The dreaded offside rule has been one of the most controversial rules in soccer for decades; an ever-changing often criticized regulation that’s open to interpretation. If an offside goes your way, you’re a fan, but if the decision goes the other way, you’re furious.
Referees take the brunt of the fan’s anger, and players throw their arms in the air in disgust; the lack of consistency is often the problem. What one referee says is offside; another will let go without a care in the world.
The standard offside rule is pretty straightforward, but there are a few points that many fans aren’t aware of. One question we’re often asked is, can you be offside from your own half?
So today, we’re going to take a closer look at just where the offside rule kicks in; hopefully, the next time you’re in the stands, you’ll know precisely when the striker is onside.
A player can’t be offside from your own half. As long as both players are in their own half when the ball is played, no offside calls can be issued. To be offside, at least one player needs to be in the opposition’s half.
You’re Not Offside Until The Ball Is Played
While your team has the ball, and a player is in control of it, you can’t be called offside; you could run right up the pitch, over the fence, and into the car park, and as long as your player still has the ball, you’re not offside.
It’s only when your teammate passes the ball upfield that there’s a chance of an offside being called against your team. Before we even look at what happens in your own half, it’s worth clarifying; if your teammate carries the ball deep into the opposing half, and the defense backs away until the ball is passed, you’re still onside.
If your teammate then attempts a pass to a player in a more advanced position, that’s when there’s a potential for offside. If the player being passed to is nearer the opponent’s goalline than the second-last opponent, you’re classed as offside.
By second-last, I mean any player apart from the goalkeeper; if the player being passed to is closer to the goalkeeper than any of the other team’s players, you’re in trouble. Well, you’re usually in trouble.
When Is An Offside Not An Offside?
So the player being passed to, let’s assume it’s the striker, is beyond the last defender and closer to the opposing goalkeeper than any opposing player.
Does that make the striker offside? Not if the striker isn’t interfering with the play, they aren’t; the striker could be past the last defender but taking no part in the attack or be close to the corner flag and therefore have no influence on the game.
This aspect of the offside rule is a cause for much arguing and can muddy the waters a great deal. If the striker isn’t in the way and doesn’t block opponents from either getting the ball back or passing it to a teammate, and if they’re not blocking the line of sight of the goalkeeper, they’re classed as not offside.
If the striker is technically offside but out near the corner flag, so now technically isn’t offside, is suddenly passed to, they now become offside.
Confusing, isn’t it? That’s because the striker has gone from not interfering with play, regardless of their position, to suddenly being a part of the attacking move and finding themselves in an advanced position with a clear advantage.
Heads, Shoulders, Knees, And Toes
The parts of a player’s body that can now be classed as offside have changed over the years; once upon a time, a player’s entire body had to be further forward than the second-last player to be classed as offside,
The offside rules have changed, and now any part of a player’s head, body, or feet deemed ahead of the second-last player is classed as offside.
You might not think that’s important, but when an offside call goes against your team after they’ve scored a goal because the striker’s forehead was offside, you’ll know the pain felt by fans on a weekly basis.
You’re Not Offside If You’re In Your Own Half
So now we’ve looked at the offside rule; where does that leave a player that’s in their own half? A player that’s stood in their own half, up to and including the actual halfway line, cannot be classed as offside, regardless of if they’re ahead of every opposing player.
If the player stood on the line has their feet over the line or their head, and the ball is passed to them, then as per the above paragraph, they’ll be deemed offside. The same applies to if the player is just over the line but isn’t interfering with play; regardless of whether they’re over the line or not, they aren’t offside.
The fact that you can’t be offside in your own half can have repercussions, especially for a team that is chasing the game. As a team pushes forwards in search of a winner or equalizer, the defensive line moves ever closer to the opponents, even to the halfway line.
In some cases, a long ball over the top of the defense can completely rule out an offside situation as the attacking players move into play from their own half. As long as the pass that heads their way is made before they cross the halfway line, they can’t be offside.
While this doesn’t happen very often, most teams ensure there are at least one or two defenders in their own half. It’s not unheard of for the team chasing to suddenly find themselves even furth behind as their opponents take full advantage of not being able to be offside in their own half.
What Happens When You’re Judged To Be Offside?
Unlike a mistimed tackle, which can often lead to a yellow or a red card, a mistimed run that leads to an offside being called isn’t punishable. Yes, the opposing team gets an indirect free kick, but the player who strays offside isn’t penalized further.
A player can be offside as often as they want and not get punished by the referee. That doesn’t mean their own manager won’t start to lose patience, though; an attacker needs to be as close to the offside line as possible while remaining onside.
Some of the greatest strikers in history have been players that were masters of breaking the offside trap; Pippo Inzaghi, the former AC Milan and Italy striker was an artist at breaking the offside trap by hovering on the shoulder of the last defender.
Legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was once quoted as saying, “Inzaghi was born offside,” as the Italian, despite being superb at staying just onside, still got caught offside a lot more than most other strikers.
Not being able to be offside in your own half is usually only relevant when a team suddenly counterattacks; as one team pushes forwards, a team that can recover the ball quickly and sprays an upfield pass to their attackers can reap the rewards.
With the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee), teams have to play even closer to the edge than ever before. Where it was once the sole responsibility of the referee or linesman to determine whether a team was offside, VAR can now check almost instantly and in minute detail.
Due to the ability of the VAR to freeze frame and zoom in, a rogue forehead or foot will now be found out, and there has already been a considerable rise in offsides being called, especially for body parts that are just offside.
In the future, there could always be changes to the offside rule, but for now, fans and players alike will have to accept the decisions as they come. You win some; you lose some; unless you’re in your own half, that is.
Learn more about the offside rule in these posts: