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What is offside? The offside rule in football explained in 2022

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
The offside can be tough to understand
The offside can be tough to understand / Jacques Feeney/GettyImages

Offside is one of the most important, and at times controversial, rules in association football.

Key to how the game works, it was included in the first ever codified laws of the game in 1863 - albeit not in its current form.

Indeed, offside has evolved over time and despite popular misconceptions, it is actually quite easy to understand. Here is everything you need to know about Law 11 of the beautiful game.

What is offside?

An offside position

As per the laws of the game, a player is in an offside position if:

  • any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the halfway line) and
  • any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, including the goalkeeper

The hands and arms the attacking player are not considered in offside decisions as you cannot score a legal with these body parts.

A player who is level with the second-last opponent is not in an offside position.

Offside offence

Players are allowed to be in an offside position during a game. They will only be committing an offside offence if you receive the ball from a teammate or are deemed to be 'interfering with play'.

The laws of the game define the latter as the following:

  • preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision
  • challenging an opponent for the ball
  • clearly attempting to play a ball which is close when this action impacts on an opponent
  • making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

In addition, an offside offence has also been committed if a player is:

  • gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent OR been deliberately saved by any opponent

Offside decisions are determined principally by the assistant referee, though the referee has the power to make the final call.

Since the introduction of VAR, the technology has been increasingly used to determine marginal offsides. Every goal is now checked for offside before being given and goals which are disallowed for the offence can be reviewed as well.

When can you not be offside in football?

The offside does not apply in the following scenarios:

  • a goal kick
  • a throw-in
  • a corner kick

Why is there an offside rule in football?

The offside rule exists to prevent, in layman's terms, 'goal hanging'. If strikers were able to camp out in the opposition penalty area it has the potential to create an unbalanced game.

The offside law is not without its critics, though. Marco van Basten once famously called for it to be scrapped and the rule in its current form has also been criticised by the likes of Arsene Wenger.