The Offside Rule Explained Simply – The Dreaded Rule!

When it comes to football, and the rule book, the offside rule seems to be the one that a lot of people struggle with and can’t seem to grasp. It is a very important rule in football and if it wasn’t there, the game would be played completely differently. So for this reason, if you want to play, watch or be involved in football, you need to understand the offside rule.


There are a few parts to this rule which make it slightly more complicated, so I am going to attempt to break it down into chunks so that it becomes easier to understand. Here is, The Offside Rule Explained Simply.

Player calling for offside


An overview to start us off-

Why is it a rule?

The rule was introduced in 1863 but then later changed slightly in 1925. The reason it was introduced, in simple terms, was to stop ‘goal mitchers’. If this rule wasn’t part of the game, the attackers could just stand next to the opposing goal with the opposition goalkeeper, ready for the ball to be hoofed up field so they can have a chance on goal.


This, as you can imagine, would make the game much less focused on skill and a lot less interesting and exiting. So, the offside rule was introduced and is now a huge talking point in today’s game- but there is no question that it was a great addition to the beautiful game and it has improved it massively.



What is the rule?


*This explanation is assuming the goalkeeper is in between you, and the goal you are attacking (you being the attacker).*


The whistle is blown for offside if the ball is passed to a player who, at the time of the ball leaving the passers foot, is standing closer to the opposition goal than both the ball, and the last man on the opposite team.


This is the rule in its simplest form, however there are many examples and factors which make it slightly more complicated in certain circumstances. I will get onto these later on.


This diagram is a simple and common example of a player in an offside position:

Offside diagram

The player with the arrow pointing to it is in front of the last man in opposition defence, making them offside.



What happens when offside is called?


When the referee blows his whistle for offside, the defending team is awarded an indirect free kick from the position of the offside player when the pass was made.

Getting a bit more complicated…


So, like I mentioned before, there are a few things which make the rule sightly more difficult to understand. Take it one step at a time though, make sure you fully understand the rule in its simplest form as this will help when trying to understand the next bit.


Also, it is worth mentioning that the rule does not change, in all the situations I am going to talk about next, the simplified rule which I wrote about above, definitely applies. So, make sure you get that bit drilled into your head before you go any further.



The goalkeeper is behind you-


Okay, so this whole time we have been assuming the goalkeeper is in front of you, because it’s rare that he is not. However, there are some occasions when the goalkeeper is behind you, for example he has gone up for a corner or has made a risky run outside his box.


The offside rule actually states that two opposition players need to be in front of you when the ball is played to you, for you to be in an onside position. Usually, one of these players is taken up by the goalkeeper so there just needs to be one defender in front of you. However, in this scenario the goalkeeper is behind you meaning you must have two defenders in front of you to remain onside.


Hopefully that makes sense, if it doesn’t, don’t worry because this situation really doesn’t happen that often so you won’t be missing out on much.



You are in your own half-


If you are the highest player on the pitch, all of your team, the ball, and the opposite team is behind you- usually this would mean you are offside, right? Well, if you are in your own half, (behind the half-way line), when the ball leaves the passers foot, then you are still onside.


This situation most commonly happens when you are on the counter attack, and the other team have thrown all their players forward in search of a goal.


The ball touches the opposing team last, before going to a player standing in an offside position-


There are two interpretations of this.


1. The ball comes off an opposing player’s intentional and deliberate touch. (example, a back pass that doesn’t make it to the goalkeeper)


2. The ball comes off an opposing player’s accidental touch. (example, a pass intended for an offside player, which deflects off an opposition player)


We are going to address number 1 first. If the ball comes off an opposing player deliberate touch, the offside rule is disregarded and, even if you are standing in an offside position, you would still be ruled onside. So if we take the example of a back pass which doesn’t make it to the goalkeeper- if an offside player intercepts that and scores from it. This goal would stand.


Number 2 is the opposite. If the ball was originally passed by an attacking player to another attacking player standing in an offside position, but hits and deflects off an opposition player and the ball still makes it to the intended target, then, it is offside.



Goal kicks, corners and throw ins-Throw in


A player cannot be offside from any of these things. Of course, from a corner all the players are behind the ball anyway, so it’s not possible to be offside. However, from a goal kick and throw in you cannot be offside either so this is definitely something in which players can exploit it, and they have.



Interfering with play-


This is a rule which was introduced recently, 2016 I believe. Since then, it has caused many controversial moments within football matches, and took a while for referees to get used to.


