Some Form of Twisted Logic in Tam McManus’ Grand VAR Plan

The one thing the introduction of VAR so far has highlighted is at best an inconsistency in interpretation of the laws of the game from Scotland’s match-day officials, and at worst a complete lack of understanding. There is another that some may go as far to proclaim, but I’ll give that one a miss today as the tin-foil hat is in the dry cleaners.

Once again, there were further confusing incidents surrounding VAR last weekend, and Tam McManus writing for Daily Record today has supposedly found a solution. Apparently removing the tasks our match officials struggle with is a way of ensuring the debate surrounding VAR is lessened somewhat. Here’s what McManus had to say.

“Something needs to be done to stop the endless arguments that VAR seems to create which are taking away from the time spent talking about our brilliant product in Scotland and the talent we have here.

“And 99 per cent of those debates surround handball decisions. There’s a simple solution for me. Don’t let VAR get involved in handball. Add it to the list of decisions that the video refs can’t push the button on.

“Once a ref gives or doesn’t give a penalty then get on with it. It’s when officials are called to the screen and start looking at ball to hand scenarios umpteen times that a can of worms is suddenly opened. Is the arm in an unnatural position? Is it a clear and obvious error? Was the ball going on target?

Referee Kevin Clancy at Celtic Park, Photo Malcolm Mackenzie PSI

“The Celtic and Partick Thistle penalties at the weekend were just the latest where the handball rule is causing bother rather than eradicating it. VAR was at the centre of both awards.

“I was surprised when David Munro was called to the monitor at Ibrox and even more shocked when he awarded the spot kick for Thistle. Antonio Colak wasn’t even looking at the ball when it hit his hand from just a yard away.

“We’ve seen them given before but in other games similar ones have gone unpunished. Look at Kye Rowles’ one for Hearts against St Mirren which I reckon was far more clear a penalty than those two at the weekend.

“None of those penalty kicks were awarded by the on-field ref until VAR got involved. So either we stop VAR getting involved in handballs or the lawmakers rewrite the rule and make it much simpler – basically only deliberate handballs are punishable.”

Although there is an element of some form of twisted logic in McManus’ grand plan, it doesn’t deal with the actual problem.

Referees have a set of laws they have to understand and implement on a weekly basis, and they need to stay abreast of the changes. Some appear to have managed, with limited acceptance for human error, whilst others seem entirely out of their depth.

The LED board shows the Video Assistant Referee checking for a possible penalty for handball to Celtic, which is later awarded during the Scottish Cup Fourth Round match between Celtic and Greenock Morton at Celtic Park Stadium on January 21, 2023 Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

And now VAR is shining a light on an ineptitude that was ever present even prior to the introduction of VAR, after all refereeing in Scotland has rarely been of a high standard.

So, do we bin the parts that McManus appears to believe the officials are struggling with, or do we instead focus on improving the referees, rather than adopting an approach which simply removes the requirement to get to grips with some minor changes to the laws of the game?

Well clearly VAR is here to stay. And while it remains, a replaying of missed incidents will continue to fill our TV screens every week. It’s simply not feasible for VAR to be used for certain incidents occurring in Scotland while the rest of the world plays by a different set of rules.

Let’s be honest the real issue is either with the referees understanding of the rule changes, the guidance they receive from their bosses, or both. That’s an issue that could be remedied.

At present Scotland’s officials are part-time and many have full-time work commitments that no doubt take priority over their gig on the side. If refs were full-time, it would make a marked difference on how long they could attribute to learning new technologies, learning the seasonal changes in the interpretation of the laws of the game, and an increase in the time afforded to practice away from the public eye, where mistakes could be ironed out.


And for those coming through who wish to be the next generation of referees then why not tie in with a Scottish University, offer a full-time course to study, offer placements as you go through the process – to put the theory into practice – and offer full-time refereeing jobs to those who graduate.

If this was Cameron Carter-Vickers against theRangers then you’d bet your last dollar on that being given as a penalty to (the)Rangers

Such an approach would allow for a production line of future referees, and could arguably be independent of the SFA, knowing they have been fully educated on the laws of the game, the interpretation required and all the technologies they would be expected to understand – both those currently in play and those which remain in the pipeline. And perhaps crucially train them during that process on how to communicate their decisions with the media and football stakeholders, often left completely in the dark as to how decisions are reached and why.

There are many sports played out across the world where the rules of the game are far more confusing and indeed even more subjective than football. Indeed, in the whole scheme of things, until recently, football and its law have been a fairly simple. Yet in those sports, with Rugby arguably a good example, debate remains, but alongside clear communication on the field and in the control room you can see how a decision was reached.

Yet few sports offer quite the same spotlight or endless hours of debate that football does, and few produce the same levels of income that football does. Yet despite this, Scottish refereeing seems stuck with an analogue approach that a digital age is highlighting as not being up to standard. Scottish football can afford to do so much better and is in dire need of a modernising approach.

And if the debate has moved to referees being allowed to remove handball decisions from the myriad of decisions they have to reach on any given Saturday – and then review by way of VAR – that surely indicates our officials require improved training, because simply withdrawing VAR consideration of handball decisions doesn’t avoid a referee from still being expected to consider such decisions over the course of the match – it simply removes a level of scrutiny – and my word do we need more of that.

Referee Euan Anderson signals after the completion of a VAR Review to conclude that the goal, scored by Liel Abada, is ruled out for offside during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Livingston FC at on December 21, 2022 (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

VAR is not the problem and the laws of the game are not the problem, no matter how subjective they may appear. However, keeping abreast of changes, understanding and implementing them correctly is clearly an issue.

It surely makes more sense to educate our officials to a higher standard, and ensure their day-to-day focus is on refereeing as their full-time position, rather than take away some of the tasks they are required to understand for the sake of less debate on contentious issues.

If we could add to that a real level of communication from a governing body, that by its silence appears to treat the paying public with contempt, then the future of Scottish football may not need the dumbing down process Tam McManus appears to be an advocate for.

Niall J

Invincible by Matt Corr. Now available on Amazon kindle…

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

Comments are closed.