Wanja talks to his children, today about…
When the group had gathered again, after dinner, and the children were having their digestive hour before the next round of football, outside in the park, where there were a couple of huge playing fields, with real goals and always enough players from the neighbourhood to play, quite amicably, a game or two, Wanja abruptly opened the conversation: “Why is there actually the offside rule, where was it once introduced?”
“Hmm, yes, difficult, why actually? I mean, it works well here so far, but who thought it up and why? No, you tell me, Dad.”
“Curiously enough, the offside rule has existed since the first rules were written down in 1863. Presumably, in the few years before that, when the game was generally played without any written rules, it turned out that individual players, who perhaps even just because they were tired, no longer went backwards and simply stood in front of the opponent’s goal and, after a long free kick, suddenly found themselves alone in front of the goalkeeper and scored. It immediately seemed nonsensical that a single, not exhausted, defender should be sent off to guard such a player waiting in front? In this respect, this was written directly into the rules: he must be so far back that at least two players have to be between him and the baseline when he passes the ball to score a goal. So: he can continue to live out his exhaustion, but he cannot spontaneously convert the freedom he has gained on the field into a goal. To do so, he has to put his legs under his arm and run back to the level of the last defender. Usually the goalkeeper is the second player, but if he is not, there used to be frequent misunderstandings in the application of the rule, because many people did not know this because it was supposed to happen. Either way, however, it did not change the fact that it was sensible and remained so over the decades. All changes were of an insignificant nature and the attempt to play the game without offsides – repeatedly acknowledged in tests as pointless, so not playable – failed completely. It was like that from the start and it had its purpose.”
“Good, that makes sense. What then was the nature of the problems with offside on earth? Why are we sitting here today talking about it?”
“Good question. Because: there are no problems here. On earth, the offside decisions were – and probably still are, we’d have to take a little detour to check? – the offside decisions were almost equal to the penalty decisions. Why, do you think?”
“It’s simple. If you play the pass at the right moment here and the player being played to thus finds powerful free space in front of him, there is often – to the delight of the spectators – a great goal-scoring opportunity and, unquestionably, often a goal. This is how it would have been with penalties on earth, this is how it might have been if offside had been avoided. But great goal-scoring chances or ultimately goals were, as you say, not so welcome. Why was that again?” Here one of the brothers, in that case the older one, was able to help out: “It was not directly the goals themselves, it was rather the tremendous worry that a goal could have been irregular and thus an unjustified winner would have emerged from a match, since a single goal often provided the match decision, and in that case the referee would have wrongly provided this match decision and thus had to slip into the focus or even the sinner’s role. He wanted and had to avoid this at all costs.”
Wanja was once again proud, but still had to add : “Everything right. It only remains to clarify the small psychological problem of why what turned out to be a wrongly given offside, thus avoiding a goal, although one could/should/must have been scored, did not attract the same attention. Who can explain this?”
The children were well conditioned to the extent that, when asked the right and sensible questions, the arguments mostly came to them and the one or other repetition of the whole situation on earth could not hurt. In this way, the considerations became fixed, even if one had to recapitulate here and there and logically put the pieces of the puzzle together, to which the well-dosed questioning often contributed.
So the youngest said: “Yes, I know. A disallowed goal did NOT make an entry on the scoreboard.” The second oldest added : “The score remained unchanged. It’s intuitively much easier to decide on maintaining the status quo than on changing it.”
Once again, these were the right points. But one was still missing, which no one could now figure out. Wanja: “It was added that a wrongly given offside did not have the value of a whole goal, just as a penalty that was not awarded still included the eventuality of missing the scoring opportunity. So if a loser — in the world fixated purely on results, which is something we can always keep in mind — wanted to invoke a penalty not given, a wrongly given offside, he was more likely to be ridiculed. Partly also because the realisation of the chance was by no means guaranteed. Conversely…” This time the elder took over, “… if a goal had decided a game that was irregular, it was a whole goal and not just the eventuality of a goal.”
