Friday, September 29, 2006

With my usual lightning reactions – reminiscent of Jean-Alain Boumsong tracking back to pick up a striker – I’d like to comment on last weekend’s Newcastle-Everton controversy. (Sorry for not posting for a couple of months – I’ve been busy.) Yes, Shola Ameobi was blatantly offside for the Newcastle goal. But there are two points that should be made regarding this.

Firstly, offside is actually impossible to enforce 100% accurately. It’s obviously a very necessary rule, to prevent goal-hanging, and it’s hard to think of a better way of doing this. I can’t think of a way to improve it, other than forcing the BBC to abandon those stupid little flag icons that pop up after every decision. But think about it: the crucial point is whether the player is offside at the moment his colleague plays the ball. The nature of the rule means that the two players will never be perfectly in line – if they are, there’s no offside. This means that the linesman (and he is a fucking linesman, whose idea was it that they should be ‘referee’s assistants’? Sepp Blatter’s probably) has to be looking at two directions simultaneously.

ANY offside decision therefore involves a certain amount of guesswork, as the linesman can either look at the passing or receiving player and has to judge what the other might be doing based on where he was last time he looked. Oh, and he doesn’t necessarily know at what moment he’s going to have to apply this, and he has to decide in a matter of seconds. Y'know, I get as pissed off as anybody when a decision goes against my team, or indeed when a decision goes in favour of a team I hate who always seem to get the rub of the bloody green. But mistakes are understandable.

And secondly, Everton were playing an offside trap. It is impossible to claim the moral high ground after playing an offside trap. Offside – whilst, as noted, very necessary – is probably the most boring element of the game. The only entertaining things about offside are (a) watching somebody explain it to somebody who doesn’t understand football and refusing to help them out, and (b) that joke about the Subbuteo version of the early 1990s Arsenal side having a back four that was fixed together on a plastic rod so you could always move them in a straight line. Hence, attempting to cause offsides to happen constitutes trying to make the game more boring.

There can be glory in a well-timed tackle, a goal-line clearance, even beating a man to the ball to put it out of play, but nobody ever gasps in awe at a really well-executed offside trap. (If I am wrong, drop me a line and tell me what your all-time favourite offside trap was. You freak.) So I have no sympathy at all. And let me tell you, it’s rare that I sympathise with Newcastle United. Think on that.

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