In the recent Boxing Day match between Newcastle United and Manchester United, a controversial goal was awarded in the 28th minute.

[The questioner included a load of detail of items from Law 11, the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, and the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”

The bottom line is that the ATRs *appear* to offer guidance that is either not backed up by IFAB or FIFA guidance, or the rest of the world is unaware of said guidance.

Any clarification you can provide would be helpful.

Answer (December 28, 2012):
This is a very close call. From the available evidence (two photos and a video clip), it is impossible to decide one way or another. In such cases, we cannot do any better than to rely on the long-time guidance from the IFAB, FIFA, and the U. S. Soccer Federation: The referee must be completely sure that an offense has occurred before calling it. If the referee does not recognize a possible infringement as such and call it (either by whistling for the offense or invoking the advantage clause or making no call at all on a trifling offense), then that offense has not occurred.

We are very concerned, however, with the comment that the Advice to Referees (ATR) appears to offer guidance which is not backed by anything official. Obviously, we disagree. The original question, which I have omitted here, breaks down the decision into its appropriate parts and comes down exactly where it should have: the core question (given the givens) is whether there was interference with an opponent, and THAT is solely a matter of judgment for which the IFAB’s own guidance is quite sufficient — blocking the path, blocking the vision, or acting to distract or deceive. The ATR does not say anything contrary to this. The citation from the ATR is merely a good, concrete example of what exactly is meant by “acting to distract or deceive”: If the actions of the attacker in an offside position “draw” or cause a defender to move in a way he would not likely have moved in the absence of the offside position attacker, that is interfering with an opponent. So it all comes down to the basic issue of determining whether any of the three elements of interfering with an opponent applied. Our opinion is that it is arguable either way. We see the possibility of the goalkeeper’s line of vision being blocked or at least hindered (given where the attacker was). We also see the possibility that the attacker in the offside position blocked a possible movement path by the defender. And there is also the possibility – though we have no information on what was happening in the second or two prior to the first still picture — that the attacker may have drawn the defender to be where he was at the moment the ball deflected off the defender’s knee. However, because these are all only possibilities, that does not negate the guidance from on high that the referee must be absolutely certain of the offense – any offense, not simply offside – before calling it.…


Question: Sounds stupid but…

Me and my friends were having a debate in the pub about the offside rule. I was a neutral in this debate but would be interested to know what an official referee would do:

If a player is laying injured in an offside position while play is continuing, and a shot that was going in anyway is deflected off his leg or head unintentionally, is it offside? If the player wasn’t there and the shot was going in anyway, surely as the player had no intent the goal should stand?

Answer November 28, 2012):
But his presence DID have an effect on play — “deflected off his leg or head unintentionally” — means by definition that he interfered with play.

We need to remember that it is only a supposition that the shot was going to go in anyway. There is, unfortunately, no way of proving that, without the deflection, the keeper might or would have made the save. In all events, Law 11 does not require or even presume that the attacker in the offside position must INTENTIONALLY become involved in active play; he only needs to BE involved in active play. If he had been standing up in an offside position and a shot from a teammate had bounced off his back into the goal, wouldn’t this be offside position? Suppose the player on the ground were dead and the ball deflected off him into the goal — it’s still an offside violation (though, to be fair, we should probably have stopped play before all this due to the “serious injury”).

This was illustrated in the 2008-2009 Laws of the Game on p. 101, illustration 1 (last time it is shown, but the principle still applies): “An attacker in an offside position (A), not interfering with an opponent, touches the ball.” And the ruling on the same page says “The assistant referee must raise the flag when the player touches the ball.”…


I have received a number of questions about the goal by Navas versus Croatia, all wanting to know why Navas was not called offside. The questions provide a variety of information that could be applied to the matter, but the answer is much simpler.

The questions (abridged where necessary):
Q1. the eventual goal scorer, in my view, clearly “gained an advantage from being in an offside position”; but I note the “interpretation” of the rules assigns a meaning to that phrase which may explain this not being offside. That said, the “interpretation” refers to a ball hitting the post and coming to the player who was in offside position which seems ridiculously narrow.

