Offside law (football)

From Academic Kids

In association football (soccer), offside is covered by Law 11 of the Laws of the Game. Whilst the law may appear simple, its details and application can be complex.


Offside law

The application of the offside law is best considered in three steps: Offside position; Offside offense; 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 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 defenders can be either the goalkeeper and another defender, or two ordinary defenders. 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 defenders running forwards or backwards.

It is important to note that being in an offside position is not an offence in itself.

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 play by: interfering with play; interfering with an opponent; or gaining an advantage by being in that position. Determing whether a play 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.

With the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2005, there is a clarification of exactly how to interpret "interfering with play", "interfering with an opponent" and "gaining an advantage by being in an offside position".

The new wording, approved by the IFAB, clarifies three issues of the offside law where a player is actively in play - whether he is interfering with play, interfering with an opponent or gaining an advantage by being in an offside position.

The new decisions are as follows:

Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team mate.

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.

Offside sanction

The sanction for an offside offence is an indirect free kick to the opposing team, from where the offence occurred.


In enforcing this law, the referee depends greatly on his assistant referees, who generally keep in a position in line with the second last defender in their relevant end (although their exact positioning techniques can be quite complex).

The assistant referees' task with regards to off-side 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 (often from the other end of the field), 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 off-side officiating is often underestimated by spectators.


It is often assumed that the offside law is a recent addition to combat "goal scrounging" or "cherry picking", 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 F.C. 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 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 1848 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, in the early nineties, to make the rules more conducive to attacking football and help the game to flow more freely.

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 will often try to bring an attacker's potential offside position status to the attention of the assistant referee, typically by shouting or raising their arms.

The use of the trap is often derided as making for boring football, however can be a risky strategy by a defending team, as if the offside trap fails, the attacking players who they were trying to position offside will have an almost clear run towards the goal.

External links

cs:Ofsajd da:Offside de:Abseits fr:Loi 11 du football: le hors-jeu nl:Buitenspel (voetbal)


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