Date: 1st January 2019 at 1:03pm
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Written by kirsikka

Football fans always think their club gets a raw deal from refs. It’s part of the natural tribalism of the game, you want every 40-60 to go your way never mind the 50-50s. When they don’t you shout and curse the referee and feel hard done by and that’s even if they get everything correct. In the real world, refs are human and make errors, some understandable and some seemingly inexplicable.

Down the years supporting AFC Bournemouth, I’ve seen many refereeing decisions that defy reasonable explanation. Some for us and some against us. That’s always been the nature of football and there was always something cathartic about having a massive rant when you know the ref has messed up badly and cost your team. It was part of the culture of enjoying football. However, when time tempered the anger to a more dispassionate position there rarely felt anything genuinely unfair about the errors beyond plain and simple incompetence that could go in your favour and vice versa. There was no ongoing pattern in either direction.

As an AFCB fan, the last few seasons in the PL have been a real eye-opener. All of a sudden every week we have access to replays of every decision from multiple camera angles. It’s no longer relying on your own eyesight, those of fellow fans and a single fixed camera. Suddenly and for the first time in our history we can really see those decisions in detail whilst the matches are being officiated by the best this country has available and so hopefully that should mean a lot fewer errors due to incompetence.

In defence of the refs, the speed the game is played is also at a completely different level which must make officiating that much harder. When we got promoted Howe said we needed a lot more pace in the team to survive in the Premier League and he was 100% correct! The sight of Yann Kermogant shuffling around the pitch against Premier League players was actually quite sad. It wasn’t languid, it was just painfully slow. So I can appreciate the job for the referees is brutally difficult given the way the matches are played.

Human errors still happen on a regular basis, even with these elite refs, but you can understand and accept it when it’s a case of ‘evening out’. It’s never going to be a one for one exchange but you know some you’ll get for you and some you’ll get against you. In matches versus the majority of clubs that’s the case. We’ve had some absolute shockers go in our favour (hello to Callum Wilson and his magic hand) and some terrible decisions go against us (That non-given penalty where the MOTD pundits just laughed uproariously and said they had nothing they could say because it was so clear they couldn’t understand how it wasn’t given). Fans of the teams we’ve played could no doubt pull out other examples where we’ve had the rub of the green against then and we could equally reply with others where we’ve missed out. The point being there is a kind of rough justice balance when playing most of the teams.

This isn’t the case against all the teams though. There are a group of six teams who have received a remarkable run of decisions against us since we got promoted. Normally those are spread through the season but due to a quirk of the fixture list, seven of our last eleven games have been against them and so we’ve seen it in such a concentrated dose it’s hard to ignore.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and Tottenham are the biggest clubs in the country, with the biggest budgets to spend on players, managers, academy’s and so should be the teams that need a little extra help from the refs the least. Yet, from the first month of our first season in the Premier League, it became clear that wasn’t how it worked.

I want to be clear that here I’m not talking about the small decisions. The 50-50s. The similar fouls where one player gets a yellow but another who commits the same offence gets away with it. That’s so much harder to quantify and leaves so much wiggle room for subjective decision making that refs can easily be excused. I’m focusing on key match changing decisions that can’t really be disputed from a neutral standpoint: goals, penalties and red cards.

Liverpool v AFC Bournemouth, 17th August 2015. A match I never thought I’d see played in the league and so it felt special, particularly as one of my best friends is a born and bred Liverpool fan. Liverpool won 1-0, not a bad effort for our first ever league match against one of the top teams in the country. Sadly, we had scored a goal which was incorrectly disallowed for offside whilst the Liverpool goal stood when it should have been disallowed for offside. That isn’t a myopic fans view, read any report of the match. The Premier League even contacted all the clubs to tell them under the new offside rules that the Liverpool goal should have been disallowed:

The pattern was set, we just didn’t realise it yet. Over the seasons since there has been a continuation of this form in matches versus these six clubs. The one time you could say we ‘got away with one’ was in the Mings/Zlatan incident when Mings wasn’t sent off and the response was quite telling. The media went into full tailspin disaster zone about an opposition player to one of the big clubs that should have been sent off and wasn’t. Helped by the old-boy network of media pundits with connections to those clubs the coverage of the incident was intense.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories and so don’t believe there is corruption to protect the big clubs at work with the key decisions that go for them. The best theory behind it that I’ve seen put forward can be seen in the Mings incident. A big club was denied a decision and so that’s all that was talked about non-stop all week. When a ref has to make a split second decision that could go either way, if he gives it against a big club and is wrong he’s going to be hung out to dry all week long by the aforementioned old-boy network. If he gets it wrong but it goes in favour of the big club it will be mentioned but quickly buried behind other headlines. We’ve seen it time and again. Who wants to be in the headlines for making a mistake all week long? It’s easy to see why on a subconscious level given the situation the big club is going to get the tight decisions time and again.

That brings us to our recent run. Seven games in a short period of time all of which we lost. Some of which we played well and can feel hard done by given the balance of player and others where we played poorly and got what we deserved. However, football has never been a sport where you always get what you deserve so irrespective of the team’s performance in those matches, let’s break down the key decisions that the refs got wrong in that run of matches.

Sunday 25th November

AFC Bournemouth 1-2 Arsenal

With the score at 0-0 after 10 minutes, King slides the ball through to Brooks who slots it into the net.

Not the best angle in the picture but it was shown later in the tv coverage with one of those onside/offside lines that it should have been a goal as Brooks was actually onside thanks to the player on the floor. Had it been allowed it would have put AFCB ahead and on the front foot but a refereeing error kept it level and so handed the advantage back to Arsenal when they would later score.

