The offside rule in football ( How is offside determined in soccer?) is the source of a large amount of goal-related controvesy, and is argued by some to diminish the entertainment value of the game.

It is also argued that since its abolition from Hockey, that game has become more entertaining.

Periodically, plans are mooted, but invariably fail.

So, what are its origins, and why have all calls to scrap it been resisted?

  • I'm not sure such a hypothetical is constructive, but I'm withholding a vote to close at the moment as I'm still undecided.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:32
  • I anticipated it might subject to those sorts of questions. Maybe "why isn't the football offside rule scrapped?" What do you think? Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:44
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    perhaps "why was offside introduced and are the reasons still concerns today?"
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:49
  • Have you noticed there is no offsides in basketball, and yet players do not just stand in front of the basket? There is a fast break, and teammates can pass them the ball or they can dribble it.
    – user1880
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 21:02
  • Hockey still has offsides... what are you referring to specifically?
    – w25r
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 18:37

4 Answers 4


Being a football player since very young (I'm from Argentina :) ) I just could explain my point of view.

When you have a casual game without offside, ball movement in the field is very weird: there is not much strategy filling spaces in the middle, and it is very common to just put the ball as far as you can in the opponent field. This makes the game more appealing, meaning matches have a lot of goals (like in 5 vs 5 games in a reduced field), but also make it more boring, as defenders being so close to their goalkeeperm make it harder to score. So the game loses a lot of balance in a big field.

There where some attemps to change the rule. I can remember a younger continental championship when the rule was enforced but only inside the goal area. That was the only test, but I remember defenders standing on that line, and not attacking because there were a lot of field to cover.

IMHO this rule enforces the game to be played in a smaller part of the pitch, and allow defenders to try to attack without leaving an empty space for an attacker. (although there are situations where the attackers just go alone, and counter attacks are common, but that only resides in the ability of the defending team in clearing the ball fast enough).

According to FIFA's History of the Laws of the Game, the rule was always there, but was changed in time. At first, it looked a lot like rugby, because the law enforced all players not to be ahead of the ball. Then it changed into a 3 players rule (you need 3 players in front of you to not be offside). Some time later (but we are talking about a game that is over 200 years old), the rule was enforced using 2 players. Then the line was moved form behind the second player into the same line. The last thing I heard was that a board will propose a change to the rule, but as far as I know, there are not any words about it. (and please correct me if i'm wrong).

  • Thanks for that. Always good to get the insider's point of view. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:22
  • @gbianchi Beckenbauer's link wasn't about abolishing it, just to keeping it but making it simple again
    – o0'.
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 14:32

Offside contributes significantly to the dynamism of the game.
The rule of offside was part of soccer rules even before they were written.

Even at the begginning of the game it turned out that strikers that infest near the goal and forcing the defenders to stay near them are sterilizers the game out of movement and diversity.

Moreover, in my opinion, the offside rule adds sophistication and creativity to the game.
Goalkeepers and defenders need to work on their coordination by reducing spacing and "trap" attackers on offside traps.

In addition, attackers need to work on coordination and agility, and midfielders on their timing and creativity.

I can't imagine a game of soccer without offside that contributes a lot to game dynamics and creativity.

  • Right, so the soccer version of spawn camping.
    – Aditya M P
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 9:33

The offside rule in football ( How is offside determined in Soccer?) is the source of a large amount of goal-related controvesy, and is argued by some to diminish the entertainment value of the game.

These are bold statement to make, especially without any references. I could easily reply with "who?" regarding your second statement (about offside rule diminish the entertainment value of the game.

It is also argued that since its abolition from Hockey, that game has become more entertaining.

This too is a very bold statement; not only it's a bold statement but also a very subjective one. I am not a big fan of hockey and thus I do not utter a word about whether or not the game is better without the offside rule, but even if it did make the game more entertaining there are two logical pitfalls to your statement:

  1. Just because removing offside rule improve the entertainment value of the game in hockey doesn't mean that it would do the same football.

  2. Is the entertainment value of a sport the most important consideration? In other words, does football have a responsibility to be entertaining to the crowds?

I think it's very important to think about these two points. First of all no two sport are alike to the degree that one can argue a rule change in one would make sense in the other.

