STLDs (no smirking, you’re all adults)

James, an adult amateur fan, asks:

I have a question in regards to Law 11: coming from an offside position.
As stated, the player ‘carries’ the ruling or a ‘flagged’ violation until interference or contact with the ball. Law 11 refers to the “second-last defender.” This confuses me slightly. Does this mean last defender including the goal keeper?


First of all, a minor correction in terminology – don’t refer to what the player carries as a “violation.”  An offside position is not a violation, simply a condition a player achieved by being at a certain place at a certain time.  The offside violation arises from doing the one thing a player who is carrying this condition must not do – become involved in active play by interfering with play or an opponent.

That cleared away, the term of “second to last defender” or, briefly, STLD means exactly that, with no special status or exemption for the defending goalkeeper.  The goalkeeper is a defender, just like any of the other 10 players of his/her team.

Problems sometimes arise regarding this because, in the vast majority of cases in defining an offside position (not the offside offense), the goalkeeper is the last defender and the next one up from (or even with) the goalkeeper thereby becomes the STLD.  This is so common that many referees and lead assistant referees (plus an untold number of fans!) focus on the goalkeeper (not surprising because the goalkeeper stands out on the basis of the easily observed different uniform) and are thus in error when you have one of those goalkeepers who like to play upfield from their usual place.  In such cases, officials can make a mistake in routinely counting up from the goalkeeper while forgetting that the person from whom they should be counting up is the actual defender who is closest to the goal line and, as a result, they may call for an apparent offside violation on someone who is not in an offside position because he or she is not past the STLD but maybe the 3rd or 4th last defender.  Keying on the goalkeeper in offside position issues is easy, routine, and fits the vast majority of cases, but doing so is not only hazardous but can lead to embarrassing errors when, just at the moment for whistling that offside “violation,” the official suddenly sees that there is another defender behind the goalkeeper!