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.”