Penalty Kicks and Attacker Violations

(The following answer was slightly modified on 1/14/19 to clarify a follow-up question, highlighted in blue)

Eriq, an adult amateur player, asks:

Is there a rule whereby, during a penalty kick, a teammate of the kicker unknowingly steps inside the penalty area before the kick was taken and the kicker scores but, because of the teammate, the goal is not counted and an indirect free kick is given to the defending team?

There are no other infringements by the attacking team. When asked, the referee stated that it is a new rule for 2019.


Yes, there is … sort of.  And no, it didn’t.

Here’s the “yes, there is” part.  Although there are some differences between the International Board’s Laws of the Game and the Rules governing High School (NFHS) and collegiate (NCAA) soccer, US Soccer and the rest of the world follow what the International Board put into its Laws.  Law 14 (The Penalty Kick) is very clear regarding this scenario.  Purely as a matter of Law, it is an offense for any teammate of the attacking team (i.e., the team that is taking the penalty kick) to do any of the following things before the ball is in play on a penalty kick: (a) enter the penalty area, (b) enter the penalty arc, or (c) move closer than 12 yards to the opposing team’s goal line.

The remedy for such a violation is also very clear purely as a matter of Law.  Now comes the “sort of” part — if a goal is scored, the goal does not count and the penalty kick is retaken OR, if the goal is not scored, the defending team is given an indirect free kick where the teammate illegally did whichever of these things we just listed above (i.e., where the teammate illegally entered the arc area or penalty area or where the player came closer to the goal line than 12 yards).  The rule is inflexible as to the offense – one foot into the penalty area is just as illegal as 15 feet into the penalty area.  Nor does it make any difference whether the violation is the reason for the failure to score a goal – one step into the penalty area or into the penalty arc (which are the two most common ways to commit this offense) but the kicker kicks the ball 50 feet over the top of the goal’s crossbar does not remove the offense.  We might note that these limitations on the kicking team apply equally to the defending team: the only difference is that the punishments are different (if a goal is scored, it counts; if it is not scored, the penalty kick is retaken).

So, in your scenario, the teammate of the kicker violated Law 14.  However, the restart was incorrect because Law 14 states that the goal is canceled but the attacking team is given a retake of the penalty kick.

Now comes the “no, it didn’t” part. This is not a “new rule for 2019” – in point of fact, the described penalty if a teammate of the kicker violates Law 14 and a goal is not scored went into effect in 2005 but the restart which should have been given in your scenario (cancel goal and order a retake) has been in Law 14 for as long as we have been officiating (1984).

Goalkeepers and Time

Richard, an adult pro referee, asks

Have they done away with the six second rule for the goalkeeper before he releases the ball?  If not, why don’t they enforce it?


First, “they” haven’t done away with it.  Indeed, it remains the standard requirement in the US for US Soccer (IFAB), high school soccer (NFHS), and collegiate games (NCAA) — as well as the rest of the world.

Second, asking “why don’t they enforce it” takes us into a whole different issue.  For referees, the first hurdle in their learning curve is to recognize that an action is an offense.  For inexperienced referees (say, up through their first couple of years), this is one of the most important achievements and, in general, that recognition, plus stopping play and getting the restart right (both for offenses and for any other stoppage reason), are an acceptable measure by which to evaluate a new referee’s performance.  Around years 2-4, the focus should begin to change.  Offense recognition (if married with correct restarts) has largely been achieved and now the critical question becomes “what should I do about it?”  You might ask, well, why is this a question because we’ve already said that stopping play and getting the restart right are what you are supposed to do”?

The answer is that there is “correct” and there is “right” – they are not necessarily the same.  “Correct” means “in accordance with the Laws of the Game” whereas “right” means “what do I want to achieve in this game … at this moment … with this player … under these specific circumstances?” Limiting the goalkeeper to 6 seconds from the moment control of the ball is achieved to the goalkeeper’s release of the ball is a very concrete statement.  Sounds unbendingly specific and easy to enforce – just use your watch to measure the time between these two points and, if it exceeds 6 seconds, whistle for an indirect free kick offense in favor of the opposing team from the point where the goalkeeper exceeded the 6 second limit.  This is possibly what a new referee took away from the entry level course about how to enforce this rule.

Why do you see it “not enforced”?  Well, perhaps it is because the referee forgot this rule.  Or perhaps the referee forgot to start checking his watch and thus has no idea how long the goalkeeper held onto the ball.  Perhaps the referee was estimating time and, just as he was about to whistle, the goalkeeper released the ball and the referee thought, what the heck, that’s close enough.

