The offside rule on the pitch is often unclear and called suddenly. How do I know if a player is offside?


7 Answers 7


Wikipedia article on "offside" is very comprehensive and largely based on the official IFAB Laws of the Game.

From the article, what it is:

Offside is a law in football which states that if a player is in an offside position when the ball is touched or played by a teammate, he may not become actively involved in the play. A player is in an offside position if he is closer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender (which is usually the last outfield player), but only if the player is on his opponent's half of the pitch.

How it is officiated:

In enforcing this rule, the referee depends greatly on an assistant referee, who generally keeps in line with the second-to-last defender, the ball, or the halfway line, whichever is closer to the goal line of his relevant end. An assistant referee signals that an offside offence has occurred by first raising his or her flag upright without movement and then, when acknowledged by the referee, by raising his or her flag in a manner that signifies the location of the offence

So in my own simple words, you determine an offside by:

  1. At the time when the ball is played (pass or kick down the field) note where the second last defender (usually the last defender as the goalkeeper is usually furthest back of any, but not always!) of the defending team is and where is the player(s) of the offending team (who are involved in the play*) are further down the field from the ball
  2. Draw a line parallel to the base line (goal line) of the pitch through the said players
  3. If you see that the line going through an offending player who is about to receive the ball is closer to the goal than the line going through the last defender, and that line is in the defending half, then it is an offside.

    • by "involved in the play" we mean that they are likely to either receive the ball as a result of the pass in question or are able to influence the outcome of the play in some other way. A player would not be considered involved if he is on the other side of the pitch with the ball going away from him.

Refer to the Laws of the Game for more info.

Notice that there are a few exceptions when someone can be or not be offside.

  • When a ball is brought back into play after it left the pitch, one can never be offside. So, one can never be offside after directly receiving a ball from a throw-in, goal kick, corner kick or a kick off (of which the latter two are rather trivial). From a (indirect) free kick one can be called offside, since the ball had not left the pitch.
  • Suppose someone shoots for goal while his teammate is in offside position. When the ball then returns from the post, the bar or even the goalkeeper and comes in the possession of the teammate, he is still offside.
  • Offside is not bounded by the lines of the pitch. So, one can still be offside or prevent an opponent from being offside while being out of play. See gbianchi's answer to this relevant question.
  • 6
    One other part to it - the person who is to be called offsides must be involved in the play at the time of the pass. So if the passer is kicking the ball into the right side corner, a player on the far left side can be closer to the goal than two defenders, and would not technically be offside. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:26
  • Great point @MikeHedman. I'll add this to the answer. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:33
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    Note that the involvement in the play is now defined quite explicitly in the Laws of the Game (and their official interpretation): Either playing or touching the ball, or preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing his vision or movements or making a deceiving or distracting gesture or movement, or playing a rebound ball having been in an offside position. (Your summary is generally correct, but there are those subtle corner cases…)
    – Mormegil
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 9:40
  • 1
    Note also that the player on the defending team does not have to be on the pitch to be counted as the last defender. This came up in a Euro 2008 match between the Netherlands and Italy. blogs.reuters.com/soccer/2008/06/10/…
    – mwilson
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 20:33
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    I like Brian Clough's statement on the matter: "If you're not interfering with play, you shouldn't be on the pitch".
    – Ste
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 16:38

A Picture is worth thousand words! Hope this helps you understand enter image description here

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    I don't understand the purpose of the pentagon in this graphic; could you explain it? The information here is good, but one disadvantage of images to text is that images are hard to index/search.
    – Pops
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:14
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    This picture is nothing but a bunch of words arranged in an unreadable manner, and worse, the words are unsearchable. It would have been better to just list five headings with bullet points as actual text.
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 7:05

I've noticed that football players often talk about being level with the second last defender; but the FIFA offside rule is now much more precise. At the instant the ball leaves the attacking player the offside vertical plane is fixed at the part of the second defender (other than his arms) which is closest to the goal line. At that instant, if any part of another attacking player has any part of their body (except the arms) beyond that plain they are potentially offside.


A couple of quick additions, which I have not seen mentioned in previous answers (it's late and I am very tired so I might have missed, if that's the case I'll remove this answer)

There is a scenarios which might be confusing; a player is not off-side if;

  • beyond the second lass defender but the pass to him comes from a team mate that is further ahead of him i.e. if the pass is backwards (similar to rugby)

There is a pretty nice guide which explains the concept in detail, with illustrations.


A bit stupid to make this an answer but it's not yet (completely correct) on here. And I can not comment yet, so here goes:

In addition to posdef's answer: you can be in an offside position if a player passes backwards as much as with a forward pass.

As long as the player stays behind his teammate it does not matter in which direction the pass is given. But if he is in front of his teammate and gets the pass played at him in backward direction he is still in an offside position.

  • An attacking player is NOT in an offside position when: (1) on his own teams half, or on the half-way line, (2) when further away from the opposition's goalline than the second to last defender & (3) when further away from the opposition's goalline than the ball. These three things are the only ones that count when determining whether or not an attacker is in an offside position (with the exception of throw-ins, goal-kicks and corner kicks).
    – Qvist
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 16:53
  • Well I explained (3) ;)
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 18:46
  • Yeah, I realized that - but my point is that the direction of the pass is irrelevant :) The only thing that matter is whether or not you're in an offside position when the ball is passed/deflected.
    – Qvist
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:25
  • Oops, I realize now that we actually agree. Sorry for that :)
    – Qvist
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:26

I used to help ref soccer games when I was younger and the way I was taught to call the off-sides penalty was that if the player on offense was beyond the last defender (goalie doesn't count obviously) before the ball was also beyond the last defender, then the player is off-sides. Some people (myself included) think the way it should be called is that the player on offense needs to be even with the defender, but should be allowed to pursue the ball as soon as it is passed to them, regardless of their position relative to the other teams defensive players. In other words - let one players speed and instinct give them an advantage - rather than a penalty.

  • 8
    Actually, it's the second-last defender and the keeper does count.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:26
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    And the rule is that they have to be onsides at the kick, not when the ball passes the defender.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:28
  • you are correct - I meant in the context of the traditional goalie being in the goalbox and the defensive player being further up the field. I guess if the goalie ever came out far enough to not be the last defender than you would need to take the second-last defender rule into account. And yes, that is the rule - which is why I usually chose to call it that way rather than what I was told I should do. This was just youth soccer games though - I think you guys are talking more about the official FIFA rules.
    – jamauss
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:29
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    Yes, but the FIFA Laws of the game apply in youth soccer as well. FIFA spells out which laws can be changed, and Law 11 (Offside) is not one of them.
    – BillN
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 2:12
  • The most common case where the keeper is not the last defender is shortly after a corner kick. You can't be offside from the corner kick itself, but if the keeper comes out for it then it's anybody's guess who the last two defenders will end up being. So, players following up on a rebound are vulnerable to being offside when the shot was taken. Of course, some defensive units make this easy for the officials by putting a man on each post, playing everyone onside :-) Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 12:12

The offside rule states that if the attacking player receiving the ball is behind the last defender (not including the goalkeeper) at the time the ball is played through to them they are deemed offside.

However this rule does not apply in the event of a throw-in and can only be enforced if the player is inside his attacking half.

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