Goal-Post

Goal-Post: Victorian Football

How Referees are Tricked
By A Referee, 1892

All's fair in love and war — and in modern Association football. I once refereed in a match between two well known teams which, to separate them from professional combustions, dub themselves “gentlemanly”. Bogus claims were made by one side until I became wearied, so I said to one of the players during a lull in the game — “You know very well that that last shot was not a goal”. “Of course I do,” he replied, “but I didn’t know that you did, and nothing is lost by appealing.”

That is exactly the standing motto of the average professional footballer — “Nothing is lost by appealing.” When the goal is hotly attacked it is a regular dodge for the keeper or one of the backs to shout “Offside!” and many a time have I seen a free kick result and the goal thereby cleared. Another trick that often pays is practised during a “bully” or a crush in goal. One of the defending side will deliberately handle the ball, and then claim a foul for hands — a claim which is allowed sadly too often. Or, if a goal is scored, some custodians will occasionally bring back the ball with all the coolness imaginable, and declare that the attackers claimed and must take a free kick. More than once to my knowledge this dodge has meant all the difference between the winning and losing of a match.

Touching this matter of “hands”, and of the difficulty which a referee sometimes has in deciding between conflicting claims, I remember a very funny experience. From a corner kick the ball was dropped right in front of goal, and was shot through. At the same moment a “smack” was heard, and immediately the cry of “Hands!” was raised. The referee was inclined to allow the claim, but the centre forward of the side which had scored drew attention to his ear, which was red and evidently painful. The centre, it seemed, went to head the ball just as the goal-keeper tried to fist out, and so received a blow on the ear that nearly stunned him.

Some quick passing and a cross-shot into goal frequently result in the ball going just inside the posts. The referee is unable to keep up with the ball, and consequently is uncertain whether it went between the posts or not. “Smart” goal-keepers, in these circumstances, quickly pick up the ball, and kick off from goal, as if it had gone outside. The attacking team appeal, as a matter of course, for the goal; but the referee, not being certain, gives the defenders, as magistrates give prisoners, “the benefit of the doubt”.

I remember an instance of this kind of thing which occurred in a cup tie. One of the full-backs deliberately stepped forward in order to obstruct the view of the referee, and a legitimate goal was disallowed. On the other hand, I have heard it said, though I have never seen it myself, that weak-willed referees have been deceived by confident appeals when the ball has gone outside the post. All this, however, is done away with by using the nets, which have recently been adopted.

About foul play—tripping and “settling” players—no referee can say all he thinks. Enough that a good deal of what is ascribed to accident is really malicious injury. The referees are deceived, and so is nearly everybody else.

This is an edited extract from Goal-Post, the Victorian football anthology.

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