If the Matrix movies have taught us anything (other than the fact that Keanu Reeves has the emotional range of a dish mop), it is that technology will inevitably be responsible for the total destruction of mankind. Even now, I am starting to suspect that my iPhone may be trying to kill me. And if our 6-1 victory over Rochdale in the FA Cup is anything to go by, it would appear that football may well be the latest civilian casualty to be caught in the cross fire. As my granddad loves to remind me, football is “a funny old game”. But because I tend to treat every match as a matter of life or death, I never fully understood what he was prattling on about until Wednesday night. Except that the match itself wasn’t so much “funny” as it was confusing and infuriating…..much like losing your virginity. In fact, confusing and infuriating doesn't even come close to doing it justice, because it was totally and utterly farcical. Or more to the point, it was totally and utterly VAR-cical.
As if it wasn’t enough to be playing in the sort of Antarctic conditions that would make Al Gore think twice about his life choices, the officials and in particular VAR, made for a very peculiar and surreal experience in this FA Cup 6th round replay. In a game that was already being pegged as a potential banana skin for Spurs, due in part to the fact that we had only managed a 2-2 draw in the previous game at the Crown Oil Arena, it became clear from the off that the referee was either a card carrying Gooner or a Liverpool fan that still couldn’t get over the Virgil Van Dijk penalty incident from last month. Or he could have just been totally incompetent…..you know what they say about Occam’s razor. Anyway, having already seen a perfectly good Erik Lamela goal chalked off after 7 minutes thanks to VAR, we then had a strong penalty appeal denied after the impressive Lucas Moura was shoulder barged in the box. But that’s OK – you win some, you lose some. Heung Min Son then did what he does best, by dancing away from several defenders before finishing clinically to give us the lead, as VAR remained ominously quiet this time around. But then, just 3 minutes later, things started to get really weird, really quick. After Kieran Trippier (thankfully starting ahead of the new Guiness World Record holder for foul throws and all-round numpty, Serge Aurier) was bought down on the edge of the box, the referee awarded Spurs a free kick. However, after consulting VAR for what felt like an eternity, he changed his mind and awarded us a penalty! Son stepped up to dispatch confidently, as you would expect, however the referee disallowed it and booked Son for having the audacity to feint during his run up…..something that we have seen hundreds of times over the years. And for once, this had nothing to do with VAR….this was seemingly just the referee trying far too hard to make a name for himself. And I for one, would be more than happy to help him with this….from now on, he will forever be known as Horatio B. Twatmonkey. As you can imagine, the sense of indignation and confusion amongst the crowd was now at fever pitch and this was only made worse when Rochdale managed to catch us on the break to equalize, before hitting the post in one of the 5 additional minutes that were added on to the end of the first half, to make up for the ongoing love affair between the referee and the VAR system. At this stage, I would not have been in the slightest bit surprised to see Ashton Kutcher emerge on to the pitch at half time to declare that the entire stadium had just been Punk’d…..but unfortunately he failed to materialize and the outrageousness of the situation started to sink in.
So, having had the half time interval to stew over the FA’s calamitous attempts at over-regulation, I think it is fair to say that the mood amongst the majority of fans was that this VAR “trial” had proved to be about as enjoyable as a prostate examination…..and it takes a hell of a lot longer too. However, credit to the Spurs players, who didn’t let any of this get to them. They came out in the second half and destroyed Rochdale, with Fernando Llorente bagging a perfect hat trick (Left foot, right foot, header) inside of 7 minutes, after some wonderful build up play from both Son and Lucas. Funnily enough, this now means that Llorente, our back up striker, has scored more goals that Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang combined in 2018…..I’m just saying. As we were now 4-1 up and cruising, such was the referee’s performance on the night, I was genuinely expecting him to call the whole thing off due to the increasingly heavy snow storm, which was now seriously limiting the visibility. But, seemingly content with the moderate levels of carnage that he had already caused for one night, he magnanimously allowed the game to continue. Son then went on to score his second of the night (that was allowed to stand) before celebrating in style by mocking the VAR system…..which ironically, wasn’t picked up by the VAR system! Kyle Walker-Peters then came off the bench to score his first goal in a Spurs shirt, to round off what turned out to be a very good result in increasingly difficult conditions.
So there you have it. Aside from the ridiculous 45 minute spectacle at the beginning of the game, this result concluded what was actually a very productive week for us Spurs fans. Firstly, we managed to crack the Top 4 with a last gasp victory over Palace, thanks to another Harry Kane late show and in doing so, managed to extend our unbeaten run to 15 games…..our best run of form in 19 years! Secondly, Arsenal were comfortably beaten 3-0 in the Carabao Cup final by Manchester City before inexplicably repeating the same feat four days later by losing 3-0 at home in the league, meaning they remain 10 points behind us with 10 games left to play. Interestingly, this now means that Arsenal have lost more matches at Wembley this season than we have….and we play there every other week! At least they still have the Europa League to focus on, I suppose. But even in that competition they were recently beaten at home by Östersund, a Swedish team who come from a town with a smaller population than the capacity of the Emirates Stadium.....seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up! And thirdly, in keeping with the hilarious nature of the last seven days, after missing out on the vacant managers job at Oxford United, Sol Campbell had a Kanye West style meltdown by proclaiming himself as one of the “greatest minds in football”. What a time to be alive. But on a serious note, the majority of this article has been about VAR and the effect that it is having on football. There is no doubt that it sucks the emotion and the passion out of the game, with some fans in the Bundesliga seemingly unwilling to celebrate a goal until it has been officially ratified by VAR. As you can imagine, this creates a very strange atmosphere within the stadium, with goals being greeted by initial silence as the fans wait for permission to celebrate. But as with everything in life, VAR is only as good as the officials that are using it. And if our FA Cup tie against Rochdale has proven anything, it is that maybe the FA should be re-investing this money into improving the performances of our officials, rather than using technology to second guess them at every turn. And whilst we are on the subject of lousy officials, I really hope that this is the last we see of Horatio B. Twatmonkey for a very long time…..unless of course, he fancies officiating an Arsenal game any time soon. COYS