There are many words that will be chosen to describe the scene at Goodison Park on Sunday evening, but I am choosing horrific.
In what was otherwise an extremely poor encounter in which the two clearly off form sides were separated by an isolated moment of footballing stupidity, this match will rightly forever be remembered for entirely non-footballing reasons. However, I will not claim that one is VAR and the other is the Andre Gomes injury. I believe they can be summarised as one; Refereeing.
 Let’s start by addressing the injury, and in isolation. Heung Min Son has intentionally thrown himself into a challenge to foul Gomes, being nowhere near the ball, arguably out of control, and with no evident motivation other than to disrupt the game with Spurs 1-0 up. All signs point to a yellow card.
 Then, after a little furore on the pitch to the challenge from Son, it is noticed the severe injury that Gomes has suffered. Referee Martin Atkinson immediately changes his mind on the yellow card and upgrades the punishment to that of a red card, presumably for endangering another player.
 Gomes is obviously the victim of this situation, and the horrified look and response from all players, coaching staff and fans highlighted the extent of the injury. Watching from home, my partner had to look away and could not shake the image from her mind. That level of damage to the human body is horrific in any walk of life. A reminder of our fragility.
 Now, beyond isolation, we immediately have another consideration to this spectacle; Retaliation. It can not be forgotten that moments earlier, Gomes has swung an arm out whilst in possession of the ball, a stray arm that has caught Son with an elbow right in the face. Son was incensed that this was not given as a deliberate or indeed unintentional elbow, especially with the VAR review. It is highly probable Son was motivated to carry out retribution on Gomes.
 “He’s not that type of player” voiced Dele Alli after the match. Dele should be given a lot of credit for how well he carried himself in the post match interview and what must have been a hugely difficult moment, and not made any easier by the very intrusive line of questioning, but his quote simply isn’t true. There is more evidence that Son deliberately set out to hurt Gomes. In the penultimate game of the season, Son was red carded for retaliating to what he deemed was a stamp on him that went unpunished. Son got up and pushed the opposing player in the face and was rightly sent off and given a 3 match ban. This action was entirely in Son’s character despite his constant smile otherwise.
 Son didn’t just feel wronged by the elbow from Gomes. He was furious with the officials and the VAR system when denied a first half penalty. With clear evidence of contact from what appears to be no attempt at playing the ball, it is hard to fathom how this was not a penalty, and VAR took a long hard look at it before deciding against it. Son felt wronged.
 It wasn’t just Son that felt wronged. VAR has been a further iron stoking the fire of football debate, creating more questions than delivering answers, at a time when the whole country is caught up in 50/50 debates over a lack of clarity and understanding, and finding a greater distrust of those in a position of power. To those at home, the 3 minutes deciphering whether the ball has hit Dele Alli’s arm and thus a penalty was excruciating. To those in the crowd, they didn’t even know what was being considered. To Dele Alli himself, he had the contrast of being the victim to an elbow or the deception of handball in his own box.
It’s fair to say that our disgust for referees has got worse, but they have just managed to share that burden over an ‘idea’ of authority that is “VAR and Friends” rather than the immediate “wanker in the black”. This feeling was evident in the crowd and on the pitch, and challenges were being allowed to increase in ferocity.
 These VAR and non-VAR incidents were coming together to create a hostile environment and yet, when the moment came… Martin Atkinson did not consult VAR and immediately sent off Son. For those of us brave enough to witness the replays, even without the full gory detail, it became very apparent that Son did not deserve a red card. Going back to , Son was deliberately impacting on the opposition player, but actually Gomes’ continued momentum, weight distribution, and impending contact from Aurier were what caused the injury. Atkinson has made a gross error in emotionally reacting and thinking he is doing the right thing without pausing to follow due process. There is also absolutely no ruling that the punishment is relevant to the result of the challenge but should be on the challenge itself. Bad Martin Atkinson.
 The rules of the beautiful game can sometimes be ambiguous. There is a widely accepted grey area on contact in a contact sport. We allow so much contact to occur than an outsider that has never played the game cannot understand. For example, Gomes’ elbow in Son’s face is widely accepted as a ‘part of the game’, but how do we justify that the player in possession is allowed to swing their arms so violently around themselves? An outsider cannot understand that, and I am lost for words in trying to explain it, yet for me, that was not a foul.
Spurs have now lodged an appeal against the Son red card, feeling that the punishment is beyond the letter of the law. We’re certainly in a time of uncertainty regarding the laws of the game, with the handball law being changed this summer to help give VAR have the clarity in making decisions, and there’s a feeling that more laws of the game require review. This incident will certainly flag one such area, retaliation.
Son’s actions are directly comparable to a host of red cards in footballing history, the most extreme of which is Roy Keane’s infamous career ending challenge on Alfe Inge Haaland. Whilst Son did not set out to end Gomes, it was borne out of the same frustrations of “Take that you cunt”. A determination to take action into their own hands and inflict hurt on an opposing player. I believe that crossing this line, and retaliating should be an act punishable by red card, but actually being able to prove this is what makes the rules of the game such a grey area.
It falls under the same miscellany as diving. Everyone knows that diving is wrong. Where there is no contact and a player intentionally acts to deceive the referee is cheating, and all cheating should be a red card. It is wholly against the spirit of the game. However referees are not permitted to give straight red cards for this, and its because it’s almost impossible within live action to know without doubt a player has dived. It’s why we have the term “simulation”, which goes on to cause even more doubt in the decision making process, as Son demonstrated with the first half penalty appeal that was rejected by VAR. For the points made in , it is also very clear that Son has fallen to the ground from his own momentum and not that inflicted by the defender; Simulation.
No-one wants to see what happened to Gomes happen to anyone. Tim Cahill says he enjoys seeing challenges like that in the game, and he is far from being alone, but we do have to behave professionally and with due care to make such challenges.
Son was visibly distraught by the consequences of his actions, but his actions were without control, calculated, and intended to hurt the opposition player even if only a small impact injury or discomfort, and arguably that has crossed the sufficient line in what makes a red card. Whether the FA agrees in review will also generate much debate and there will definitely be those on both sides of the coin that later in life may end up contradicting themselves when the boot is on the other foot.
I believe the main thing to learn from this incident, is how VAR and absent-minded refereeing is causing us to lose control of the game. Whether it’s because of communication, whether it’s because of poor decisions, or whether its because we’re afraid of change the system is not right.
Andre Gomes is undoubtedly a victim of this incident but the biggest victim of all was football itself. That we have no clear and obvious answer to this but all of the decisions that are being debated in the Premier League this season, is causing more anxiety and frustration than settling anything. Who knows what a correct decision is anymore.
VAR could and should have learned lessons from social media, as the replays and the slow motion just encourage more and more varied opinions of what is right and wrong, from the extremists, to the fans, to the unbiased and no-one at the top is able to take control. It does not help that we are unable to trust the major players in football given the corruption enquiries and insulting punishments for breaches of rules that FIFA and UEFA are now synonymous with.
Without an actual figure of authority determining what is right and wrong, we’re a herd of sheep following the loudest voices. Historically we know FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League are just following the money, not the spirit of the beautiful game. It is very evident that, whilst we have been encouraged to embrace technology and moving the game forward, we don’t actually know what we’re trying to achieve. It certainly does not appear to be getting everything right. In setting a low threshold that we hear so often about in the Premier League, all we’ve really done is invest in the Emperor’s New Clothes. Nothing and everything has changed.
I welcome someone at the top with the balls to accept this isn’t working, and take ownership of how to make it work, because right now we have too many Indians and not enough Chiefs.