Monday, 29 August 2016

Did the ball cross the line? "No clue!"

Game 7, 2016-17

One of the main challenges of refereeing games with no linesmen is when you get caught behind the play and the ball is cleared off the goal line. The attacking team cries "Goal!" The defending team screams, "No way!" Due to the unfavourable angle, you could legitimately shout, "No clue!"

"Was it in?" Not the best body
 language for a referee
I'm reffing two skilful men's teams on a plastic pitch, with the temperatures in the mid-30s. Intense heat, intense game. Midway through the second half, the home team is 1-2 down when they break quickly and play the ball into the opponent's penalty area. There's a goalmouth scramble, the goalkeeper saves a shot and knocks the ball back to a home forward. His second attempt is held by the keeper right on the line. Three forwards from the home team turn to me and loudly claim the first shot had gone in before it came straight back out.

The defenders claim just as loudly that the ball did not cross the line. From where I was running at the moment of the incident - about 30 yards from goal - that's how it looked to me too. I look to the goalkeeper and he shakes his head. At this point only an honest confession from him can sway my
decision. I've yet to experience this happening. I wave play on.

What happens next is almost inevitable. With half of the home team yelling at me, the away team speeds up to the other end and scores. 1-3, and the game's effectively over. "Thanks very much, ref!" shouts the home coach. He does not mean that sincerely. We take a water break, everyone cools down a bit (I stay well away from the home bench), then the game peters out. Final score: 1-4, and a pretty fair reflection of the play. But the home team had been having their best spell when the phantom goal incident occurred.

I seek out the two home coaches about 20 minutes after the final whistle. "Sorry about the non-goal," I say, adding the official disclaimer, "But it was impossible to judge whether or not it had crossed the line from where I was standing." The head coach admits that "in all honesty" he hadn't been able to tell either. He concedes that, under the circumstances, I made the right call. This time his thanks are more sincere.

The clubs can't complain too much about this kind of decision. They are the ones who voted not to have proper linesmen in these leagues. Instead, there's a volunteer raising a flag to indicate if the ball has gone out of play, when he's not looking at his cell phone or talking to the subs' bench. Proper linesmen would mean higher game fees, and the clubs themselves would have to persuade more of their members to train as referees - currently they're obliged to pay for the training and equipment of one referee for each team their club runs, and they're already hard pushed to find enough members willing to be yelled at every weekend.

As things stand, it's easier just to call out something sarcastic at the ref for not being Hawkeye, and then to apologise afterwards. Although it does avoid the situation I experienced when refereeing in another country a few years back. I looked over to my young but fully trained linesman for guidance on which way to give a throw-in. He offered me a not very helpful shrug. "No clue!" said his expression. Yes, that's maybe what we feel, but it's not a good idea to let everybody know. 

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