Offside, Throw-Ins, and the Problem with “Directly”

Greg, a referee of youth players, asks:

Red team is attacking… Red player makes a throw in. The ball strikes a Blue defender and is deflected to a Red player in an offside position. Is this an offside offence?

Offside was flagged … During the debrief after the game, I asserted that an offside offense cannot be called on a throw in. They (both AR and CR) asserted that it was a case of being in a position that gave advantage by way of “rebound” off an opponent. What’s the proper call?


What follows will likely cause some debate (flames will be ignored)and gnashing of teeth but the weight of opinion (which we join) is that there was not an offside violation.  The language in Law 11 is very simple — “There is no offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from … a throw-in.”  Every one of these words is ordinary, uncomplicated, and generally well understood — except one, “directly,” which is found numerous places in the Laws of the Game.  Every other place (e.g., Law 13 on free kicks, Law 8 on kick-offs and dropped balls, and so forth) has a specific context which involves the scoring of goals.  For example, a goal cannot be scored directly against the kicking team on a kick-off, free kick, goal kick, or a corner kick (although Law 14 does not say so specifically, it is generally assumed this also holds true for a penalty kick).  A goal cannot be scored directly against either team on a throw-in or a dropped ball.

However, with Law 11, the context is different.  Here, the concept of “directly” gets a bit more complicated because it carries one meaning when used in conjunction with offside position and another when used with offside offense, and neither one is related to the scoring of a goal, at least not directly [grin].  “Directly” has a long history in the Laws of the Game and in almost all cases means “no intervening touch or play of the ball.”  A team given, say, an indirect free kick cannot score a goal directly from this restart but, instead, hopes that the ball, in the process of moving from the kick to the goal, makes contact with someone … anyone (who is legally positioned anyway) … because then the goal will count.  This is why the attacking team with an IFK within a short distance from the opponents’ goal will attempt to power the kick through the wall and any other players in the hope that it will clip someone on the way in, thus leading to a goal.

In the case of Law 11, intervening contacts are important only if they involve a defender and the critical question is whether the contact is a “play” (briefly, “possessed and controlled”) or a deflection/rebound.  If the decision is that the ball merely rebounded (deflected, bounced off, touched but not directed) from the defender or was deliberately “saved” by a defender, then any attacker who was in an offside position at the start of this segment of play (which began when the attacker’s teammate last played the ball) is still in an offside position and thus is not allowed to become involved in active play.  In brief,  the intervention is treated as though it hadn’t happened.

The language in Law 11 which we quoted above, however, deals with an offside offense.  It posits a teammate of the thrower who was in an offside position and then declares that this position does not matter because there would be no offside offense even if that attacker in the offside position became involved in active play … directly from the throw-in.  Now we come to the meat of the matter and, ironically, the nature of the intervening contact by the opponent turns out not to make any difference.  If the contact was judged to be a play by that defender (possessed and controlled), then this ushers in a new play segment in which possession of the ball has changed teams so the teammate of the thrower is no longer even in an offside position (and therefore cannot commit an offside offense).  If the contact was judged to be a rebound/deflection (which is what is implied fairly clearly in the question), then it remains the “same play” — i.e., as though the contact never happened — and the teammate of the thrower is still in an offside position but Law 11 says that this teammate, even though in an offside position, cannot commit an offside offense.

Offside … Once Again (with Gusto)

Robb, a parent of a youth player, asks:

An attacker (Red #7) was in an offside position when her teammate (Red #11) tried to pass her the ball. It was intercepted by a defender (Blue #42) who attempted to clear the ball forward. The defender (Blue #42) kicked the ball forward but it hit the back of another defender (Blue #33) in front of her and deflected backwards to the attacker (Red #7) still in an offside position. The attacker (Red #7) subsequently scored a goal,which the Referee allowed. The Referee explained the goal would only not have counted if the deflection was off an attacker but, since the deflection was off a defender, it counts. Should a goal have been awarded? What if the deflection had been off of the referee (a neutral person on the field)? [We have added specific player team/number designations to this scenario only after discovering in the initial draft of the answer that it was going to be difficult keeping these people straight as things shifted around.]


It’s always interesting when anyone, much less a Referee, gets it right but for the wrong reason!  We are going to use the plain and usual meaning of the words in the above scenario to make a critical decision — if a defender “intercepted” the ball and then “attempted to clear the ball forward,” then it seems inescapable that this defender deliberately possessed and controlled the ball.  It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a deflection, it wasn’t a rebound … it was a play of the ball.  Period.

