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All you need to know about the offside rule but were afraid to ask

Don't ask the boyfriend or husband to explain the offside rule. He might know it, but there's no way he can explain it without the use of matchstick diagrams or moving the salt and pepper pots around the table in some primitive diorama.

Two things you should know if a linesman starts furiously waving his flag and the referee's whistle blows and the action stops dead just as a player is about to score.

If the player is Spain's Fernando Torres, he was "miles offside". If, on the other hand, it's our own Robbie Keane, he was "just on side" -- no matter what the ref says.

The offside rule, highly contentious and open to more interpretations than an EU fiscal treaty, is less than 100 years old.

It was formulated to stop the unedifying spectacle of a large clutch of forwards and defenders crowded just in front of the goalkeeper awaiting a long, goalward bound hoof to come into the danger area.

The laws of the game state that a player is in an offside position if three conditions are met.

First, the player must be on the opposing team's half of the field.

Second, the player must be in front of the ball.

And third, there must be fewer than two opposing players between him and the opposing goal line, with the goalkeeper counting as an opposing player for these purposes. It is not necessary that the goalkeeper be one of the last two opponents. Any attacker that is level with or behind the ball is not in an offside position and may never be sanctioned for an offside offence.

Of course, there are lots more variations and subtleties about players interfering with play and all sorts of other nonsense but those are the basics.

Understand? No?

OK, now where are those salt and pepper pots...

Look, it's really bloody simple, OK?

Sunday Independent