Monday, 20 February 2017

Three-nil to the referee!

Games 33-34, 2016-17

It's half-time, and I'm already 3-0 up. I'm only the referee and I've scored a hat-trick! Such are my phenomenal football skills. At least, that's how it seems to the away team, whom we'll name here as Moaning FC (whereby FC does not denote 'Football Club').

When all is quiet on a weekend night, while Moaning
FC hatches its cunning plan to spring the offside trap.
It's a thankless game - part of a winter break tournament that both mens' teams of decent footballing pedigree are taking very seriously - because Moaning FC is playing the offside trap on a short turf field, and that always means trouble for the referee. Each one of the three goals scored by the home team, maintains Moaning, was clearly offside. From the bench to their followers right through all of its playing staff, the club's protests are not meek, and their opinions are loud and clear.

In the same 45 minutes I've whistled back the home team's forwards around eight times, when I've been sure that the offside trap has worked. This has provoked their cacophonous ire (and that of their bench, and their supporters etc.) on at least half of those infringements. For a referee, making these
calls is a bit like being asked, "Would you like to be raped by mouth, or up your arse?" Whichever choice you make, anguished howls are inevitable.

Walking off at half-time, I say to one of the away team's players that playing the offside trap in a game with no linesmen is always going to be risky. Quiz time. Which one of the following two responses do I hear from the player?

1. "Why, thank you for that helpful tactical hint, Mister Referee. I shall pass it on to my team-mates during the half-time interval over a piping hot cup of tea, and hopefully we shall enjoy a more successful 45 minutes, not to mention an improved and more sporting atmosphere."

2. "Yeah but you missed that offside, didn't you see it, their forward was clearly offside, and what about the second goal, BLAH BLAH WANK WANK WHINE WHINE."

After the break, though, Moaning FC does indeed cut down on springing the offside trap, and a more even contest follows. With three minutes to go they are 5-3 down when a home forward dribbles in to the penalty area from the right and rounds the keeper, who trips him up. I'm right in front of the foul, ten yards away, and I point to the spot.

The players of Moaning FC are, guess what, absolutely fucking outraged. They cry out as one, they scream that it was a dive, they yell in my direction, and they surround the fouled player to berate him. Despite being 100% sure five seconds earlier that it was a penalty, I'm suddenly filled with doubt. Then their goalkeeper walks up to the melee that I'm about to try and break up and says, "You all need to calm down. It was a foul. I tripped him."

The Moaning Fucking Cunts go suddenly quiet. They disperse. I think of all the first-half histrionics and how they just yelled offside because of their habitually shitty sporting values. How they've made this a crap game and a crap evening. Only an honest word from their goalkeeper has offered a minute of redemption, and I love him for it, but it's a sorry night when a single incident of good behaviour is so blatantly conspicuous.

The home team scores the penalty, and that feels right.

The following night, refereeing a boys' U19 friendly, I unveil my new pre-game speech as we stand at the halfway line before running out. "There are no linesmen, as you know, so don't bother complaining about my offside decisions. I won't change my mind, and for dissent there's always the good chance of a yellow card." It's a quiet night, and neither side moans about anything. Then again, neither side is besotted enough with obsolete 1980s tactics to play the offside trap.

Final scores: Friday - 6-3 (seven yellow cards)
Saturday - 5-0 (no yellow cards)

You can support this blog by buying Ian Plenderleith's latest book, The Quiet Fanhere.


  1. Not sure what makes the offside trap obsolete--so few coaches want to spend time training for it that few get it right so it can be an effective tool, especially on free kicks. One of my absolute worst matches involved 2 terrible teams both playing a high line, both with fast strikers and a slow back line, with obnoxious fans bleating at every offside call. And this was with a 3 man crew; that's a nightmare as a solo. john

  2. You have to shut them out on the grounds that 1. they probably don't understand the offside law and/or 2. are yelling with the conscious goal of getting in your head.