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.