Q2. [The goal] was offside because he came from an offside position when Iniesta passed the ball to him. When I read the rule there is nothing written but there is a part said gaining adantage of being offside where FIFA states:

“Gaining an advantage by being in that position” means:
Playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or crossbar, having previously been in an offside position.
Playing a ball, that rebounds to him off an opponent, having previously been in an offside position.

This is for a rebound ball where states him PREVIOUSLY being in an offside position, Wouldnt be the same a pass for teammate to him (NAVAS) previously being in an offside position??

But after I investigated some more I found a FIFA sketch where if player B get the ball being onside he can pass the ball to player C behind his ball line even though playec C was passive and never change that position from the time player B got the ball to the time player B pass the ball to C offside when player B got the ball first time. So my question isnt this a contradiction on the previous explanation by fifa saying that a player being previously offiside can get a ball rebound or anything like it??

Q3. During the Euro 2012 game between Spain and Croatia, much controversy has been generated with the allegedly offside goal by Spain. Although Navas is not directly involved in play, he ends up being involved once Iniesta passes him the ball and all the defenders have stopped their pursuit, waiting for the offside call by the officials.

Is there a moment in which the initial offside is nullified whether by a touch by a defender, a back pass to a teammate, etc.?

[And the questioner points out this interesting article on propsals to update the Laws, including offside: ]

Answer (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.…


Can you please expand on your April 4th answer? This has sparked a lot of discussion in the referee community on what constitutes control, or a mis-kick.

USSF answer (April 5, 2012):
Not sure why there should be any discussion at all. This matter is addressed in the entry-level referee training courses and there has been no change in policy or interpretation or guidelines: If the opponent who does not have the ball under control (i.e., clear possession and the ability to play the ball deliberately to a place to which he wishes it to go) misplays, misdirects, deflects or miskicks the ball, he has not affected the status of the player who was in the offside position when his teammate played the ball.

In any event, the decision is solely “in the opinion of the referee,” based on all the “facts and circumstances” of the event — all of which means that no formal, official, concrete definition is possible (or even desirable), only guidelines.…


During the March 30, 2012, DC United vs. FC Dallas MLS match, there was a play late in the first half where Dallas player Perez (#9) scored after receiving the ball following a deflection/misplay by DC United defender Dudar (#19). At the time the ball was last played by Perez’s teammate Hernandez. who chested the ball forward, Perez was in a clear offside position. All of our training as well as the Advice to Referees states that in order for the offside situation to “reset” the defender must control and play the ball. A deflection, miskick, or misplay is not supposed to reset the offside situation. In this case the AR did not raise his flag for offside and the goal was allowed to stand.

USSF answer (April 4, 2012):
An official review of the situation at the highest levels confirms that the call should have been offside.…


We were debriefing after a match and the following technical restart questions came up. As part of my U18M Premier Division pregame I instructed the AR’s to not call technical throw-in violations unless the attacking team gained an unfair advantage or was creating a match management problem; I specifically included stepping on the field as a potentially trifling technical violation. During the match I chose a goal kick when an offside player booted the ball over the goaline – after the AR raised his flag, but without my whistle.

1. We know from Advice for Referees on the LOTG that given a choice of IFK for offside infraction and a goal kick or throw-in, to choose the latter in deference to game flow. How about if the offside player kicks the ball over the goal or touch line? Does the obvious game interference take precedence and result in the IFK restart?
2. We know from Advice for Referees on the LOTG that the primary purpose of the throw in is to get the ball quickly in play, and, at competitive levels, technical throw in infractions should be considered trifling. Obviously if the thrower gains an unfair advantage or the infraction may result in a match management problem, the throw in infraction is not trifling and should be called. How about if the thrower has one or both feet completely on the field (no unfair advantage gained nor a match management problem)?

USSF answer (March 23, 2012):
The referee is permitted a certain amount of discretion in enforcing the Laws of the Game, taking into consideration just the sort of things you suggest: game flow, level of skill, effect on match management, etc. However, the referee’s judgments must not be perceived as setting aside the Laws in his or her discretionary acts.

1. Only the referee knows which choice better fits the situation in this particular game. This one clearly comes under the advantage concept as well as the “easier to explain” concept.

