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In this article, we explain the off-side rule that applies in football so that you may understand why the referee blows the whistle to stop play - and so that you may become the fount of all knowledge in this area!
You like football and understand the basics, but when the fan next to you shouts "THAT'S OFF-SIIDDDE", you realise how little you really know. Although the off-side rule was invented more than a hundred years ago, it remains one of the most difficult rules to understand. But, don't worry, we'll give you the basic rules concerning off-sides, as applied to football.
Most of the rules in football are really simple, but that cannot really be said for the off-side rule also called rule 11. In addition, it is sometimes even less easy to detect during a game. This is one of the reasons why recourse to the video is becoming commonplace in order to check whether a player was off-side or not.
The rules of football were first officially put in writing by the English Football Association in 1883. The off-side rule was included to prevent attackers positioning themselves close to their opponents' goal ready to receive a pass and having a much easier chance of scoring a goal.
Before this rule came into effect, players could pass the ball directly to such team-mates waiting close to the opponents' goal. That was, of course, rather effective, but far too easy. The off-side rule was invented in order to multiply the number of strategies for scoring a goal, and therefore to ensure that interest in the game of football was maintained.
Let's take an example of an attacking player who wants to score a goal. We'll suppose that the player is in the opponents' half of the pitch. A colleague passes the ball to that player so that he or she can score.
At the precise moment that the ball is passed, there must be at least two opponents (goalkeeper + one other player) between the player receiving the ball and the goal. If this is not the case, the attacking player is in an off-side position and any goal scored will be disallowed.
Originally, the rule required that there were at least three players of the defending side between the attacker and the goal for the latter not to be off-side, but the rule was changed a long time ago.
To make things clear, here is a concrete example using letters to describe the players and teams. Team X is playing against team Y.
Player A:is the player in team X who passes the ball.
Player B: is the player in team X who receives the pass.
Player C:is the player in team Y (almost always the goalkeeper) closest to team Y's goal.
Player D: is the second member of team Y closest to team Y's goal-line.
At the precise moment when the ball leaves the foot or the head of player A making the pass, no part of player B's body, legs and arms included, may be closer to team Y's goal-line than player D. In other words, player B must have both player C and player D closer to team Y's goal-line than him- or herself.
If player B does not fulfil these conditions, then he or she is considered to be in an off-side position.
The simple fact of being in an off-side position is not in itself an infringement liable to be penalised, To be penalised, player B must touch the ball or interfere with the play from that off-side position. In other words, player B must be taking an active part in the play. And in such a case, the referee stops play and awards a free kick to team Y.
However, there are certain exceptions. If player B is in an off-side position whilst in his own half of the pitch (team X's half) when player A passes the ball, there is no infringement and play continues.
Finally, note that a player cannot be penalised for off-side when receiving a ball directly from a throw-in, but the off-side rule does apply to passes received from corners and free kicks.
Conclusion: now you too are able to shout "off-side" from the stands!
Now you are able to criticise the referee who has not seen an off-side (except that it is not always so easy to spot on the pitch)! Talking of the referee, do you really know the role of the referee on the pitch? If not, take a look at our article: “All you need to know about the referee” ! Then you will really be able to understand why a particular player has been penalised and why the referee brandishes red or yellow cards.