OPINION: If Teemu Pukki’s VAR farce makes you hate football then ditch it and start running in 2020
PUBLISHED: 16:34 31 December 2019 | UPDATED: 13:25 01 January 2020
VAR is sapping the joy from football - so why not consider letting it go and doing something else that challenges your own athletic ability instead, says Nick Richards
Football - it's the hope that kills you. Norwich City are playing well in spells but not enough to hang on for 90 minutes and get those vital three points. They're looking doomed for the drop but, still, with Aston Villa and West Ham sliding down the table, you never know.
And then Spurs at home, they're 1-0 up and 10 minutes before half time it's two but then.... you know what happened.
Teemu Pukki's perfectly good goal that would have probably stood in any other season before this is ruled out by VAR because his armpit was apparently an inch in front of a defender's knee.
VAR is taking so much spontaneous fun out of football. How can any top flight goal be celebrated anymore without that lingering doubt that a minute or so later it will be ruled out? What happens next summer when England score a last minute winner in the Euro 2020 final and Wembley goes crazy only for the goal to be cancelled five minutes later because somebody looking at a screen hundreds of miles away has drawn two lines on it and sees the smallest discrepancy?
After Saturday's VAR fiasco, Canaries Trust chairman Robin Sainty said in a letter that: "Almost every day I'm speaking to long-standing fans who are seriously talking about giving up going to games because there is no enjoyment any more."
Fans say it has taken the joy out of the game and rightly so, but only because it matters so much to so many people.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Maybe, just maybe, VAR could trigger something inside you that finally relegates football down your pecking order and makes you think about your own sporting career instead.
As we celebrate the start of a new decade I've been thinking about my relationship with football and sport in general and, in particular, where I was 10 years ago.
A couple of days into January 2010 I drove to Wycombe to watch Norwich City's first away match of the new decade. A month earlier I'd been to Yeovil away. I had a season ticket and made Norwich City a top priority in my life. I even drove the wife to Doncaster during our honeymoon later that year.
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Saturdays were taken up with football, I fretted over team news, formations and whether we'd get the points we needed to make the play-offs, win the league or avoid relegation.
But then I had kids and it all changed.
Fleeing the house for several hours on a Saturday suddenly seemed selfish, shelling out upwards of £1,000 a year on tickets and travel didn't seem worth it and sitting in a cold stadium surrounded by a load of unhealthy food made me yearn for something else.
So I started running. I was in my mid-30s, certainly time to retire in football terms, but rather than pay a load of money to watch journeymen footballers keep fit and win medals, I invested my time and money into my own sporting career.
I entered running events where I could win my own medals. I set my own fitness goals and made my own team news, declaring myself fit for that big 10k on the morning of the event to anyone that cared and, hey, if I wanted a table of results to obsess over I only had to look at my weekly parkrun performance.
As I started running more I gradually transferred my football emotions over to running. Parkruns became like league fixtures, they were a weekly standard, the summer 10ks were like pre-season training and the big half marathons in Norwich, Cambridge and further afield felt like big cup ties.
As I ran more I decided I'd qualified for Europe and entered marathons, jetting off to join thousands of others in big city events. What a blast!
I still saw big stadiums and venues but rather than sitting passively watching someone else's sporting glory, I ran laps around Silverstone, ended a half marathon with a lap of Reading's Madejski Stadium and started the Amsterdam Marathon in the historic stadium used for the 1924 Olympic Games.
Against the backdrop of this I've been to seven football matches in the flesh in the last seven years. I still enjoy it but wouldn't want to go each week. I still follow football closely but don't have a problem missing games or voting with my feet when the season turns sour. I want the best for Norwich City but don't need to be there anymore.
Running has taken over from football in my life because through it I've met so many brilliant positive people, whereas at football matches, and not just because of VAR, I tend to find pessimistic people wrapped up in a game that in reality offers scant personal reward.
It doesn't have to be running. Maybe it's time to dust off your football boots and reconnect to the beautiful game in a different way, a world away from those greasy burgers, gassy pints and the complete circus that Premier League football has now become.
It could be walking, cycling, swimming, squash, yoga, climbing, even bog snorkelling or hand gliding. Anything that gets you active and puts you at the centre of your own sporting world and cuts that cord from a load of footballers that will be off looking for more money elsewhere when this season or the next goes pear-shaped.
I hate all this new year, new you stuff that's touted around on the telly and the internet at this time of year, but if we are talking resolutions and challenges, why not take a look at yourself and wonder what you and your body can still achieve in the coming decade.
It really isn't too late.
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