“Right,” agreed Vanya, and he saw that his mission was heading for success. “A very famous and frequently quoted phrase on earth, which found many adherents and was always applied at such moments, erasing more and more sympathy or compassion in the process, went like this: ‘Life does not take place in the subjunctive.’ And anyone who quoted it was considered a very understanding person. One dreamed of victory, the other achieved it. Demand for the means? Was omitted. Regret for the tragic loser? Absent. The consequence, of course, was that people no longer referred to this type of bad decision. Those who did were right, but were ridiculed for looking for cheap excuses.”
“Yes, it wasn’t nice on earth at all. Or maybe it was? But not at football. No, I praise Putoia and the way we play here.”
“There were the same problems with offside as with the penalty kick. You remember what I told you about the 1994 World Cup in the USA?”
“Yeah, something like that. It was about the USA wanting to change a few rules to get more goals, wasn’t it?”
“That’s exactly what it was. More goals more spectacle, more entertainment, more excitement, more action, more fun. What do you care about the few fans of the team that just conceded a goal and their fate when the rest of the spectators can enjoy themselves? And by ‘the rest’ I mean by no means the fans of the other team, who are also far outnumbered. The whole world would be having fun. Only a few would grieve for a brief moment. Although this sadness would perhaps only be very temporary, since their team could also score a goal at any time, given the general increase in the number of goals. So not like: ‘oh dear, a goal against. Now we’ve lost’ but a ‘Let’s go boys, nothing is lost yet’.”
Yes, the children remembered. Only it was hard to recognise a problem that did not exist in their world. They had to remember, so to speak, a problem that wasn’t one – for their understanding. However, they were better and better able to think and feel their way into the earthly conditions. Gates were somehow undesirable.
“The US wanted more goals, more spectacle. But I suppose their request fell on deaf ears? No one wanted to see the enrichment that would be triggered by an increased number of goals? Rigidity in the rules, on the grounds of ‘it’s always been that way, just don’t change anything’?”
“Right. The US was considered innovative anyway. Likewise, it was said, somehow to their detriment, that they were only interested in the show and wanted to make a show out of everything. That this was extremely effective – because no matter whether it was Hollywood or baseball, basektball or ice hockey, even catchen, golf, a chess event. They managed to get the audience on board easily. And they understood: if the audience wants to see it, then financing and continuity are guaranteed. So it’s a matter of inspiring the spectator. Tradition had no meaning. What was the point? Make the goals bigger, abolish offside, play ten against ten or increase the distance between the walls. It doesn’t matter, something has to happen so that the round finds its way into the square more often than before. Then we’ll win the spectators, it’ll be fun for everyone and football will become the biggest sport in the USA, too.”
“And nothing has been changed?” “Well, almost nothing. Although they did manage to introduce what was actually the perfect interpretation of the rules in terms of the basic idea, which was ‘in doubt for the attacker’. Later on, there was hardly any conclusive information on how far this was incorporated into the rules, although it was subsequently very often pronounced in this way in critical situations, so we can also take it as a pure recommendation. But this would not be a problem, because the idea was and is correct and was only intended to ensure that in the many extremely close situations the linesman was authorised not to raise the flag spontaneously and out of fear of making a mistake, but to keep it down – and not to be prosecuted for it later. A fine change in the sense of an idea, because, if this idea had been implemented, there would already have been enough more goals, to the delight of the rule-makers and, in fact, the world, because even those averse to football would have found pleasure in the spectacle in no time…”
“But,” objected the youngest, “why are you telling this, of all things, in such detail? Surely that’s just how it is here with us?”
