That Damned Abusive Offside Law

October 22, 2010

Written by RedArse

There are only 17 Laws of Football. The one that is the subject of this article and which makes me bristle with frustration and anger is …… Law 11, The Offside Law.


Before we can rationally discuss the pros or cons of this law we need to know what it says!

Offside Position

It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position.

A player is in an offside position if:

he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

A player is not in an offside position if:

he is in his own half of the field of play or
he is level with the second last opponent or
he is level with the last two opponents

Offence

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 play by:

interfering with play or
interfering with an opponent or
gaining an advantage by being in that position.

No Offence

There is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from:

a goal kick or
a throw-in or
a corner kick

O.K., so they had defined Law 11; but how did it work in practice.

Following much controversy shortly after the current rule was introduced, FIFA brought out some “clarifications” or interpretations to re-define what the terminology meant, so that Referees worldwide would be consistent in their decision making. Not an auspicious beginning and the angst was to continue!

Clarification – Decision 1;

In the definition of offside position, “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” means that any part of his head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition.

Clarification – Decision 2;

The definitions of involvement in active play are as follows:

Interfering with play means; playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate.

Interfering with an opponent means; preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.

Gaining an advantage by being in that position means; playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.

So, despite Andy “know it all” Gray, it is not sufficient for a player to have his feet level with or behind the defender’s, if his head or torso is ahead of the defender’s body parts, he is offside!

Anyway, following last weekend’s games, I got extremely exercised at how Referees, or their Assistants, had interpreted the offside law, and in doing so, had materially affected the outcome of at least two games.

Let’s take the Spuds v Fulham game as an example. Huddlestone struck a terrific shot, from outside the penalty area, which flew thru a crowded area and over the boot of Gallas, before lodging in the back of the net.
The Assistant Ref flagged for offside, (Gallas gaining an advantage?), the Spurs players protested, and after consulting his Assistant, the Ref overturned the offside decision and allowed what turned out to be the winning goal.
After the match, ‘Arry the Twitch, said “I don’t know if it was a goal, or not, because I don’t understand the offside rules”. A furious Mark Hughes predictably said the Ref had made the wrong decision by overturning the Assistant’s decision, but agreed the Offside Law was very difficult to understand.

And that’s the crux. The Offside Law is difficult to understand or, more aptly, to apply, because it is open to each official’s subjective interpretation. Enshrined within the Law “clarification”, it declares that “in the referee’s opinion” is the major criterion, and this has to be a recipe for obfuscation. The result is that “goals” are allowed or disallowed, by different Referees/Assistants, in what are very similar circumstances, much to the frustration of Managers, players and fans, because each individual referee can make decisions, “in his opinion”. By definition, mistakes are being made, and far too frequently, because those “opinions” can be illogical.
I say this without wishing to castigate the match officials, who are doing their best in almost impossible circumstances.

The prime mover with this Law change was to promote more goal scoring opportunities (keeping TV audiences engaged?) coupled with the injunction to give the benefit of any doubt to the attacking side. Very laudable, you might think, but conversely, the large majority of the errors continue to benefit the defending side, thus negating the very purpose of the Law.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Referee’s Assistants are frequently unable to properly make offside calls because it is impossible for them to “compute” the many variations of whether or not a player is “active” or “inactive” at the precise moment his teammate touches or passes the ball, not least because the human eye often cannot physically see both the kicker and the recipient clearly because of the angle they are at, or his “line of sight” may be impeded by other players’ bodies.

It is only human nature that, if an official is unsure whether or not he has correctly worked out all the possible permutations, in the split second available, and does not want to make an embarrassing mistake, he will likely err on the side of caution by raising the “offside flag”, rather than not doing so and looking incompetent.
Why is this? Well if the official does not to flag, and wrongly allows play to continue, resulting in a goal, this will get highlighted and shown over and over again on TV, or ridiculed in the morning newspapers. The effect on the official’s career path could be terminal.

Back to my original point, that Law 11 is misunderstood and incorrectly applied. In a newspaper today, Graham Poll the ex-referee declared, in his inimitable doctrinaire style, that the Referee was correct to allow the Huddleston goal because Gallas was not in the goalkeeper’s line of sight. He made no mention of “gaining an advantage by being in an offside position”. The shot from Huddleston passed over Gallas’ foot, which must have caused Schwarzer, at least, a momentary delay in reaction simply by his being there in that position, yards in front of any defender.

What to do? The old Law 11 came into disrepute, because in major international championships, a lot of ill feeling was caused when stunning “goals” were disallowed because a team mate on the attacking side was scratching his arse in an “offside” position out on the wing.

Before the current Law came into effect, this “problem” was overcome by adding the simple sentence “unless interfering with play”.

Therefore, in the above example; under the “old” Law 11, a stunning goal would be allowed, even if the winger was “offside “whilst playing with himself, unless he was interfering with play, due to flashing.

The solution is to return to the old Law 11 rules. We all understood those simple instructions and it would demystify the current refereeing decisions, which satisfy no one!

A very Happy Birthday to Arsène Wenger.