The Rational Ref

Offside decisions are tough calls for linesmen

Central defenders often make erroneous judgments on officials without all the facts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 6:24am

Soccer folklore has it that, to show off their impressive knowledge of the game, men sit at tables and use salt and pepper pots to carefully explain the offside rule to women. The truth is most women who are interested in the game know more about the offside rule than most men, plus they can do a better job at exhibiting their seasoned understanding without having to resort to bland seasoning tableware dynamics.

For instance, assistant referee or lineswoman Sian Massey understands the rule inside out and applies her knowledge with aplomb every week in the English Premier League.

Also women players, compared with their male counterparts, do not moan as much about offside decisions. Male central defenders, in particular, complain vehemently about what they perceive to be poor decisions by linesmen.

A classic example of a central defender who makes an erroneous judgment call based on missing information about a correct offside decision was seen during the second goal in last week's 3-0 win by Kitchee against Churchill Brothers in the AFC Cup.

As the goal was scored Churchill Brothers captain and centre back Ravanan Dharmaraj was visibly furious with the linesman for not calling offside. From the middle of the park Dharmaraj was looking right at the linesman and in between them was Kitchee striker Jorge Tarres Paramo, who was clearly in an advanced attacking position when the ball was played forward to him. So from Dharmaraj's field of view, Paramo was blatantly offside.

However, from the touch line the linesman could see behind Dharmaraj and therefore had a view along the whole width of the field. It was obvious Churchill Brothers right back Denzil Michael Franco had lagged behind the offside line set by Dharmaraj and had played his opponent onside.

Australian referee Chris Beath had to calm down an irate Dharmaraj and tell him his right back was at fault for the second goal.

Match officials regularly encounter situations where angry players lacking sufficient information, nevertheless adamantly, believe they are correct. If only there were regular post-match videos to teach players the error of their selfish and blinkered ways.

In addition to not having enough information, players have poor geometry skills. Although players automatically make pretty triangles when passing balls to each other, to attain a true perpendicular line takes effort and training.

Television commentators often compliment home teams for their magnificently manicured pitches and will remark how the grass has been superbly mowed with lines perfectly aligned so linesmen can get their offside calls right. It is as if they believe the groundsmen do their landscaping with linesmen in mind.

What commentators fail to realise is that down on pitch side match officials cannot see those lines. Instead, linesmen are trained to stand parallel to the touch line so they can achieve a good perpendicular angle to help determine offside calls.

Now imagine players on the pitch and how they might figure out whether or not they are in line with the perpendicular to the touch line. As a linesman, it can be hilarious to see some defenders attempting to figure out the perpendicular and trying to "hold the line" with each other. Usually they are all at sea because, for the most part, they are not sailors who know how to use reference points to fix their locations.

The experienced and smart defenders will have worked out that the position of the linesman, whose job is to always stay in line with the second-last defender, can help them.

Players, coaches, commentators and fans also complain about belated raised flags from linesmen. However, there is nothing wrong with this because linesmen are taught it is always better to be late and correct, rather than early and wrong.

Imagine the uproar and outrage if an incorrect offside flag was raised quickly and then lowered again because it was wrong; this is why late and correct is the preferred choice during tight offside decisions.

For match officials, the perfect offside decision is in fact a non-call. It is about pulling off the correct decision that allows attacking play to continue and flourish. Linesmen who make these crucial and correct calls are rarely credited. Rational Ref would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge two perfect offside decisions last week and credit the linesman for his praiseworthy perpendicular performance.

In last weekend's north London derby two quick-fire goals from Tottenham Hotspur's win were due to perfect offside decisions. Goalscorers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were both precisely onside in the split-second the ball was played to them. Darren Cann, a World Cup final linesman, should be applauded for his perfect offside calls. Who needs salt and pepper mills to teach the perfect offside when there's Cann, Bale and Lennon?