Play of the Week 2: Offside – Referees’ responsibility

Kevin Stott
Image: Referee Kevin Stott watches on

By PRO Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer

Not too many years ago, referees used to say to assistant referees in their pre-match instructions: “Offsides are yours at all times” – and that was a fact.

Referees never used to think about offside. If the ARs raised their flag the referee would automatically blow the whistle.

If a player was in an offside position, he would be penalized – it was as simple as that! One of our most senior and experienced referees, Kevin Stott, would remember that. More on him shortly.

Over the years, the offside law has evolved in its complexity, with the introduction of ‘involvement in active play’, the ‘think PIG’ initiative process for determining if a player should be penalized for being in an offside position:

– Playing the ball (interfering with play)
– Interfering with an opponent
– Gaining an advantage

Furthermore, with the clarifications of deliberate play versus deflection, it becomes increasingly important that ARs need assistance from the referee for these often complex, complicated and difficult decisions.

Play of the Week 2 of the 2017 series is from Chicago Fire versus Real Salt Lake.

In this play, Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic is in a clear offside position when the ball is played to him; AR Peter Balciunas raises his flag.

Initially, this comes as no surprise to anyone as Nikolic is so far offside and the ball appears to be played by his teammate, Michael de Leeuw.

Referee Stott then motions to the AR to keep moving down the line, which is to the surprise of everyone.

On further examination of the replay you will see that Stott sees that the ball is actually played by RSL defender Sunday Stephen, and not Chicago’s De Leeuw. This is a great spot by Stott. His circling signal to play on is rather unconventional, however it is very effective. Who knows, he may have invented a future FIFA-approved signal!

AR Balciunas, who understandably considered that the ball was played forward by De Leeuw, reacts immediately to the referee and quickly catches up with play.

You can see the fourth official Nima Saghafi calmly explaining the call to RSL’s head coach Jeff Cassar. This appears to be a cordial and respectful exchange; Cassar, no histrionics, but naturally wanting to know why the offside wasn’t penalized, and Saghafi explaining in a thoughtful and considered manner.

This clip shows great awareness from Stott and displays how referees in the modern game have a responsibility for offside decisions and cannot blindly accept the AR’s signal.

Long gone are the days when referees can say to assistant referees, “offsides are yours at all times!”.