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Premier League VAR Controversies Result In Officials' Benchings
An announcement Tuesday confirmed officials Lee Mason and Neil Swarbrick were removed after their VAR roles for the upcoming slate of matches following two separate controversial incidents.
For Premier League fans, Monday morning’s water cooler chat offers an opportunity to reminisce with other like-minded folks at the office over that weekend's game action. It’s time to impress friends, cubicle cohorts, hell — maybe even the big cheese signing your checks. However you slice it, these are important moments — but it's almost always best when those moments focus on the play on the pitch, not on refereeing controversies.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t talk of tremendous play or glorious goal-scoring that dominated the conversation this week — it was the objectively poor decision-making by VAR officials Lee Mason and Neil Swarbrick, who have now been dropped from VAR assignments for the next round of Premier League matches by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the organization tasked with holding English football match officials accountable.
"A constructive meeting was held at Stockley Park today, led by Chief Refereeing Officer Howard Webb, to thoroughly review officiating errors in Premier League matches last weekend," read a Tuesday statement from PGMOL. "There was a focus on error prevention and a reinforcement of best practice process with the aim of achieving accurate outcomes in an efficient manner going forward.”
VAR stands for video assistant referee, and essentially is a match official with access to video reviews who can communicate down to the on-field referee when they think a critical mistake has been made, typically decisions involving goals, red cards, and penalties.
In Mason’s case, he failed to identify that Christian Norgaard had been in an offside position prior to setting up Ivan Toney for the equalizer in the 74th minute. As a result, first-place Arsenal had to settle for a frustrating 1-1 draw against Brentford, dropping two critical points at a moment when the title race is tightening. Swarbrick, the Premier League’s head of VAR, made his costly error in the Chelsea vs. West Ham United match after it appeared Tomas Soucek may have stopped Conor Gallagher’s shot by using his hand. The play occurred near the end of the match in the 89th minute, so had Swarbrick decided to notify the main ref about the incident, Chelsea may have been awarded a game-changing penalty kick. Webb admitted that both mistakes were “significant errors.”
"We accept mistakes were made, and we acted accordingly by calling a meeting and changing match official appointments where appropriate; however, we are encouraged by the way our officials have responded and are confident they will take the learnings forward, always with the aim of delivering high officiating standards for the benefit of the game," Webb’s statement continued.
Footy fans who are still reeling from the Brighton & Hove Albion at Crystal Palace 1-1 outcome should find some modicum of solace, knowing that VAR official John Brooks was also dropped for two fixtures — Liverpool vs. Everton (Monday) and Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (Wednesday) — after his incorrect offside call expunged Pervis Estupinan’s goal that would’ve given the Seagulls a 2-1 victory instead.
Watch Premier League coverage on USA Network, featuring Premier League Mornings, select matches, and Premier League Goal Zone (check listings for games/schedule). And catch up on all the action on Peacock.