Why the Ref’s Assistant got the Kalou offside wrong — and why YOU would do the same

My name’s Fifth Column and I am an alcoholic…

…oh, sorry, wrong audience. What I meant to say is that my name is Fifth Column and I am a qualified referee. I feel the need to defend my colleague who got the Kalou decision wrong. In hindsight this was an incorrect decision. However, in the same situation I think at least 50% of linesmen (“referee’s assistants” pah)… would have given the same decision.

As a linesman you have to do an instant check in your head when a pass is made that MAY be offside: “is the recipient interfering with play / is he ‘active'”, “are there two opposition players between him and the goal line” and even “did the ball travel forwards”. A linesman has usually around a second to decide. All of the above criteria applied to Kalou and so would have been an instinctive reaction of most linesmen to flag as soon as they see a pass to a player in such a position.

However, it turns out that he was not ahead of the ball when the ball was played and therefore should not have been flagged offside. It is rare for a goal to be scored from a forward pass to a player who was in front of the last defender but behind the ball when it was initially passed. The linesman may not even have thought about the possibility until after the game because it is not a common occurrence.

In addition, it is very difficult for a linesman to ensure his view is exactly straight across the pitch i.e. when you are judging offside you need to be facing the point on the opposition touchline exactly mirroring your own position along your touchline. If you are facing just 3 or 4 degrees off a direct line, it means the angle of your line of sight is seriously effected and therefore in very close situations, a player may appear to the linesman to be in an offside position when he is in fact onside. For a diagram explaining “line of sight” you can go to following link and scroll to the diagram at the foot of the page: Offside Rule Explained.

Making the situation more difficult, if a winger is crossing the ball almost directly in front of you, it obliges you to change your line of sight significantly which makes judging offside positions even harder.

Regardless of all those factors, a recently university study has shown that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a human to get offside decisions correct. This is due to the fact that a linesman needs to judge at the exact same moment:

-The position of the player playing the ball.
-The position of the ball itself when it is played.
-The position of the recipient of the ball.
-The position of the last TWO defensive players — usually the keeper and the last defender.

The study showed that the human eye is incapable of taking in sufficient information to judge the position of 5 (moving) objects simultaneously and to any degree of certainty. This effectively means that every single offside decision is just guesswork.

So before people bang on about the lack of professionalism of referees and “easy” decisions, they really should think about the process of instant decision making a referee has to go through during a game. Without referees, there would be no football. If you want to learn for yourself, call your local parks league, tell them you want to become a ref and they’ll probably pay the £100 it costs to train to be a ref. Go to the FA website and from there you can get all the contacts and details you need.

But just remember, referees do experience the same level of stigma as an alcoholic. You just don’t get the liver damage. Unless you are an alcoholic referee, but I’m shurrrr there are none of thoshe… you’re my best mate you, did you know that?

Ed’s Note: Soccerlens has been nominated for the ‘Best Sports Blog’ award (I know, I know, it wasn’t me, honest!), so take out 2 minutes to sign up here and vote for us. The more votes you can hustle, the better 🙂