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Offside law (football)

In football, a player is offside if he is in an offside position when the ball is played to him by a teammate. A player is in an offside position if he is in his opponents' half and has fewer than two opposing players (including the goalkeeper) between himself and the opposition goal line (these players would be playing him onside), unless the ball is also between him and the goal line. Any players he is in line with can also play him onside.

The offside rule means a player who is offside is committing a foul, unless he is deemed to be not interfering with play (eg, on the other side of the pitch and consequently unable to receive a pass). In particular, a goal may be disallowed because a player was offside during set up. The penalty is an indirect free-kick[?] taken from the place the offside player was standing.

In enforcing this law, the referee depends greatly on his assistants[?] (also known as linesmen), who generally try to keep in line with the last defender (not counting the goalie).

The offside rule is often cited in the UK as something women are unable to understand. However, many men also have a shaky grasp of details of the law.

History It is often assumed that the offside law is a recent addition to combat "goal scrounging" or "cherry picking", where attacking players hang around near the opposing goal in case the ball gets kicked upfield, but in fact it dates back to the early years of the game, and was much stricter in the past than it is today. A player was "off his side" if he was standing in front of the ball (compare with the current offside law in rugby - a game descended from the same roots), that is, between the ball and the opponent's goal. This was by no means universal - the Sheffield Association[?] had no offside rule, and players known as "kick throughs" were positioned permanently near the opponents' goal.

The people who drew up other "rules of the game" in the mid nineteenth century had been brought up with the idea of keeping all players "behind" the ball, disallowing the forward pass, and making progress towards the opposition's goal only by means of dribbling with the ball or in a scrum. For a game of association football to flow freely, however, it was essential to allow the forward pass, thus raising the need for an offside law. The Cambridge rules of 1848 stated that it needed three of the opponents side between a forward player and the goal for him to be "onside". However, the Uppingham rules of 1862 remained strictly against the forward pass; "if the ball is kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch it, or advance, 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" (again, this is pretty much the current rugby rule). The first set of Football Association rules agreed with the Uppingham idea.

As football developed in the 1860s and 1870s, the offside law proved the biggest argument between the clubs. Sheffield got rid of the "kick throughs" by amending their laws so that one member of the defending side was required between a forward player and the opponents goal; the Football Association also compromised slightly and adopted the Cambridge idea of three. Finally, Sheffield came into line with the F.A., and "three players" were the rule until 1925.

The change to "two players" rule lead to an immediate increase in goal scoring. 4,700 goals were scored in 1848 Football League games in 1924/25. It rose to 6,373 goals (from the same number of games) in 1925/26.

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In 1990 the law was amended to allow a player to be played onside by someone in line with him. This change was part of a general movement by the game's authorities, in the early nineties, to make the rules more conducive to attacking football and help the game to flow more freely.

The offside trap

The offside trap is a defensive tactic, for which Arsenal are particularly famed. If an attacking player is making a run up the field with another player ready to kick the ball up to him, then the defenders will move up-field, putting the attacker offside. The use of the trap is often derided as making for boring football.

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