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Offside Explained

Chuck Fleischer & Richard Dawson former and current editor of 12/28/2005

Offside!. We can explain it to you but we can not understand it for you!

A player is in an offside position when in the opponents half only he is closer to the opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent. While in that position he may not touch the ball or interfere with an opponent when the ball has been last played / touched by a team mate with the exceptions of a throw in, corner kick or goal kick.
Being in an offside position is not an offence in itself. 'A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate is only penalised on becoming involved in active play which is touching the ball or interfering with an opponent.

Below is a in depth explanation for those that have difficulty comprehending offside!


The flag is a signal to the referee by the AR that he is of the opinion play could be stopped. It is NOT, repeat NOT, a reason to stop play! You stop playing ONLY for the whistle by the referee. ONLY the CR decides if he will go with the flag or wave it off. Do not stop attacking, just because a flag is popped! Do not stop defending, just because a flag is popped! The flag is ...NOTHING... to you! It is simply a communication device the AR uses to get the referees attention that something ...MIGHT... require his attention be it for offside or anything else!

Understandably there are a few unusual conditions that reflect offside conundrums. Players and coaches, here is a heads up! Note the halfway line is part of BOTH sides of the field of play, so if you are leaning over it you are closer to the opposing goal even if you are mostly inside your own half!

In the context of Law 11 Offside, the following definition applies to the phrase NEARER TO HIS OPPOSING GOAL LINE

"nearer to his opponents goal line" means that any part of a player's head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition

For a less technical explanation - ANY legal playable body part but not the arms or hands. It MUST be noted the REASONING the arms and hands are not included is NOT because they can not be used (keeper can do so in their own PA) but rather it was determined no one can accurately gauge their placement in real time effectively unless the player were dead still and is not how offside usually evolves.
Relating to the defenders: the last or 2nd last opponent can be ANY defender! The keeper is but one of 11 defenders. If a defender exits the FOP (field of play) through momentum or without the referees permission he shall be considered to be on his own goal line or touch line for the purposes of offside until the next stoppage in play or until the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside their penalty area.. If a defender willingly exits deliberately as an act of USB to deceive the AR or referee, apply advantage and caution said player when the ball is next out of play

Relating to the attackers: If an offside offence occurs, the referee awards an indirect free kick where the offence occurred, including if it is in the player's own half of the field of play. An attacking player may step or stay off the field of play not to be involved in active play. If the player re-enters from the goal line and becomes involved in play before the next stoppage in play, or the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside their penalty area, the player
shall be considered to be positioned on the goal line for the purposes of offside.
A player who deliberately leaves the field of play and re-enters without the
referee's permission and is not penalised for offside and gains an advantage,
must be cautioned. If an attacking player remains stationary between the goalposts and inside the goal as the ball enters the goal, a goal must be awarded unless the player commits a USB action or an offside offence or Law 12 offence in which case play is restarted with an indirect or direct free kick at the nearest boundary line or if inside the goal area anywhere inside the goal area

The offside concept is simplistic in nature but not always easy to understand! Offside is composed of two basic criteria, position & involvement.
The complexities are difficult to assemble all at once but notably the time lag between the two & if we get the 1st part (position ) wrong, we are in trouble no matter how we might determine the 2nd part (involvement). If we get the 2nd part involvement wrong even if we get the 1st part (position) right we are again in trouble.

POSITION complexity has to do with how the human mind creates time lags in real time creating the illusion of position at a given moment! Our ability to see, record and interpret the fast paced data is compromised by how we process information. This is why the phrase "WHEN IN DOUBT DO NOT WAVE IT ABOUT! " (We are talking about the flag!) was created to help the official realize on a close play, when a decision is derived at in a blink of an eye, the mind is tricked into thinking things are moving slower than they were, incorrectly interpreting the player's position as to how it relates to the team mates last touch of the ball, potentially raising a flag & unnecessarily taking away good goals or halting the scoring opportunities.

Consider that the official from their own angle of view must correctly piece together the puzzle of who and when and even how the ball is last touched, correlating the evolving circumstances of where everyone is both defending and attacking, moving at speeds of 20 plus miles an hour, running in opposing or intersecting directions, chasing a rolling, bouncing ball, moving as fast as 130 mph WITHOUT losing focus.
Developing sound mechanics, instilling good habits, with excellent communication between the officials do help to get it right, but no matter what system is in use mistakes are inevitable. The use of VARs video assistant referees may help eliminate the best guess of a positional determination in future international matches but on the recreational pitch we live and die by the instant decision.

The officials must 1st must establish player position with respect to offside ! This is determined at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his OWN team, we suggest you see/imagine it as ...FREEZE... frame picture of ...ALL... the participants, calculated at a single moment of time, when a ball is ...LAST... touched by a team mate and determine yes or no to the 3 questions below :

1. Is the player in the attacking half of the field?

2. Is the player nearer the opposing goal line than the ball

3. Is the player nearer the opposing goal line than the last but one opponent or the last two opponents?

IF any question is answered ...NO..., the player is not in an offside position and can participate in play until the next touch of the ball by a member of his team requires a re-evaluation.

IF any question is answered ...YES..., we are ready to NOW consider the 2nd part of the offside equation, involvement!

Once a player is in an established offside position, we can now look to determine the 2nd part of a player's involvement in active play
INVOLVEMENT complexity is based on the official's interpretation & opinion of a series of subsets within a given set of circumstances. Given it can be immediate or occur later or occur in such a way as to cause confusion, this portion of the offside LOTG have had several addendums to try and explain the position of FIFA and the IFAB to provide clarity to achieve a majority consensus on what involvement actually means

(Q#1.) Is the player actively interfering with play or an opponent?

