An important concept in the rules of football (soccer).

For some reason this rule is considered difficult to grasp. The basic rule can be stated as follows:

A player is considered offside if there are less than two players from the opposing team between him and the goal at the time the ball is passed towards him.
OK, that's a little wordy and probably wouldn't win many awards from the Plain English Campaign. The problem probably stems from a misunderstanding of the way "between" is defined in this context. It doesn't mean that the opposing players have to be in a straight line between the recipient of the pass and the goal, simply that they have to be further along the pitch than the recipient.

Hmmm, I've just re-read that and it's still not crystal clear. Perhaps I should try and draw a diagram. At this point I apologise in advance for my crap ASCII art skills.

In the following diagrams, the team trying to put the ball in the target goal are represented by a 'X', the other team by 'O' and the ball by a full stop (period).

     X.                   O          --+
                                       | target
                      X            O   |  goal

Here the player X on the left has the ball, and kicks it to the other player X. This is NOT offside because there are two members of the other team (one of whom is probably the goalkeeper), further along the pitch than the second X player.

     X.                              --+
                                       | target
                      X            O   |  goal
                 O                   --+

Here there IS a potential violation of the offside rule. If the left-most player X were to pass the ball to the other X player, it would be offside as there is only one opposition team member closer to the goal than him.

One other thing to note, and that's the underlined part of the original description: the offside test is applied when the ball is first passed, not when it's received. In other words, in diagram two the right-most 'X' player is offside as soon as the ball leaves the left-most 'X' player's foot. Even if he has moved to put himself back onside by the team he receives the ball, the linesman should still flag offside and a free kick will be awarded to the 'O' team.

*phew* that was hard work! Now I know why people have such trouble with this rule: it's something that's easier to understand than to explain. Hope this helped anyway!