Secondly I strongly disagree to the point of sports being an entertainment. I have to say it's a rather unfortunate attitude bred by North American leagues (NFL,NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS...) There are many important benefits of commercialized teams, but essentially the sportsmanship is dying with that attitude.

The point with sports should not be about more goals, more TV deals, better ratings... The point with sports is fair play, sportsmanship, athleticism and morals.. all these icky sticky vague concepts that are hard to explain in words.

To come back to the original question; offside rule makes sense, albeit being very encumbered and somewhat hard to understand. It essentially says; ... to score a fair goal, you have to work hard, run faster or outsmart your opponent being in an advantageous spot (by being lazy or blatantly lucky) is not "sportsmanly" (not sure if that word exists in English).

And as a football enthusiast that has played way too many unofficial games/tournaments, I second that. I despise lazy players that stand in front of the goal waiting for the ball to come over to them so they can take a shot from 2m distance to the goal, while the other players are pushing themselves hard to play the game the right way.

So, what are its origins, and why have all calls to scrap it been resisted?

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the history of offside rule, which mentions among other things, that the offside rule is very old (19th century) and that it used to be much more strict than what it is today. What was once "4-opponents" has become "3-opponents" and finally "2-opponents" successively. There aren't many references in the article however, which kills the impact of the article.

Probably the best source on the matter however is FIFA. Here's an excerpt from FIFA.com explaining the original offside rule, which was much similar to what I believe off-side rule is like in rugby:

Original offside rule
The offside rule formed part of the original rules in 1863 but it was a far remove from the law as we know it today. Any attacking player ahead of the ball was deemed to be offside - meaning early tactical systems featured as many as eight forwards, as the only means of advancing the ball was by dribbling or scrimmaging as in rugby. In the late 1860s, the FA made the momentous decision to adopt the three-player rule, where an attacker would be called offside if positioned in front of the third-last defender. Now the passing game could develop.

Despite the unification of the rules and the creation of the FA in 1863, disputes, largely involving Sheffield clubs who had announced their own set of ideas in 1857, persisted into the late 1870s. However, the creation of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) finally put an end to all arguments. Made up of two representatives from each of the four associations of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland), the IFAB met for the first time on 2 June 1886 to guard the Laws of the Game. Then, as today, a three-quarters majority was needed for a proposal to be passed.

  • 2
    Good answer, although I don't think stating "it is argued" is a bold statement to make, or subjective. It is indeed argued, or debated. I deliberately didn't express an opinion myslef. Also, in citing hockey, I wasn't comparing them, merely stating that comparisons, however tenuous, had been drawm. Thanks for your answer, though :-) Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:19
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    you're welcome. What I meant with it being a bold statement is as follows; a couple of people complaining about a rule that they may not understand is one thing, and a worldwide discussion on the regulatory organ is another. Making statements as; "offside is the reason of many controversies", or "it's argued whether or not offside rule diminishes the value of the sport" need to be backed up. That's all! :)
    – posdef
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:22
  • 2
    Oh and could the downvoter please explain him/her-self? If there's something missing/wrong, please point that out.
    – posdef
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:22
  • 2
    your points about the purpose of sports not being entertainment is very noble, but professional sports are about entertainment. This is not an American concept, perhaps a western one, but not unique to America (European soccer teams aren't worth hundreds of millions of dollars because of sportsmanship.)
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:26
  • I voted up. One reason i could conceive is that they thought it was a little argumentative since the first third of the answer is addressing perceived grievances with the question. These could have been handled in the comments section on the question. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:26

All of us who have played and love the sport known as soccer in the US have misgivings about the offside rule. Many have argued to eliminate it altogether. Those in favor of keeping the rule intact use the "poaching" argument which, to a certain extent has validity. But it is not necessary to eliminate the rule. A modification is all that is needed. Instead of calling offside every time the tip of an attacker's foot is ahead of the second last defender, the rule should be invoked only when the attacking player's entire body is clearly and unequivically ahead of the second last defender. That takes care of poaching. In addition, the rule should not be invoked when all play is inside the box because, by definition, there is no poaching and the defense has had a full opportunity to defend. It makes no sense when, for instance, defenders and attackers are inside the small box fighting for the ball and offside is call.

  • 1
    FIFA did change the offsides rule. Even used to be off.
    – dmourati
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 16:04

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