MAL’S “REFEREES’ NEWSLETTER” (No.4) : FEBRUARY 2007
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A NEWSLETTER ON THE OFFSIDE LAW WITH EXAMPLES
In September 2003, the ‘New’ Offside Interpretation (NOI) was trialled for 18 months before the International FA Board (IFAB) gave its approval and introduced it as IFAB Decisions 1 & 2 of Law 11 (Offside) from July 2005 in which the IFAB gave its interpretation of when a player was deemed to be active. A further clarification was made in August 2005 which is not in the Laws booklet.
The article ‘Offside made easier…’ was in my May 2006 Newsletter. Those officials in this country and abroad who were on my eMailing List circulated the article amongst colleagues.
In January 2007, there were two controversial incidents at St. James’ Park, Newcastle, where the officials awarded a goal. The majority of officials in five countries on my eMailing List agreed with their decision and two disagreed. These incidents are related below with other similar examples to support the officials’ decisions.
The IFAB’s NOI was meant to bring uniformity, if that is at all possible with Offside. The fact that countries and officials still disagree over an offside decision points to a need for a clearer definition and a Newer Offside Interpretation from the IFAB. The following articles and examples might help. Some points are repeated within the examples.
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INTERFERING OR IMPEDING
Briefly, the ‘New’ Offside Interpretation (NOI) requires officials to penalise the offside player if he: (1) plays or touches the ball; (2) interferes with an opponent; (3) gains an advantage. So a player who does not Play, Interfere or Gain (PIG) should not be declared offside.
The ‘P’ of ‘PIG’ is very easy for officials to judge as the player has to play/touch the ball to be active. The ‘G’ is also clear as the offside player (OSP) is only ‘gaining an advantage’ if he plays the ball after it has rebounded from the crossbar, goal post or opponent such as the gkpr. So a player is only ‘gaining’ if he actually plays the ball from ‘rebounds’.
It is the ‘I’ of ‘PIG’ that is still open to interpretation. Under the ‘Old’ Offside Interpretation (OOI), it was the prime consideration for ARs. If there was a player in an offside position when the ball was last played by a team mate, the flag would invariably go up as he was considered to be interfering with an opponent. The OSP was considered to be, at least, a distraction to whoever was marking him, and so he was deemed to be ‘interfering’.
Under the OOI there were many stoppages in the game for offside, a number of which were totally unnecessary. Under the NOI, ARs are asked to consider the P of PIG first. They were asked not to flag immediately, delay flagging, and Wait And See (WAS) if the OSP played/touched the ball. Now, stoppages for ‘interfering’ are fewer and, if the AR has flagged and the referee can keep the game flowing, the referee will allow play to continue.
The ‘advancing defence’ tactic can now be beaten. ARs will Wait And See if a team mate from an onside position has gone on a run to receive the ball. The defence can be beaten by the run of the onside player. ARs used to flag almost immediately but now defenders’ appeals are ignored. The R/AR must not help them defend.
In August 2005, ‘playing or touching the ball’ was clarified. The OSP “may be penalised before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.”
Also, the OSP would be penalised “if, in the opinion of the referee, there is potential for physical contact.” There is no stipulation on how far away “potential” would be a consideration. However, officials were advised in all situations not to be negative in their interpretation. Be positive, and the result will be more goals being scored.
Another aspect of interfering relates to “CLEARLY obstructing the opponent’s line of vision”, in particular, a goalkeeper having an OSP in his line of vision and clearly obstructing him from being able to see the ball. If an OSP is close to and in front of the goalkeeper, then the obstructing is clear. ‘Close to’ is a major consideration in the referee’s judgement: the further away the OSP is, the wider becomes the angle for the goalkeeper to see the ball and so the ‘obstructing’ is less clear. Once again, officials should not be too negative in their interpretation. Be positive. Page 1
‘Interfering’ asks the officials to ‘read the mind’ of a defender, such as the gkpr, and say: “Yes, the attacker interfered.” A referee or an AR, , cannot be expected to read the minds of defenders in a particular attack and say “Yes, the gkpr was distracted by that player in an offside position”, or “Yes, the centre-half was distracted”, or “Yes, the full-back was distracted”.
