Image courtesy of gettyimages.co.uk
Image courtesy of gettyimages.co.uk

When watching football, whether it be Match of the Day, Football League Tonight, or any live game, something I have always noticed is that offsides are a big grey area in the game.  According to the most recent update to the rule book, this is what constitutes the offside rule:

Offside position
– It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position.
– A player is in an offside position if:
he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent
– A player is not in an offside position if:
he is in his own half of the field of play or
he is level with the second-last opponent or
he is level with the last two opponents
– Offence
– 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:
interfering with play or
interfering with an opponent or
gaining an advantage by being in that position
– No offence
There is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from:
a goal kick
a throw-in
a corner kick
– Infringements and sanctions
In the event of an offside offence, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred.

However, if the rule is so clear, why are there so many controversial decisions surrounding the offside rule?  When I watch the analysis on Match of the Day, there is almost invariably a couple of wrong offside decisions every week.  These decisions are then debated by the panel, who often have different opinions of whether the decision should have been given one way or the other.  Then you have to take into account whether you have to play the rule black and white or whether you give the advantage to either the attack or the defence.  Whichever way you look at it, the offside rule is a mess and something needs to be done to ensure that offside controversies stop overshadowing matches themselves.

If I were formulating the rule, I would make a few changes.  Firstly, I would make the rule less harsh on attacking players, as the reason the offside rule was introduced was to stop strikers hanging around the edge of the area to score tap-ins.  Obviously, that cannot be allowed to happen, but it is a very different thing to goal hang compared to being one step in front of your marker.  Therefore, I think the offside rule has to reflect that by introducing a change to the rule to bring intent into play.  I think the referee should have to make a judgement as to whether a player is deliberately straying offside or whether they are slightly mistiming their run.  If the referee judges that an attacker has accidentally strayed offside, I think there should be a rule saying that if they are under a certain distance offside, for example five yards, the game should be allowed to continue in order to allow the game to flow and allow there to be more attacking chances, which is, after all, why people watch the game.  I think that the same rule should apply in terms of if and when players are active, as if these rules changed, attackers might take advantage of the five yard allowance to obstruct the goalkeeper or defenders.

If these changes were made to the rule, it would be far easier to interpret as it would not matter whether the front foot of the attacker was an inch in front of the back foot of the last defender, meaning that the game would be allowed to flow rather than being stopped for needless offsides.  However, even if these changes were introduced, there would still be the problem of linesmen and referees getting decisions wrong just by seeing things wrong.  That is why I think controversial offside decisions should be able to be referred to a video replay, when the technology is available at the ground.  I think the referee should still be the one to make the decision about whether or not to give the offside but that he should have the opportunity to watch the incident again.  This is to ensure that any decision made is made with the full knowledge of what happened and all that is in question is the referee’s interpretation of the rule.  I feel this would greatly improve football as a spectacle because it would allow players to continue playing when there was a controversial offside decision so that the attacking team could try and score, and then if there was a goal the referee could watch a replay and decide whether or not to award the goal.

If these changes were made, the game of football would be much improved because there would be far less controversy surrounding refereeing decisions hwich would allow fans to focus more on the game itself.  It would also be have a positive effect in terms of minimising the number of dubious goals being given and perfectly fine goals being disallowed.  In turn, this would make the game far simpler, making it a case of who scores more goals rather than who gets the 50/50 offside decisions.  Even if my changes weren’t implemented, something needs to be done about the offside rule because it is bringing the game into disrepute.  I want to be able to watch good and bad moments from the players in highlights shows rather than have pundits analysing refereeing decisions.  I’m sure every football fan would agree that the game would be much improved if the offside rule was made clearer, and referees were educated in how to apply the rule, then football will be far better to watch.

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