Penalties, Referees and VAR – A Clean Slate Needed

The hullabaloo surrounding VAR and the correct way to implement the technology has perhaps overshadowed one of the more basic elements of match officiating.

The 2018 World Cup saw referees making basic errors that affected game results. In the biggest knockout competition on the globe, it is quite easy to reach the conclusion that the initial planning for this new method was undercooked a tad.

Still, maybe before the game runs, we should perfect our walking a little.

This is best exhibited by a little incident in our recent win over Watford in the Premiership.

Alexandre Lacazette picked up the ball in Watford’s box and darted forward, aiming to get a better, closer angle to shoot. He evaded his marker, but Christian Kabasele was on his right hand side and made an ugly attempt to stick a leg in. His distance was too far away to win the ball legitimately, unless he was related to Inspector Gadget. His upper leg connected with the side of Lacazette whilst on the move.

Freeze the moment.


Most players go down at the merest sniff of contact in the box. If these players are approached, they have mastered the art of simulation, so much so that referees have been duped on many occasions.

Their duplicitous actions earn a penalty, more often than not it is decisive in terms of result, and cheating is rewarded.

We so often hear the phrase, “there was contact so the striker was entitled to go down.”

This is an infuriating epidemic, and one that must be stymied, but how can this even begin when players know unless they go down and re-enact a Shakespearean tragedy, they won’t get a dime?

Back to the Watford incident. Lacazette was buffered to the side, and his centre of gravity was off. He gamely battled to not only regain his balance, but also fire off a shot – but the chance was gone. Kabasele’s illegal intervention was a timely one, and it meant Watford kept on an even keel.

The referee who failed to blow his whistle was Anthony Taylor – a name that is synonymous with erroneous moments for Gooners. Kabasele, at the moment of impact, threw his hands up in the air as if to signal that he didn’t touch him. It certainly worked, but for a professional referee to miss such contact is staggering.

We shouldn’t be surprised though.


In every single game, on multiple occasions, we see grappling, tugging, pulling – blatant fouls – going on in the seconds before a free-kick or corner. Every team is guilty of it, and yet there is no referee who upholds the rules in this regard.

So, to be objective, can we really hold serial divers up as enemies of the game, when they are fully aware that if they don’t go down in the box like they’ve stepped on a beartrap, then there is little to no chance of a penalty being awarded?

VAR is meant to the be the saviour of the game, one that will absolve all ills. Something that the ref isn’t sure of? He can canter off to check a wee monitor and then install justice.

The problem with this is – as we saw during the World Cup – if the referee hasn’t the firmest grip on the rules, then no matter how many angles or how slow the slo-mo is – then justice will still be a stranger.

So, diving will remain a big part of the game. As with every facet of our beautiful sport, there are a multitude of grey areas. Nothing is black and white.

Even diving has a reason behind it.

And it all stems from bad refereeing.

PGMOL needs to step in and rise to the standard that a multi-billion pound industry demands.

If we were to go into work and make the errors we moan about each week – how long before we’re clearing our desk?

6 thoughts on “Penalties, Referees and VAR – A Clean Slate Needed”

  1. A most appropriate article given the events at Selhurst Park yesterday afternoon.

    The instance you cite from the recent Watford game is a definite injustice by a notoriously weak referee (when it comes to Arsenal’s cause).

    Yesterday was a glaring example of an Olympic Gold Medal winning dive by a player notorious as a solid gold cheat. Immediate penalty award was his prize. The donor was a referee with an equally sketchy profile as the Watford official.

    I’m not, or was not, a great advocate for the introduction of VAR on the basis that it takes some of the mystique and excitement out of the game. Tending towards making it clinical and losing the pace of the action. To me, the occasional mistake was part of the game and in many cases added spice to after match discussions (lifting the heat levels) which would fill the space between games.

    However, as your article’s point states, diving has become an integral part of the current game as has the tugging and pushing in the penalty area, particularly as a corner kick is being delivered, is now the norm and therefore not worthy of the officials (all on duty included) attention.

    The officials, with maybe the odd exception, are weak. Having said that so are the FA as they ultimately set the tone.

    So going back to my opinion on VAR, I now see it as a necessary evil, that is assuming that the referee believes a situation needs reviewing.

    Referring once more to yesterday’s officiating, it was patently obvious the Holding shirt had been vigorously pulled prior to the award of the corner to Palace – leading to the award of the first penalty. Surely VAR is not required to punish what was a blatant foul? Obviously it is.

    In the terms of that classic movie – The Wizard of OZ – it would seem that most officials are in desperate need of all three of those vital organs that Dorothy’s companions were seeking.

    Let’s hope that the officials appointed for next weekend’s encounter are gifted with 20/20 vision and the mettle to go with it!


    1. Well said, it’s a blurry line for VAR, and you’re right about the clinical nature of it, but the cheating is now intrinsic. How else do you cleanse the game?


  2. Indeed, VAR is now inevitable thanks to a combination of cheating players pushing the boundaries to breaking point, officials being totally gutless with, in many instances, their neutrality being questionable and a Governing body who spend more time dodging the issue than governing. The FA are feeble.


  3. Just picked up from Facebook:

    Fun fact: This decade, Arsenal have only beaten one team (Sunderland) away from home with Martin Atkinson refereeing.

    Here’s the list of teams they’ve failed to beat with Atkinson officiating:


    5 draws, 11 defeats.

    Neutrality is sometimes difficult to see, rather like dives.

    Liked by 1 person

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