‘Interfering’, it can be said, is a ‘psychological offence’. That is, it involves the officials in reading the minds of defenders. What if interfering was replaced by impeding, which is a ‘physical offence’? This would involve the officials penalising the OSP if he was seen to impede an opponent going for the ball. This would be ‘potential physical contact’, the words used in August 2005 in the IFAB’s clarification.
When reading the examples below, think about impeding. Will it make the referee’s job easier? Will impeding be easier to interpret and apply? Will there be fewer controversies? And, importantly, will it produce more goals?
NEWCASTLE v BIRMINGHAM
On Wednesday, 17th January, 2007, there was a controversial offside goal in the 5th minute of the FA Cup Round 4 replay at St. James’ Park, Newcastle v Birmingham (1-5), refereed by Peter Walton (Long Buckby, Northants).
Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham) crossed the ball from the right. Peter Ramage failed to head clear. The ball fell to Gary McSheffrey to score with a powerful shot from 8yds. Newcastle’s goalkeeper, Shay Given, was to the right of the centre of his goal, about 2 yds from his right hand post. Birmingham’s DJ Campell was in an offside position, about a yard to Given’s left. The ball rocketed into the left hand corner of the net. The AR, Andrew Butler (Wigan), did not flag Campbell offside.
It was a case of the skill of the attack beating the defence with a good move, an error by defender Ramage, and a powerful shot by McSheffrey. Did Campbell prevent Given from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing Given’s movements? This is what the present Law requires the officials to judge. Given hardly moved for the ball in the split second it took the ball to rocket into goal. He had no chance of saving the ball if he had dived from his position, 2yds from the right hand post. The officials acted positively and awarded the goal.
Campbell might have obstructed Given’s movements, however, if McSheffrey’s shot had looped towards the left corner. Campbell’s presence would have obstructed Given’s movement across the goal line in an attempt to save the ball. Campbell would have impeded Given.
NEWCASTLEv WEST HAM
Three days after the Birmingham cup replay, there was another controversial offside decision, again at St. James’ Park, in the Premiership game on Saturday 20th January 2007, Newcastle v West Ham (2-2), refereed by Uriah Rennie (Sheffield).
The ball was crossed from the right by James Milner (Newcastle), a yard inside the penalty area, with his left foot. Gkpr Roy Carroll had a clear unobstructed view of the ball. He was approximately a yard from his goal line, near his left hand post. Scott Parker was in an offside position, just outside the goal area. He was approximately 5 yds from the gkpr, in a line that is perpendicular to the goal line. The AR, Nigel Bannister (Goole, East Yorks), flagged for a split second to indicate that Parker was in an offside position but he immediately took it down as he realised he should ‘Wait And See’ if Parker played or touched the ball. Carroll dived as soon as the ball was shot and before the ball reached Parker who opened wide his legs to avoid playing the ball. The ball passed through Parker’s legs, and curved into the far corner of the goal. Milner’s skill had beaten the defence. The AR was happy that a ‘good goal’ had been scored. The referee was also happy with the goal. They acted positively.
Was Parker involved in ‘active play’? Parker did not play/touch the ball, nor did he gain an advantage (this can only be done from rebounds). So that’s the P and G of PIG quickly dealt with.
Parker did not CLEARLY obstruct Carroll’s line of vision. He was 5 yds from the gkpr, to Carroll’s right of the line from the ball to the gkpr. He was not, say, only a yard from the gkpr and on the line between the gkpr and the ball. Nor did Parker, 5 yds away, clearly obstruct Carroll’s movements. The gkpr had a clear unobstructed view of the ball and its flight. He was aware of the positions of his defenders and that Parker was in an offside position. He knew that if Parker played the ball he would be declared offside. Carroll dived but failed to prevent the ball curling into the far corner of the goal. If gkprs have a clear view of the ball, they will always dive in an attempt to save the ball. This is why a deflected shot in a crowded penalty area will often beat the diving gkpr.
