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The History of Offside by Julian Carosi Updated 18 March 06

www.corshamref.net Email julian@carosi.freeserve.co.uk   (Click here for a pdf download of this page.)

The word off-side derives from the military term "off the strength of his side". When a soldier is "off the strength", he is no longer entitled to any pay, rations or privileges. He cannot again receive these unless, and until he is placed back "on the strength of his unit" by someone other than himself.

In football, if a player is off-side, he is said to be "out of play" and thereby not entitled to play the ball, nor prevent the opponent from playing the ball, nor interfere with play. He has no privileges and cannot place himself "on-side". He can only regain his privileges by the action of another player, or if the ball goes out of play.

The origins of the off-side law began in the various late 18th and early 19th century "football" type games played in English public schools, and descended from the same sporting roots found in the game of Rugby. A player was "off his side" if he was standing in front of the ball (between the ball and the opponents' goal). In these early days, players were not allowed to make a forward pass. They had to play "behind" the ball, and made progress towards the oppositions' goal by dribbling with the ball or advancing in a scrum-like formation. It did not take long to realise, that to allow the game to flow freely, it was essential to permit the forward pass, thus raising the need for a properly structured off-side law.

It was up to the individual clubs (or the association to which they belonged) to decide which set of numerous Laws to adopt. The Cambridge (1848), Sheffield (1857), Uppingham (1862) and the then newly formed Football Association of 1863, all had slightly different laws (or rules as they were better known in those days).

1810-1850: There were several Public School rules written around this period, the known ones of which are shown below:

No player may stop between the ball and his adversaries' goal so as to get it when his own side kicks it there. If he is unavoidably in such a position and the ball be kicked towards him, he may not kick it himself nor try to prevent the opposite side from having a fair kick at it. A ball kicked in transgression of this rule cannot obtain a goal. There is, however, this exception; when a player kicks off from his goal line, the forwards of his side may stop near the adversaries' goal in order to get the ball, and prevent them from returning it. (Winchester).

A player off-side is to consider himself out of the game, and is not to touch the ball in any case whatever nor in anyway interrupt the play or obstruct any player. A player is on-side when the ball has been kicked or touched by any player on the opposite side. (Rugby).

No off-side play is allowed. If the umpire shall see a player touch the ball when he is off-side, he shall be out 'off-side', upon which the player must immediately leave the ball alone, or, if he be on the ground, wait until an opponent comes up. Anyone infringing this rule, after being warned, will be turned out of the game (Cheltenham).

When the ball is kicked, anyone on the same side but nearer to the opposite goal is said to be 'behind' or off-side unless at least one of the opponents be between him and the party who kicked the ball. Anyone who is thus off-side as considered as being virtually out of the game, and he must wait until the ball has been touched by one of the opposite side, nor must he interfere with any opponent or in anyway prevent or obstruct him getting the ball (Harrow).


These various rules remained basically the same for a number of years. A player was deemed to be off-side simply by being "nearer to the line of the opponent's base (goal line) than the kicker". The only way to advance the ball up the field of play was to dribble it. A similar tactic to that used in Rugby was to form a line of players VERTICALLY or DIAGONALLY down the field of play, dribble the ball forwards and then pass the ball BACKWARDS along the line from player to player (similar to today's Rugby passing). It was like dribbling the ball two steps forwards and then passing the ball one step backwards!

1847: The Eton College Rule described an off-side player to be "sneaking" by stating:

A player is considered 'sneaking' when only three or less than three of the opposite side are before him and the ball behind him, and in such a case, he may not kick the ball.

This was the first off-side rule to resemble the modern law, and now allowed players to receive a FORWARD pass if MORE THAN THREE opponents were between them and the opponents' goal line. This early term for "off-side" was known as "sneaking".

1848 The Cambridge rules: Following the evolution of the various rules used in the English public schools, the next stage of the development of the Laws belongs to Universities, particularly the Cambridge University, where young men were already versed in the particular football traditions of their own previous schools. There became a need to avoid confusion by amalgamating all the principles embodied in the various school rules. A meeting was held in Trinity College, Cambridge, in October, where a mutually agreed set of rules was formed.

