emotional investment outweighs any financial one you’re ever likely to afford, only then can you truly experience the ultimate pay-off the bounce brings. In those beautiful, life-affirming moments all the heartbreak is worthwhile.

In the split second as the ball hits the net everything is obliterated: the working week, the day to day realities of life, everything that weighs on your shoulders. The goal is the relief valve; everything dissipates.

Every synapses in your brain fires, every nerve ending surges. The buzz is like nothing else.

Thoughts are redundant. You just exist in a state of unadulterated joy.

Sounds surge like waves; as the crescendo of noise threatens to envelop you, it recedes to near silence.  A pulsing tsunami.

Eyes can’t take it all in. Images flicker. Life becomes a flipbook. Players, mates, strangers. Incoherent and tumbling.

All around you a seething mass of joyous humanity, you’re part of something larger, hardwired to the mainframe yet alone in your bubble. Limbs unhindered by normal constraints flail manically. Two rows in front, five behind, you’re at the mercy of the surge.

Scrapes and bruises serve as a wonderful, painful reminder for days.

If you only watch football on the telly your chances of spotting a proper bounce are almost non-existent; TV doesn’t care about the matching going punter. Sure, the camera will pick out a crying kid when his team’s been relegated, or some zany fucker in full fancy dress, but when the ball hits the back, the product must be front and centre. The victorious players, reduced to dancing monkeys, framed by digital advertising hoardings – the money shot.

Even live football is no longer the guarantee it once was. As the sanitising effects of all-seater stadia, corporate hospitality, day-tripping tourists and the relentless pursuit of the family friendly agenda have taken hold, the chances of a proper bounce, one unburdened by the worry of upsetting the more discerning types around you, have greatly diminished.

In this modern age of sport as a commodity, over-exuberant goal celebrations are not compatible with the neatly packaged product that football has become. God forbid Tarquin, draped in his half and half scarf would have to witness some rowdy behaviour while politely celebrating a goal with his set of sponsored clappers.

These days there might only be a handful of goals in a whole season that possess the latent energy required to fuel that tumult of emotion. Fans fork out thousands of pounds chasing that increasingly elusive high. It’s like a drug you can’t quit, you don’t want to quit. Secretly you know there’s nothing else that comes close, nothing else in life that provides that unique, chaotic euphoria.

The bounce has become an endangered species in the modern game and now there’s a new menace threatening to kill it off completely.

The spectre of VAR and its passion-sapping ability to kill a goal celebration dead may consign the phenomenon to the annuls of history; just another footballing anachronism crushed under the boot of apparent progress.

VAR is the very antithesis of the bounce. The bounce relies on unadulterated reactions, if you have to stop and think about it, the moment has passed. You can’t be lost in the moment when you’ve got one eye on the referee.

With the introduction of VAR in the English Premier League, fans are now experiencing the stifling effects of the technology, with some decisions taking minutes to arrive at. The cumulative effect of these protracted decisions will ultimately erode supporter confidence. Every goal that’s pulled up for a VAR review is another nail in the coffin of unbridled joy. It’s human nature to avoid embarrassment. Spontaneous outpourings will be suppressed by the fear of being made to look silly by yet another disallowed goal.

The most depressing aspect of this denouement is how wholly predictable it is. Since VAR was first mooted dissenting voices have pointed out the incompatibility of the technology and the breathless nature of football. But, for every detractor, another equally vociferous pro-VAR opinion was put forward. The main crux of their argument is that VAR would ensure more correct decisions were made. The po-faced righteousness of this opinion was allowed to drown out every counterargument; the idea of simply accepting the inherent imperfections of the game in order to safeguard the spectacle was never an option.

In many ways, VAR is the system the modern game deserves. Players have been reduced to semi-sentient pawns executing pre-determined moves within constrained systems. And the all seeing VAR keeps watch, ready to punish any flaws in the programming. Joyless machines monitoring the millimetres, everything analysed down to pixel level. Art replaced by science.

I fear we’re in the end days of the bounce. There’s no room for unmodulated emotion in the digital precision of the near future. The only hope is concerted resistance from the fans. The notion that a few more correct decisions are worth sacrificing the very essence that made you fall in love with football in the first place must be rejected. Once the bounce is gone so is that feeling that only it has the ability to unlock.

Check out some classic Scottish football bounces here.