2. Infringements of Law 15 are usually trifling (and occasionally doubtful), with the exception at times of being in the wrong location. The infringement needs to be blatant and obvious before the referee calls a “bad” throw-in when it comes to feet. In youth play, even “U18 Premier Division,” the referee should be proactive in dealing with this by stopping the throw-in before it is taken and having the player do it right. Game flow is one thing, but flouting the Law is another. However, having one or both feet fully in the field of play – and well beyond the touchline — is usually more than a trifling infraction.…


I am 58 years old, still play twice a week and have refereed and coached at all levels thru high school and never even considered this issue before this past weekend.

What is the intent of Law 11 specifically that there is no off sides on a goal kick?

The situation – Team A takes a goal kick and Team A player(s) are 10 yds closer to Team B’s goal prior to the kick than the last Team B defenders who are at midfield when the ball is kicked. If Law 11 is taken literally in this instance, that there is no off sides for Goal kicks, it seems contradictory to the other off sides criteria to allow the Team A player to be on side. I understand and agree completely with throw-ins and corner kicks.

Or is the intent that Team B players cannot be off sides when they are just outside the Team A penalty area when Team A goal keeper takes the goal kick and Team A defenders are closer to mid field than Team B player(s). Which makes sense since the Team B player(s) are no closer to the goal than the ball when it is put into play.

USSF answer (March 22, 2012):
The Laws of the Game are not made by FIFA, but by the IFAB (International Football Association Board), of which FIFA is a member.

The IFAB has long held that the game needs more scoring. Referees are encouraged to give every chance to the attacking team, particularly whenever there is any doubt. This rule applies to offside and to possible fouls and misconduct. Indeed, the IFAB so much wants the attacking game to be encouraged that it has excluded players from being called offside DIRECTLY from a goal kick for over 130 years. Goal kicks became exempt from offside in 1866 – long before FIFA existed. The intent was possibly to keep the defending team honest. Who are we to argue?…


Did I miss something?

Memory serves that an attacker used to be in an offside position, in part, if he was in his opponents’ half of the field. Now, it seems, that attacker is given a yard +/- because he is not offside if he is in his own half of the field. So, ignoring the opponents, if an attacker has a foot on the half-way line, marking both halves, is he not in an offside position?

USSF answer (February 22, 2012):
An area of the field is demarcated by lines. The lines belong to the area they define. The halfway line belongs to BOTH halves. Foot position (or body position, for that matter) at the kick-off is treated similarly to the foot position for a throw-in: The foot may be on or behind or hanging over the line. For offside, the only thing that matters is where the parts that can legally play the ball are. However, in all cases, the offense, if any, is TRIFLING. Therefore, a player with his foot on the halfway line can be said to be in his own half of the field of play, no matter that some parts of his body may be across the line in the opponents’ territory.

For pure territorial purposes, yes, a player whose farthermost advance is a foot on the midfield line is indeed still in his own half of the field; however, the “formula” for determining if an attacker is “past” the second-last defender (past = any part of the body that can legally play the ball is closer to the goal line than the second to last defender) would apply as well to determining if an attacker was past the ball or past the midfield line. In other words, if any part of the body that can legally play the ball is across the midfield line, then the attacker is indeed in the opposing team’s half of the field — for purposes of determining offside position.…


As many times as this has been debated in your forum, I am still unclear on a couple of special offside situations. The memorandum on offside seems to leave a few gray areas which raise havoc with teaching offside in the Entry-Level classes. What exactly does, “the actions of the (offside position) attacker influence the actions of a defender …” mean??

For example, a ball is played by an attacker from his/her own end that lands near the penalty area and bounces in the direction of the keeper. A second attacker, in an offside position near the halfway line when the ball was played, begins to run in the direction of the keeper. No other defenders beside the keeper are in the attacking end.

The AR does not signal offside and referee decides to allow the keeper to play the ball. However,the keeper mishandles the ball and it goes into the goal. What is/was the correct procedure for the AR and referee? Can it be assumed that the distant approach of the offside attacker induced the keeper to misplay the ball?

In the same situation, a second attacker running from an onside position joins his teammate in an approach to the keeper. This time the ball bounds away from the keeper and the onside attacker collects the ball and scores.

USSF answer (February 10, 2012):
This response of 29 September 2009 should suffice:
“The attacker is interfering with the opponents — both by drawing the opponent into a competition for the ball and by actively challenging the opponent while both are racing for the ball. Our thoughts? Pop that flag upon the very first indication that the attacker was acting to distract or deceive the opponent while in an offside position.”

