A few years ago, when we’d just moved into the London Stadium, I saw Arsenal beat us 5-1. Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were on another level that day. It was the first time I’d witnessed a thrashing like that in the flesh, but it was almost fun to see two great players at their best, despite the result.
A few weeks later Manchester City arrived in the FA Cup and also scored 5, two went in during a quick trip I took to the toilet. A couple of weeks later they returned in the league. This time they scored 4 unanswered goals. It was becoming a pattern now, and it wasn’t fun or a privilege to see these great players anymore. Playing big teams was scary and ultimately pretty demoralising. If I’d had a season ticket then my card may well have ended up in the River Lea.
Saturday’s defeat, another thrashing at the hands of City and my first game as a season ticket holder, felt different. It felt like the last pre-season game before the season starts for real. City are on a different planet, both on the pitch and in the transfer market. Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Cancelo on the bench, I mean…
For the first half, it felt as if the 11 guys in claret and blue were the only ones in the whole stadium that thought it would be anything other than a City win. They soon fell in with the rest of us. City had a look during the first 45 minutes to see what we had, see where our weaknesses lay. As soon as the referee blew for the second period they went for the throat. They were like a footballing pack of Velociraptors. “Clever girl!”
It wasn’t a privilege to watch though. We’ve seen it all before, it’s been happening for a few years now. It didn’t, though, feel like the season had come crashing down around us either. I glanced over to the river on the way out and there were no signs of any season ticket cards floating off towards Bow Creek.
We won’t face anything as impressive again, well aside from our return trip to Manchester maybe. Even Liverpool, as impressive as they are, don’t provoke the same level of resigned dread. We’d have beaten them at the London Stadium last season if we’d have had VAR, right?
VAR was the other main talking point of the day. All eyes were on Stratford, the second televised game of the new Premier League season. I saw at least 4 live pitchside TV broadcasts before the players came out. City, as they are likely to do this season, caused a succession of moments that required a review.
There was little debate over the final decisions, but the main point VAR raises for me is that a lot of people just don’t know the finer details of the rules of the game. And why would they? We haven’t previously had cause to learn the full rule book. An IFAB app is available now – and quite a decent reference guide, if you need it.
The reality of some rules and the fact they are now being judged to the nth degree makes some people feel uncomfortable. For me, the dividing line for offsides should be moved more in favour of the attackers. A toe, or fraction of a shoulder, causing a goal to be chalked off when the game is played at high speed seems wrong, even if it would have meant us losing 6-0. VAR will change football. But money has already changed the game far more than TV replays ever will.
The overall experience, while annoying when there are lots of stoppages, is OK with room for improvement. I had no idea the penalty was re-taken for Declan Rice’s encroachment leading to him clearing the rebound until I watched the Match of the Day repeat on Sunday morning. The decision was correct but it took me nearly 24 hours to find out why.
I still, however, prefer the feeling of mild annoyance at the stoppages to the apoplectic rage of knowing you’ve conceded a goal that should never have been given. I’m sure we can all think of examples of when this has happened. Mine is a 2-2 draw with West Brom a couple of seasons ago when they scored following a clear foul. VAR would surely have caught that one!?
Overall, my first game as a season ticket holder was a fun one. The only disappointment being the final scoreline and the fact we now have two consecutive away games meaning I won’t be back in Stratford until the end of the month when Norwich are the visitors.