Guide to the Offside Rule in Football

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What You Need to Know

  1. The offside rule dates back to the very beginnings of football as a proper, organised sport, though it has evolved over the decades.
  2. A player is deemed to be in an offside position if, when the ball is played towards them by a teammate, they are closer to the opposition’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent (goalkeeper included).
  3. Should a player be deemed to be interfering with play from an offside position, then the referee should award an indirect free kick, to be taken from the spot where the offending player was when flagged for offside.
  4. You cannot be offside if you receive the ball directly from a throw-in, goal kick or corner or if you are in your own half of the pitch.
  5. Notably, a player must be deemed to be ‘interfering with play’ or ‘active’ if they are to be judged to be committing an offside offence.
  6. As well as touching the ball, a player is also deemed to be ‘active’ if they hinder an opponent’s movement or line of sight.

What is the Offside Rule?

The offside rule is one of the fundamental rules of football, dating back to the very beginnings of the modern game and playing a crucial role in nearly every game, regardless of level. Should a player be deemed to be committing an offside offence, then the referee should award an indirect free kick, to be taken from the spot where the offending player was when flagged for offside, while any goals scored after an offside offence is committed should be nullified.

History of the Offside Rule

The offside rule can be traced back to the start of the 19th century, when some of England’s leading public schools were setting out the rules for association football.

Notable dates in the evolution of the offside rule include 1903, when the rules were changed so that offside was judged when the ball is played rather than when a player actually receives the ball; 1925 when the English Football Association (FA) changed the number of opponents needed to play an attacker onside to two.

More recently, in 2005, the rules were changed so that a player now has to be ‘active’ in order to be judged offside. Though this was done to promote attacking football, it can cause some confusion, not just among fans and commentators but players and managers themselves.

Modern-Day Offside Rule

As with the original offside rule, a player is deemed to be in an offside position if, when the ball is played towards them by a teammate, they are closer to the opposition’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. However, there are some exceptions to this. So, you cannot be offside if:

  • You receive the ball directly from a throw-in, goal kick or corner.
  • You are in your own half of the pitch.
  • If you are level with the second-last opponent. Note that the goalkeeper is counted as a defending opponent.
  • You were behind the ball when it was played.

Significantly, since the 2005 change to the rules of the game, a player may be in an offside position but not be committing an offside offence. That is, a player must be deemed to be ‘interfering with play’ or ‘active’ if they are to be judged to be committing an offside offence.

‘Interfering with Play’

According to the football’s global governing body Fifa: “interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate”.

Note, however, that a player does not have to actually touch the ball in order to interfere with play. So, for instance, a player may be judged to be committing an offside offence if, while in an offside position, they interfere with an opponent, for example, by obstructing their movements or line of vision.

Additionally, a player may be flagged for offside if they are able to gain an advantage from having previously been in an offside position. So, if a ball rebounds off the goal frame or an opponent and they are able to get to it first due to their being in an offside position, then the referee should blow for an indirect free kick.

Further Reading

 

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