A former Premier League referee has decried the PGMOL’s extensive renovation as a ‘waste of money’ amidst a number of controversial VAR calls in the English top flight this season.
Stockley Park received over £1million-worth of tune-ups ahead of the start of the 2022-23 campaign to improve the ‘elite performance’ VAR hub, including a state-of-the art gym, futuristic design, and plush meeting rooms for pre- and post-match debriefs.
Global design firm Populous – who also had a hand in the creation of Tottenham’s £1bn Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – were behind the facility’s overhaul, which now includes an ‘elite conditioning space’ for match officials, and a ‘designated recovery space’ in a bid to ensure officials remain in peak physical form.
But in the thick of a season where VAR officials have been under heavy scrutiny due to a number of contentious calls, the scale of the investment in Stockley Park has come into question.
In an interview with the Sun, Mark Halsey called out the PGMOL boss Howard Webb’s decision-making as he compared the renovations to a ‘holiday camp’.
This summer saw the launch of Stockley Park’s £1M revamp in a bid to improve its facilities as an ‘elite performance’ hub
The VAR space’s renovations also include a tune-up of facilities for on-pitch referees
But former Premier League referee Mark Halsey (left) has criticised the refurbishments for turning the hub into a ‘holiday camp’
Your browser does not support iframes.
‘The facilities on offer at Stockley Park make it seem like a holiday camp. But referees and officials are there to do a job,’ Halsey said. ‘Howard wants a central hub but doesn’t need a workplace where it is all about rest and relaxation.
‘The money spent is a tidy sum but what are we getting for it? Certainly not world-class officials. Nice conference rooms, top-of the-range furniture, a gym and an area for table tennis.
‘I could understand splashing the cash on accessories if VARs were getting the decisions right. But they’re not so it’s a waste of money.’
As well as offering officials the chance to unwind via table tennis and pool tables and a massage area, the complex also features a lounge, canteen, and an outdoor balcony and seating area.
After the renovations were finished in August, Webb called the upgrade ‘perfect’ for its purpose.
‘It’s a cutting edge and completely bespoke elite performance facility, an environment where the best possible outcomes can be achieved in the VAR space to benefit the game,’ Webb stated.
‘It’s not only the perfect space for our officials to work when they are acting as VAR or AVAR though, there are other areas for our officials to focus pre-game and debrief post-game, whilst there’s a gym and a recovery area, as well as a training centre, both for VAR work and for general refereeing development.
The space’s new luxury gym also includes a recovery and massage area to ensure peak form
Officials can meet for pre- and post-match debriefs in a number of plush conference rooms
There is also a new canteen, renovated lounge, and outdoor space with seating areas
Halsey stressed that the revamp was a ‘waste of money’ if the right VAR decisions aren’t made
‘Good officiating always starts on the field of play and we expect good performance, but VAR plays its part to ensure that outcomes of games are not decided by clear and obvious errors – we want VAR to be a positive influence.’
But a number of Premier League head coaches might find themselves arguing that some of the decisions made by VAR this season have had an overwhelmingly negative influence.
Prior to the international break, Newcastle blacked the eye of top-four rival Arsenal thanks to a contentious winning goal from Anthony Gordon that received a rare triple-check from VAR Andy Madley and his assistant Stuart Burt.
The team at Stockley Park were tasked with deciding whether Joe Willock managed to keep the ball in play in the lead-up to the goal, whether Joelinton fouled Gabriel while knocking the ball back across, and whether Gordon was offside as he scored.
The subsequent decision to let Gordon’s goal stand so incensed the Gunners head coach that Mikel Arteta publicly deemed the call ’embarrassing’ and a ‘disgrace’ – and was later charged by the FA with misconduct for his comments.
Liverpool and Wolves have also been on the receiving end of VAR decisions later apologised for by the PGMOL since the start of their Premier League campaigns.
‘Some of the incidents we have seen in the last few weeks have shown VAR has not improved since its implementation. If anything, it has gone backwards,’ Halsey continued. ‘VAR isn’t working, not because of the technology, but because of the personnel operating it.
‘We should be putting the money into producing better quality coaching and training for officials, rather than facilities at Stockley Park.
PGMOL head Howard Webb (left) has spearheaded a number of new initiatives since taking up the role
Amongst these is ‘Match Officials Mic’d Up’, a TV programme taking fans behind the scenes of contentious decisions – among them, Newcastle’s goal against Arsenal
Mikel Arteta was so incensed by the call that he described it publicly as an ‘absolute disgrace’
‘The standard of refereeing is not what it should be at elite level. We only have a handful of top-level refs in Michael Oliver, Anthony Taylor and Chris Kavanagh and that’s not good enough.
‘VARs should not be based at Stockley Park. They should be at the ground as part of the team of officials,’ Halsey suggested. ‘That would build better relationships and aid the VAR process.’
In a bid for greater transparency, Webb and the PGMOL have launched ‘Match Officials Mic’d Up’, a monthly television programme which aims to go into detail over why particular VAR decisions were made and take viewers behind the scenes of the process.
But whilst some supporters have praised the revelatory insights offered by hearing audio from the VAR hub at Stockley Park as well as on-pitch match officials, others have critised the format for its selection process of incidents.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.
It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify
Your browser does not support iframes.