In simple terms, if a player is offside and interferes with play, even if it is indirectly, and a goal comes of it, then that goal is disallowed.


I will explain further, don’t worry… If a player takes a shot and scores, and another player is standing in an offside position but does not have any interference with that shot, then that goal stands. However, if that offside player is obstructing the goalkeepers view, or makes any attempt to go for the ball which might throw the goalkeeper off saving the ball, that goal gets disallowed – even if there was no way he could’ve saved it anyway.


Offside = Controversy


Unlike goal line technology, offside is called by the human eye. The linesmen have the unenviable job of looking for any offside players and raising their flag when they see one. Of course, these decisions are sometimes unbelievably tight and the linesmen get scrutinised if they get it wrong, even if it is by a few inches. That’s the nature of football though, fans are so passionate and referee decisions play such a big part in the game, that there is no question that the offside rule is going to lead to some controversy.


To show this controversy, and how it can be a detrimental decision, I wanted to include this picture of a player celebrating- but if you look closely you can see that the linesmen has his flag up for offside… embarrassing!

Celebrating, but offside

On that note…


I hope this post helped simplify the dreaded offside rule, at least slightly. I tried to add in all the situations I could think of to help you out as much as possible.


If I did forget anything or if you have something that I may not have known then please leave it as a comment down below and I will look forward to reading them and replying too.


My Soccer Apparel.

10 Replies to “The Offside Rule Explained Simply – The Dreaded Rule!”

  1. This is a thorough look at the offside rule.  Given the speed of the game these days i don’t envy the assistant referees that have to make these split second decisions.  I thought VAR worked pretty well at the last world cup, but there were still some weird calls.  Hopefully missed offside calls will get less and less influencial as VAR comes to more of the major football leagues.  Bundesliga has it this year i believe, still no word on when the Prem will get it.  Still its a absolutely necessary rule as football would be a disaster without it.  Its just frustrating when the referees get it wrong.

    1. Yeah you’re right, VAR will make help out with this, but like you said, for some reason even with VAR they seemed to get some calls wrong which you would think defeats the whole object of VAR. 

      Only downside with it is how it disrupts the flow of the game, players stand around for minutes just waiting for the call which gives a weird vibe in the stadium, but i’m sure we will get used to it. Small price to pay for something that improves they game so much.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Hi I’ve long understood the offside rule in soccer but not why it was implemented. Your explanation of why it was introduced made it simple. Of course it makes it a more exciting game to watch ( and play) as the players need to travel up the field with the ball, rather than waiting for it to be kicked up the field in one go. 

    1. Thank you, yeah since the rule has been in football for so long, it just seems like it is part of the game so we don’t really question why it is there. I’m glad you now understand and thank you for your comment 🙂

  3. Thank you for explaining the offside rule.  I am relatively new to watching soccer and have been confused by this rule. Initially, I thought it was simply whether someone stepped outside of the field’s boundaries.     The diagrams you used  helped me as no one is moving in the picture so I could better see what you were trying to explain.   Thanks.  

    1. I’m glad I could help, and welcome to the soccer (football in my case) community! I hope you continue to enjoy and watch the game. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  4. That’s true, the offside rule is often misunderstood. In the soccer games at school here the rule is not incorporated as you explained here.

    I don’t know if the teacher doesn’t know all rules or just doesn’t see the wrong play but I often think the offside rule is not being forced in.

    I’m glad to have found this detailed explanations and will talk with the teacher about it. We’re in a small village in Thailand and the game is more for fun and exercise than playing by rules but still I think making it a bit more professional is motivating the kids too.

    1. Sometimes, depending on the age of the kids, the rule isn’t implemented because it complicates the game a lot for youngsters. However if they are old enough to understand, it would be good to have the rule enforced in the game as it does make it a lot more exiting. 

      Thank you for your comment, all the best 🙂

  5. Hi Joe,

    Very interesting content from this article. 

    I’ve always been confused why they were whistle at the offside. My friend were telling it was an offside but they never explained it to me as good as what I just read. 

    Little question here, you talked about Football, I guess you are from Europe? I live in British Colombia, Canada and here we called it Soccer. Do you think it is the same offside rules?

    Thank you for your article


    1. Yeah, I’m actually from the UK, which is why I call it football as you said. 

      In Canada, the rule is the same, they made the rule universal so that teams can play against each other internationally and not have any confusion with the rules. If all they rules are the same, teams from all over the world can play each other and are all used to the same rules.

      Good question, and thank you for your comment, all the best 🙂

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