1856: Sadly, a copy of the original 1848 Cambridge Rules has not survived. But an 1856 version entitled 'Laws of the University Foot Ball Club', was discovered over a hundred years later in the Library of Shrewsbury School, and it may be taken as practicably a copy of the original 1848 version.

The Cambridge off-side Rule No.9 stated.

If the ball has passed a player and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it till the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal.

1855 The Sheffield Rules: The first "football club" (as distinct from a university or a public school team) was the Sheffield Foot Ball Club, formed in 1855, mainly by some Old Boys from Harrow. There were no off-side rules in the original Sheffield Club Rules of 1856. They did not adopted the 'MORE THAN THREE' opponents philosophy. Players known as "kick throughs" were positioned permanently near the opponents goal. There was no limit on team size, and whatever size or shape of ball that happened to be handy was used. Referees were unnecessary, as the two captains would settle any dispute.

1862: Uppingham School Rules: The Master at Uppingham School, the Rev. J.C. Thring (who was at Cambridge when the 1846 University Club was formed), issued a more specific set of rules entitled 'The Simplest Game'.

The Uppingham off-side Rule No. 9 stated:

A player is 'out of play' immediately he is in front of the ball and must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball is kicked by one of his own side past a player who is "out of play, he may not touch it, kick it or advance it, until one of the other side has first kicked it or one of his own side, having followed it up, has been able, when in front of him to kick it.

The Uppingham rules of 1862 remained strictly against the forward pass.

The definitions of "how can a player who is off-side can return to an 'on-side' position" came from these early off-side definitions.

There are four ways, that this can happen:

(1) The player is not in front of the ball when it is next played by one of his team.

(2) The position of the opponents change so the off-side player is no longer in an off-side

position when the ball is next played by one of his team.

(3) An opponent intentionally plays or gains possession of the ball.

(4) The ball goes out of play.

The off-side player cannot put himself on-side until someone else, plays the ball - or the ball goes out of play.

1863: There was only one game known as football, but it continued to be played under a variety of rules.

The Football Association (FA) was formed in 1863, consisting of eleven member clubs. The first FA meeting was held at the Freemasons Tavern, Great Queen Street in London.

The previous Cambridge off-side rule of 1848, included the three player stipulation, but strangely, this was omitted from their later 1863 amended version which read:

When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponents' goal line is out of play and may not touch the ball himself nor in anyway whatsoever prevent any other player from doing so.

The first set of 14 Football Association rules where agreed on 1 Dec 1863 .

FA Rule 6 covering off-side (based on the revised Cambridge 1863 version above) stated:

When a player has kicked the ball any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponents' goal-line is out of play and may not touch the ball himself nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so until the ball has been played, but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked from behind the goal-line.

1866: The Football Association adopt the previous 1848/56 Cambridge off-side ruling of three players, and this remained the same until 1925. Sheffield (who had no off-side rules) eventually came into line with The Football Association's (three player) off-side version.

The first player to be caught off-side in an official Football Association game was Charles W Alcock on 31 March 1866 during a match between the FA and Sheffield. Alcock joined the FA committee and became the founder of the FA Cup, captain of the Wanderers team, and organised the first ever international match - as well as becoming a football umpire. Goal kicks became exempt from off-side in 1866.

The Sheffield Foot Ball Club, offered to play a representative side from the Football Association, and because of the differing sets of rules used by both parties, basic conditions were laid down.

Rule 6 read:

Off-side: Any player between an opponents' goal and goalkeeper (unless he has followed the ball there) is off-side and out of play. The goalkeeper is that player on the defending side, who, for the time being, is nearest to his goal.

This is the first time that the term "off-side" is incorporated in a Law, and the idea of a player designated "goalkeeper" is introduced. Another important landmark here in Law 12, is the first introduction into the Laws, of the Referee.

