The Referee’s Role in Determining an Offside Offense


(Photo credit: fchmksfkcb)

Our colleague Mark Mittelstadt suggested this topic after watching the West Bromley Albion – Swansea City EPL match Saturday. It reminded me of an embarrassing moment early in my career.

In the first high-level regional tournament I ever worked, I was AR1 with a National Referee in the middle. My attacking team had a corner kick on my corner. I set up for it even with the goal line as two defenders were on the posts. The attacker mis-struck the ball in the direction of the penalty spot. The two defenders immediately came off the goal line towards the ball. I moved left with the second to last opponent and noted the kick taker was now offside. An attacker and defender converged on the ball and it returned to the kick taker. I popped the flag. One problem… the ball had come off the defender, not the kick taker’s teammate. The referee recognized what happened and waved me down. (In my defense, it appeared that the ball had been returned by the kick taker’s teammate.)

In the West Brom – Swansea match, there was a similar event. In the 87th minute, down a goal, Swansea’s Lamah was attacking in the WBA penalty area. After receiving the ball in an onside position, he took a shot that rebounded back to him off a WBA defender McAuley and keeper Foster.  Lamah then put the ball into the net for an apparent goal. In between, it was not touched by a teammate. Assistant Referee Lee Betts, however, raised his flag for an offside offense. Referee Lee Mason appeared to be in position to recognize no involvement by any other Swansea player, but instead confirmed the offside offense and disallowed the goal.

In Betts’ defense, there was a Swansea player in the vicinity of McAuley and it may have appeared from thirty-plus yards away (with backs to the AR) to have rebounded off the attacker. In Mason’s defense, he may have been focusing on behavior in the area and/or have been screened as to who touched as well. Had Mason known for sure that the ball had not been touched by an intervening Swansea player, he should have waved down the flag. At the EPL level, we can conclude that this was a mistake caused by the speed of play and the angles, and not through misapplication of the Laws.

We can learn some things from this situation to apply at our level. First, if we are the referee, we are the final authority on whether an offense was committed. If we know that it was not offside, we wave the flag down (and we should have advised our assistants in the pre-game that if so it is not personal!).

Second, if we are the AR in a situation where we are unsure if there was a touch by a teammate, the Guide to Procedures tells us what to do. Rather than raising the flag (which means we know we had an offside offense), we stand at attention and wave over the referee (as opposed to the “good goal” mechanic of trotting up the touchline). We then tell the referee that the player who scored was in an offside position but we could not tell if the ball was touched by a teammate. The referee will then decide if there was an offense or not. Note, that if the referee is not paying attention, we may need to yell at him or her. The referee should not have pointed to the center spot (to indicate a goal was scored) without first looking at the AR.

The advantage of this approach is that it maintains more credibility for the referee team than the referee waving down a flag. As the ball is not in play at that moment, the crew has the luxury of discussing the details before making a determination on something as vital as goal-no goal. Finally, it reinforces the concept that we are a referee team and communication is the key to our success…


About Dan Paolini

Soccer & Futsal Referee Assignor

Posted on March 12, 2013, in Lesson Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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