In what seems like an unamusing real-life rendition of the film Groundhog Day, football fans once again find themselves bemoaning the use of VAR in the Premier League. We did so last week and the week before; fans, managers and players alike have all called for change on countless occasions. Yet, we find ourselves here once again.
But is this what football discourse should be centred around? We should’ve spent the weekend talking about Diogo Jota’s wonderful solo goal to give Liverpool the lead at the Amex, or Edinson Cavani’s talismanic performance to spearhead the Red Devil’s comeback against Southampton. Instead, here we are belabouring the same old topic of VAR, with pedantic offsides and fouls grabbing the headlines. Football fans with differing loyalties rarely agree on anything, and that’s part of what makes talking football so fun – when it comes to VAR, though, supporters’ contempt for the technology, or at least its application, is more or less ubiquitous.
The Reds’ own James Milner hit the nail on the head when he tweeted that fans are falling out of love with the game as it is now. And it is this which is perhaps the most pertinent long-term concern of English football in its current state. We are witnessing a McDonaldization, of sorts, of the game we love; spontaneity and emotion have been cast aside in favour of accuracy and correctness. However, it’s the former which have led millions of fans to fall in love with the sport, and are not simply dispensable aspects of football. After all, what’s the point if we can’t even celebrate goals anymore?
And even if we do somehow resolve the VAR issue, is football in its current state worth following? When supporters started promulgating the ‘football without fans is nothing’ mantra a few years ago to protest exorbitant ticket prices, few would’ve foreseen that their claim would be corroborated in this manner, and this emphatically.
It’s abundantly clear that this isn’t the same game we all grew up and fell in love with. And there’s no quick fix to any of this.
But football fans don’t follow football simply because it’s ‘fun’. Us Liverpool fans suffered through the Hodgson years, we endured the heartbreak of the 13-14 SAS season, of Basel and then Kiev. None of that was fun. We were tormented with the likes of Balotelli, Borini and Lambert leading our frontline, with Skrtel, Lovren and Mignolet at the back. That certainly wasn’t fun. If football was purely about entertainment, then, with all due respect, the likes of Burnley and Newcastle would’ve played in front of empty stands pre-Covid.
But it isn’t. Football is a relationship between club and supporters. There are ups and there are downs – this current period is just one of the most unconventional nadirs even the most senior amongst us have ever witnessed. You don’t throw away years or decades of commitment because the going gets tough. If we survived Gerrard’s slip, Kompany’s screamer, and Karius’ capitulation, then we can certainly get through this.