Once we get this, all the rest follows.  The moment Blue #42 played the ball, the play that had been initiated by Red #11 (which resulted in Red #7 being labeled as in an offside position) was over.  Now, this new play by Blue #42 automatically converted her into an attacker, thus making Red #7 a defender)!  Sounds crazy, yes?  But that is the way Law 11 works.

So, by definition, Red #7 is no longer in an offside position (contrary to the scenario language).  And Red #7, who used to be in an offside position but now isn’t, receives the ball from off the back of Blue #33  and then scores against Blue.  How could this possibly be an offside violation?  The goal was scored by Red #7, an attacker, who received the ball from an opponent  (Blue #33).  Offside and onside positions are determined only by looking at where attackers are at the moment the ball was last touched or played by a teammate, not by an opponent.

Accordingly, the Referee was correct to accept the goal as legally scored.  Where the Referee went astray (or, alternately, was not understood correctly) is in explaining the decision based on an irrelevant fact — namely, the ball having come to Red #7 by a deflection off the back of Blue #33.  There is a kernel of truth in the concept, but it applies only to an attacker whose last contact with the ball was accidental or a deflection and, as a result, the ball goes to a teammate.  In short, determining who is or is not in an offside position can be based on purely accidental contact with the ball by an attacker.  Applied to a defender, the exact opposite is true.  In order for Red #7 to be considered still in an offside position following intervening contact with the ball by any defender, that contact has to be accidental, i.e., not a deliberate play (or a deliberate save), but the only contact that was accidental was the deflection from Blue #33 after Blue #42 had turned herself and all her teammates into attackers by her deliberate play of the ball.  Red #7’s goal was safe for two reasons — first, Blue #42 deliberately played the ball and, second, Blue #33 wasn’t a teammate of Red #7.

More on Offside

Keith, an adult amateur coach, asks:

A player on the Red team attempts to pass the ball to another player on the Red team who is in an offside position. A player from the Blue team intercepts the pass and begins dribbling down the field. The player from the Red team who was in an offside position comes back and challenges the player on the Blue team for the ball.  Is play stopped for an offside offense?


It would be a grievous error if any official decided this was an offside offense.  This scenario is fairly fundamental and simple as regards the concepts of offside position and offside offense.  For simplicity’s sake, lets call the initiating player Red #5, his or her teammate Red #19, and the defender Blue #45.  Now, break this thing down.

First, when Red #5 played the ball, that established which (if any) teammates were in an offside position and which (if any) were not.  Your scenario declares that Red #19 was in an offside position, presumably by virtue of being, at that specific moment, past the ball, the midfield line, and the 2nd to last defender.  No offense has yet been committed.

Second, between Red #5’s contact with the ball and Blue #45’s subsequent contact with the ball, did Red #15 do anything that constituted “becoming involved in active play” — interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage by his or her position?  Nothing in the scenario suggests this happened and thus, prior to Blue #45’s intervention, no offside violation was committed by the only Red player we are told was in an offside position and thus whose play of the ball was restricted  by Law 11.

Third, Blue #45 made contact with the ball.  This is the critical point.  Merely “making contact with the ball” does not necessarily change anything but, in this case, the scenario’s wording  (“intercepts the pass and begins dribbling down the field”) makes it crystal clear that Blue #45 has, in fact, deliberately played the ball.  At this moment, Red #15 (and any other Red attacker who might also have been in an offside position when their teammate made contact with the ball) ceased to be in an offside position.

In short, the world got turned upside down.  Defenders (Blue) are now attackers and attackers (Red) are now defenders and, for as long as this play continues past Blue #45’s intervention and the ball stays in possession of the Blue team, no Red player can be in an offside position and thus could not under any circumstances commit an offside offense.  Now that Blue #45 has deliberately played the ball, only Blue players can be in an offside position and the possibility of a Red player committing an offside offense is, flatly, nil.

Would that life were always so simple.  The critical point was Blue #45’s contact with the ball and the decision that has to be made here is whether that contact constituted a deliberate play.  Here it did and so the decision is easy.  Change any one of the elements of that contact and the decision could become more difficult.

But that is for another question and answer ….

Offside and Playing the Ball

A referee asks:

Player A1 kicks the ball.  Player B1 heads the ball and it falls directly to player A2 who is standing in an offside position.  Is Player A2 offside?


