Let's start with a question for all you budding referees out there.

When is a player NOT given offside when they are the nearest opponent running towards your goalkeeper with no defenders at all in front of them?

It is a tricky one, so I'll quickly give you the answer.

If you're an Upper Clatford under-11s player with your team losing 3-2 to my son's team last weekend and our keeper has just allowed a long shot to slip through his hands into the goal.

The linesman's flag was correctly raised but the referee over-ruled him and awarded the goal, saying the player in an offside position was not interfering with play.

As the decision went against Fordingbridge Town under-11s, there was no great show of dissent, no great force of snarling faces crowding around the official pointing frantically towards the lino.

There was no great show of anything, other than disappointment, because our lads are thankfully still innocent enough, and nice enough, to not give the referee any lip.

I'm sure that will come, because that is the nature of the game, and that is the nature of society.

But, hey, let's not get too sociological here ...

Had that decision gone against, say, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United at, say, Anfield or the Etihad it would be back page news. It would be headline news on BBC television. They'd even have to cut their reports from Syria to fit it in (oops - getting political again, sorry!) It was, and you won't be surprised to see me committing this opinion to cyberspace, a very poor decision to award the goal.


Because the player deemed offside - not the player who scored from long distance - was surely interfering with play.

We're not talking an adult-sized pitch here, with a player running back towards midfield while a ball is fired at goal. If that was the case, you could argue the player was not interfering with play as they were trying to get back into an onside position.

On Upper Clatford's pitch, every player is interfering with play as it's not big enough for anyone to 'hide' away from the action.

Oh well, we went on to lose 5-3 - our hopes of surging up into second place in the Testway Youth League Division 2 table cruelly dashed - but at least I'm not bitter ...!

We go back to the old chestnut of a question? Who would want to be a referee?

It's easy to complain, and I've just done exactly that, and I'm a qualified ref.

As always, it's the inconsistency which is the problem, at any level.

Last weekend's referee was the first to say to our linesman this season that he would judge if a player was interfering with play when a flag shot up.

I wouldn't ask that of any linos. If you're asking them to flag for offsides, I'll have to trust their judgement and impartialities and give any free-kicks.

I would never then act as a judge and jury on whether the boy or girl ruled offside was interfering with play. I would take it as read that, unless they were running back into midfield as previously mentioned, they certainly were interfering.

Last weekend's trip to Clatford, even if you take away the offside decision, summed up the inconsistencies which can be rife in kids football.

Back in mid September we thumped Clatford 6-0 at our place, a game I missed as I was on a Cardiff Uni reunion in the Welsh capital. On asking a variety of dads and mums how we played, I was painted a picture which reminded me of the 1970 Brazil World Cup winning side, the mastery of the Liverpool team with Barnes and Beardsley in their prime, and even Exeter City's 1989/90 title winning team.

Brazil had Pele, we had Richard Young.

Last weekend, with exactly the same starting team, we lost 5-3 to the same opponents.

What a turnaround in the space of less than two months.

Clatford, so I'm told, had a few different players in their side - but still!

If I was a professional football manager I would offer up the usual variety of excuses.

Grass on the pitch was too long, making it difficult to replicate the skills of Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho from 42 years previous, and refereeing decisions went against us.

I could also throw in the fact some of our players didn't get to the venue until a few minutes before kick off due to getting lost en route.

Only last week, in this very blog, I waffled on about the dangers of away matches with regards to taking wrong turns on narrow country lanes.

Exactly that happened last Saturday, with one parent who shall, to avoid embarrassing him, remain nameless* frantically phoning our manager at 10am, 30 minutes before kick off, asking directions.

He turned up 25 minutes later having driven on almost every road in the Upper Clatford area - no doubt some twice - and on one occasion mysteriously taking the road to Newbury.

Newbury! In Berkshire!

To sum up, I could put forward loads of excuses as to why we lost but I'd be accused our sour grapes on all of them, and my accusers would be totally correct (apart from the offside!!!!).

Even at under-11 level, football is a microcosm of the highest levels.

Those of us who love our football talk to friends about how refereeing decisions influenced results.

If they end up with your team losing, they can be offered up as excuses rather than a more rational analysis of your own team's failings.

If they end up with your team winning, we jibe our friends with comments about 'bad losers' and 'decisions equal themselves out over the course of a season'.

It is the same at junior level, and as we drove away from Clatford the talk concerned the offside decision and a debate over what constitutes interfering with play.

The kids themselves weren't debating it, just the adults!

Perhaps we are bad losers?

On second thoughts, I AM a bad loser. And I've followed Exeter City for 30-odd years so I've had a good chance to get used to it as well.

Obviously some of us adults – and I include mums in this as well as dads - take defeat worse than the kids.

I'm still pondering whether that is a good thing or not ....

* It was Steve Dawkins