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Tim Dellor's Royal Watching: Reading made to pay by poor refereeing decisions

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We all have bad days at work. Those days where, try as we might, things go wrong. Often it is unavoidable, sometimes there are mitigating circumstances, but usually it is when we are a bit sleep deprived and emotional.

Stephen Martin, the referee rather than the American actor and comedian, is a case in point. Actually, please can we have the actor and comedian in charge of the game next time, rather than the Stephen Martin we got last Saturday?

He had a very bad day at work. You did not need to be a Reading fan to spot the three penalties he failed to award to the home team. Andy Carroll was knocked over in the box in the first half. A minute later Reading scored, so perhaps he could argue his turning a blind eye to the Hull defender’s offence had no bearing on the outcome of the game.

Tim Dellor comes up with another Royals column
Tim Dellor comes up with another Royals column

In the second half his flat refusal to give spot kicks most certainly did have a bearing on the outcome of the game. First, at 1-0 up, Reading’s John Swift was upended as he burst into the box. The defender got nowhere near the ball, but Mr Martin waved played on with terrifically ignorant bliss.

Then, as tempers were fraying and it was surely easy to detect from the crowds angry noise he was having a Weston-Super, he somehow managed not to spot the most blatant hand ball as Carroll headed onto the Hull defenders raised arm. As luck would have it the ref was standing in the perfect place, with a great view of the incident. Play on – no penalty. By now it was becoming comedy from Stephen Martin.

He cost Reading two points last Saturday afternoon, though besides those incidents Reading’s performance was not especially superior to Hull’s. Whenever a referee makes blatant mistakes in The Championship it inevitably triggers a discussion about whether VAR ought to be introduced at this level. Some second tier leagues in European football do employ the controversial system used exclusively in the Premier League here.

Cost seems to be the main block, which is odd because there is so much money swishing round the Championship. The value of the two Reading players involved in the incidents on Saturday would be considerably more than the cost of installing VAR into every Championship ground.

I understand if I was a manager or a player I would want VAR. It ensures fairness and your hard work gets its just reward. As someone who is increasingly unlikely to ever be a manager or player though, I would rather not have VAR. The fascination with sport is human performance, decision making, and emotional control. That extends to the referee’s performance, and the reaction to their decisions.

That element of jeopardy is crucial to the game’s entertainment value. A bit of luck is a crucial ingredient. Football is in danger of taking itself too seriously, albeit mega-big business. It is only flush with cash because it is entertaining, and it is only entertaining because there is just the right element of luck.

Leave VAR to the Premier League and let’s all continue to have a laugh at Stephen Martin’s comic genius.

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