Then Vanya was disarmed but also pleased, and reflected to himself what had actually prompted him to come here, for the purpose of founding a planet. For a moment he had drifted into his old world and almost lapsed into his former fanaticism. But he could not deny his past. It was too long a time, during which he had to get angry almost daily. It wasn’t even just the fact that no goals were scored, but the nonsensical reasons that were given after each new match day of the Bundesliga, which he had grown so fond of and whose decline he could see so clearly, without being heard for his view of things. Curious, however, was also how he remembered, and now recited to the children one more time:
“You know, if you simply confronted someone with the idea that it would be nice and pleasing if there were more goals and that it would be more fun for everyone, guaranteed, then I pretty much always had to reckon with objections. I thought about it and realised: they don’t actually contradict because they believe or think the opposite, but because one reflexively takes the opposite side with such a simple idea, because either one would have had the idea oneself or would have had to have heard it repeatedly and long ago and many times from some experts – or else, the simplest of all explanations, the idea was wrong. Otherwise, surely one would have…”
“Funny. Goals are the salt in the soup and this also applies to handball or basketball, for example, and there too I have never heard anyone say after a handball result of 28:24 or a basketball result of 126:119: ‘today the soup was really salty’. It was the spectacle that people wanted to see. Too much? There wasn’t. Isn’t that what you always say, Dad?”
“Exactly like that. What remained curious was that one almost always met with opposition, often energetic. With the strangest arguments, such as ‘I sometimes find a 0:0 more interesting than a 3:3’ or that it is precisely the small number of goals that makes you really happy about a single one. I can also tell you how short-sighted and contradictory those arguments were.”
“Tell me then?”
“The very people who said that were all of a sudden totally delighted when there was a 4-3. As they unintentionally revealed, for example by telling us ‘Did you see the game on Saturday? And then they were actually caught, without necessarily having wanted to. You could always ask them, unprepared, which great game they would like to remember? And it almost always came out that it was one with a goal spectacle.”
“Why don’t you say a few examples?”
“Well, the first one was the ‘match of the century’ between Germany and Italy, which ended 4-3 for Italy after extra time. The title of the game says it all. Then there was the 3-3 between Milan and Liverpool. Half time 3:0 Milan. This was hailed as the ‘greatest comeback in Champions League history and a film was made especially about it because it was so spectacular.”
“Dad?” “Yes?”. “Dad, you have to admit though, we can’t remember every game here either, even though it’s high-scoring. You only remembered games like that because they were so rare. Here, it’s commonplace.”
“I’m sure you remember certain games here too. If they were very special, if they were different from others, different from usual and if they were somehow out of the ordinary. Besides, what’s the problem with remembering when we have a lot of fun every day?” Now the children were once again silenced, because, as they were used to, the father was usually quite right in his closing words.
“Apart from that, the problem seems to have been recognised at some point, but it has not been followed up consistently. If the rule was changed to ‘same height is no longer offside’, then this could be interpreted in the same way as the USA’s proposal: give the attacker the benefit of the doubt. The idea behind it is the same: somehow you don’t want to call offside all the time, or at least not so often. The authors of the rule change would have to admit that. Somewhere there was a problem, which they tried to combat in this way. Likewise, the change to three points for a win must have been triggered by the fact that somehow more goals and more spectacle were hoped for, that it was somehow too boring. Only, as I said, they didn’t follow up the good ideas consistently. Every now and then someone had one that petered out. Just like the ‘equal height’ or ‘in case of doubt for the attacker’ remained nothing but nice phrases. There was no equal height and there was never an interpretation in favour of the attackers. Quite the opposite. Offside was actually always. Now and then it was close, now and then very close. But most of the time you could discuss it after the offside whistle – there was nothing you could do about the decision.”
The children thought about it and absorbed more and more of the problem. They understood, you could say.