Whenever we discuss anything pertaining to an offside question, it’s always useful to make sure we are speaking the same language.  Your basic question is “Is Player A2 offside?” and our first response is “What do you mean by ‘offside’?”  Law 11 uses the term to mean two related but very different things.  If by “offside” you mean “offside position,” then clearly the answer is “yes” because this is a given in your scenario but, as we all know, there is nothing illegal or immoral about being in an offside position.   Our next question therefore is “So what?”

The challenge for an offside position player is to not become involved in active play while carrying that tag.  If you do, then you have committed an “offside violation” and an offside violation involves a whole different set of issues.

If A1 had kicked the ball directly (which, in soccer, means only that there was no intervening touch or play of the ball by anyone else) to A2, we still do not necessarily have an offside violation because A2, before being whistled, needs to become involved in active play.  To say that the ball “falls … to A2” indicates nothing more than that the ball wound up from A1’s play somewhere at or near A2 and it says nothing about what A2 did about this.  Did A2 then make contact with the ball, which is at the core of “becoming involved in active play by interfering with play”?  At this point, A2 could play the ball (violation) … or A2 could make eye contact with the referee and begin backing away while shouting to his teammates “No!  I can’t play the ball.” (no violation).

Your scenario, however, adds a twist.  The ball off A1 didn’t go directly to A2 — there was an intercepting contact with the ball and, in fact, it was by an opponent.  If, instead, the interception had been by a teammate (A3) in an onside position, then there would be no offside violation and thus ends that particular segment of play for offside analysis, only to begin another when A3 heads the ball to A2.  Was A2 still in an offside position at the time A3 headed the ball?  Did A2 then become involved in active play by touching the ball in any way?  If the answers to both questions is “Yes,” then there has been an offside violation; if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then no offside violation.  (For purposes of this scenario, we’re focusing on “interfering with play” and not such additional ways of active play involvement as “interfering with an opponent.”)

So, we come to the heart of your scenario and the really important question becomes “What do you mean by ‘heads’?”   In an offside scenario involving intervening contact with the ball by an opponent (B1), the referee must decide whether the contact was deliberate or accidental (e.g., a deflection off the opponent’s head, trunk, or legs).  If deliberate, then there is no violation because, by the deliberate play, the opponent took possession of the ball and, when that ball then went to A2, it was no longer coming from A2’s teammate.  If accidental, then there is a violation because the accidental contact is deemed not to have given B1 possession and, thus, the ball at A2’s feet had indeed come from A1.

There are one note and two important caveats to remember in all this.

The note is that, historically, this distinction between deliberate and accidental applies only to a defender, not to an attacker.  In other words, any contact with the ball by an attacker, without regard to whether it was accidental or deliberate, is deemed as “coming from the attacker” for purposes of evaluating the offside position.  A rather extreme example of this might start with both A2 and A3 in onside positions but with A2 moving forward toward the opponent’s goal.  The ball is struck toward the intended target A3 by A1 and it glances of A3’s head.  Since A3 was in an onside position when A1 kicks the ball, there is no violation.  The glance of the ball redirects it to A2 who, at the time of the glance, had moved far enough toward the opposing goal line that A2 is now in an offside position.  There is an offside violation now if A2 interferes with play because, although not in an offside position when A1 kicked the ball, A2 is in an offside position when the ball accidentally deflects off A3.  The accidental deflection is treated the same as a deliberate play.

The first caveat is that the decision about whether B1’s contact was deliberate or accidental is solely in the opinion of the referee.  There are no hard and fast guidelines for this — you have to “be there” to see all the facts and circumstances.  That said,  using the phrase “heads the ball” generally suggests a deliberate play.

The second caveat is that there is a significant exception to the whole deliberate/accidental dichotomy — namely, it doesn’t matter even if the contact was deliberate if the opponent’s resulting play is deemed to be a “save”!  The 2016/2017 rewrite of Law 11 requires us to develop some general notion of what a “save” is.  Fortunately, the Law has given us an excellent start on this by defining a “save” (p. 166, current Lawbook) as “an action to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal.”  “Into the goal” is easy … this has long been meant as “but for the intervention, the ball would have gone into the net.”  “Or very close” is tougher but could be thought of as “so close to looking like it would go into the goal that a reasonable defender would expend every legal effort to prevent the goal” — some might think of this notion as meaning something desperate enough to be virtually reflexive (e.g., a goalkeeper fisting the ball away).

So, finally, we can answer your question about whether A2’s actions constituted an offside violation.  “Yes” if “heads” is pictured as an accidental deflection, “No” if the referee decides B1’s play was deliberate, and “No” if the accidental deflection was a save.