Each Umpire shall be Referee in that half of the field nearest the goal defended by the party nominating him.

1870: With the game assuming a wider sphere through international fixtures and Cup Ties, there was a need for uniformity of Law between The Football Association, the Scottish FA formed in 1873, the FA of Wales (1876), the Sheffield Association (1867), Birmingham & District (1875), and many other county associations - all wishing to play against each other . The Secretary of the FA wrote:

To effect a code of rules that shall unite all the various differences under one recognized head may emphatically be described as the ruling principle of those who, under its management, seek a healthy reform of what maybe regarded as football abuses.

1877: The Football Association and the Sheffield Association agree on one uniform code of The Laws of the Game.

1873: The concept of penalising off-side only at "the moment of kicking" (i.e. the moment the ball is played) was introduced.

1878: It was the eventual official merger of the rules of the Sheffield and The Football Association in 1878 that provided the standard platform for the growth of the game worldwide.

1880: Goal kicks had been exempt from the rule from the beginning, but an added clause specified "last played by an opponent". The Referee is written into FA rules.

1881-82: Corner kicks become exempt from off-side.

1882: A conference was held in Manchester on December 6th, where certain alterations to the existing Laws were agreed by representatives of the four British Associations (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales). There were no changes made to the off-side Law.

1885: The Manchester Conference of 1882, led to the creation of the "International Football Association Board" who became the single Law authority. To begin with, the International Board consisted of two representatives from each of the four United Kingdom Associations, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Today, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) consists of the four UK associations, and FIFA. Each shall be entitled to be represented by four delegates. Because the first Laws were historically promulgated in England, the authentic text is written in English and then translated into other languages.

The FA issues a code of rules, in the very first attempt to provide instruction and advice to match officials. It was1896 before the second edition appeared.

1888: The Football League was formed, followed in 1890 by the Scottish League

1891: Umpires were abolished to the touchline as linesmen, and the Referee is introduced - operating for the first time on the field of play.

1893: W. Pickford along with some devoted helpers, forms The Referees' Association, on the initiative of the future FA Secretary F. J. Wall assisted by A. Roston Burke.

1896: The first "Referees Chart" (now known as the Laws of Association Football) was issued by the FA and are kept at the FA headquarters in London. The Chart has been issued almost annually since that date.

1898: The Laws reached 17 in number, and has remained 17 until the present day.

1903: "It is not a breach of Law for a player simply to be in an off-side position, but only when in that position, he causes the play to be affected". (Council of the Football Association Dec. 14th).

1904: FIFA is formed.

1907: Off-side is now limited to the opponent's half of the half of field of play only.

1910: "Some Referees award a free kick when a player is simply in an off-side position. This must not be done". (Council of the Football Association Dec. 10th).

1920: The following is introduced onto the Off-side Law 6.

Play should not be stopped and a player given off-side under Law 6 because the player is in an off-side position. A breach of the Law is only committed when a player who is in an offside position interferes with an opponent or with the play. ".
(Council of the Football Association 8th March).

1921: Throw-ins become exempted from off-side.

1922: Under the heading "Advice to Players" the following (original Referees' Chart) advice was updated to read:

When standing off-side you have no right to impede an opponent nor to station yourself so near to the goalkeeper or any other opponent as to hamper his movements or obstruct his sight of the ball.

1924: The International Board decided that:

If a player who is in an off-side position advances towards an opponent or the ball and, in so doing, causes the play to be affected, he should be penalised for "interfering with play.

To be penalised, players now had to be in a close physical relationship to the ball or to an opponent who is in a position to play or attempt to play the ball.

