The Loneliness of the Fifth Official

what's happening now?

I’m really looking forward to this game. It’s a fantastic atmosphere, two very good teams and it’s my honour to be one of the goal-line officials, whose job it is to confirm whether the football has crossed the line or not, and give a goal. It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many times it’s been missed!

1 min. And we’re off! I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Bit nervous, but sure my instincts and training will take over when the time comes.

16 mins. Game starting to settle down a bit. Nothing major to report yet. There have already been two offside calls up the other end. Some fans didn’t like the second one. Think the linesman’s name is Paul. He’s got the checkered flag. I don’t have a flag, just the flag holder. UEFA said it’s too distracting.

21 mins. Getting a bit colder now. Feels like I’ve been out here for an hour. Their goalie hasn’t said a word to me.

33 mins. Fairly quiet at this end. The goalkeeper has just come over and banged his studs against the foot of the post. Was it directed at me? Could have affected the integrity of the goal. Might mention it at half-time.

36 mins. A corner! Here we go! This is where I come into my own, as I carefully position myself along the goal-line. From here I’ll be able to absolutely see whether the whole of the ball crosses the line. Can’t take my eyes off for an instant. Trying not to get distracted by the jostling in the six-yard box. Stay on the line. Oh, it got cleared away. Off up the other end now.

45 mins. Half-time. In the dressing room Martin (the ref) is discussing the offside from earlier with Paul and Mitchell (the other assistant). Don, the fourth official, tells a funny story about one of the managers who was yelling for a yellow card, until his centre-forward flattened the left-back. He was quiet after that! They don’t look in my direction during the story. I consider bringing up the integrity of the goalposts, but decide to leave it.

56 mins. Goal! At the other end. The number nine by the looks of it. Didn’t really see him hit it, but he’s doing a back flip, so assume he scored.

67 mins. A moment of controversy and I’m right on the spot! The ball is whipped in from the right and headed goal-wards, only to be hooked off the line by a defender! It looked close, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t cross the line. As I look up towards Martin, he turns to Mitchell on the far side, who’s shaking his head and indicating a throw-in. Martin doesn’t turn towards me. One of their wingers says: “Oh, come on!” I say: “No, it wasn’t in.”

75 mins. It’s raining now. I press the button on the end of my flag holder and out pops a Starburst. Strawberry.

79 mins. It’s 2-0! Off a corner. Think it was the defender with the bald spot. Or was it the one with a ‘tache? You don’t see many mustaches in football anymore. He put his shirt over his head. Wish I’d put my tracksuit bottoms on now.

89 mins. Almost over now. Reckon they’ll be six minutes added on. Oh, wait, Don’s board only says two.

92 mins. That’s it. I walk towards the ‘keeper, but he’s already running off to celebrate with his team. I catch up with Mitchell to shake his hand. He nods. I say: “It didn’t cross the line, that clearance.” He nods again.

Like they say, the sign of a good referee is one who isn’t noticed. So, from that point of view I’m pretty pleased with my night’s work.

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