# "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 challenging an opponent for the ball
Additional Clarification "Interfering with an opponent"
In addition to situations already outlined in the Laws of the Game, a player in an offside position shall also be penalised if he:
# clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent or
# makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball
Guidance & Clarification of terms
# "clearly attempts" - this wording is designed to prevent a player who runs towards the ball from quite a long distance being penalised (unless he gets close to the ball).
# "close" - is important so that a player is not penalised when the ball goes clearly over his head or clearly in front of him.
# "impact"- applies to an opponent's ability (or potential) to play the ball and will include situations where an opponent's movement to play the ball is delayed, hindered or prevented by the offside player. However, just because a player is an offside position even if he tries to be involved it does not always mean that he has an impact.

For example:
# if the ball is on the right-hand side of the field is shot towards the goal and an offside player on the left-hand side either deliberately tries to play the ball or seeks to get out of the way of the ball as it is going into the goal without affecting an opponent, or in situations where there is no opposition player near, he should not be penalised unless he actually physically touches the ball be it on purpose or accidental makes NO difference

(Q#2.)Is the player gaining an advantage?

# "gaining an advantage by being in that position" means playing a ball

i. that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or opponent having been in an offside position

ii. that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position

A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is NOT considered to have gained an advantage
"Save" Clarification
As indicated in the last sentence a "save" can be made by any player and is not limited to the goalkeeper.
# A "save" is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of his body except his hands (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).
"Deliberately playing the ball" involves a conscious act of a player whereby his making contact with the ball with his feet, head or body was the result of him initiating a sequence of events in a reasonable manner! There is no guarantee of control or possession in a deliberate action. It does involve a ...PHYSICAL... touch of the ball
If either A1 or B2 is true or becomes true before the next touch of the ball by one of his OWN side, or a deliberate play of the ball by an opponent or the ball goes out of play then the assistant flags for offside and the referee blows for the offside infraction, the referee awards an indirect free kick to be taken from the position of the WHERE the offending player actually interferes with the opponent or the ball. THIS could result in an INDFK restart within the offside players OWN half.
Remember that it is not contrary to the Law to be in an offside position! ONLY to be INVOLVED in active dynamic play which clearly impacts the opposition from seeing or getting to the ball or when challenging for possession . The PIOP (player in an offside position) or ORP (offside restricted player) is simply restricted from participating in play which could impact the opposition! We judge the actions of the PIOP/ORP not the reactions or decisions of the opposition. To quote an old soccer aphorism, We do not reward mistakes!
When a player is in an offside position and the ball is deliberately or accidently touched or played by a team mate that player may not get involved, without penalty, if the ball rebounds or deflects off an opponent or an opponent makes a deliberately save, or he runs to a position that does not look offside and becomes actively involved. This includes returning to his own half! Once a player has been 100% identified as being a PIOP, he is restricted from active play, no matter what he does and where he goes, because NOTHING an 'ORP' can do on his own will change anything!


There are only 3 stages of play that could allow an offside restricted player (ORP) to rejoin active play.
One - a NEW teammate's touch of the ball
(1) Condition one requires the former offside restricted player to no longer be in an offside position when this new touch occurs. Offside reset occurs at ANY teammate touch of the ball deliberate or accidental creating a NEW phase of play with a new freeze frame snap shot of the new positioning of the players on the field

Two - opposing player deliberately plays the ball while not being challenged or interfered with by an offside player
(2) Condition two must simply occur, offside position is not part of the equation because condition one no longer applies. The former restricted offside player can legally contest ball possession if his opponents have deliberately touched/played the ball, this frees the previously restricted offside position attacker who is no longer, gaining an advantage, to rejoin active play no matter their position on the field
There are 3 exceptions pertaining to gaining an advantage
If the opponent/defender touch of the ball is deemed in the opinion of the officials to be a
(a) - rebound = a ball that bounces back after impacting a hard surface
(b) - deflection = a ball that alters it trajectory or being caused to change direction upon impact
(c) - deliberate save = a ball played with a conscious decision and realization of the consequences of action but is done preventing a goal
These conditions WILL NOT RESET nor change an attacking opponents' restricted offside status! Neither does it alter or change an attacking opponent's ONSIDE status.
A miss kick or poor header is more often a MISTAKE made when choosing to deliberately play the ball!

We do not award offside for a mistake, if it was a DELIBERATE PLAY!

However, the position or movement of the defender's feet or head apparently trying to react does not necessarily mean the ball was deliberately played!

What determines if a mistake is a deliberate play or was it a deflection or a rebound? We hold that when the ball comes to the player, no player will ever get out of the way and let the ball go by, there will always be a motion by the player as that is an instinctive movement. The question is whether it is an action or a reaction.

#DISTANCE: How far away is the ball?
#FLIGHT PATH: Is the ball's direction, or angle altered on its way towards the player?
#SPEED: How fast is that ball moving?
#SPACE: is there room to react?
#TIME: Is there time to prepare?
#IMPACT: Does the ball strike the player, without the player being aware or time to react?

An impact is NOT deliberately playing the ball, nor a mistake, it is either

#{a} rebound which is a ball that bounces back after striking a hard surface or

#{b} deflection which is a ball that alters it trajectory or being caused to change direction upon impact

Three - the ball goes out of play
(3) Condition three requires a restart of play!
Three restarts are free from any offside criteria by either team (Throw-in, Corner kick, Goal kick) where position is NOT a factor at the moment of the kick
A NEW positional offside evaluation will occur ONLY from the team taking the kick be it INDFK or DFK as there is a new touch of ball by the attacking team/or team mates. The opponents are exempt because condition two now applies!

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Offside Explained by Chuck Fleischer & Richard Dawson, Former & Current Editor of AskTheRef

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