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News & views

Rumour: offside trap could put lizards on the line

[31 Jan 2012] The obverse of the new 50p coin shows part of the offside rule in association football (soccer), and the design is clear enough as far as it goes.

Offside decisions are among the most contentious in any match. They’re often wrong for a very simple reason: human eyes are not designed to look in two directions at once, which is what the offside law requires them to do. The assistant referee (linesman) has to look at the ball as it is kicked and simultaneously look along the line of the penultimate defender for encroaching attackers. People can’t do this accurately hundreds of times in a match, especially if they’re scanning the play for other rule-breaking. Which is why many offside decisions are at best an educated guess.

Since one of the few creatures that can look in two directions simultaneously is the chameleon, rumours have spread among football fans that the Premier League is training a few of these highly intelligent lizards to run the line and wave flags at appropriate times. Whether they could cope with the ‘player actively involved’ rule is doubtful, but the illustration on the new coin doesn’t manage that either. Chameleons are quite shortsighted by human standards – a characteristic they share with referees, according to some fans.

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