THE offside rule is perfectly straightforward, as I understand it. When the attacking side gets anywhere near their opponents’ goal, the defending team and their fans must yell “offside!” at the top of their voices and hope for the best. That’s it.
Well, OK, there is other, more technical stuff. Those who have studied the law to a more advanced level can demonstrate their air of relative sophistication by shouting additional phrases such as “daylight!” or “second phase!” or “obscuring the goalkeeper’s line of vision!”
But it all amounts to the same thing.
Last weekend, I watched Alan Shearer – looking a little hacked off with the many recent suggestions that his Match of the Day analysis is rather light on analysis – give a pumped-up, high-octane, whistles-and-bells explanation as to why referee Mike Dean was right to allow Tom Huddlestone’s winner for Tottenham at Fulham to stand even though William Gallas was in an offside position. And I was impressed.
Then, two days later, I watched Andy Gray – on Sky’s Monday Night Football – give a pumped-up, high-octane, whistles-and-bells explanation as to why Dean was wrong to allow the goal, because Gallas was in an offside position. And I was as confused as John Thomson’s football fan character was in that Fast Show sketch where he attempts to explain the offside law. (Can’t find a video of it on the net, but there is a transcript of the sketch here.)
I don’t doubt that there are people out there who understand the offside law, just as there are people out there who understand Latin and macro-economics. The rest of us just stick to shouting “offside!” at the top of our voices and hoping for the best.
There were three controversial offside decisions on last night’s MOTD – two of them at the Hawthorns as West Brom beat Fulham 2-1. Albion’s equaliser was one of those borderline decisions which are every linesman’s nightmare. The offside debate surrounding their winner, scored by Marc-Antoine Fortune, was so horribly complex that it might actually have redefined the laws of physics.
Fortune was offside, but not interfering with play – then he was onside, and interfering with play. Shearer, wading through the complexities, explained it thus: “In Alan Hansen’s day, in the 50s and 60s, it would have been offside. Today, it’s not offside.”
Expect Gray to have contradicted him before the weekend is out.
The third controversial offside decision was a little bit easier to handle, and came at the DW Stadium. No debates, no question marks, just a good, proper offside goal.
Last night’s final match: Wigan 1 Bolton 1
Commentator: John Roder
Hugo Rodallega, who scored the 59th-minute opener for Wigan, wasn’t offside. But Franco di Santo, who played the pass to him, was fractionally offside when he received the ball from Charles N’Zogbia. The linesman didn’t see it, the cameras did. Bad luck, Bolton.
Rodallega celebrated by holding up one of his shin pads, a lovely purple effort with his name printed on it in yellow. I’m not sure how much protection it was giving him, because it didn’t look much bigger than a playing card.
This was a bit of a shock to me, as when I played schools football in the early 1990s, I had these huge shin pads with Velcro straps that wrapped around the back of the calf to keep them in place, and built-in ankle protection as well.
OK, having so much material wrapped around my shins meant that I couldn’t run very fast in the wet, but at least I felt protected. Although they probably wouldn’t have been much use if Nigel de Jong, Karl Henry or Joe Cole had come whizzing in at me at high speed.
Rodallega and his tiny shin pads didn’t have the last word, though, as Johan Elmander equalised for Bolton seven minutes later. All that was left for discussion was the offside goal.
“That would have been offside in the 40s, the 50s or the 60s,” said Gary Lineker.
“There are some people on this programme think I’m about 105,” grumbled Hansen.
“It was definitely offside,” grinned Shearer. If only all offsides were that simple.
1=. Bolton: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
1=. Wigan: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
1=. Wolves: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
4. Fulham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
5=. Everton: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
5=. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
7. West Brom: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
8. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
9. Birmingham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
10. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
11. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
12. Stoke: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
13. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
14=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
14=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
19=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
19=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Birmingham 2 Blackpool 0)
3L=On third last (Tottenham 1 Everton 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at an austere ceremony beside the A11 to Norwich, hosted by George Osborne on his own, with copyright-free muzak from a battered old cassette player that fell off the back of a passing lorry.)