A lot of people seem confused about the offside law these days including some Premier League managers. Some have said they don’t understand it. Others have shown their lack of understanding by their protestations, such as Steve Bruce of Hull City after last Saturday’s defeat by Swansea. I’ve even heard referees say, ‘all these changes are making it more complicated’ and spectators cry out for offside as it used to be.
To my mind however, the changes that have been made, make it clearer than it has ever been.
It should be said that the recent changes have not been to the offside law itself, but to its interpretations. The first thing to remember is that it is not an offence to be in an offside position. The law makes this quite clear when it says ‘A player (who is in an offside position) may only be penalised if, at the moment the ball is played by one of his own team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by, interfering with play or, interfering with an opponent or, gaining an advantage by being in that position’.
It is those three descriptions of active play that have had their interpretations changed. If we take ‘Interfering with play’ this simply means the offside player actually playing or touching the ball. Take an incident at a match where I was running the line recently. The ball was played down the field, chased by an attacker who was in an offside position, a team mate, who was onside and two defenders. Years ago, I would have flagged as soon as the offside forward ran after the ball. As linesmen, we were judged by how quickly we flagged. Now I had to ‘wait and see’ and could not flag until the player who had been offside, finally touched the ball further on, down by the goal line.
Interfering with an opponent is the most recent to have had its interpretation changed. It still says that it means ‘preventing an opponent playing the ball by clearly obstructing the opponents line of vision’, who generally is the goalkeeper. However, until 2012, it also used to say ‘or making a gesture or movement, which in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.’ This has been replaced simply with ‘or challenging an opponent for the ball’.
The third ‘active play’ is ‘gaining an advantage by being in an offside position’. This means penalising an offside player, who plays a ball that rebounds, or is deflected to him off the goal post, cross bar or an opponent or played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent’. The 2012 alteration points out that if the offside player receives the ball from an opponent who has deliberately played the ball, except to make a save, he is not considered to have gained an advantage by being offside.
Down in Wales, Bafetimbi Gomis of Swansea was in an offside position, slowly making his way out of the Hull penalty area after a clearance. The ball was headed back and Hull players, Robbie Brady and Alex Bruce tried to clear it but got in a tangle and only succeeded in knocking it back to Gomis who scored with a stunning bicycle kick.
But he was yards offside berated Bruce.
Was he in an offside Position – yes. Did he play the ball headed forward by his team mate – no. Did he block his opponents’ line of vision – no, he was behind them. Did he challenge for the ball – no. Did the ball rebound from the goal or an opponent – no. Was it deliberately played by an opponent – yes. Should Gomis have been given offside – no.
What is there not to understand?