06 January 2015
Sydney FC’s Marc Janko was denied “goal of the year” by a refereeing blunder according to their coach Graham Arnold in an A-League match last weekend: “They do it every week … they may as well just give the championship trophy to the referees because they decide what’s going on. They ruin games every week and today they have ruined goal of the year.” While no one disputes Janko’s goal was legal, and you need to admire Arnold’s humour of awarding the referees the championship, the fault is not with the referee, it’s with the sport’s culture.
The simple fact is that the sport loves denying goals. If the roles were reversed, and Newcastle Jets scored a cracking goal and the player was an eyelash offside, you could bet Arnold would be going even more bonkers. Fans, also, will similarly be just as apoplectic if there’s a hint of offside. We just won’t tolerate such goals, feeling that they are the greatest injustice in the game.
As response to the outrage of close offside calls, the referees are not making mistakes, they are refereeing according to the culture that the sport demands. Facts are that it is impossible for a referee to be looking at two spots at once, so there’s always a degree of an educated guess, or a hunch, when waving offside, no matter their level of experience. Given the sport’s hatred of marginally offside goals, their inclination is to lean towards waving offside. That even includes betraying FIFA’s “favour the attackers” edict.
Football’s culture fervently ignores “favour the attacker”. You see commentators all the time debating a close call, whether a shoulder was a whisker offside or not, or the player was “level” with the last defender. Wrong. If it’s that close, the instinctive response should be “that’s good enough, play on”. You favour the attacker. That also includes the more common outcome of an incorrect offside call – that a “goal scoring opportunity” is denied. Janko’s case was more unusual in that a goal was scored, then cancelled, make it feel more egregious. Really, any wrong call, no matter the outcome, should feel egregious.
No, the referees are not destroying the sport, the culture is. Denying goals, and denying goal scoring opportunities, and loving it. Arnold’s idea of full-time referees won’t work. In my observation, 90% of close offside calls at any level of the game are incorrect. Those that are incorrect, they are close enough under the “favour attackers” edict to be deemed correct. Therefore every single close offside call in the sport is wrong.
Clearly the edict fails. The only solution is for the law to change and the culture to follow. Let’s remember, the offside law was invented to stop loitering near the goal; never for this cynical, tactical ploy of running attackers offside by a few millimetres. The offside law should be updated to read “clearly offside” and the edict to favour the attackers should advise “up to a full bodywidth offside is acceptable”. Then we might start to favour the attackers, and start to favour football, and also make the referees’ job far more humanly possible.
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