Lee Mason failed to check offside of Christian Norgaard in build-up to Ivan Toney’s equaliser for Brentford in 1-1 draw with Arsenal last weekend; PGMOL subsequently apologised for the error; Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta called error “not acceptable”; Mason has left PGMOL by mutual consent
Video Assistant Referee Lee Mason has left the officials’ body PGMOL and will no longer work on Premier League games, following his high-profile error in Arsenal’s draw with Brentford.
Mason had worked as a Premier League referee for 15 years and oversaw 287 top-flight matches during that time, with his last coming during the closing stages of the 2021/22 season. However, the 51-year-old, while working solely as a VAR this season, has twice been dropped from working on a round of Premier League fixtures after high-profile errors.
The first came in September, when he disallowed a Newcastle goal against Crystal Palace.
He was then handed a similar punishment after failing to draw the lines and notice the offside position of Christian Norgaard as the Brentford player made the assist for Ivan Toney’s late equaliser at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
PGMOL later apologised for the mistake, which was described as “not acceptable” by Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. He said the error had cost Arsenal two points.
The draw with Brentford allowed Manchester City to close to within three points of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League and Pep Guardiola’s side then went above the Gunners with victory in their fixture on Wednesday night.
“We ended the [Brentford] game, after analysing it with the evidence and images, with a huge anger and disappointment,” said Arteta in his pre-match press conference for the City game.
“Because that wasn’t a human error. That was a big, big, big not conceiving and understanding your job. That’s not acceptable, I’m sorry. And that cost Arsenal two points and that’s not going to be restored.”
PGMOL confirmed on Friday evening that Mason had left the organisation by mutual consent. His full career in the professional game saw the 51-year-old officiate in over 500 fixtures after he progressed to the Football League in 1998.
A PGMOL statement said: “We would like to thank Lee for his dedicated service to the professional game and wish him all the best for the future.”
Cassidy calls for transparency
Chief Executive Officer of Ref Support UK Martin Cassidy said:
“The football family has welcomed Howard Webb, it’s good to see the communication with clubs. Everyone wants referees to be accountable, but the timing is a bit unfortunate because of the body cam trial. On the same weekend of this great news, in terms of protection for match officials, this [VAR controversy] comes along. Officials now have this sword of Damocles hanging over them, thinking ‘am I going to be next?’
“The message isn’t clear here. Does one mistake mean you’re going to lose your career? That doesn’t happen to players if they make silly mistakes. The message is a bit ambiguous really and I think it would be nice to have a bit more clarity in the picture. No one wants to lose their career over one mistake.
“Football should be accountable, we all should, absolutely. But the WhatsApp groups I’m involved in were going crazy last night [over the news that Lee Mason has left the PGMOL]. Let’s please be a bit more open and transparent about the message here. One mistake has ended the 15-year career of a top-level match official.
“It proves how hard it is to be a match official at this level – assistant referees have been doing this without VAR for decades. This isn’t just a computer that makes a decision, there is a human being at the beginning and end of this process. The game will improve from it and the relationship between referees, clubs and players will be a lot better for it. Having transparency and accountability is a good thing, but the way it’s been done could have been better.”
Ref Watch: ‘Lee Mason forgot to complete check’
INCIDENT: The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) has acknowledged a ‘significant error in the VAR process’ was responsible for Brentford’s offside goal being awarded in their 1-1 draw at Arsenal. This was not fully investigated by VAR. They checked for a block – but not the offside on Christian Norgaard. How can this happen?
FORMER PREMIER LEAGUE REF DERMOT GALLAGHER SAYS: “If the referee thinks he’s had a materialistic impact on the player, yes [they can be offside].
“When the free kick comes over, Ethan Pinnock – who starts in an offside position – that’s all he is. He can’t be given as offside at that point because he hasn’t impacted on the outcome of that ball.
“Pinnock gets back into an onside position and the next problem comes when Pinnock has come from an offside position, but when the ball is played while he’s onside, once he heads it, it’s Norgaard – he’s the player who is in the offside position.
“Norgaard then crosses and Ivan Toney scores.
“The VAR Lee Mason made two checks and they were very comprehensive – it took three minutes.
“He has deemed Pinnock is in an offside position – there’s no doubt about that. He’s decided because the ball is so high, he cannot head the ball so he’s not interfering with play because he’s not touched it.
“Does he impact on a defender? I think the VAR looks at it and he’s behind it, so it’s difficult. He judges it as not a foul, which is a subjective element.
“He’s concentrated on that so much that I think he switches off then. He’s forgotten to complete it through.
“It’s not panic, but it’s ‘I’ve taken three minutes and haven’t found an offence, people are going to wonder why I’ve checked it so often’.
“He then doesn’t check the Norgaard offside, and that’s where the problem occurred.
“It’s a human error bought on by the fact that time is eating away and three minutes are an eternity to a spectator. You can hear them, and that’s got to play on his mind.
“He’s just closed it off a bit too early.”
Why didn’t the VAR assistant point out the error?
DERMOT SAYS: “I don’t know to be honest. Again, I wonder if he’s been sucked into the same vacuum in terms of the time.
“If they had pushed on that little bit further, they would have got the right answer.
“In my mind, it was easy to go ‘Ivan Toney scored, was he offside? No. Default to Norgaard crossing the ball. Was he offside? Yes. End of story.’
“That’s the easy bit. But in their process, they take it from the free-kick and that’s how they do it.”
FORMER ARSENAL STRIKER KEVIN CAMPBELL: “It’s great to know there’s an apology, but what does it actually do? Because all the eyeballs that are on [the game] – the VAR official has an assistant, but what do they see?
“If everybody else could see it, they should be able to see it.
“More training? Come on, this is crazy stuff, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just people not doing their job properly – it’s as simple as that.”
How long did the VAR check take?
The check took two minutes 26 seconds. That compares to two minutes one second for the VAR check at West Ham for Tomas Soucek’s disallowed goal for a Declan Rice offside, meaning the Brentford check was not especially long, amid suggestions the VAR was rushed into overlooking the Norgaard offside incident by spending too long focusing on the earlier Pinnock incident.