Did you read Geoff’s excellent article in Under The Hammers on Thursday prior to the European game against Anderlecht? In it he described how it never ceases to amaze him how much of a pigs-ear officials have made of implementing VAR, and how the beauty of football is it’s simplicity. He went on to discuss the meal that the VAR review system made of last Sunday’s game against Fulham. For once all three West Ham goals stood following review, but they took an absolute age, didn’t they, taking the spontaneity out of celebrating a goal scored?
I’ll put my cards on the table here and say that I am a fan of the concept of VAR. But, and this is a massive but, only if it is used as it was surely intended, to highlight to the referee that he has blundered by not seeing something that has resulted in a clear and obvious error.
Goals are checked for offside, but it seems to take an age to draw the lines, and in the end it often comes down to a toe being in an offside position or not. I’d personally like to see a change to the offside law. It was originally introduced to prevent goal-hanging more than 100 years ago and this made sense at the time, and not to decide whether a player had a toe (or any other part of the body that can touch the ball legally) in an offside position anywhere in the opponent’s half. Surely it would be simple enough to change the law such that if any part of the attacker’s body is in line with any part of the defender’s body then the attacker is onside? It would take literally seconds to confirm this.
Perhaps even more controversially, how ridiculous that you can be offside anywhere in the opponent’s half? Why not extend the line of the penalty area and only give offside decisions in the final 18 yards of the pitch? This would mean that the game would be stretched over a greater area. You can’t be goal-hanging 50 yards from the goal! Perhaps this idea of mine is a step too far, but at least I understand that technology is advancing to an extent that cameras will soon be able to identify offside automatically without the need for linesmen, or assistant referees as they are now called. Perhaps that will enable them to concentrate on assisting the referee more? Is that something we would want them to do?
But even more contentious than offside in the modern game is the concept of handball. I was interested to read an article by Mike Dean in his column in the Daily Mail this week where he talks about handballs being the hardest part of being an official. “Give me a tackle, a trip, a push, some grappling in the box or an offside any day of the week” he says.
But going back to Geoff’s point about football being a simple game, why can’t we make the handball law much more straightforward? Dean goes on to discuss what the officials have to consider when assessing handball. “Did the ball strike the player on the red zone (below the shirt sleeve) or the green zone” which I assume to be above the shirt sleeve? I wonder how they assess this if players are wearing long sleeves? “What was the proximity of the player to where the ball was struck from? Did they have time to react? Was it deliberate? Was their arm in an unnatural position or was it naturally a consequence of his body shape an movement? How can you be sure what position is natural for the arm from one individual to another? Was there a clear movement of the arm to make the body bigger?”
He goes on to say that “handballs have always been a talking point and they remain so to this day regardless of the introduction of VAR.”
Dean’s comments lifted from his article are in bold italics in the paragraphs above. No wonder it takes so long to come to a conclusion! Once again I have what I think is a simple solution. Just leave it to the referee to decide if a player deliberately uses his hand / arm to gain an advantage. If so, then penalise him. So many handball decisions seem to be given where there is no intent. Of course the decision of the referee will be a subjective one – these are often not clear-cut, but even after looking at a multitude of camera angles, it seems to me that it is impossible to decide whether all of the points that Dean raises for handball decisions lead to a clear conclusion. Pundits analysing the decisions on TV have varying opinions. Yes, VAR can intervene if the referee has made a clear and obvious error, but let’s keep it simple. Only intervene if the referee has missed something clear and obvious. Just have one criteria. Was it deliberate or not? And that’s the end of it.
The result of the Anderlecht game was not really a reflection of the 90 minutes. At 2-0 the team concentrated on possession rather than adding to the lead, then towards the end Ben Johnson made a clumsy challenge in the penalty area which led to an unnecessary few uncomfortable minutes to see the victory out. Once again a good performance from a number of players that haven’t been in the starting eleven in league games. Once again, Flynn Downes demonstrated his midfield potential and must surely get more minutes in the near future.
Southampton are the opponents this weekend. In my start of season predictions I forecast them to be one of the three clubs to be relegated this season, and nothing I’ve seen so far has made me change my mind on this. Three Midlands clubs (Leicester, Forest and Wolves) currently occupy the relegation places with Southampton immediately above them.
Their seven points all came in the opening month of the season, drawing at home to Leeds, winning at Leicester, and at home to Chelsea. In September they lost at Wolves and Villa, and in October so far they were soundly beaten (as so many are) by Manchester City and then last weekend lost at home to Everton.
We have yet to reach the heights of the last two campaigns this season, but our form contrasts with our south coast opponents. Where their game appears to be deteriorating with four consecutive league defeats, our form has slowly improved after not such a good start with six wins in our last seven games, two in the league and four in Europe. The European campaign has been promising without being outstanding, and we have (almost) already won the group with two games to spare.
I’d like to think that we’ll beat Southampton easily, but you never can be sure of how it will go on a Sunday following a Thursday game. 2-0 perhaps? What are the chances?