Now, the European championships are well underway and, despite the possibility of World Cup runners-up The Netherlands going out in the group stage, the main talking point is, of course, the fifth officials. You may not have noticed them very much, possibly due to the fact that, well… they don’t do very much. But instead of berate them and criticize UEFA and FIFA for employing these men-with-sticks, I’ve decided to lighten the mood of the argument and suggest some things that they could do instead of doing their job.
Goalkeepers like to have a towel handy in their goal on rainy days but often the towel ends up going back on the wet grass. Surely it would be a much better use of the fifth officials time if they stood still by the goal, stick held out, for goalies to hang their towels on to keep them slightly drier.
Play noughts and crosses, using players as messengers
The modern full-back is forever bombing up and down the wing and centre-backs usually go up for corners so there’s no excuse for fifth officials not to send messages back and forth to each other. To keep their minds active though, should they be required to do their job, they should play a game and noughts and crosses is just the right mix of simplicity and mental toughness.
Check the nets
They do actually already do this before the match and at half-time but sometimes, after a particularly hard shot that strikes the netting, it could be a good idea to check it again to see if it’s still intact. Health and safety and all that…
Keep goalkeepers from getting bored
I’m not too sure but I’m sure that the fifth officials kits have pockets, perfect to store a pocket-sized joke book. I’m sure all of us will have been stuck in goal at some point, years ago in the playground perhaps, in a one sided game when we would have really appreciated a man in a luminous jacket feeding us one-liners. Should Petr Cech make a similar mistake to the one he made against Greece he might appreciate a few knock-knock jokes to make him smile as well.
Stop riots by hitting fans with sticks
We’ve all heard the stories about racist chanting and there’s been serious tension between Russian and Polish fans already so it could only be a matter of time before a riot breaks out. Given the average steward looks slightly the wrong side of an average weight and weighed down by those huge jackets, it may be up to the officials on the pitch to stop the riots. Finally, those sticks would come in useful.
Ponder on the meaning of life, the universe and everything
Not everything they do has to be unimportant. Surely Douglas Adams can’t have been right when he wrote that the meaning to life, the universe and everything was 42? Or was he? As potential towel racks, they will be helping the keepers ‘know where their towels are’. These are the things fifth officials should be thinking about. Don’t panic.
Pretend to be Harry Potter
Those big black sticks do look a bit like wands of some sort. In a particularly boring game they might be depended upon to conjure up a bit of magic if the players can’t manage it.
Conduct the crowd
Football fans aren’t always known for their tunefulness and perfect timing, personally, I’ve always thought the fans sound a bit slurred when singing together. A disorganized stand may need a bit of conducting and, if the fifth official feels adventurous, he could even set a few harmonies going. By the 2014 World Cup, they should be experienced enough to conduct an old-fashioned round. “Rows A-D now! Row, row, row your boat…”
Be glad they’re not fourth officials
It can’t be fun being a fourth official. You stand on the sidelines in all weathers and have to justify your colleagues poor (or correct) decisions to irate and shouty managers when it wasn’t even you who made the call and at least the linesmen and referees are important. On the other hand, the fifth officials stand behind the goal-line with the keeper and linesman for company doing very little, not getting shouted at, but still getting paid. Well done sirs, you’ve played the system beautifully.