What Is The Offside Rule In Football?

Football as a sport has its share of rules that govern it, and these rules are meant to ensure that the game is fair. One of such rules that have stood the test of time and won’t be phased out any time soon is the offside rule.

The offside rule can be described as one of the most fundamental laws in football. However, it can be the most controversial judgment that can define a team’s fortunes when an assistant referee’s flag is raised or not. 

Fans of the game are aware that the assistant referee will raise their flag to make the referee, players, and the supporters aware a player is in an offside position during a game and cancel the chances of any unfair advantage.

The offside law stems back to football rules made by English public schools in the nineteenth century. In this article, we will be throwing more light on the origin of the football rule as well as a thorough explanation of what it entails.

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When Was The Offside Rule First Introduced 

Before the founding of the Football Association and an attempt to define the laws of the game, most universities and even schools played by the Cambridge Rules. These stated that a player was not allowed to touch the ball if he was standing in front of it, comparable to the restrictions imposed in rugby currently. 

When the Football Association created the Laws Of The Game in 1863 it specified that no forward passes were allowed at all until the ball was hit from behind the goal line. 

These rules were only adopted by the followers of what was known as the London Football Association, however, the Sheffield Football Association adopted a rule that is closer to the offside rule we know today. 

The Sheffield Rules said that one member of the opposition team must be between an attacker and the goal, but the Cambridge Rule declared it must be more than three.

When the Laws Of The Game were revised in 1866 a compromise was found, with the Cambridge Rule approved with the change that at least three players were needed rather than more than three. However, In 1925 the rule changed to two opponents rather than three and a substantial increase in the number of goals scored was the case. 

In the 1924-1925 season, 4700 goals were scored across 1848 Football League matches. The following season this grew to 6373 goals from the same amount of matches. 

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What Is The Offside Rule In Football? 

The laws of football dictate that a player will be offside if the ball is played forward to them in the opposing team’s half, and there is no opposition player between them and the opposing goalkeeper during the action.

Being in an offside position is not an offense in itself. However, once the player in the offside position plays the ball or attempts to play the ball, or interferes with play, then they will be seen as “actively involved in play” and that is when the offense occurs. 

It is not considered an infraction for a player to be judged offside if they receive the ball from a goal kick, corner kick, or throw-in after they were already in an offside position. Free kicks are treated differently from other types of kicks. 

A common misconception is that committing a foul simply for being in an offside position does not count as a foul in itself. If a player is already in an offside position and commits one of the following infractions, an offside call will be made: 

  • Interfering with the game’s flow and you’ll probably get called for an offsides violation. This involves making contact with the ball while it is being played by a teammate. 
  • Interfering with the opponent involves either blocking the opponent’s line of sight or drawing their attention away from their actions. 

What Happens When Offside Is Called? 

Being deemed offside on a football pitch is an offense, although there is no specific player punishment for being caught out unlike in other offenses in the game.

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A player can be caught offside many times in a football match and won’t be warned or cautioned by the officials although this is an eyesore for the fans of the game and speaks volumes of the awareness and tactical flexibility of the player in question.

If a player is flagged, the sole consequence is the ball being delivered to your opponents to restart play in the form of a free kick in their half of the ground. A player can only be determined to be in an offside position if they are in the opponent’s half when the ball is passed forward. 

When Is A Player Not Offside On The Pitch? 

  • A player cannot be offside if they receive the ball in their half from a teammate or an opposing player. 
  • An attacking player cannot be declared offside if an opposing player purposely plays the ball to them in the opposite team’s half of the pitch. 
  • The attacking player will continue to be considered offside even if the ball is deflected by a defender or another player. 
  • If a player is in the opposing team’s half of the field when the ball is played backward to them, they are considered to be onside and the game should continue even if there are other players in between them and the goalkeeper. This is true even if the goalkeeper is in between them and the other players. 
  • If a player gets the ball directly from a goal kick, corner kick, or throw-in, it is not considered an offside offense, regardless of what position the player is playing. 

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How The Offside Rule Has Been Altered Over The Years

As expected, evolution comes with its share of alterations and the offside rule in football is not an exception. Over the years, various changes have been made to the rules of the game and we will be looking at the ones regarding the offside rule in this section of the article.

It should be known that the rule stating that a player will be considered offside if they make a clear attempt to play the ball, be close to the ball and have an impact on the opponent, or interfere with a play in a way that affects the opponents has been changed.

The changes were made by the IFAB (International Football Association Board), which is the body that is responsible for making the laws governing the round leather game. 

This means that if a player is offside, they must remain stationary and allow the game to continue while they move into a position where they are onside and many players have been able to adapt to this rule nicely over the years. 

VAR Impact On The Offside Rule In Football

VAR stands for Video Refereeing Assistant and is a football technology that has made the offside rule much easier to understand than it was previously. 

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VAR technology has ensured that offside calls can be caught and called with ease by referees and spectators of the game with ease regardless of how complex they might appear.  

All that is needed is a call for the technology to be used to assess a potential offside situation. It has come in handy in the Premier League and other elite football leagues in Europe and on the international stage.

Final Thoughts

It can be recalled that some offside calls were very difficult to spot in the past and resulted in unfair advantages to many teams with the teams at the receiving end not being able to get over those defining moments.

However, VAR has enhanced the ease of making offside calls, thereby enhancing the fairness of the game and this is a huge advantage and improvement on the fairness of the game which has been overemphasized for decades.