1925-26: This was an important phase in the history and development of the off-side Law. The "three-opponent" rule had remained basically unchanged until now. Following a proposal by the Scottish FA, the International Board, meeting in Paris on 13 June 1925, decided that the simple answer to the problem, was to reduce from three to two the number of defenders who could place an attacker off-side. The law was promptly altered for season 1925-1926 so that a player could not be off-side if two (instead of three) opponents were nearer to their own goal line when the ball was played. The 1925 rule remained in force until after World Cup, Italy in 1990. Under the old rule that had been in force since 1867, defending players would play further up the field. By keeping in a diagonal line, the defenders easily caught attacking players off-side as they advanced past the foremost defender. And should an attacking player run through after a long ball, he still had the other defending player to beat and the goalkeeper.

Defending players had this law worked to such a fine art, that in the early 1920's the full-backs had developed an almost fool-proof tactic to catch attacking players off-side. They would position themselves almost up to the halfway line, one staggered slightly behind the other, enabling them to catch attacking players off-side with such success, that the game had so many stoppages for off-side offences, it became monotonous. Credit for exposing and exploiting the old rule is usually given to a full-back who played for Newcastle, Billy McCracken, who with this full-back partner would advance to as near the halfway line as possible (a player cannot be off-side in his own half), moving up quickly and timing their runs, so as they would often catch two or three forwards off-side. Opponents could find no way to master this tactic, which very quickly caught on with other teams.

The alteration from three to two dramatically decreased the off-side offences. In the season 1925-26, goals scored in the Football League were a third up at 6,373 compared to the old off-side law era 1924-25 season's tally of 4,700. Although crowds relished the glut of goals, perceptive observers saw a sudden decline in the quality of the game. The law change also meant that the defending players were forced to play squarer to each other and much nearer to their goal - but not too near as to allow the attacker to shoot without first beating them to the ball. Attacking players began to use the long ball played between the two defenders, and made more use of their wingers who (with only 2 full-backs being employed) had ample space to ply their trade.

In 1925, Yorkshireman, Herbert Chapman (a modest player with half a dozen clubs, and later a manager with Huddersfield) eventually became manager of Arsenal. Chapman (on advice from the veteran inside-forward Arsenal player Charlie Buchan) changed the role of the all-purpose midfield player, and evolved and refined a new extra defensive position called the 'centre-half', whose job it became to block off the 'through ball', and to cover the wingers if they beat the other two defenders. The 'stopper' had arrived; and other teams soon followed this idea. The standard 2-3-5 formation (two full-backs, three half-backs and five forwards), became 3-3-4. Deep-lying inside forwards began to adopt pincer-movement goal-raiding tactics known as the 'W' plan. Having a centre-half in the team, meant one less player concentrating on attacking, thus enforcing an initial negative type of defensive play that has taken many years to develop into the more offensive and exiting counter-attacking style that we enjoy today.

1937-38: The off-side Law was remodelled along with the rest of the Laws in 1938 by the Secretary of the FA Mr Stanley F. Rous (as he then was), and was accepted by the IFAB in June 1938. The present Laws are based on this 1938 version. Off-side becomes Law XI (Now know as Law 11).

1956: Law XI International Board Decision (IBD) 1 is introduced:

1. Off-side shall not be judged at the moment the player in question receives the ball, but at the moment when the ball is passed to him by one of his own side. A player who is not in an off-side position when one of his colleagues passes the ball to him or takes a free-kick, does not therefore become off-side if he goes forward during the flight of the ball.

A player does not necessarily infringe this Law if he is in an off-side position and moves a little way beyond the boundary of the field of play to show clearly to the referee that he is not interfering with play, but if the referee considers that such a movement has a tactical aim, or is, in any way, a feint and the player takes part in the game immediately after, then the referee should blow his whistle for ' off-side.'

It is interesting to note in the last sentence above, that "stepping off the field of play" to indicate non-involvement in active play, has been around for many years, and is not a modern invention!

1974: On July 9, 1974, the Football Association of Wales, introduced a proposal at the annual meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), to change the off-side paragraph (c) wording describing when a player was NOT off-side.

The proposal was to replace the following existing text "The ball last touched an opponent or was last played by him" with; "The ball was last played by an opponent".

