Needless to say, this is not how the Scottish FA are trumpeting the belated if not universally anticipated roll-out of VAR in Scottish club football, with Hibs and St Johnstone the first willing guinea pigs on Friday night in their cinch Premiership match. Perhaps it was the optics of having to study their own errors in public that explains why Premier League referees simply ignored the VAR monitor for the first few years, happy to take the word of the Stockley Park video operator that they had messed things up.
That won’t be happening in Scotland, however. Following FIFA protocols closer than their English counterparts, anyone officiating at a Premiership match – and cup semi-finals and finals – will be expected to trot over and look for themselves should VAR flag up something they believe merits subsequent attention.
John Beaton sees no reason why there should be any stigma attached to that process. Referees will still make mistakes, as is human nature, but now there is a method through which they can be quickly rectified. Better that, reckons the decade-long FIFA veteran, than discovering that you’ve made a game-altering howler by watching Sportscene or picking up the next day’s papers.
Beaton is reluctant to delve too deeply into the big calls he’s got wrong over the years but does concede there were times when he wished he could go back and change one or two. VAR is no time machine but it ought to ease the mental strain on referees currently having to do their duty with uncertainty chewing away at their insides.
“I remember early in my career in just my sixth or seventh Premiership game, I sent off Jamie Hamill for Hearts against Inverness,” he recalled. “The ball hit his face but I thought it hit his hand. It was a terrible decision. At that stage of my career it was a crushing blow when I was trying to establish myself.
“Everyone has a catalogue of decisions where if we had VAR we would have been able to correct. It will be great that will be taken away going forward. I had a game between Andorra and Poland and sent off a player after 13 seconds for violent conduct. You can imagine how I would have felt for 89 minutes thinking ‘did I get it right?’ if we didn’t have VAR. But we did, it was checked and I knew I could relax and focus on the rest of the game. In big games in this country – our semi-finals, finals and big league matches – it will be a massive reassurance to know when we make a big call it will be right.”
You need a strong constitution to want to become a referee, an occupation that tends to be viewed with the same warmth as a tax inspector or traffic warden. Beaton insists it’s not a job for “egos” although did concede that there is still that brief moment of self-loathing whenever an official discovers that what they thought had transpired turns out to be different from reality. VAR may make referees look like chumps at times but still better that than a wrong decision being allowed to sail through unchecked.
“We need to be strong and be big personalities to do this job and that’s why we’re refereeing at the top of the game in this country,” he said. “It will be a challenge (to their self-esteem) when it comes along in big matches that you’ve not got something right. But the overriding feeling will be just glad that you got to the right decision eventually. We need to be open-minded when looking at the screen. You can get attached to a decision and feel you have made the right decision. You want people to agree with you but you have to go to the screen and look at it fresh. What you saw on the park might not be the reality.
“If we are in this for our egos we are in the wrong game. Refereeing is not the place to be if you have an ego. You make a mistake then it is highlighted on Sportscene, you read about it, all your pals tell you about it and then you need to referee the next weekend. Now that process all just gets done a bit quicker.”
What VAR won’t do, confirms Beaton, is remove all aspects of controversy and debate, which the Sportscene presenters and pundits will surely be relieved to hear. “Those decisions that on a Saturday night we look at and debate – that’s not going to be there any more,” added Beaton. "”They’ll all be able to be corrected. But there will still be debate. You can see that across Europe in the big leagues where VAR has been in for a couple of seasons or in the Champions League. That’s not going to go away. Sometimes with the moments there is no right or wrong. It’s just an opinion. If it is your team and it goes against you, you will never be convinced the decision was right.”