Offside trap

We’ve all bemoaned, doubted or disbelieved an offside decision. Thankfully, Ian Plenderleith has found an online world where you can debate the issues, view the possible solution or test yourself on the rules

Like the offside rule itself, the website Offside Today still has some room for improvement. However, it differs from that perpetually discussed law in that it’s not a necessary evil, but a necessary platform to help keep the issue at the forefront of ­football debate.

The site is about “offside… today, yesterday and tomorrow”. The history section explains the evolution of the law down the centuries, although too many rules at once can make you dizzy, especially when pertaining to outmoded versions of the law you no longer have to understand. It also draws attention to current offside controversies on a game-by-game basis and any pertinent opinions on the subject by the game’s great and powerful – from Sepp “Let’s Have Four Linesmen” Blatter to Sir Ferg, who thinks it’s time for video evidence (which is noble considering how often it would probably prove him wrong).

Links to videos of controversial incidents no longer work, possibly because the Premier League has threatened to sue YouTube, and the discussion forum is, as yet, like so many well intentioned cyber-parliaments, deserted. Although the site is a fundamentally good idea and is straightforward to ­navigate, perhaps it’s missing an agenda.

That is, it’s clear that the site is about offside but it’s not clear why, other than a scientific interest. You can view this as a good or a bad thing, but my personal preference would be for a ten-point plan on why the offside law needs to be changed, and how, followed by an appropriate list of administrators to be lobbied, together with their email addresses.

The site also covers some fascinating technology involving vibrating linesmen’s flags and links to the Belgian company responsible at Soetens Offside System. When reading the explanation of how this is supposed to work, it’s best to imagine yourself in the laboratory of a short, earnest man with a white coat, large glasses and thick accent, enthusiastically brandishing a lightly buzzing flag.

“The detecting of the ball is done by two extra officials (ball referees) whose are sending each a different signal to the respectively receiver of each referee assistant,” the site attempts to explain. “A fifth ‘A’ official sends a signal ‘A’ at the time T1 as short as the ball has been played. The referee assistant ‘B’ activates his receiver R as long as the player is on the offside position at the time T2…”

Yes, that’s definitely going to work. Whoever said the Belgians have contributed nothing to civilisation since Jacques Brel? Actually, it may all make sense, but they could do with hiring a technical translator with the ability to convey the system’s advantages. This may explain why the system hasn’t been adopted since it was patented in 2000.

The Offside Today site also refers to evidence from Spanish medical specialist Francisco Belda Maruenda that it’s physically impossible for the human eye to make correct offside decisions consistently. His findings are published in full at the British ­Medical Journal website, where you can read all about saccadic movements, vergence movements, and vestibular movements (nothing to do with the latest FA coaching manual), but the only conclusion you’re interested in is: “To apply the offside rule correctly in a football game, the referee must be able to keep in his visual field at least five objects at the same time – two players of the attacking team, the last two players of the defending team, and the ball. This is beyond the capacity of the human eye, which may explain why so many offside decisions are controversial.”

So all those times you sat or stood in the crowd swearing at a linesman for getting it wrong, it wasn’t his fault. Even worse, you don’t even know if he got it wrong because you, too, were not physically capable of seeing it either. And let’s be honest, none of us is ever really certain until we’ve seen the slow-motion replay frozen at the crucial moment.

While you’re pondering your inherent wrongness, you might want to take some tests of varying degrees of difficulty to see how well you really do know the laws of the game. There are only 17 laws, after all, so it can’t be that difficult to know them all.

As anyone unfortunate enough to have a friend who’s also a qualified referee will know, it’s not as simple as that. Look up the Laws of the Game section at the Fun Trivia website, and see if you can do better than average on tests that rank from “easy” through to “tough” or “difficult”. How I performed is privileged information sealed inside an envelope in a locked casket buried somewhere beneath the WSC offices. I’m sure that anyone else among you who has spent a lifetime railing at referees will do just as well.

From WSC 246 August 2007