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What is offside in football? EXPLAINED

The laws of the game of football have undergone multiple changes over centuries and while some amendments have been quite simple, there are others that have become complicated and subjective over the course of time – like the offside rule. So, what is offside in football?

To put it into simpler words, a football player is in an offside position if he has no defenders from the opponent team between him and the goalkeeper while receiving the ball. The offside rule states that a forward should have two players of the opponent team – a goalkeeper and a defender – behind or in line with him when the ball is played to him in the attacking third.

The offside rule was made to prevent football players from standing close to the opponents’ goalkeeper beyond all the defenders to score easy goals from long balls.

The offside rule in football: Explained

A football player will be considered in the offside position if his/her head, body or feet is beyond the second last opponent, standing ahead of the goalkeeper while receiving the ball. Offside can also be flagged if any part of an attacking player’s head, feet or body is closer to the opponent goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.

A player is in an offside position even if he or she doesn’t score from the pass. Receiving a pass in an offside position that results in the build-up to the goal is also considered null and void. The receiver is then interfering with play and the referee then pauses the game while awarding a free-kick to the defending team.

A player can also be deemed offside even if he or she is not attempting to play the ball. A forward obstructing the line of vision of the opponents’ player or goalkeeper or distracting the custodian by gestures can also be called offside by the referee.

Exceptions in the offside rule

The offside rule has been effectively used in football tactics over the years with the defending team making formations to trigger the offside line by moving forward. Hence, the lawmakers made some exceptions in the football laws to keep the game more interesting.

If the attacking player is positioned in his own half, behind the centre line, then he or she cannot be called offside even if there is no second-last defender between the goalkeeper. Hence, one has to be in the opponents’ half to be offside.

Similarly, an attacking player cannot be flagged offside from a throw-in even if he or she is in an offside position while receiving the ball.

Offside Rule: History

Given the massive scope of different tactics and strategies in the game of football, it has always divided opinions on how it should ideally be played. The lawmakers, however, has always advocated the offensive style of playing football that incorporates all the offensive measures like dribbling, one-two short passes, long passes and intense pressing.

This has been a significant reason why the rule of offside has been amended time and again throughout history. After the Football Association (FA) was founded in 1883 in England, they had forced the rule that any player of the attacking team who is staying ahead of the ball during the pass will be in an offside position.

This move encouraged short passes and teams had to reduce their reliance on long over-the-top passes. However, it also slashed the game’s progression and the result was a cut down on the excitement. Consequently, another change was made to the offside rule in 1886 wherein an attacker needed at least three opposing team players, including the goalkeeper, to play onside.

That wasn’t the end of it though. The third change came in 1925 with the attacking player now needing just two players, including the goalkeeper, between him and the opponents’ goal while receiving a pass to stay onside. 

Another offside rule change in 1992 by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) made the game even more exciting as they stated that the attacker could now stay on level with the last opponents’ defender instead of staying behind while the ball was played to him.

However, teams found a way to effectively defend with this rule. The defence line could now set an effective offside trap by deliberately staying ahead of the attackers coming at them. To counter this, the IFAB further made a change in 2005 stating that an attacking player can be flagged offside only if their head, torso and legs – body parts that can legally score a goal – is caught beyond the second-last defender. Apart from this, the attacker also needs to be actively involved in the play.

Offside rule controversies: Introduction of VAR

It was improbable that the refereeing standards in football evolved as rapidly as the offside rule and it has often led to numerous poor judgements. Historic matches in football have been wrongly concluded owing to refereeing errors despite having two linesmen to help the on-field decision-maker. However, the minute margins – sometimes in millimetres- that separate onside from offside are impossible to detect by the human eyes at times.

Years of furore and clashes between fans, players and officials hence resulted in the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2016. The aim of VAR is to review footages of every goals to ensure there was no offside involved in it in any way. VAR technology is also used in issuing red card to players for dangerous fouls and for making penalty decisions.

After VAR was first seen in a friendly match between PSV and FC Eindhoven in 2016, the big European leagues adopted it. While Serie A and Bundesliga started using in since the 2017-18 season, La Liga, Ligue 1 and English Premier League incorporated it from the 2018-19 season.

A recent study of the 2020-21 Premier League season showed that the VAR had ruled out 32 goals citing offside after thorough reviews. Though VAR continues to split opinions for its astute measurements in millimeters, it is widely believed to be the right way forward in forward.


What is the new offside rule 2020?

Ahead of the 2020-21 season, the Premier League had announced that it will follow the VAR rule followed by UEFA, where the final decision would be influenced how the offside lines shown on TV overlap.

Explaining the rule Premier League referees’ chief Mike Riley said, “On marginal offside, we’ve now effectively re-introduced the benefit of the doubt to the attacking player. So it’s the toenails, the noses of the players who are offside; they might have been offside last season but next season they won’t be.”

What is new offside rule 2021?

The 2020-21 Premier League season was preceded by a lot of noise about decisions overturned by VAR in the 2019-20 season. This had led to the IFAB to clarify in September 2021 that the attacking player’s shoulder wasn’t considered for handball and when investigating an offside situation “the upper boundary of the arm is considered to be in line with the bottom of the armpit”.

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