L is for linesmen…
Perhaps even more so than the referee, the linesman is an official who undertakes their work on the front line of football.
As they shuttle up and down the field with their billowing flags, offside calls and hand-to-ear, hand-over-mouth exchanges of information from their angle of the latest contentious decision, they are placed up against the raging crowds just metres behind them.
Referees can escape into middle of the pitch. Linesmen (and women, of course) enjoy no such luxury. They run along an invisible track from one corner to the half-way line, constantly checking the geometry of the play for violations or off-the-ball incidents missed by their leader.
Yet there’s an argument that their role as assistants rather than ultimate decision makers allows fans to praise them more than the evil authoritarian stalking the field with their cards and whistle.
A great offside call made from an impossible viewing angle can be savoured like a great save by fans on both sides so long as the rivalry between them isn’t too fierce. Similarly, when a linesman intervenes to educate their on-field leader over the true details of an indiscretion they missed or misunderstood, they are more often than not lauded.
They hold a special place in the game that some people perhaps aren’t even aware of, at least not consciously, but their value doesn’t always go missed by the footballers themselves.
So here’s to the assistants running the lines this coming season, and the amazing, miraculous offside decisions, justice-settling observations and inevitable errors that will add to the drama.
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