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21 June 2006

A-VP Sports presents the Offside Rule. You have until Thursday 10 am USA East Coast time to learn this.

Offside (football)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Offside is a Law in football (soccer) which effectively limits how far forward attacking players may be when involved in play. Simply put, a player cannot gain an advantage by waiting for the ball with only the goalkeeper between him and the goal.


The application of the offside rule is best considered in three steps; Offside position, Offside offence and Offside sanction.

* Offside position

A player is in an offside position if "he is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second to last opponent," unless he is in his own half of the field of play. A player level with the second last opponent is considered to be in an onside position. Note that the last two opposing players can be either the goalkeeper and an outfield player, or two outfield players. Also note that offside position is determined when the ball is touched/played by a team-mate -- a player's offside position status is not then altered by them or opposing players running forwards or backwards. It is important to note that being in an offside position is not an offence in itself. Another important point to note is that any player's offside position status is reset when an opponent touches the ball and is deemed by the referee to be in control of the ball.

* Offside offence

A player in an offside position is only committing an offside offence if, "at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team", the player is in the referee's opinion involved in active playing with play; interfering with an opponent; or gaining an advantage by being in that position.

Determining whether a player is in "active play" can be complex. A player is not committing an offside offence if the player receives the ball directly from a throw-in, goal kick or corner kick.

FIFA World Cup issued new guidelines for interpreting the offside law in 2003 and these were incorporated in law 11 in July 2005. The new wording seeks to more precisely define the three cases as follows:

* Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate.

* Interfering with an opponent means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.

* Gaining an advantage by being in an offside position means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or crossbar or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.

In practice, a player in an offside position may be penalised before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.

The referees' interpretation of these new definitions is still proving controversial until this day, largely over what movements a player in an offside position can make without being judged to be interfering with an opponent.

Offside sanction

The sanction for an offside offence is an indirect free kick to the opposing team, at the spot where the offence occurred. Most referees use their discretion and let play go on if the "offended" team already has the advantage or ball, in order not to slow down play with redundant free kicks that achieve the same purpose of giving the advantage or ball back to the "offended" team.


In enforcing this rule, the referee depends greatly on an assistant referee, who generally keeps in line with the second last defender in his relevant end (exact positioning techniques are more complex). An assistant referee signals that an offside offence has occurred by raising his flag in a manner that signifies the location of the offence:

* Flag pointed downwards: offence has occurred in the third of the pitch nearest to the assistant referee.

* Flag horizontal to the ground: offence has occurred in the middle third of the pitch.

* Flag pointed upwards: offence has occurred in the third of the pitch furthest from the assistant referee.

The assistant referees' task with regards to offside can be difficult, as they need to keep up with attacks and counter attacks, consider which players are in an offside position when the ball is played, and then determine whether the offside positioned players become involved in active play. The risk of false judgement is further enhanced by the foreshortening effect, which occurs when the distance between attacking player and the assistant referee is significantly different from the distance to the defending player, and the assistant referee is not directly in line with the defender. The difficulty of offside officiating is often underestimated by spectators. Trying to judge if a player is level with an opponent at the moment the ball is kicked is not easy: if an attacker and a defender are running in opposite directions, they can be two metres apart in a tenth of a second.


It is often assumed that the offside rule is a recent addition to combat "goal scrounging", "cherry picking", "goal hanging" or (in Canada) "goal sucking", where attacking players hang around near the opposing goal in case the ball gets kicked upfield, but in fact it dates back to the early years of the game, and was much stricter in the past than it is today. A player was "off his side" if he was standing in front of the ball (compare with the current offside law in rugby -- a game descended from the same roots), that is, between the ball and the opponent's goal. This was by no means universal -- the original Sheffield Rules had no offside, and players known as "kick throughs" were positioned permanently near the opponents' goal.

In 1848, HC Malden held a meeting at his Trinity College, Cambridge rooms, that addressed the problem. Representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury attended, each bringing their own set of rules. They sat down a little after 4pm and by five to midnight had drafted what is thought to be the first set of "Cambridge Rules". Malden is quoted as saying how "very satisfactorily they worked".

Unfortunately no copy of these 1848 rules exists today, but they are thought to have included laws governing throw-ins, goal-kicks, halfway line markings, re-starts, and the disallowing of holding and pushing. They even allowed for a string to be used as a cross bar.

Slowly, as these rules were tried, tested, written and re-written over the following years, a revised set of Cambridge Rules was drawn up in 1856. A copy of these rules, thought to be the oldest set still in existence, can be found in the Shrewsbury School library.

As football developed in the 1860s and 1870s, the offside law proved the biggest argument between the clubs. Sheffield got rid of the "kick throughs" by amending their laws so that one member of the defending side was required between a forward player and the opponent's goal; the Football Association also compromised slightly and adopted the Cambridge idea of three. Finally, Sheffield came into line with the F.A., and "three players" were the rule until 1925.

The change to "two players" rule led to an immediate increase in goal scoring. 4,700 goals were scored in 1,848 Football League games in 1924/25. It rose to 6,373 goals (from the same number of games) in 1925/26.

In 1990 the law was amended to consider an attacker to be onside if level with the second last opponent. This change was part of a general movement by the game's authorities to make the rules more conducive to attacking football and help the game to flow more freely.

In 2003, FIFA issued more stringent guidelines for penalising offside infringements, to encourage attacking play. As such, whether a player in an offside position is penalised depends on his actions and location. With this modification, attackers are no longer penalised when they get behind the defenders from an onside position while having a passive teammate in an offside position. Thus there are more goals scored through legitimate defence-splitting passes without being penalised.

Offside trap

The offside trap is a defensive tactic. When an attacking player is making a run up the field with a team-mate ready to kick the ball up to him, the defenders will move up-field in order to put the attacker behind them just before the ball is kicked, hence putting the attacker in an offside position when the ball is kicked. Defenders using this tactic often attempt to bring an attacker's potential offside status to the attention of the assistant referee, typically by shouting or raising their arm.

The use of the trap is often derided as making for boring football. However, it can be a risky strategy as all the defenders have to move up together, otherwise the attacking players will not be in an offside position; if the offside trap fails, the attacking players will have an almost clear run towards the goal. The 2003 rule changes have made it even more perilous as a tactic.

One of the best-known defenders to employ the offside trap was Billy McCracken of Newcastle United. It is claimed his play pressured officials to modify the laws in 1925, reducing the required number of defenders between the attacker and the goal line from three to two.

The offside trap has become riskier since the 2003 law interpretation in which the definition of active play was made more stringent. Thus, teams attempting an offside trap are less likely to have an offside offence called when they have caught a player in an offside position if he was deemed to be not in active play.


The offside trap is often used in a humourous manner; it is joked that Women are incapable of understanding the offside rule. Also in the Budweiser adverts during the FIFA 2006 World Cup one of the American commentators says "So if he, moves across here and he's back here. Is that offside?" to which his partner replies "Beats the hell outta me".

External links

* Laws of the Game - Offside (from FIFA)
* Offside Presentation June 2005 - PDF file (from FIFA)
* Flash Animation detailing the Offside law (from FIFA)
* Detailed history of the offside rule

* This page was last modified 20:03, 21 June 2006.

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