For no particular reason, here’s a bit of history about the offside law.
Back in 1972 former referee Ken Aston wrote a regular column in the Arsenal programme, which in those days contained 16 pages and was priced at a princely 5 pence. On 2 September, Ken’s column discussed a proposed change to the offside law, whereby you could only be offside when within your opponents’ penalty area. This was trialled in the Anglo-Italian Cup, the Watney Cup and then the Metropolitan London League for the first half of the season. Ken seemed quite keen on the experiment – not necessarily keen on the change, that had to be proven to be a good thing before he’d get enthusiastic – but he was keen to try. Whether the experiment lasted any longer than the initial trial period up to Christmas 1972, I don’t know for sure, but the Sunday People reported in early December that it was ‘a flop’ and would probably be abandoned. Obviously it was never implemented any wider.
Interestingly, though, three months before Ken’s column appeared in the Arsenal programme the North American Soccer League, then in its fifth season, changed the offside law it was using and on June 26th introduced the 35 yard offside line that was retained until the league folded in 1984.
Somehow my memories of the NASL are all in technicolor, while the black and white Arsenal programme and picture of Ken Aston look as though they’re from the time of post-WW2 rationing. Amazing that the NASL made their change before the Metropolitan London League experiment.
The NASL weren’t first with the idea though – in 1925 the FA arranged three experimental games where the teams played 45 minutes with a 40-yard offside line and the other 45 with two defending players needed between attacker and goal rather than three (the latter being the law at the time). They decided reducing from three to two players was a better idea than moving the area that offside applied to, and the rule was changed. Herbert Chapman invented the WM formation as a result, Arsenal became the biggest club in the world (for a while) and the rest is history.
There’s an interesting (though not 100% accurate – see comments) history of the offside law (and why it’s ‘a work of genius’) from The Guardian here.
Ken Aston had an interesting career himself. He was the first ref to wear black uniform with white trim, refereed the infamous ‘Battle of Santiago‘ at the 1962 World Cup, and invented the system of red and yellow cards. Read about him here.