LAST weekend, I ventured in search of entertainment, but mistakenly followed the faithful to Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, to see a game of Scottish football. It fell far short of brilliance.

I know from long experience that ­football is a game that can transport you to the ­highest levels of wonderment and plunge you into the deepest cellar of despair.

I had gone to see the visiting side St Johnstone, whose current guise is to ­become the ­slowest starters in world sport. They emerged from the tunnel in such a ­torpor it seemed that someone had ­exchanged the energy drinks for morphine.

The only thing that stood between Saints and a humiliating hiding was the Video ­Assistant Referee (VAR), the ­technological system that has become the scourge of ­modern football.

It would not be a damaging affectation to say that Kilmarnock deserved to be 3-0 up at half-time, and that whisper it this side of Onthank, VAR probably saved St Johnstone’s bacon. The game ended square with one goal apiece and the fans headed home grumbling their ­ various ­discontents.

But it was events further north at ­Tannadice that attracted most attention. An outrageous dive by the St Mirren ­forward Curtis Main seemed to cast him as the Dying Swan in a featured role at Scottish Ballet. Main pursued a ball on the fringes of the United box and with next to no contact from the nearest ­player, United’s Loick Ayina, he threw himself to the ground with all the dramatic elan of Rudolf Nureyev.

The National: DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - MARCH 18: St Mirrens's Curtis Main (L) is fouled by Dundee Utd's Loick Ayina (R) which results in a penalty during a cinch Premiership match between Dundee United and St Mirren at Tannadice, on March 18, 2023, in Dundee,

Rather than laugh at Main’s ­preposterous cheating, the VAR team ­reviewed the situation and awarded St Mirren a penalty. It may yet prove to be the decision that relegates Dundee ­United, as they cling on to the ­shredded hopes of survival in what has been a ­woeful season for the club.

United has since called for a review of VAR and its many anomalies, a plea that has found widespread support from fans of rival clubs and enjoys the kind of ­clamorous noise in the tabloids that only Scottish football can provoke.

When the idea of VAR was first mooted, I was an early convert. Technology had been a friend to tennis, cricket and rugby and there was much to admire about the way those sports had enhanced the ­spectator’s experience. The narrowest snicks on a cricket bat or the ­mathematical alignment that leads to LBW were both better established with Hawk-Eye ­camera technology, adding greater detail for the television audience too. Equally the ­system’s ability to analyse the trajectory of the ball made it near perfect for fine-judgement line calls in tennis.

Hawk-Eye also had the added advantage of seeming to put decision-making back to the ­players allowing them two calls to ­question the umpire’s decision, a further call in a ­tie-break.

Rugby has many more variants but the technology through a linked audio system allows the referee to communicate ­decision to coaches, players and the crowd in near real-time.

Surely, with all those proven ­advantages of camera technology, and wired-for-sound you might imagine that football was able to inherit the best of the many experiments that have gone before and make a reasonable fist of introducing technology to the sport.

But what many reasonable ­people failed to factor in was the main ­hurdle facing VAR was emotional, not ­technological. The system would have to find some ­hitherto unknown algorithm to ­overcome the ­unrestrained partisanship that ­enriches and scars Scottish football.

Football fans in all countries argue with refereeing decisions but in Scotland, the resentment towards officialdom is fury tainted with conspiracy. It is almost impossible to find a fan of a top league team who will shrug their shoulders and say, “they are doing a decent job let them get on with it”.

References to referees online are ­followed by clown emojis and almost every ground at the weekend features the taunting song You Don’t Know What You’re Doing. To make matters worse, a prominent assistant referee heads the Tory Party in Scotland, adding another layer of hopelessness to their already tainted brand.

It gets darker still. There is a deep-seated mythology within Scottish football that VAR’s production centre, at ­Clydesdale House in Glasgow is populated with a self-perpetuating secret society. In the most furious minds, these are grown men draped in aprons who when they are not involved in masonic skulduggery are ­fornicating with goats in the edit suite.

ALL that aside, I cannot understand why passionate Scottish football fans and the administrators of the national game have contrived to make such a mess of a relatively simple technology that most people agreed would improve the game.

It may well be that improvements were always going to be modest and ­incremental but that the whole operation was sold as game-changing and era-defining.

One obvious error of judgement was that the whole VAR experiment was sold on the back of major global tournaments, where the standard of televised ­coverage was at its height. It is much easier to ­tolerate a six-minute delay in decision-making when you are at home with a bag of mini cheddars, watching the best ­players in the world than freezing ­towards rigor mortis in the away stand at Aberdeen.

Many now say that VAR’s delay in ­decision-making has undermined the joyous spontaneity of celebrating a goal. Others feel that the small incremental improvement in accurate decision ­making, estimated at around 1.8%, is hardly worth the confusion, the delay and the still ­baffling outcomes.

VAR’s first season has not been allowed to settle. Journalists and broadcasters have been invited to briefings in which grey areas have been laid out – when VAR is invoked, when the VAR team can ­request a referee to review an incident and when contentious decisions are not subject to review or are simply a matter of opinion and interpretation.

No one can say that effort has not gone into explaining VAR but too often, the rules of the game rather than video ­coverage have sown doubt.

One gaping area is handballs in the box, where a contradictory mess of chance, intent, body posture and biomechanics have made it almost impossible to find reasonable consensus. Neither fans, ­players nor match commentators find it easy to make consistent judgements.

If VAR has had a rough ride to date, it’s what is yet to come that troubles me. Scottish football is approaching the split, when clubs end up in the top six or the bottom six. There is much at stake in both – the title, the prize money from ­finishing high in the league and the added benefits of European qualification. At the bottom, there is the prospect of ­instant ­relegation and financial carnage or a nail-biting play-off spot where a tense double-header against a highly motivated ­Championship team awaits.

Beyond the league, there are cup semi-finals and the eventual show-piece final itself. It is by every measurement the most nerve-racking and most ­emotionally ­volatile period in the football calendar. We cannot be sure, but it wouldn’t be Scottish football if the outcome of a major game wasn’t predicated on a highly ­debatable VAR decision.

The easily troubled side of my ­football personality, I am secretly glad that St Johnstone are probably safe from ­relegation. I could not countenance the thought of being dragged through the wringer waiting on the confirmation of a crucial penalty or a disallowed goal.

For me and I’m sure many others, I want the season to fade into ­unmemorable ­mediocrity. I do not have the nervous ­disposition to have a crucial penalty ­referred to VAR.