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40-minute waits for VAR, live TV blackouts on a Sunday… will the Premier League EVER think of the fans?

AT Elland Road, a crowd of 36,700 waited for 40 minutes after a ‘power surge’ cut communication between ref Chris Kavanagh and his VAR overlords.

It wouldn’t be entirely true to suggest that supporters of Leeds and Arsenal waited patiently on Sunday.

The game at Elland Road was delayed after a power cut issue before the game
The game at Elland Road was delayed after a power cut issue before the game

There were chants of ‘F*** VAR’ and much mockery at the whole charade playing out before them.

First players had a kickabout to keep warm, then headed back to the dressing rooms, then re-emerged and warmed up again before Mikel Arteta — perhaps too fond of watching himself on Arsenal’s Amazon documentary series — held a public team-talk on the pitch.

There is nothing more worthy for anyone to shout at any sporting contest than the words: “GET ON WITH IT!”

The vast majority of supporters would have mentioned that we had somehow managed to stage football matches for a century and a half without VAR — and that this still occurs at every level of the English game other than the Premier League.

Those who paid good money and travelled on this nation’s creaking transport network to watch the match live would have been happy to carry on regardless without decision-making technology.

They could have lived without the thrilling prospect of seeing Kavanagh with his hand to his earpiece, travelling to his ‘referee review area’ to consult his monitor, while they were of course unable to rewatch any contentious decisions themselves.

Most paying punters hate VAR, a system which means they never know whether they can safely celebrate goals — and also leaves them knowing far less about what is going on than any armchair fan.

And on Sunday, those armchair fans able to watch Leeds v Arsenal live would have been in the United States, Australia, Canada, India and several other nations, but not in the UK.

Supporters of Leeds or Arsenal who couldn’t get a ticket had to rely on radio commentary or illegal  streams. This is a bizarre anachronism.

While anyone who cares about the football pyramid understands the Saturday 3pm blackout on live coverage, why the limit on broadcasting games on congested Sundays?

This Sunday, four Premier League matches kicked off at 2pm, including Leeds v Arsenal and Manchester United v Newcastle — four of England’s best-supported clubs — yet only Aston Villa v Chelsea was screened live. It will be the same next Sunday.

This nonsense is in the interests of no one and now feels like something from a previous century, as with BBC news readers telling you to, ‘Look away now,’ when the results come on before Match of the Day. It cannot last.

But then genuine supporters — whether at the ground, or unable to be — are the last people on anyone’s minds.

It was TV companies and their pundits who campaigned hardest for VAR, along with many managers and players who clearly had not fully thought through the concept of making these subjective decisions on the basis of endless slow-motion replays.

Manchester United fans in the UK could not watch Cristiano Ronaldo and co play Newcastle on Sunday on live TV
Manchester United fans in the UK could not watch Cristiano Ronaldo and co play Newcastle on Sunday on live TV

And then there is the fact that VAR, like any other technology, is subject to gremlins — as highlighted at Elland Road.

There are no time frames in the Premier League’s rules as to how long such a delay could have lasted.

But had the power cut continued, at some unspecified point, Leeds v Arsenal would have been restarted without VAR, rather than been postponed or abandoned.

The counter-argument is that playing one, or more, fixtures without VAR would compromise the ‘integrity’ of the competition.
Which would only be a reasonable point if VAR was any good.

Arteta ended up delighted that VAR had been restored because Leeds had an injury-time penalty award overturned in Stockley Park.
After his team’s 1-0 win, the Arsenal boss claimed the long wait was worthwhile.

But we all know that shocking decisions can be made with or without VAR.

And the hopeless Kavanagh proved this by awarding two West Ham goals courtesy of handballs against Fulham the previous Sunday.
The introduction of VAR was supposed to be a giant technological leap forward.

But those kicking their heels inside Elland Road for 40 minutes — and who might have waited considerably longer — certainly didn’t feel as if they were experiencing some vision of a glorious, sunlit future.

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