Wanja had secured the audience, so he continued:
“The introduction of the video assistant was supposed to remedy the situation and somehow everyone seemed particularly proud of this invention. Especially when it came to offside decisions. Curiously, however, as a result, although it was announced with growing pride that another goal, which had already been recognised in the game, was not legal, in that some player was supposed to have been closer to the goal at the moment of the clearance than less than an opponent by a toe’s width or with his jersey blowing or a lock of his head of hair – which was absolutely ridiculous in the multitude of cases, but that was not even the main problem here –, that the cases in which the flag was wrongly raised could not be rectified, reversed or even corrected in the sense of ‘line up again as you were standing when the flag went up, we’ll continue playing from this situation because the flag went up wrongly’, but that this was simply seen as ‘bad luck’, which was forgotten the next moment. ‘Offside can the video assistant’, that’s what you hear again and again”
“But what you are saying is absurd? You can’t claim that when they disallow a goal because it was allegedly offside, they are talking about justice when at the same time they don’t allow another goal which was correct but disallowed?” “That’s exactly how absurd it was. Apparently, they talked themselves out of it with the few situations, as with the penalty kick, in which the ball had already crossed the goal line, but the flag was still up, but the referee had not yet blown the whistle – probably because there was not enough time – and then the goal was awarded after all, despite the vigorous protests of the team conceding the goal, who wanted to invoke the assistant’s flag. But these few exceptional cases seemed to be enough to soothe people’s consciences, along the lines of ‘see, sometimes this way, sometimes that way, it all evens out’ or something of the sort.”
“Justice is different,” the middle man spoke up. “Justice is putoia. Hooray for football here!” and they all toasted each other – with water, of course.
“Absurd, curious decisions were made, but people didn’t think about it. I must give you one more example before you go out to kick. It was in a lesser game in the second Bundesliga when an attack was in progress, as of course it was all the time. Now it came to one of those so many close calls. Attackers and defenders were of course – as here – excellent and equally well trained even then. That means: the forwards knew exactly at what moment they had to start in order to a) not be offside and b) nevertheless have a sufficient lead over the defender, who countered with his – sometimes unfair, involving foul play – means to stop the attacker, to prevent him from scoring. Even the passer knew: it was a matter of one tenth of a second, there was no room for a mistake. It works when every little detail is perfect. In the course of time, it was clear that almost every action of this type – a steep pass to a player who was on the move – was an extremely close call. It would have been possible to get everything out of it in terms of a greater spectacle through more goals. But in the meantime, every striker – including the passer – knew that he had to take into account the small error to his disadvantage that resulted from the wrong decisions. In other words: they didn’t even play at the right moment, but rather a little too early, in order to avoid the offside whistle. This cost additional conversion percentages, but there was no choice.
In summary, however, there were constantly these close decisions, perhaps between five and ten in the game, almost all of which were interpreted against the strikers – often to the astonishment of the commentators, who initially thought after the whistle ‘offside’, but then, if there was a replay, often recognised ‘ouh, that was close, for me rather not offside’, but nevertheless passed over it as if nothing had happened.
In the scene mentioned, the assistant on the touchline kept the flag down in one of the many critical situations – a rare exception. The attack continued, the flag remained down. A goal was even scored and, rare as it was, the ball ended up in the net. There were at least four seconds, maybe more, between the offside situation to be judged and the goal being scored. And that is really a lot. But even two or three would have been enough for the statement I have to make. Because: when the ball hit the net, the assistant raised the flag after all. The decision was clear and was similar to that in practically every other game situation: offside is always, penalty never, striker’s foul again always, no goal either way, that’s the way it stays, that’s the law. It was ruled offside. The commentator who was assigned to this game didn’t seem the least bit irritated either. So they kept confirming these referee decisions because they couldn’t allow that in the end they would have had to recognise ten times per game: here, too, it was decided against the goal and here, too, it was wrong. Because this would have brought down a not-so-peaceful world. But that’s probably why the conscience worked even harder against recognising the grievance.
If you want to know my view of the scene: the assistant had left the flag down and the next moment already had a guilty conscience. This, of course, because when the flag was raised you never had a major problem, not even in the aftermath, whereas when the flag was kept down you would then have a problem if it resulted in a goal and you were demonstrably at fault. Raising the flag was the path of least resistance, which logically any assistant would far prefer. Here, he had missed the moment and, of course, was no longer entitled to raise the flag. So the game continued. The assistant now hoped fervently that there would be no goal, because then everything would be fine either way. When the ball landed in the net, he wavered between this and that option, neither of which was very promising: to continue to do nothing and possibly be guilty of an irregular goal, or, disregarding all the rules, to raise the flag anyway and hope that no one would notice. He chose the latter. The consequences? Nothing at all. Nobody noticed anything. Why? Because the Emperor was naked, but everyone around seemed to admire the clothes. So one was forced to do the same.”
