TOUCHLINEUI: THE OFFSIDE RULE:where law meets football

Fan 1: “That shouldn’t be a goal, he was offside!”

Fan 2: “No! He wasn’t, can’t you be objective for once in your life”

Fan 1: “What do you know about football? That referee has been bribed”

Fan 2: “Just because it’s your club, you’ve refused to see beyond your nose. You are just biased…”

How many of these arguments have you witnessed and how many have you been involved in? You have lost count, right?

Then the arguments are stopped just in time to watch the replay. But the painful truth is that regardless of what the fans think, the referees remain the decision makers. Countless decisions of this nature have won trophies and brought tears in like manner. But such decisions have to be made.

Thus, using the quite recent matches – Preston North End v. Man. United (English F.A Cup), and Basel v. Porto (UEFA Champions League) as a basis, we at Touchlineui have decided to examine what the offside laws say and bring such to your knowledge.


Offside rules have been in existence since the 19th century and at the time, they were much stricter than what obtains now. For example, in English schools of that era, a player was deemed offside if he was anywhere ahead of the ball; hilarious, isn’t it?

Over the years however, the rules have been relaxed to promote more attacking football and goal scoring matches – the result, C. Ronaldo and Messi scoring outrageous amounts of goals (a talk for another day).

Between 1925 and 1990, the rule was straightforward- any player level with or ahead of the second last defender was deemed offside. In 1990, a slight modification was made to allow players level with the second last defender to be onside.

By 1995, being in an offside position ceased to be an offence as long as the player in such position was inactive. The International Football Association Board, in an attempt to define the word ‘inactive’ has made revisions to the offside rule in 2003, 2005 and 2013.


Law 11 of the Laws of the Game states that:

“A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active paly by

  • interfering with paly or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position


Another section further defines the meaning of the 3 above clauses and adds 14 different scenarios in an attempt to explain what constitutes ‘interfering’ or, and ‘gaining advantage’. Though these scenarios are not exhaustive, they could prove a handful for referees who have to make the right decision in a matter of seconds.

These revisions have brought more confusions than solutions- Song’s strike for West Ham against Arsenal and Bonucci’s winning goal for Juventus against Roma come to mind.

Figure 1



the blue player behind the dotted lines is in an offside position as he is ahead of the ball and second last defender, if the ball is played toward him while in this position, it becomes an offside offence

Figure 2




the blue player closest to the goalkeeper is in an onside position as he is still behind the ball.








In the Preston v. Man. U. game, the player was wrongly adjudged to have been in an inactive offside position. This is because a mere presence of an opposition player in itself can delay a goalie’s decision making, and even if such delay is only for a fraction of a second, it is still enough to decide the direction of a match. Rooney’s presence clearly had this impact as Stuckmann had to delay his dive to see if Rooney would put a foot to the ball or otherwise. Also, it is quite impossible for the goalie, in that split second, to have judged Rooney offside.





In the Basel v. Porto game, the 2 players were rightly judged to have been in active offside positions as their presence must have influenced the goalkeeper’s decision making.


Commenting on the Man. U. game, B.B.C’s Martin Keown asked the million-dollar question –

How is Rooney not interfering with play?”

Actions and inactions are in the end actions for after all, they possess the ability to alter the future. Man was not made for the law; rather, the law was made for man. Therefore, while TouchlineUI refuses to jump on the bandwagon of those pushing for the outright abolition of this law, we still believe that radical modifications can bring the desired result. For starters, a player in an offside position whose position is in the eyeline of the goalkeeper should be adjudged actively offside.


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