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What is the Offside Rule in Football?

When you are following and betting on football, sometimes referees are going to make calls which you are not going to understand or necessarily agree with.  Oftentimes, there is a great deal of contention over these decisions.  And quite often, the questionable calls involve something known as the “offside rule.” 


What is the offside rule?  Also known as Rule 11, it’s one of the oldest rules in the game, but it’s still one which causes a lot of controversy.  The offside rule is difficult to properly enforce, since the referee or assistant referee acting on the rule needs to be able to watch several elements of the action at once in order to properly see what is going on.


Basically, the offside rule states that if a player is in front of the ball while the ball is in play, and there are not at least two defending players between himself and the goal line, he is “offside.” 


Note that this has everything to do with the player’s position and not entirely with what the player is doing (though that is important).  The ball does not have to be played forward for the rule to apply.  If a referee spots a player committing an offside offence, then the resulting punishment will be an indirect free kick for the opposing team.


There are a few exceptions to the offside rule:

  • This rule cannot apply to players on their own side of the field.  A player may only be offside in the opponent’s half of the field.
  • An offside offense cannot result from a corner kick, throw-in or goal kick.
  • An attacking player cannot be considered offside if the ball was played by a player on the opposing team.
  • If the player himself is behind the ball when it is played, he is not considered to be offside.
  • If a player is behind the opposing team’s goal line but not within the goal, he is not offside. 
  • If there are two defenders between the player and the goal, and one of them is in line with the attacking player, he is not offside.
  • Even if a player is in an offside position, so long as he does not “interfere with play,” he is not committing an offense.


You can see why the offside rule causes so much confusion, and sometimes, outrage.  It is difficult for a referee to correctly spot an offside offense in the first place, and there are so many exceptions to the rule where it does not apply.  Plus, as you can see, there is a difference between being in the offside position and actually committing an offense.  As you watch play, you will become more and more familiar with the offside rule and get a better understanding for how it can influence a match.  You may not always agree with the referee’s call, and you can see how a rule like this can result in unexpected outcomes.


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