The World Cup is clearly more about the foreplay than getting down to the real thing. More column metres and TV briefings than even an ardent football fan like myself can follow. So here's the Re-think self-assessment quiz to see how committed you are.

wordle image for rethinking the world cupChoose one option for each question.

  1. I have bought my colour wall chart of fixtures with little spaces for you to fill in the results.
    1. I have
    2. I have, but can't remember where it is
    3. I will fill it in even if my team goes out in the first round
  2. My team hasn't even qualified.
    1. I will watch without resentment
    2. I will boycott the event because Transylvania knocked out my team on a disputed penalty
    3. I will adopt another team and support them with the same fervour as my own fervour as my own
  3. When my team is knocked out...
    1. I will think cheerfully "we'll be back in only 4 years" (if we can beat the Faroe Islands)
    2. Life loses all meaning for the rest of the competition and well into the summer holidays
    3. I will complain about the standard of refereeing to my Euro MP
  4. I have arranged my work and family schedule around important games.
    1. You must be joking
    2. I will be working during the semi-finals, but secretly checking scores on my Blackberry
    3. Of course I have
  5. I will utter the following words:
    1. It's only a game
    2. Curling is more exciting to watch than Germany playing football
    3. I've lost the will to live
  6. My family believes I'm:
    1. Anxious and disinterested in life
    2. Taking the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in good heart
    3. More interested in football trivia than the actual game
  7. On a big match day I find myself:
    1. As anxious as if I was playing myself
    2. Needing to be reminded the match is on
    3. Taking phone calls during the game

Not hard to score! The answers that make you a fully paid up World Cup fanatic are, of course, C, C, B or C, C, C, and A. And you lose all points if you have ever uttered the phrase in Q.5 answer A.

Ovid - an early Italian striker - observed that there's no cure for love. Ditto with being a World Cup addict.

Re-thinking sacred cows - the offside rule

One of the things that most needs re-thinking is the least likely candidate for a fresh approach – the offside rule. (Law 11.) Many a man (it usually is) has tried to explain this to his long-suffering partner, often with the use of salt and pepper pots and a growing sense of unease that it's more difficult than, say, elucidating the mind/body paradox or the transmigration of souls.

It's genetically impossible to be a full-blooded fan and not have an opinion on this, so here's my own totally reasonable and completely unprejudiced take on the offside conundrum.

1. Linesmen (sorry – assistant referees) favour the defence over the attack in their decisions. This is a natural male impulse: when faced with the options (a) do nothing, (b) do something, they will usually favour option B, even if it means invading a foreign country. The whole world is watching and the camera hasn't even picked you up yet, then you are faced with the photo opportunity of pointing your flag or keeping it limp behind your back.

No contest!

Especially when you have been promoted in recent years from a mere linesman to the giddy heights of 'assistant referee.' Of course you want to point officiously, knowing that no amount of video replays and lawyers can change your crucial decision. That's the kind of power you crave as you watch the highlights in your semi in Crawley or Stuttgart later that night.

Re-think: All offside decisions should favour the attacking team.

2. What does 'interfering with play' mean? This is the opposite of part 1 above – often offside goals are allowed because the player who didn't actually put the ball in the net is deemed to be an innocent bystander who didn't actually touch the ball.

The reality is that players are only in contact with the ball for 2% of their time on the pitch. Does this mean that for 98% of play they could be mistaken for men who just wandered onto the field to do a late pitch inspection? Of course not. You're either offside or not. Or, as legendary manager bill Shankly observed, if you're not interfering with play, what are you doing on the field?

3. Video replays are allowed for disputed offside decisions, but you're only allowed to do this twice in a game (teams rarely get away with 3 offside goals due to the natural desire of officials to balance decisions – and their survival instinct to get to the dressing room alive).

Even cricket, that most sedate and conventional of games (on the surface) has used a third umpire for many years now. Think of the advantages: an official who recognizes his mistake after watching the replay will be a candidate for sainthood, immediately ranked above politicians and industry chiefs in the pantheon of household deities.

Finally, here's a bigger re-think:

4. It's a big pitch! By which I mean the offside rule limits play to a narrow band in the middle of the field. Suppose you could only be offside in the last quarter of the pitch? This would change the nature of the game, allowing for a lot more attacking football and probably more goals. Players would find the ball in space, resolving the problem of midfield 'gridlock'.

Of course no such measures will be taken. The 'yes-butters' that govern the game and are in danger of choking its inherent beauty will not be swayed. Offside is to football as the notion of original sin is to Christianity: irreconcilable with the modern world but nonetheless to be borne with fortitude.

So, as park players often mutter, I will 'get my retaliation in first.' Of course, the Swedes were offside when they scored against England, and two of our own brilliant goals have already been disallowed by some jumped up traffic warden with a toy flag.

Then I can truly enjoy the suffering while sadly realizing that God is not on our side. Are you ready?

Originally published: Wed 07 Jun 2006


Copyright © 2015 Nigel Barlow. All Rights Reserved.