Or perhaps the referee gained enough experience or was mentored properly or received in-service training that went beyond the simple statement in the Law about 6-seconds-and-not-a-second-longer to understand why this rule is in the Law in the first place and then use that knowledge to evaluate the scenario and recognize that, yes, 7 (or 8 or 9) seconds was an offense but perhaps it was trifling – in other words, the offense didn’t matter because it did no harm to the opposing team and did not benefit the goalkeeper’s team – or perhaps the estimate was not precise enough and the expiration of 6 seconds was doubtful.  Now marry this with the established norm that soccer is an active sport involving constant motion which should not be interrupted with stoppages without good reason (and neither doubtful nor trifling is a good enough reason).  The result is a picture of a referee who has allowed the goalkeeper to exceed the 6-second limit on possession of the ball and who is in fact following the intent of Laws of the Game

Of course, there are limits but, based on the above, it should be clear where those limits start clicking in.  Around 8-10 seconds (time it so you have a feel for what that is) it probably becomes more difficult to say the offense is doubtful.  It’s also roughly the point at which a referee who is in fact aware of the passage of time from experience might clearly inform the goalkeeper that he or she needs to get rid of the ball, followed by no more than a second or two with “NOW!”  12-15 seconds is nearing the point at which continued possession of the ball by the goalkeeper becomes difficult to describe as trifling – a time period which actually narrows if, during the same time, it is clear that the opposing team is becoming rightfully disturbed by the lack of a reasonably quick return of the ball back into active play.

Notice that the dynamics are totally different if, instead of picking up a ball played to him (other than from a teammate’s play of the ball with his foot), the goalkeeper simply stops the ball with his foot and remains standing with the ball on the ground.  The clock doesn’t even start ticking here and the only restraint on the goalkeeper is if opponents begin moving to challenge (remember, the 6-second limit doesn’t even begin until the goalkeeper takes clear possession of the ball with his hand). Notice also that most referees start using tighter constraints if the goalkeeper has been warned already but takes unfair advantage of the indulgence.

So, you have the answer.  You may not like it (though, as a referee, you should be following it if you are past your first several years of officiating) but that is why they are paying you the big bucks.  They are assuming you will understand the difference between correct and right.

Blowing the whistle at the 6.1th second is correct, but it is seldom right.


Cam, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Can you caution a player/players for surrounding the referee after a decision has gone against them or simply they disagree with you?


Yes, it’s possible.  There are conditions, however, that need to be taken into account.  Simply disagreeing with the referee is not an offense – it’s all in how you do it.  The training on this matter is clear – if there is mass confrontation (2 or more), everything goes into high gear and less leeway is allowed in what we are about to say.

Dissent decisions are based on the “3Ps” – Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) is directed at an official, it’s personal (the difference between “you are wrong” where the “you” is an official versus “I don’t agree with that call”).
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) loudly enough that it can be heard/seen by a large number of persons on or off the field, it is public (the difference between standing 10 feet away and shouting at the top of your lungs for the entire field to hear “I don’t agree with that call” versus walking by the referee and saying in a low enough voice that “you are wrong on that call.”
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) includes generally recognizable unacceptable language, it is provocative (the difference between saying “I f…ing don’t agree with that f…ing call” or giving a one finger salute versus “Sir, the reason for that last decision was impenetrably obtuse and bespeaks a cognitive level lower than winter temperatures in Siberia”).

Any one of these Ps, if at the extreme end, can be enough to warrant a caution.  Anything that even at a moderate level combines 2 or all 3 of these Ps can be enough to warrant a caution.  Any of these Ps at even a below moderate level could, if engaged in by two or more players simultaneously from less than 4-5 feet away from an official, be the basis for a caution – and the larger the number of players encircling the official (all this applies to ARs as well, but still has to be the decision of the referee), the more likely the caution becomes (i.e., mass confrontation).

So, it’s all a balancing judgment – how much “3 P” behavior do we have, at what level, involving how many?  The underlying standard for making the decision is whether not cautioning for dissent makes more likely a continuation, heightening, repetition, or spreading of the behavior.

STLDs (no smirking, you’re all adults)

James, an adult amateur fan, asks:

I have a question in regards to Law 11: coming from an offside position.
As stated, the player ‘carries’ the ruling or a ‘flagged’ violation until interference or contact with the ball. Law 11 refers to the “second-last defender.” This confuses me slightly. Does this mean last defender including the goal keeper?


First of all, a minor correction in terminology – don’t refer to what the player carries as a “violation.”  An offside position is not a violation, simply a condition a player achieved by being at a certain place at a certain time.  The offside violation arises from doing the one thing a player who is carrying this condition must not do – become involved in active play by interfering with play or an opponent.

That cleared away, the term of “second to last defender” or, briefly, STLD means exactly that, with no special status or exemption for the defending goalkeeper.  The goalkeeper is a defender, just like any of the other 10 players of his/her team.