Coming from an Offside Position

Shane Wallace, a parent from Tomball TX, asks:

Can a player who is passively offside come back onside to receive a pass? During our game, our forwards were checking to an offside position and then running back to an onside position to receive a pass. The ref on the field was calling them off side. When they had received/touched the ball, they were in an onside position. What is the correct ruling here?
It caused a big uproar because the opposing team was doing it and the ref was not calling it.


Let’s deal with the easiest issue first … the last statement.  If the referee was making calls on exactly the same situation one way for one team but a different way for the opposing team, then this is clearly incorrect.  However, there is no way that we can comment on things we haven’t ourselves seen.

Now, as for the core issue, the referee was entirely correct to call an offside violation under the circumstance which you described.  Issues related to Law 11 (Offside) are the 5th largest category of questions on this site and at the heart of many of them is the situation you have described.  Spectators are often confused by this element of Law 11 because the term “offside position” appears to refer to a place on the field.  It doesn’t.  It refers instead to a “flag” which is set to “offside position” whenever an attacker, at the moment the ball is touched/played by a teammate, is ahead of the ball, the midfield line, and the second-to-last-defender.  Once “flagged” for an offside position, the attacker cannot get rid of this until one of three things happens — the ball is again touched/played by a teammate and the attacker no longer meets the three criteria, the ball is deliberately played by an opponent, or the referee stops play (e.g., the ball leaves the field in favor of the defending team, there is an injury, a foul is committed, etc.).

In short, once in an offside position, an attacker is still in an offside position from that moment forward no matter where his teammates move, no matter where the defenders move, and no matter where the ball moves!  And this is exactly what you described.  Your player was in an offside position at one point and then moved to a different place on the field where he may have looked like he was in an onside position, but he wasn’t, he was still in an offside position because he “carried” it with him.  This is often referred to as “coming from an offside position” and is matched by its exact opposite — “coming from an onside position” which refers to an attacker who makes contact with the ball in an apparent offside position but remains onside (and shouldn’t be called for a violation) because he was in an onside position when his teammate last played/touched the ball.

By the way, the term “passive offside” is no longer used precisely because it muddies the water.  The offside position is neither passive nor active and, by definition, the offside violation is always “active.”


To all football associations, confederations and FIFA
Circular no. 3
Zurich, 17 July 2015 SEC/2015-C051/bru
Dear Sir or Madam,
Following requests from a number of football associations and confederations regarding offside, The IFAB would like to provide additional clarification and/or guidance relating to the definition of the offside offence of ‘interfering with an opponent’ and also to the definition of ‘save’ in the context of offside (Laws of the Game, p. 110).
This clarification follows detailed deliberations between our Technical Sub-Committee and the Technical Advisory Panel, which consists of refereeing experts from all the confederations.
Please be informed that this clarification replaces any non-IFAB instructions or guidance received previously with respect to this matter. We trust that this clarification will ensure a higher uniformity in the application of Law 11.
1. “Interfering with an opponent”
In addition to the situations already outlined in the Laws of the Game, a player in an offside position shall also be penalised if he:
• clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an
opponent or
• makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

• ‘clearly attempts’ – this wording is designed to prevent a player who runs towards the ball from quite a long distance being penalised (unless he gets close to the ball).
• ‘close’ is important so that a player is not penalised when the ball goes clearly over his head or clearly in front of him.
• ‘impact’ applies to an opponent’s ability (or potential) to play the ball and will include situations where an opponent’s movement to play the ball is delayed, hindered or prevented by the offside player.

However, just because a player is an offside position it does not always mean that he has an impact. For example:
• if the ball is on the right-hand side of the field and an ‘offside’ player in the centre of the field moves into a new attacking position he is not penalised unless this action affects an opponent’s ability to play the ball • where a player tries to play the ball as it is going into the goal without affecting an opponent, or in situations where there is no opposition player near, he should not be penalised

2. “Save”
Law 11 outlines situations when an offside player is penalised by becoming involved in active play and these include (p. 110):
• “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball i. that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position ii. that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.

As indicated in the last sentence a ‘save’ can be made by any player and is not limited to the goalkeeper. Therefore, The IFAB wishes to clarify that: A ‘save’ is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of his body except his hands (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).

NB: This clarification is consistent with the use of the word ‘save’ in Law 12 – Offences by the Goalkeeper (p. 122).

Additional information: change of FIFA Quality Program logos Unrelated to Law 11, we would like to take this opportunity to mention the change to the FIFA quality marks on footballs (p. 16), which was not part of the previous correspondence. This change is already reflected in the printed editions of the Laws of the Game 2015/16, which you received recently.