“That’s shocking, again. But we really have to go now, Dad, we’ve had enough goosebumps, let’s go already.”
“No, wait, just a moment while you put your shoes on. I had a chance to have a conversation with a real referee once and chose ‘offside’ as the topic. I asked him what he thought the generally accepted percentage of offside misjudgements were – and I asked him to watch that choice of words carefully, it was only about the misjudgements in offside situations, and those that everyone involved agreed they were, not to include those, which I would personally add and which are whistled that way out of sheer malice and are judged to be ‘extremely close but probably right’ – were to the disadvantage of the strikers, also because I feared that he could only give one answer and probably didn’t know about the problem. What do you think he said?”
“Probably 50%, all even, sometimes this way, sometimes that way wrong, right?”
“Good thinking, yes. That was exactly the answer, which I also anticipated. There was no problem with the offside but if there was, then none that was to the attackers’ disadvantage? Surely one had to assume that? But, to my astonishment, he replied ‘I think that about 80% were to the disadvantage of the strikers’. I was speechless for a moment. Then I said, just halfway composed again, ‘although I think that more than 90% are in the attackers’ favour, I would be interested to know why you would accept this, why the strikers are constantly disadvantaged, even from your point of view? To this I received the most curious of all answers, which you really can’t come up with: ‘we referees, if we act as assistants, with the main task of deciding on offside or not, we don’t see offside, we hear offside. And sound is slower than light.”
The very talented children – some of whom were already familiar with the basic laws of physics – were also astonished and paused on the threshold: “What kind of nonsense is that? But they must mean: the assistant is constantly looking only at the attackers, where they are in relation to the defenders, and when the pass is played, they hear this sound. Until the sound reaches their ears, a short period of time passes – wait, I’ll calculate for a moment…”, ok, the oldest had the floor, “… it could perhaps be 40 metres, the distance between the passer and the assistant, that makes, at 330 metres in one second, a period of 1.2 tenths of a second. In this time span, the striker could have moved a good metre at a good basic speed of 11 seconds per 100 metres. Since possibly the striker and the defender are moving in opposite directions – the defender running away from the goal, the attacker towards the goal – it could be an accumulated error of two metres.”
“So for me you could be doing A-levels today, in maths and physics, the calculation is correct, but what about the sense of reality?”
“That’s absolute nonsense. The assistant would, it can be assumed, watch the game just like any other spectator, also because he has to notice who is playing the ball in the first place. An audible noise would be nonsensical and could be triggered in a completely different way, for example by a goal kick by the opponent. So relying on it would definitely not lead to anything and would certainly not improve the decisions. Apart from the fact that an error of two metres, calculated by me, would far exceed the range where one would have to speak of a ‘tight situation’. That is to say: if it were as the man claimed, then the flag would be up much more often and even clear non-offside situations would be permanently misjudged, by anyone who didn’t hold it with the assistant but who, out of original, but badly clouded, enjoyment of the game, would watch what was happening. If, however, as it seems, for reasons of justification for the many offside mistakes — as admitted by the man – they actually taught something like that in the training of referees, then nothing surprises me any more about how things were done on earth: they watched the game, just like everyone else, and whenever it was close, they still take the flag. Not only always, when against goal, they are on the safe side, but also, when specifically asked, they are physically on the safe side, put to it by the referee commission: light is faster than sound. Flag up, physics is to blame, not you.”
For the commentators, too, the pretended world remained intact. Once the flag went up, the slow motion pointed to “rightly so”, then they commented with “good eye, the man, compliments”. The next time the flag went up, wrongly, as the slow motion showed. The comment then: “Yes, it was extremely close, difficult to see, no reproach to the man on the line.” So everything was taken care of.
This was the perfect conclusion. Offside is practically always when it is close. And close it always is too. Everyone was right, too. The main thing is no goal. Unless you were in Putoia.