The reason given for the proposed change was: "For a player to be placed 'on-side' when the

ball accidentally touches an opponent is contrary to the spirit of the Law. The Referee should have sole discretion as to whether or not a player intentionally plays the ball."

The proposal included changing the off-side Diagrams 10 and No. 7 from a Not-Off-side to Off-side verdicts. The 1974-1975 diagrams which had been in the Laws for a number of years, showed two scenarios of a goal being allowed after a ball by an attacker was: "returned by a defending goalkeeper to an offside attacker (Diagram 7)". And "deflected off a defender to another attacking player who was in an off-side position (Diagram 10)". The Football Association of Wales proposed that the off-side attacking player who scored the goals in both scenarios, should be penalised for (effectively, now known in the modern game as) "gaining an advantage by being in that position" and PLAYING A BALL that rebounds off an opponent having been in an off-side position. Although the proposal by the Football Association of Wales was withdrawn, it eventually led to a subsequent change of the wording in the off-side Law in 1978-1979, and the removal of Diagrams 7 and 10.

1978-1979: The off-side Law XI was rewritten: Preceded by the 1974 proposal by FA of Wales to International Board - removed any reference to ball touching or being played by an opponent. Penalising off-side is now to be judged at the moment that the ball is played by a team-mate. In the previous 1977-1978 Law XI, a player was not penalised if: "The ball last touched an opponent or was last played by him". The 1978-79 amendment below, introduces the important phrase: "at the moment the ball touches, or is played by, one of his team". Mere deflection of the ball by a defender no longer places an off-side opponent in an on-side position.

Law XI Off-Side

(1) A player is in an off-side position if he is nearer to his opponents' goal line than the ball, unless:

(a) he is in his own half of the field of play, or

(b) there are at least two of his opponents nearer their own goal-line than he is.

(2) A player shall only be declared off-side and penalised for being in an off-side position, if, at the moment the ball touches, or is played by, one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the Referee:

(a) interfering with play or with an opponent, or

(b) seeking to gain an advantage by being in that position.

(3) A player shall not be declared off-side by the Referee

(a) merely because of his being in an off-side position, or

(b) if he receives the ball, direct, from a goal-kick, a corner-kick, a throw-in, or when it has been dropped by the Referee.

(4) If a player is declared off-side, the Referee shall award an indirect free-kick, which shall be taken by a player of the opposing team from the place where the infringement occurred, unless the offence is committed by a player in his opponents' goal area, in which case, the free-kick shall be taken from a point anywhere within that half of the goal area in which the offence occurred.

1990-1991: Prior to the 1990-1991 season, players were deemed to be off-side if they were level with the second last defender or the last two defenders. A change in Law XI for season 1990-1991 now exempts players who are level with the second last or the last two defenders. This important new clause now gives the advantage to the attacking players and was as follows:

(b) he is not nearer to his opponents' goal-line than at least two of his opponents.

A second paragraph was added to the Law XI International Board Decision (IBD) 1:

2. A player who is level with the second last opponent or with the last two opponents is not in an off-side position.


1995-1996: The following two new terms were introduced into the off-side Law:

It is not an offence in itself to be in an off-side position.

A player shall only be penalised for being in an off-side position if, at the moment the ball touches, or is played by one of his team, he is in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play.

This clarified the understanding that it is not an offence for a player to be in an off-side position. The Referee can refrain from penalising if in the opinion of the Referee, the player concerned is not interfering with play, nor interfering with an opponent, nor seeking to gain an advantage. This clearly distinguishes between the off-side position and the infringement of being actively involved in play while in that position.

It is interesting to note also in 1995-1996, that the previous Law X1 Off-side phrase "seeking to gain an advantage by being in that position" was subtly changed to "gaining an advantage by being in that position".

The difference being, that a player only had to make a move (seeking) towards the ball to be penalised, whereas, the new phrase implies that an advantage has to be gained before a player is penalised.