Thank you for your attention and please feel free to contact us should you have any questions or enquiries.

Yours sincerely,
On behalf of the Board of Directors
Lukas Brud Secretary



I was the AR in a game yesterday with a similar situation to the game referenced above. The difference was that the player in the offside position broke toward the goal and ran ahead of the ball until he pulled up in front of the goal. When the ball was passed to him it had just brought him into an onside position. I raised the flag and and placed the kick where he was first offside. I got vehement protests from the sideline (as I was the bench side AR) and the debate raged on after the game, with experienced knowledgeable people. Was this the right decision or was he eligible to receive the ball as soon as it passed him? Note:this whole event took about 3 seconds.

Answer (April 29, 2014):
If the player had returned (or been returned by circumstances) to an onside position BEFORE his teammate played the ball to him and had not, as Navas had not, attracted any attention from his opponents or otherwise interfered with play or with an opponent, then he should not have called offside. Being in an offside position is NOT an infringement of the Laws, so the player should not be punished for something that occurred under the circumstances you describe.

For the benefit of others, I append here the answer of June 20, 2012:

Navas’s goal was legally scored. He was in an offside position when the ball was first passed to Iniesta, who started from an onside position. Navas was not called for offside at that moment because he was not actively involved in play in any of the three meanings defined by the International Football Association Board: interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage from being in that position. Navas remained in that position to show his lack of involvement as Iniesta moved forward. Navas became onside as soon as Iniesta took possession of the ball and moved nearer to the goal. Iniesta then passed the ball to Navas. By the time Iniesta passed the ball to Navas the latter was no longer in an offside position — never having moved or interfered with play or with an opponent (no one even looked at him) — and could not be called offside because he was level with the ball at the pass.

I might add that the television commentators, generally the least knowledgable observers of soccer at any level of play, got it right this time and never said a word about any offside.


Unusual incident occurred in my game yesterday.
My team were awarded a penalty kick when my player was tripped inside
the box.
The ball was on the spot and all the players were ready when the
linesman flagged to get the referee’s attention.
The ref goes over to talk and the linesman explains that my player was
offside before being fouled.

The ref accepts this and reverses his decision and awards our
opponents a free kick.

However, the ref still gives the defender a red card for tripping my

everyone was confused and everyone started to laugh…
what on earth is the rule on this?

Answer (April 28, 2014):
If the trip was done with excessive force—the only reason I can think of—then the referee was correct to send off the defender, no matter that your player had already violated Law 11. Old referee aphorism: The Laws of the Game were not meant to compensate for the mistakes of the players.


Not to reopen a can of worms but I had one question with regard to an offsides infraction.

Strictly interpreting law 11, it seems possible that an attacking player can be in an offsides position on the opponents half of the field, and an offsides infraction can occur if he/she receives a pass (across the halfway line) from a teammate. I’ve never seen this penalty called and been told by several coaches that it is not a violation.

How should referees interpret this situation?

Answer (March 22, 2014):
Coaches are not the best source for information about offside or any other infringements of the Laws. Yes, a player who is in an offside position at the moment the ball is played by his/her teammate and then receives that ball is indeed considered to be offside. It makes no difference if the teammate who played the ball to the player in the offside position was in his/her own half or in the opponents’ half of the field. It also makes no difference if the player in the offside position returns from the offside position to his/her own half to receive the ball. It’s still offside. The indirect free kick is given at the place here the player was when the teammate played the ball.


I am an assistant instructor. My question is about offsides on a dropped ball. In law 11 it specifically states that a player should not be ruled offside if he receives a ball directly from a goal kick, a corner kick, or a throw-in. It does not mention a drop ball. In table 8.6 (Common elements of the eight methods of restarting play as found in the current edition of “Advice to Referees” the question can player who receives ball directly be declared offside and the answer is no. Why is drop ball not mentioned in Law 11 as one of the ways that a player would not be judged offside if he receives the ball directly from the dropped ball? Does it have to do with technically neither team has possession during a dropped ball? Thank you in advance for your time and effort.

Answer (March 3, 2013):
The dropped ball was included in that array of non-offside situations in Law 11 at one time, but was dropped in 1990. The reason given st that time by the English FA in proposing the item to the International Football Association Board: “The proposed new text eliminates the phrase concerning the ball being dropped by the referee. Since the Law was reworded some years ago this phrase has not been appropriate, as a player may only be considered in the context of an off-side offence if the ball was touched or played by one of his team.”