My question is simple, why does the offside rule require 2 rival players between the attacker and the goal line rather than 1 non-goalkeeper? Is there a specific goal (i.e. A scenario where it makes the game more fair) to it or is it just more convenient to have it worded like that? Seems its just makes things unnecessarily complicated sometimes

  • I'm not sure about the origin, but the rule makes sense whenever the goalie is not on the line. Having to pass only one defender is too easy compared to a defender + goalie or two defenders.
    – dly
    Dec 27, 2020 at 21:30
  • The origin of offside is to force attacks which control possession, instead of punting the ball long and hoping your own player got there first. One can look at rugby union for a hint of how much and how often the field position would change in football without the use of offside. @dly
    – Nij
    Dec 28, 2020 at 0:17

1 Answer 1


Football's rules originally defined the goalkeeper as "the defending player who was closest to their own goal line". Having a player who was specifically the goalkeeper, and held that role regardless of where they actually stood on the field, is a relatively modern concept in the history of football.

Therefore, it made no sense to specify "a non-goalkeeper defending player" instead of "two defending players" because the first was equivalent to the second, and the second is much easier to understand.

It still makes more sense to define offside that way, because it covers situations where the goalkeeper is not one of the rearmost defending players.

In general, when reading the offside rules of any sport, one must bear in mind the purpose of the rule: forcing attackers to maintain possession in order to successfully score, in a game where it is very easy to advance the ball (or puck, in ice hockey) up the field (or rink).

Using the proposed definition would undermine that purpose, making it easier to attack using strategies that are considered undesirable or unattractive.

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