Subject: The Art of Refereeing

Date: Wed, 24 Jan 96
From (Ariel Mazzarelli): 
Subject: Re: Please explain offsides (Harry Boswell) wrote: 
>My daughter has tried for over a year to explain offsides to me, but I 
>just haven't gotten it yet.  Admittedly, I'm an old American football guy 
>who's having a bit of trouble understanding everything about soccer, but 
>offsides is my biggest problem right now.  BTW, my daughter plays ... 
>fullback??!?  (on defense, in the back, off to the side of the goal), 
>if that helps anyone understand where her explanation has been coming from. 
>If you could relate it to her position it would help. 

Don't feel bad, it is a confusing rule at first. The most important thing to 
grasp is the spirit of the rule: 

You don't want to reward a player who simply stands by the opponent's goal all 
game long, waiting to catch a lucky bounce and kick it in ("cherry picking"). 
So you have to make a rule that gets rid of this play. 

So the rule is this: when the attacking team sends a pass forward, the most 
advanced player on the field must have two opponents between him and the goal 
(one of these opponents is usually the goalkeeper). We define "between" by 
drawing imaginary horizontal lines parallel to the goal lines (like the yard 
lines in american football), one for our attacking player, and one for each of 
the two opponents; if the lines on which the opponents stand are closer to 
their goal (or on a par) with the line of our attacking player, then he's not 
offsides. In american football terms, the two defenders must be closer to the 
goal line than the attacker. 

Note that we are only concerned with what takes place when the pass is sent 
forward. In particular, if our attacking player receives a pass from an 
opponent (i.e. a crass error) then there is no offsides. 

Now, there are some exceptions, of varying degree of complexity. The most 
straightforward one is that this rule is not enforced if our attacker is on 
his side of the midfield line (i.e. more than half a field away from the 
goal). Another exception is the "passive" offsides, which is a "judgement 
call" made by the ref: the attacker in the offside position is not involved in 
the play, so the ref ignores him and allows the play to continue. The passive 
offsides situation is tricky and requires an experienced referee who 
understands that, for example, a forward standing in the middle of the 
goalmouth is never passive even if the ball is not kicked to him (because his 
position mandates defensive attention). 

Now, with regard to your daughter the fullback, she will usually be trying to 
make her opponent offsides by dashing forward at the last moment and leaving 
the opponent all by herself (more or less), but she must do this before the 
pass is sent, and only as long as there are no other teammates further back 
that negate her efforts. You are expected to support her efforts by yelling 
"OFFSIDES REF", preferably with an English accent, whenever applicable. 
This coordination of the defense is the trickiest tactic in futbol, and almost 
by definition requires a lot of work just so that the defenders can become 
accustomed to each other. Hence, you see very often that in all-star types of 
games, the defense has a very hard time, no matter how talented the defenders 
might be, simply because they have not had the time to develop this tactic. It 
is of relatively recent vintage, as one can see in the 1970 world cup final 
that certain plays were available to the attacking side that would not work at 
all today. The offsides trap became all the rage when Menotti successfully 
used it while coaching Argentina to the 1978 world cup title; at the time, the 
Argentinian spectator suffered greatly because it was widely accepted that the 
officials could not be expected to properly enforce this rule. As the tactic 
became widespread, officials increased their accuracy in calling offsides; 
unless your daughter plays on the US national squad, however, she should 
probably not expect her officials to live up to this standard. In other words, 
don't use the offsides trap if the game officials are less than excellent. 


Date: Fri, 26 Jan 96 11:18:52 0100 
From: (Ariel Mazzarelli) 
Subject: Referees: Re: Please explain offsides 

As it turns out, the passive offsides is one of three key determinants of 
expected referee performance. Allow me to expand on that theme. 

The futbol referee is very different from referees in other sports; in 
particular, he cannot be a linear corkhead that gets all of his understanding 
of the game from the rulebook. One example is in deciding what constitutes a 
passive offsides. Other examples are deciding what is violent enough or 
cynical enough to warrant yellow and red cards, proper and improper player 
protests, etc. You could probably improve refereeing level enormously if you 
could just get a good test of a ref in these three situations: 

a) what is and is not a passive offsides, 
b) what is and is not sufficiently violent or cynical to warrant yellow/red 
c) what is and is not a proper subject or method of dialogue between a player 
and a ref. 

A ref that is incompetent in (a) will cause scores that are not consistent 
with what took place on the field. A ref incompetent in (b) will cause serious 
injuries to skillful players and in general make the game very violent. A ref 
incompetent in (c) will be obsessed with denying the unavoidable gap between 
his judgement and reality, and either punish the victims of his misjudgement 
with a yellow or red card bonus (if he is a protofascist), or he will be 
manipulated by cynical protests (if he is spineless). 

In short, a ref must be a reasonable, honest person, who understands and loves 
the game, respects those that play it, and neither shies away from the passion 
of the game nor allows it to cloud his judgement. It is hard to estimate the 
portion of referees that satisfy all those conditions; unfortunately, it is 
not a dominant portion, and these are only the minimum requirements. A great 
ref will, in addition, communicate well with the players, place his body in 
the proper spacetime coordinates for each situation, etc. Finally, his 
environment should be helpful in providing him with two competent linesmen and 
two opposing teams that are actually interested in playing futbol.