The Simon Evans Column - Wolves game stirs Wembley memories

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Whenever the fixture list throws up Wolves as opponents for the Clarets, I can’t help but think back to when we met them in 1988 in the Sherpa Van Trophy Final.

To younger supporters, who have grown up used to a diet of Premier League or (at the worst) Championship football, the final of the rough equivalent of the Checkatrade, sorry, Leasing.com Trophy, may seem small fry, but at the time it was a huge occasion. Both teams were in the worst spells in their history, stuck in the old Fourth Division and for Burnley, the occasion came only 12 months after the trauma of nearly going out of the league, the ‘Orient game’ and all that. There was a history between the two clubs given that 28 years earlier Burnley had pipped Wolves to the English league title. But what a demonstration that day was of the strengths of the two clubs and their support. 80,841 travelled down to Wembley for the game, which Wolves won 2-0 but, in truth we hardly cared. What mattered was that we still had a club and we were proudly showing our support at the national stadium. It was clear that day that both clubs mattered too much to too many people to languish in the lower leagues.

TOUGH TIME ON THE DEVELOPMENT FRONT

Given the club find it so difficult to operate in the transfer market, the youth system should be a real priority but a quick glance at the early season results doesn’t offer a great deal of encouragement. The two main youth sides, the Under-23s and Under-18’s haven’t managed a win between them yet. The older group have drawn with League One Coventry and Championship Millwall while the Under-18’s have lost 3-0 at home to Millwall and 2-0 at Championship Bristol City. Two caveats – results aren’t the main factor in youth development (even if they do offer an indication of quality level) and just as the Clarets can’t compete with Premier League clubs in recruiting senior players, the same applies to younger prospects. But in our fourth straight season as a Premier League club one might have hoped for more.

VAR troubles

Whatever you think of VAR as an idea, it is already clear that the system is impacting the game in many ways that were not all anticipated, proving the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

The forensic video scrutiny leads to goals, such as Gabriel Jesus’s late winner against Spurs for Manchester City on Saturday being ruled out, despite no Spurs players noticing, let alone appealing for, the offence.

That goal was disallowed under the new handball law, which, in keeping with the VAR era and the desire for clear ‘black and white’ decisions, removes evaluation of intent from the offence. Which is madness.

The offence of handball was not created to deal with accidental brushes of the ball against a player’s arm, just as the offside law was not designed to stop 50,000 people celebrating a goal because an attacking armpit may have been a centimetre ahead of a defending groin.

VAR does, however, seem to fit into the televised experience of football -- with replays, instant punditry and constant scrutiny for the fan armed with a remote control with pause and rewind. But it still felt ridiculous that Ruben Neves’ superb goal for Wolves against Man United on Monday needed to be subject to a geometric analysis before the ref could point to the centre-circle.

In a stadium, though, when result-changing decisions are made by men sat in an office near Heathrow airport, often with no evidence presented to fans, it feels like a cold, alien, intrusion into the passion and spontaneity of the game. Personally, I hate it.