However, if there is no interference, as in your first example of the goalkeeper far,far away and the attacker near the halfway line, let play develop until there is some sign of this interference. This also applies to the second scenario: If the player in the onside position is going for the ball and the player in the offside position is behind him, let it go until it is clear that the player in the offside position is interfering.

Two applicable position papers have been issued and are available on the USSF website:

1. August 24, 2005

Re: Law 11: Offside
IFAB advice on the application of Law 11, Decision 2

Date: August 24, 2005

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) revised Law 11 (Offside) effective 1 July 2005 by, among other things, incorporating definitions of what it means to • interfere with play,
• interfere with an opponent, and
• gain an advantage by being in an offside position.

The USSF Advice to Referees section of Memorandum 2005 ended its discussion of the addition of these three definitions by noting:

Referees are reminded that the reference to “playing or touching the ball” does not mean that an offside infraction cannot be called until an attacker in an offside position actually touches the ball.

Because of recent developments which appear to focus on “touching the ball,” there has been some confusion about the above statement. “Touching the ball”is not a requirement for calling an offside violation if the attacker is interfering with an opponent by making a movement or gesture which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts that opponent. What the International Board has recently emphasized is that, in the unlikely event an attacker in an offside position is not challenged by any opponent, the attacker should not be ruled offside unless and until the attacker physically touches the ball.
This emphasis is both simple and easily implemented:

• An attacker in an offside position who is not challenged by any opponent and not competing for the ball with a teammate coming from an onside position who could, in the opinion of the officiating team, get to the ball first should not be ruled offside for interfering with play or gaining an advantage unless that attacker actually touches the ball. In a close race between an onside and an offside attacker, it would be necessary to see which player touches the ball before deciding if an offside offense has occurred.

• An attacker in an offside position whose gestures or movements, in the opinion of the officiating team, cause an opponent to challenge for the ball has interfered with an opponent and should be ruled offside whether the attacker touches the ball or not.
The International Board issued a Circular on August 17, 2005, which reaffirmed the above approach. As the Board stated (emphasis added): “A player in an offside position may be penalized before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other teammate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.” Further, “If an opponent becomes involved in the play and if, in the opinion of the referee, there is potential for physical contact, the player in the offside position shall be penalized for interfering with an opponent.” Finally, the Board confirmed the requirement that the indirect free kick restart for an offside offense is taken “from the initial place where the player was adjudged to be in an offside position.”

All referees, instructors, and assessors should review these guidelines carefully. It is important that officials understand and handle the offside offense in a correct, consistent, and realistic manner. Personal interpretations which differ from the approach outlined here can only cause confusion and hard feelings on the part of players, team officials, and spectators.
USSF will shortly distribute to the state associations and place on its website a PowerPoint presentation incorporating this clarification.

2. October 17, 2007

Subject: Offside Myths

Date: October 17, 2007

In response to the suggestion that there is “widespread confusionv regarding Law 11 (Offside), the allegation that referees are being inconsistent in applying the requirements of this Law, and the increasing use of phrases like “passive offside,” we would like to offer the following brief explanation to assist in understanding the meaning and application of Law 11.

There is no such thing as “active offside” or “passive offside” despite the common use of these terms, particularly by commentators. They are, at best, merely shorthand phrases coined for easy reference to the two central concepts in Law 11. Unfortunately, as with so many shorthand phrases, they often confuse rather than clarify what needs to be understood. In general, “passive offside” is used to identify an attacker who is in an offside position but not involved in active play, whereas “active offside” is intended to identify an attacker who has become actively involved in play while in an offside position.
Law 11 has two core threads- these are position and offence. The offside position, has a well-established meaning and its concept is clear:

• A player is in an offside position if he is nearer his opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent
• A player is not in an offside position if:
– He is in his own half of the field of play.
– He is level with the second last opponent.
– He is level with the last two opponents
• The judgment as to the offside position is determined at the moment the ball is played by a member of the playerÕs team.