1997-1998: The International Football Association Board (IFAB) radically simplified and updated the wording and completely rewrote all of the Laws of the Game in a simplified version. There was no specific change to Law 11, but the wording became slightly shorter, and the International Board Decisions 1 and 2 were taken out. Interestingly, this is also when the actual word off-side had its hyphen removed and became offside. And the previously used Roman numerals (for example Law XI Off-side) became Law 11 - Offside.


The offside Law 11 has remained the same from the 1997-1998 season, up to 2003-2004 as shown below:


Offside Position

It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position.

A player is in an offside position if:


A player is not in an offside position if:





A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:



No Offence

There is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from:



For any offside offence, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred.


2003: The following FIFA Circular No. 874 was issued on 22 October 2003

Circular No. 874

Law 11 - OFFSIDE

Dear Sir or Madame,

We would like to inform you about a decision passed at the Annual Business Meeting of the International Football Association Board on 16 September 2003, in order to achieve uniform interpretation of Law 11 "Offside", based on the following principles.

Law 11 reads as follows: "A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball is touched or played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

How should we interpret "interfering with play"?

PLAYING OR TOUCHING a ball passed or touched by a team-mate.

How should we interpret "interfering with an opponent" ?

PREVENTING an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball. For example, by clearly obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of vision or movements.

Making a gesture or movement while standing in the path of the ball to DECEIVE OR DISTRACT AN OPPONENT.

Note: The following is an addition from UEFA Referees' and Assistant Referees' seminar held in Nyon in September 2003: "A player in an offside position, by his manner and direction of movement, near the path of the ball, in the opinion of the Referee, interferes with an opponent (e.g. getting closer to the path of the ball." 

This is more in line with the old phrase "seeking to gain an advantage" in the Offside Laws previous to 1995-1996.

How should we interpret "gaining an advantage by being in that position" ?

PLAYING A BALL that rebounds off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position.

PLAYING A BALL that rebounds off an opponent having been in an offside position.

We are aware that there will always be controversial incidents, but as stipulated in the Laws of the Game, the referee's decision is final. We also believe, however, that with clearer instructions, referees will be in a better position to make informed decisions based on uniform criteria.

Yours faithfully,


Urs Linsi (General Secretary)



2003: At the UEFA’s Referees' Committee held on Saturday 20 December 2003, the following general conclusions and recommendations were made.

Attention is drawn to the following decisions made at the third UEFA seminar for international Assistant Referees for the benefit of international football in Europe by adopting a standard approach in the performances of Assistant Referees.


1. It was noted again that there had been no changes in the offside law for the season 2003/04, nor any extra IFAB or FIFA directives.

2. If an assistant referee is not totally sure about an offside offence the flag should not be raised (i.e. in case of doubt benefit must be given to the attacking team).

3. In deciding whether an attacking payer is nearer to the opponent’s goal line than the second last defender, consideration should be given to the position of the attacker’s feet and body in respect to that of the second last defender.
("Air space" or similar misleading phrases should not be used by instructors, but instructors should emphasise that assistant referees must be sure that the attacker is nearer to the goal line than the second last defender).

4. To ensure correct judgement of offside offences, an assistant referee should not raise the flag before considering the following criteria, so called "wait and see" technique:
a. Movement of the ball (direction, speed, distance, any deflection, etc.)
b. Involvement of the player in active play by:
· interfering with play or
· interfering with an opponent or
· gaining an advantage.

5. Following discussions in the joint seminar between Elite referees and assistant referees, the following guidelines were agreed as considerations to assist in the interpretation and application of the Offside Law, in connection with "involvement in active play", in particular "interfering with an opponent":
- A player in an offside position , and also in the opinion of the referee, on the path of the ball, interferes with play or his opponents.
- A player in an offside position, by his manner and direction of movement, near the path of the ball, in the opinion of the referee, interferes with an opponent (e.g. getting closer to the path of the ball).
- A player in an offside position and clearly in the goalkeeper’s line of vision (between him and the kicker ), in the opinion of the referee, interferes with the goalkeeper (distraction).