Officials should not help the defence/gkpr out. They didn’t. They acted positively and awarded the goal.
The decision was criticised by the media. Is there an offside decision that isn’t? Officials have the problem, as with any change in the Laws or an interpretation, of making the media---mainly ex-players on TV and radio---understand the change and its reason. The media love controversy, and Offside is their main talking point. Somehow they need to realise that the IFAB’s NOI was for the good of the game, to produce fewer stoppages and to produce more goals. Incidentally, the media have their own rules, such as a player must be sent off as the defender was the ‘last man’, or the gkpr has to be sent off because he handled the ball outside the penalty area. Some sections of the media are beginning to realise that denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) is what is actually in the Laws. With Offside, the ex-players will interpret Offside in the way it used to operate in their day. Referees and their ARs, however, must be strong and abide by the NOI, and not revert to the OOI and the rules of the media.
The IFAB want to see more goals being scored. Favour the attacking team. Be positive. Wait And See. Don’t defend for the defence (defenders love the AR who flags for offside to cover up their poor defending). And bear in mind: If the skill of the attacking team has beaten the defence, it’s a good goal. Football is all about goals being scored. Don’t disallow good goals!
BOSTON v YEOVIL
On Saturday, 26th March 2005, live on Sky, there was a goal scored which some would have disallowed with their interpretation of ‘interfering’. It was in the 23d minute of the League 2 game, Boston v Yeovil (1-2). The ball was headed out to the centre edge of the penalty area where Simon Rusk equalised with a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal. The gkpr was 3yds off his goal line. In his line of vision were three defenders and, in an offside position, Daryl Clare who flicked his right leg at the ball and missed.
Clare was inside the goal area (6-yd box), 2yds forward of the gkpr and 2 yds to the gkpr’s right. The gkpr had positioned himself so that he could see the ball pass two of his team mates before missing Clare. The gkpr dived before the ball had reached Clare. He was committed to his dive but failed to prevent the goal being scored. Clare, as with Newcastle’s Parker, had not impeded the gkpr’s dive.
The AR, Will Ramsay (Coventry), correctly flagged to indicate Clare in an offside position. FIFA referee Martin Atkinson (Leeds) consulted his AR and awarded the goal. Although Clare’s presence may have been a distraction to the gkpr---as were three defenders---and the fact that he had flicked at the ball and missed, the gkpr failed to save the ball.
In order to give an accurate decision on “clearly obstructing the view” of the gkpr, the referee has to be positioned, more or less, behind the ball. He can then see its path and CLEARLY see whether the gkpr’s view was ‘obstructed’ by the OSP. But the referee is rarely behind the flight of the ball. So it has to be in his opinion and, not only does the referee have to enter the mind of the gkpr, he also has to guess at the flight of the ball and then judge if the gkpr’s view has been clearly obstructed. Football should not involve any guesswork. In the way the Laws are written, the referee has to guess the flight of the ball, which could be from a swerving shot, and what is in the gkpr’s mind. What a requirement!
In the Newcastle goal against West Ham above, AR Nigel Bannister was directly behind the flight of the ball and was able to make a good judgement on Milner’s curling shot into the far corner.
This Boston example, and others like it, are strong cases for the physical offence of ‘impeding’ to replace interfering on two counts. First, the offence is seen by everyone and the referee will no longer need to read/ guess the gkpr’s mind---hence fewer arguments---and secondly, rarely is the referee behind the true flight of the ball to give an accurate judgement.
DONCASTER v BOLTON
There was an offside incident in the FA Cup Round 3 tie Doncaster v Bolton (0-3) on Saturday, 6th January, 2007, refereed by Dermot Gallagher (Banbury) which can be compared with that in the Newcastle v West Ham game above.