Offside position is factual based on the relative positions of an attacker, the ball, the halfway line, and the second last opponent.
The offside offence is, by contrast, a matter of interpretation by the officiating team and, while the concepts are equally clear, some clarification as to how the officials reach their decision is offered:

• Being in an offside position is not an offence in itself.
• A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball is played or touched by a teammate, he is involved in the active play by interfering with the play, interfering with an opponent or gaining an advantage by being in that position.
• A player who receives the ball directly from a goal kick, throw in or a corner kick has not committed an offside offence.
• A player’s offside or onside position at the time the ball is touched or played by a teammate cannot be changed by any subsequent movement of the player, the opponents or the ball, so long as there has been no intervening play of the ball by an opponent. An offside or onside position is based on where the player is when the playerÕs teammate touches or plays the ball, not where the player becomes actively involved in play.

There must be a clear understanding that an offside position is decided based on a moment in time, when the ball is touched or played by a teammate, whereas the offside offence is judged from that moment onward. In other words, having in effect taken a snapshot of player positions and frozen their onside or offside positions at that moment, the officials must then judge whether players in offside positions become involved in active play. This involves weighing the direction and speed of the ball, the direction and speed of the player in an offside position, the direction and speed of any teammates coming from onside positions and the position and movement of any opponents relative to players in offside positions.

Although this sounds very complex and perhaps beyond the abilities of mortal men and women, in reality the decision-making process of a properly trained official is smooth and calculated to reach a correct interpretation of each situation. What is important to remember is that match officials take into consideration the whole playing scenario across the entire field from where the play started, factoring in the elapsed time, whereas many observers often only focus on a few players, over a short period of time, based on the direction of play and where it ends up.

How is the determination of “active involvement” made leading to a decision to penalize for offside?

“Interfering with play” means touching or playing the ball last touched or played by a teammate. In this context, touching and playing the ball are considered equivalent actions by the player. At a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) on 11 August 2005, this point was clarified as follows: “A player in an offside position may be penalized before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other teammate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.” This clarification means that the player could be penalized immediately rather than having to wait for a physical touch of the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, there was no teammate in an onside position who could compete for the ball. It follows that, if there were a teammate coming from an onside position who could play the ball legally, it would be necessary to wait to see which player actually got to the ball first.
“Interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movement, or by a gesture or movement which in the opinion of the referee deceives or distracts an opponent. We also have to remember that:

• Attackers clearly behind a defender do not interfere with them.
• Merely knowing that an opponent is in offside position does not justify a defender claiming that he was interfered with.
• An attacker raising his hand to signify no involvement does not, by itself, constitute an action which “deceives or distracts.” Indeed, in this context, there is no need for an attacker to signal “no involvement” as his involvement can be objectively determined by what he does, not by what he fails to do.
“Gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost, crossbar, or an opponent, having been in an offside position when that phase of play began. In effect, this particular element is an extension of interfering with play, compounded by the rebound of the ball. In cases where this aspect of law is invoked, confusion sometimes arises from the fact that the attacker in an offside position would not have been penalized for offside if the ball had not rebound to him or her in this passage of play.

The approach taken by most match officials is to wait and see. In these circumstances it may appear that the official is late or slow in signaling the offence, but in reality he or she has taken all the evidence presented to him or her, applied the knowledge and understanding of the criteria and come to a balanced decision. This may have included the fact that the player was not initially involved in active play and therefore no signal was given. It is almost universally accepted that, if there is any doubt, then the balance of doubt is given to the attacker.
We have addressed the specific instances in separate correspondence. The purpose of this communication is solely to provide an extended discussion of the elements from Law 11 that we have applied in responding to requests for “rulings”regarding specific offside incidents. We also hope that you actively (rather than “passively”) discourage the use of the phrases “passive offside” and “active offside” as they are not part of the Law and only lead to confusion. If you have any points or queries you wish to raise on this paper, please do not hesitate to contact us.


I was having an argument with a referee friend and the question at hand was: if the second last defender of red team is lying on the field due to an injury or slipping(legs closer to his goal line, if it makes any difference) and an attacker from the blue team receives the ball from his team-mate being behind the third-last defender but not after the second-last which is still lying on the ground, is it an off-side? He said it would be, because the defender on the grass is injured so he does not count.

USSF answer (January 27, 2012):
The Law does not discriminate between players on their feet and those on the ground. The defender lying on the ground would count as one of the opposing players in the offside situation. However, if the player who received the pass was not beyond the second-last opponent, then he was not offside.…