In connection with interpreting and applying the Offside Law concerning "gaining an advantage by being in that position", assistant referees were reminded of their responsibilities to be alert in situations where, for example, the ball rebounds from a goal post or cross bar or goalkeeper, to a player who was in an offside position when the ball was last played by his team-mate.

6. In connection with assistant referees making judgements concerning offside, they were reminded that it is better to be slightly late and correct, than to be too quick and wrong.

7. If a flag signal for offside is given and is not seen immediately by the referee; the assistant referee must keep signalling until it has been recognised or the ball is clearly in control of the defending team (the electronic beep signal is used to alert the referee to the flag signal).

8. For very tight judgements where an assistant referee decides "not offside" a discreet hand signal may give valuable support to the referee when the referee makes eye-contact.


2005:  At its annual meeting on 26 February 2005, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) agreed on the inclusion into Law 11 Offside, a definition of which parts of the body should be used when calculating offside. The three FIFA active play interpretations issued via FIFA Circular No. 874 on 22 October 2003 were also added into Law 11. These new changes were promulgated via FIFA Circular No. 968 dated 17 May 05, and the changes came into effect on 1 July 2005. The Law 11 amendments were as follows.


New International FA Board Decision 1

In the definition of offside position, “nearer to his opponents’ goal line means that any part of his head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.  The arms are not included in this definition.


Football is played with the head, body and feet. If these are nearer the opponents’ goal line, there is a potential advantage. There is no advantage to be gained if only the arms are in advance of the opponent.

New International FA Board Decision 2

The definitions of elements of involvement in active play are as follows: 

These definitions have been tried out over two seasons and modified following the approval of the original interpretation by the IFAB business meeting in September. This IFAB decision gives the appropriate recognition to the Laws of the Game booklet.


2005:  The introduction into Law 11 of the three FIFA active play interpretations sparked off a debate on the wording of the first active play interpretation: 

Up to now (and for the last 200 years!), Referees and Assistant Referees were not required to wait until the ball was touched, but flagged when the offside player showed an interest in playing the ball. The confusion resulted in a further IFAB Circular No. 987 dated 17 August 2005 being issued to members of  FIFA. The Circular explained that players may be penalised before playing or touching the ball.

Circular no. 987
Zurich, 17 August 2005

IFAB advice on the application of Law 11, Decision 2
Dear Sir or Madam,

We write with reference to the Laws of the Game 2005, which came into force on 1 July 2005. As you are aware, two new decisions relating to Law 11 – Offside were taken by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) during its meeting in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, on 26 February 2005.

These two decisions did not alter the text or wording of Law 11 – Offside, but rather clarified the text with the aim of benefiting the game and attacking play.

However, the first on-field experiences of the application of these decisions indicated a need for clarification of one particular situation. For that purpose, a working group meeting of the International Football Association Board, chaired by FIFA Vice-President and chairman of the Referees’ Committee Angel Maria Villar Llona, took place in Zurich on 11 August 2005. The text and wording of Law 11 and its decisions 1 & 2 were not changed, nor was their spirit. However, the working group agreed on the following text as “advice on the application of Law 11, IFAB Decision 2”:

“A player in an offside position may be penalised before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.

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 penalised for interfering with an opponent.”

In addition, the IFAB also agreed on the following clarification with regard to the position where the game restarts following an offside offence (Law 11 – Infringements/Sanctions):

“The restart of the game shall be with an indirect free kick taken from the initial place where the player was adjudged to be in an offside position.”

We thank you for communicating these instructions to the referees and assistant referees in your Association. We would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of Art. 2 and 6 of the FIFA Statutes. Paragraph 1 of the latter clearly states: “Each member of FIFA shall play Association Football in compliance with the Laws of the Game issued by IFAB. Only IFAB may lay down and alter the Laws of the Game”.

We hope that this clarification will put an end to any debates in this connection and that the decisions of the IFAB and the Statutes of FIFA will be respected in their entirety.

Jérôme Champagne
Deputy General Secretary

Reference sources:

The End of the Offside History page.