A Bolton attacker, Idan Tal, shot powerfully for goal from 18 yds in front of goal. There were two Bolton attackers in offside positions outside the goal area (6 yd box). If a line is drawn from the ball to the gkpr, then one Bolton player, Nicolas Anelka, was two yards to the gkpr’s right. The other, Abdoulaye Faye, was a little more to the left. The shot was parried out by the gkpr back to Tal to score from 8 yds.
The AR, Graeme Atkins (Bradford), flagged to indicate there were two players in offside positions. The referee spoke to the AR and then awarded the 3rd of Bolton’s goals.
Anelka or Faye would have been declared offside if either had played the ball from the parry by the
gkpr. This would have been the G of PIG, namely, gaining an advantage from a rebound. Anelka could have been deemed to have been interfering with the gkpr as he was, more or less, on the line of vision of the gkpr as was a defending player. He was more on the gkpr’s line of vision than Parker was in the Newcastle v West Ham game above. The gkpr had a clear view of the ball being shot. He failed to gather the powerful shot from Tal, a defensive error. Any interference or distraction caused by Anelka or Faye was ignored. Don’t defend for the defence. The referee acted positively and awarded the goal.
LOWER LEAGUES’ FOOTBALL
The NOI, using PIG, should have made refereeing on the lower leagues much easier, and much easier for the newly qualified referee to implement.
With the emphasis on the P of PIG, a referee should let his Club ARs (CARs) know that they can still flag for a player in an offside position as per normal but the decision depends largely on the OSP actually playing/touching the ball---an exception being the August 2005 ruling. The referee has to read the game, deduce which player is being flagged offside and then decide whether to declare the player offside or not.
The emphasis, even in the lower leagues, is to keep the game flowing with only a few stoppages for offside. Referees could explain this to the team captains if necessary and to the CARs. Referees without CARs, which often happens on Parks’ Pitches, have to read the game and keep the game flowing, giving the P of PIG their prime consideration in making their offside decisions.
The problem is the Assessor who, like the media, might not be acquainted with the NOI and will always want an OSP declared offside, for example, from crosses from the wing when the ball goes over his head to an onside player.
THE WAY FORWARD
The Offside Law has to be the most difficult to write. It is open to the opinion of the referee on the day. Being aware of this, the IFAB have narrowed down the interpretations by putting forward their ‘New’ Offside Interpretation, which can be referred to in three categories as Playing, Interfering, and Gaining (PIG). The interpretation of the P and G is straightforward, but the I still leads to differing interpretations.
Since the goal-less draw after extra time in the 1994 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy in the USA, the IFAB have attempted to write the Offside Law so that it will produce more goals. No one liked the USA suggestion of making the goals bigger.
Officials have been asked to be more positive and allow, rather than disallow, good goals. In a way, act as an attacker, not a defender. Don’t defend for the defence. Defenders must dispossess the attacker themselves, and not rely on the flag of an AR to help them out in obtaining possession with a flag for offside.
In the past, under the Old Offside Interpretation, the emphasis was more on the defence. Now, the NOI places the emphasis on attack.
It would be better if interfering, a psychological offence, was changed to impeding, a physical offence, with potential physical contact being the consideration.
Interfering involves guesswork, the reading of a defender’s mind, and judging the line of vision which is only accurate if the referee or AR is behind the ball. Interfering with a defender’s movements would be covered by impeding.
What football needs is fewer stoppages with more goals being scored. ‘Impeding’ would produce these. The arguments over what was ‘gaining an advantage’ in the past have already been narrowed to just rebounds. Interfering needs to become just impeding.
TOO MANY PIGs
Yes, there are too many PIGs. That is, there are too many differing interpretations of the I of PIG. Having thought and written about Offside a lot over the years, especially recently, the idea of replacing interfering with impeding keeps re-occurring whenever I see certain controversial offside decisions.
I believe impeding would lead to greater uniformity, a greater number of goals being scored, fewer stoppages and fewer offside controversies. There’s that PIG flying past my window again.
And yes, it is now the Chinese Year of the PIG.
Seriously, these pages are my views on Offside. Please email me your views.
Posted on 01 Mar 2007 by coachgianni