Football as we know it today would not be the same without this rule. Despite being more than 91 years old since its creation, it still generates the same controversy as the first day. With the passage of time, its application has undergone variations until reaching our days, where we see how it is checked in a millimetric way through complex image processing systems. It is one of the rules that takes the longest to understand (some never get it) but from this blog we want to make a small tribute to the rule number 11: The off side.
The old rule
We travel in time and space until we land in 1863, in an England that was witnessing the imminent split in a sport that had supporters of being played with the hand, which eventually ended up being Rugby, and supporters of playing it with the foot, which obviously ended up being called football or soccer. At that time the differences in regulations were evident between the associations of Sheffield, where no offside was called, Cambridge, where there had to be 4 players in front of a striker for the play to be valid, and other areas where the rule was much stricter and any action where an attacking player received the ball further forward than the last defender was called.
The classic rule
In 1866 a consensus was reached and the unified or Classic rule, also known as the 3-man rule, began to be used. This rule was an evolution of the Cambridge rule and stipulated that for a player to be in a legal position there had to be at least 3 opposing players ahead of him. At first the fact that you could pass forward caused a bit of confusion (remember that it was previously illegal to cross to a team-mate further forward than the ball) but it gradually caught on with the players. During the 4 decades that the rule was in force it was not uncommon to see lineups of 2 strikers + 3 midfielders and 5 forwards. However, due to one player’s roguery, the classic rule had to be reformed: Bill McCracken.
Good old Bill was a Northern Irish defender born in Belfast, who ended up signing for the Newcastle Magpies during the 1904/05 season. Bill landed in the Magpie team to build a young and talented squad that included Peter McWilliam, Andy Aitken, Colin Veitch, Jackie Rutherford and Jimmy Lawrence. Despite the football critics of the time regarding Newcastle as a creative and artistic team, Bill came up with a foolproof plan that would end all their problems.
With chalk in hand and using the ground as a canvas, McCracken explained to Frank Hudsperth what they should do during opposition attacks. The idea was simple but effective: after agreeing on a signal, the two defenders simply had to move forward a few steps when the striker was about to receive the ball. Hudsperth immediately understood the move and the next game they put it into practice. The experience also came out that they did it the next, and the next…. He had just been born “throwing the offside”.
That season Newcastle emerged champions with 72 goals scored and 33 conceded, keeping 17 clean sheets. The following season the same thing happened, and in 1908/09 as well. Although for Newcastle it was a huge breakthrough, for the show it was an almost fatal blow. The rest of the teams far from trying to overcome their rivals with an innovative strategy decided to imitate them, plummeting the number of goals and the interest of the fans. The FA waited a period of several years before finally taking action.
The Current Rule
Fed up with watching dull matches in which the scoreboard stood still for minutes on end, the FA finally decided in 1925 to make a substantial change to Rule 11. The limit of defenders in front of the receiving striker would be reduced from 3 to 2. That slight modification caused an increase of almost 50% in the number of goals, being in the 1924/25 season of 4700 goals and in the 1925/26 season of 6373 goals. The success of the change can be seen today, with the rule still in force. However, this has not meant that there have not been slight modifications.
In 1990 the striker was allowed to be in line with the defender (previously it was always behind) and the option of not whistling for offside if the ball came out of his own half was removed.
In 2003 also stopped whistling for offside if the forward player did not participate in the play, which was known as passive offside, always taking into account the spectacle and favoring that more goals can be scored.