Running the line at a game recently, I succumbed to a distraction that assistant referees are advised to avoid – chatting with spectators. Of course at bigger grounds this isn’t a problem, the spectators being further away In this case there was a lull in the game whilst a player received attention for an injury following a tackle. The referee had waived away calls for a penalty. A spectator leaned over the barrier and asked, ‘Would you have given a penalty lino?’ My answer was very simple and genuine, ‘I couldn’t possibly tell from this distance’. Another spectator however joined in ‘That was a clear penalty; you could see it from here’. My reply to that was, ‘You have obviously never been out there or you wouldn’t make such a statement.’
It’s worth reflecting on what makes a tackle a fair one or a foul. Take two players going for the ball. The defender coming in from the side stretches out his leg and plays the ball. The attacker then falls over the outstretched leg. That’s a perfectly fair tackle. But if, the defender catches the opponent’s leg, bringing him down before playing the ball, that’s a foul tackle. A defender coming from behind can also make a fair tackle but it is more difficult to play the ball in such a way without first making contact with the opponent.
A player can play the ball first and still commit a foul. This is when the defender brings down his opponent afterwards with his other trailing leg, which can often be the case with tackles from behind. On top of this the referee has to judge whether the tackle was made in a reckless manner, without thought of the opponent’s safety or endangers his safety by using excessive force.
The referee has to sum all this up, immediately, from a closer position and different angle, when all you see from the sideline, is a player falling to the ground.