After years of coaching and running the line at youth football games, I have become more and more incensed by the complete lack of understanding that so many people involved in the game have of the offside law. Having been constantly berated for not calling offside or for calling offside against players by adults whose knowledge of the laws of the extends to what they heard on TV, I think its time to start educating people.
The following is an exert from an article in the Guardian by Keith Hackett.
Let's be clear about this. Match officials do know the laws and apply them to the best of their ability - but time and again pundits criticise perfectly valid decisions. The Match of the Day analysis of the Aliadière decision was a case in point. They suggested the goal should not have been given, that the striker should have been flagged for 'gaining an advantage' after being in an offside position from the long ball. That is simply wrong.
It is immensely frustrating. The law, clarified by the International FA Board in 2005, is a good, effective one, but it seems to have totally eluded some in the media. Officials understand it perfectly, and so could the lads in the studio if they wanted to - it's set out in black and white for anyone who can find the time to read it. Many pundits do a great job, but I hope they respect my right to point out when they are misleading fans, and winding themselves up with old or wrong information.
The law really is simple and well defined. First and foremost, it is important to know the key principle: it is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position. Assistants will not flag the moment someone strays offside. A player is only penalised if he then becomes active.
The source of most confusion is clearly in the definition of 'active'. Pundits keep falling back on the dictionary definition of the word, or their own version of it, rather than the one set out in the laws. It's intensely frustrating to see them spreading misinformation - misinformation that leads to the sort of abuse that drives officials out of the game.
To be clear, the definition, in the laws, is this: in deciding whether to flag, assistants must watch out for three things, any one of which would make an offside player active.
First, is the offside player interfering with play? As advised by the IFAB since 2005, that means playing or touching the ball. Attempting to play the ball does not count - he must actually play or touch it.
Second, is the player interfering with an opponent's ability to play the ball, by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or movements, or by making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent?
And third, is the player 'gaining an advantage'? This last point is specific, and is not what Match of the Day seem to think it is. It applies only to an offside player playing a ball that rebounds to him from an opponent, the post or the crossbar. If he does not play the ball from the rebound, then he is not penalised for being in that offside position. Nothing else counts as 'gaining'.
And that's it. If a player ticks any one of those three boxes, he is offside. The three-part definition is remembered as 'PIG' - if a player doesn't Play, Interfere or Gain, he is fine.
The law is a real positive for the game - the pundits should love it. The active definition helps games flow - there are fewer stoppages for offside now - and it makes negative play far less profitable. No sensible team today uses the arms-aloft offside trap made famous by George Graham's Arsenal in the 80s and 90s. That trap was totally against the spirit of the offside law - it was never intended as a device for earning cheap free-kicks. The active system means that the offside trap is now a dangerous tactic to use and allows the benefit of the doubt to be always with the attacking team.
I'm honestly very proud of the officials who put themselves forward for what is a thankless task. They are hard-working, dedicated and honest, and deserve so much more respect than they get. All I'm asking is that pundits and phone-in critics read the laws before complaining. Failing that, if they really do know better, they should step forward, sign up and have a go themselves.
Keith Hackett is general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited
You can read the full article here
The law that covers offside within the game is one of the shortest of the 17 FIFA laws that govern the game, but it undoubtedly causes the most confusion and controversy take a look at FIFA's own interactive web pages on the offside law.