Saturday 1st December

Manchester City 3-1 AFC Bournemouth

With the score at 2-1 from a long throw, a Man City defender jumps up and gives Mings a two-handed push in the area. According to the commentary team should have been a penalty.

Would we have scored it? I’ve no idea but it would have been correct to have been given the opportunity to level it up at 2-2 from the spot. Instead, a couple of minutes later Man City broke up the other end to score their third and close out the game given the amount of time left.

Saturday 8th December

AFC Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool

With the score at 0-0, Salah runs onto a ball and scores. Only the replay shows he’s clearly and unequivocally offside. Let’s be clear, I doubt we would have got anything from the match given how we played and the form Liverpool are in but gifting them a 1-0 lead handed them a big and unnecessary advantage. It’s worth mentioning that in the second half Joshua King made a similar break and scored from a roughly equivalent offside position but there was no hesitation in giving the decision then. Two wrongs don’t make a right but when every single time in these games the wrong is against you then you’d probably take it for once.

There was another incident in this game that Liverpool fans flagged after the game when Salah scored another of his goals. I think it was the second one but anyway he left Steve Cook for dead and was bearing down on goal in the penalty area when Cook tried to take him out with a rake across the back of his calf. Had he gone down it was an undoubted penalty and probably a red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity. However, Salah stayed on his feet and scored. So claiming Cook should have received a red card and that we got away with one is, I believe under the rules, incorrect since the goal scoring opportunity wasn’t denied. I could have understood if the ref had given Cook a yellow for it but, as mentioned above, we aren’t talking about yellow card offences since that would require far too many decisions to be covered.

Wednesday 19th December

Chelsea 1-0 AFC Bournemouth (Caraboa Cup quarter final)

Some AFC Bournemouth fans feel we should have had a penalty and that the Chelsea goal shouldn’t have stood due to an earlier foul. I have to say I thought both decisions from the ref were correct. At best it would have been an extremely soft foul to give so I have no problems with him letting the match continue and a penalty should never be given for an incident like that.

Wednesday 26th December

Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 AFC Bournemouth

With the score at 3-0, just a minute or so into the second half Wilson ran onto a through ball but didn’t get the first touch he wanted. However, with only him and the Spurs defender Foyth anywhere near it, there should have been a battle to see who could claim the ball. Instead, Foyth just completely cleans Wilson out but running straight into him in the area. No question it should have been a penalty according to the commentary team. Nothing is given by the ref and a chance at maybe a small glimmer of hope disappears.

Sunday 30th December

Man Utd 4-1 AFC Bournemouth

The score is 3-1 in the second half and a corner comes in. One of the Man Utd defenders gets to the ball first with a high kick but his follow through smashes into the should of Daniels who is jumping off the ground himself so this foot is more than just a little high. Whether he got the ball or not is irrelevant, it’s dangerous play and a penalty but the ref saw nothing wrong with it and allowed play to continue.

A couple of minutes later Lukaka breaks through and scores. Only replays show he was offside. I don’t have the best photo for this one but in the coverage, you could see he was clear and undeniably off.

So two more referee errors on key decisions, one may have made it 3-2 if we’d converted the penalty but beyond that, at 3-1 you’re still maybe in with an outside chance of snatching something if the other team messes up but at 4-1 it’s game over.

So in seven matches against the big six teams over the past couple of months, there have been six incorrect key game-changing decisions and every single one of them went in their favour. This is magnified by the close proximity of the games but, as mentioned earlier, it’s a pattern we’ve seen consistently since promotion.

This is why I’m now a VAR convert and why I think next season might be a real eye-opener for some of the big clubs. All of a sudden these bonus decisions they get won’t all go their way. All might be a strong word since I’m sure they can point to one here of there that went against them so let’s say 90%. Get it down to 60% and that’s a tangible difference which could make a big impact on results next year for clubs like us.

As for this season, do I think with VAR all these decisions would have been reversed? Well, the three offside decisions are simple matters of fact so there’s no way they couldn’t have been corrected. Penalties always have an amount of subjectivity to them so no matter what the pundits thought they should have been given it’s always possible the refs may not agree for some reason. At a guess, I’d say we’d have been given two out of three. Not perfect but my word it would have put a different complexion on that run of results and matches.

If you’re wondering why I’m repeating things that have already been discussed and shouting into the void it’s because we have to as a small club in the Premier League juggernaut. I’ve referenced the old-boy pundit network that ensures that decisions that go against their clubs are discussed time and again but for a club like AFC Bournemouth it’s up to us to shout it out loud when these things happen. Maybe it won’t be heard but you never know, maybe someday a small club will get a penalty at Old Trafford without the need for VAR.

As to what happens now I suspect we’re going to get a couple of soft decisions this month against the other teams outside the big six. I know the refs review controversial incidents and so it will be known that we’ve had a run of poor decisions against us. So, with the refs knowing we’re owed a few I think that subconscious could come into play again. Of course, that may then anger the fans of the clubs we play against who will point the finger at us when, in fact, it will be because of a hangover from these matches.

Bring on VAR!

Your say…

Coobster wrote…

Without a doubt, there’s still going to be decisions that will continue to debate “even with VAR that couldn’t get it right”.
But if we can get the clear-cut ones right, the offsides right then that will help a huge amount.
Also, in the World Cup, did you notice the lack of red cards for violent conduct? I think some players didn’t try the tricks they normally would, knowing that VAR would pick them up for it. – Join the conversation, click here.

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One Reply to “The Big Six And Why I Now Can’t Wait For VAR”

  • Could not agree more. Have seen most of these decisions both live and recorded afterwards. Makes you wonder if something has changed hands? These Officials are either completely incompetant or something more sinister, I fear the latter. The only problem with VAR is a theory that there will be VAR for bif clubs and VAR Bfor smaller clubs. we can only wait and see how it plays out.

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