“Comedy show!” – Ex-referees “flabbergasted” by VAR “disaster”

The fallout of Liverpool’s defeat at Tottenham has been seismic, with a host of former referees criticising the use of VAR and other major decisions.

On Sunday night, Liverpool released a statement regarding a goal disallowed for Luis Diaz in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham, and PGMOL’s response.

It was a shocking night for referee Simon Hooper, VAR Darren England and assistant VAR Dan Cook, with the club arguing that “sporting integrity” was “undermined.”

While Liverpool have received a private apology from Howard Webb, head of the referees’ group, and a statement ‘explaining’ the farce, the focus remains on the officials.

Diaz’s legitimate goal being ruled out came in a game that also saw Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota questionably sent off, along with a series of other calls that left former referees baffled.

Speaking on talkSPORT, ex-Premier League referee Mark Halsey questioned the technology in place, insisting: “With all the technology and all the cameras, we have to be parallel to these incidents.”

Halsey also explained his belief that Jones was “unlucky” to be sent off, and criticised England and Cook for providing Hooper with a still image of the challenge for an extended time before any footage was replayed.

The 62-year-old, who refereed 39 Liverpool games, explained his belief that those in charge of VAR are “not good enough”:

“VAR is excellent for the game, I think it’s really good for the game, but it’s the personnel that are operating it that’s the problem.

“That’s the problem we’ve got with our VAR at the moment. We’re not implementing it correctly, the personnel are not good enough at this moment in time to operate that.

“A lot more training and education needs to be done.

“Since the season started, we’ve had controversy after controversy after controversy after controversy after controversy. A week hasn’t gone by where we haven’t had a controversy.”

Keith Hackett, former Premier League referee and once general manager of PGMOL, urged the group to “review its criteria of operation.”

In his column for the Telegraph, he noted how ex-official Lee Mason “quit his job” for a similar issue after he “failed to apply the offside lines correctly.”

“Clearly, the current system lacks a process that can be followed by VAR specialists,” Hackett continued.

“Not part-timers who flip between refereeing on the field and then reviewing decisions at Stockley Park.”

The 79-year-old argued that the current VAR setup has led to “a group of lazy referees who have become indecisive, reactive rather than proactive.”

“[Referees are] over reliant on the safety net that VAR should give them,” he added, “who are happy to throw yellow cards around like confetti at a wedding.”

Hackett asked:

“With such a seismic error, will the Premier League decide that the game should be replayed?

“If they do not act, we will end up very soon in situations where teams like Liverpool will have concrete grounds to call for matches to be replayed in the event of an injustice, and the excuses for PGMOL to respond with are starting to run dry.

“There are only so many officials you can stand down or sack, after all.”

The former official perhaps summed it up best on Twitter, with his immediate reaction being: “The Weekly Comedy Show. I hope that Saudi come in and take the lot!”

That is in reference to a report from the Telegraph that the likes of Michael Oliver – fourth official on Saturday – had been approached over lucrative moves to the Saudi Pro League.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 30, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

One referee who opted to leave the Premier League and work abroad is Mark Clattenberg, who has had spells in Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt.

Speaking on ESPN, Clattenberg described Saturday as a “disaster,” admitting he was “flabbergasted” by the situation, particularly the claims over VAR believing they were checking for onside.

Tellingly, writing for the Mail, Clattenberg referred to suggestions that Oliver, England and Cook all working a match in the UAE less than 48 hours before kickoff in north London had impacted their performance, speaking from experience:

“It has been speculated that England and Cook’s trip to the UAE on Thursday impacted their performance and I can tell you, those long international trips take it out of you.

“I remember doing a Europa League game in Krasnodar, Russia, on a Thursday.

“I returned to referee a Premier League match at the weekend and by full time, I couldn’t remember what had happened over the last 90 minutes, I was that tired.

“I know other officials who have felt the same. The PGMOL need to be mindful of that when sanctioning these trips.”

It remains to be seen whether Webb and PGMOL will take further action against the likes of England and Cook, though they were immediately removed from duties on Sunday and Monday.