Problems sometimes arise regarding this because, in the vast majority of cases in defining an offside position (not the offside offense), the goalkeeper is the last defender and the next one up from (or even with) the goalkeeper thereby becomes the STLD.  This is so common that many referees and lead assistant referees (plus an untold number of fans!) focus on the goalkeeper (not surprising because the goalkeeper stands out on the basis of the easily observed different uniform) and are thus in error when you have one of those goalkeepers who like to play upfield from their usual place.  In such cases, officials can make a mistake in routinely counting up from the goalkeeper while forgetting that the person from whom they should be counting up is the actual defender who is closest to the goal line and, as a result, they may call for an apparent offside violation on someone who is not in an offside position because he or she is not past the STLD but maybe the 3rd or 4th last defender.  Keying on the goalkeeper in offside position issues is easy, routine, and fits the vast majority of cases, but doing so is not only hazardous but can lead to embarrassing errors when, just at the moment for whistling that offside “violation,” the official suddenly sees that there is another defender behind the goalkeeper!

Who “Owns” the Ball?

Tom, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

In a recent game, after a goal was scored, the scoring player attempted to retrieve the ball to bring it to the center in order to get the game going. The keeper pushed him but the referee awarded the player who had picked up the wall a yellow for “invading the space” of the keeper. The player’s coach then protested there was no such call and the referee gave a yellow to the coach for dissent.
I checked with our referee assignor and he said he had not heard of that call and doubt he would have awarded the yellow. We’ve all seen players retrieve the ball and while the other team may occasionally try to inhibit it from happening, there is typically no cards given.
What’s your opinion?


Our “opinion” is not needed because the Law directly, clearly, and firmly confirms that the referee was entirely right.  Although his verbal description of the offense was not accurate, his actions were.  The complaining coach and, sadly, also your referee assignor are wrong.

The offense in question is actually the misconduct called “delaying the restart of play.”  It arises only at stoppages (hence the focus on “the restart of play”) and is based on an opponent taking control of a ball which “belongs” to the other team, thus withholding it from the team which “owns” the restart and thus delaying the proper restart.  An obvious example is when Team A has been awarded a free kick but a Team B player kicks the ball away.  The specific example which led to the caution you described appeared in the Laws of the Game almost a dozen years ago, not so much as a “new” offense but as a specific example of the existing misconduct of delaying the restart of play.  The current language states the offense as follows (emphasis added, Law 12.3 “Delaying the Restart of Play” at page 107):

Referees must caution players who delay the restart of play by:

  • appearing to take a throw-in but suddenly leaving it to a team-mate to take
  • delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted
  • excessively delaying a restart
  • kicking or carrying the ball away, or provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play
  • taking a free kick from the wrong position to force a retake

When this language first appeared, in fact, the scenario below was specifically cited as the reason for this new example.  The International Board described the situation after a goal was scored with a member of the team which scored the goal winding up trying to wrestle control of the ball away from the goalkeeper because the opponent wanted to get play restarted as quickly as possible and thought he could assist in this by grabbing the ball (which “belonged” to the team scored against).  Although his intentions were arguably benign, he had no right to the ball and the goalkeeper did, hence the tussle.  The action, however, clearly provoked a confrontation and, in doing so, actually delayed the restart.

The point at the bottom of this is that players on the team which does not “own” the restart must not touch the ball – however, it is not the mere touching of the ball that defines the misconduct, it is doing so with the consequence of provoking a confrontation.  More often than not no one on the field would care if an opponent (say) ran off the field to retrieve a ball for a throw-in by the opposing team in the spirit of good sportsmanship and doing so should not result in a referee decision that misconduct has occurred.  If doing so does, or looks like it will, provoke the confrontation, the referee needs to step in to prevent this and, if necessary, to caution for delaying the restart.

Cards — When and When Not

Wade, a High School and College referee, asks:

So, I am seeing different answers for this all over.  Can a referee give a red card before the match starts? It says “disciplinary action” in the Law so does that constitute a Red Card if, say, two players on the same team start punching each other?

Wade then quotes from Law 5 the following:

• has the authority to take disciplinary action from entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including kicks from the penalty mark). If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player taking part in the match


It’s very simple – you just have to understand the mind of the International Board.  Our best advice is to “read” the language of the Law as plainly as possible.  Also note that you may have to “unlearn” what you were taught many years ago because the quote above and the explanation below are based on a fairly recent (2016-2017) change in the Laws of the Game.

What comes out at the end is this … the referee’s authority to discipline starts from when he/she enters the area of the field of play and continues until he/she leaves the area of the field of play.  That authority extends to dismissing a player before the game actually begins (i.e., opening whistle) but no actual red card is shown (note the Board’s careful language — “prevent the player taking part in the match”).  The team does not play down under these circumstances because the team can simply replace the player with a substitute from the roster (without triggering any limits under Law 3 on the number of substitutions allowed – if, that is, the game actually follows the substitutions requirements of Law 3, which very few actually do).  However, the team now has one fewer substitute available for use because, under IFAB rules, someone cannot be added to a team’s roster once the roster is given to the referee.  From the opening whistle and continuing through to the end of the match (including any tie-breaking procedures), both red and yellow cards can be given but not afterward (read the bullet point that comes immediately after the one you quoted).  On the other hand, the Laws of the Game specifically provide for the referee to include in his/her match report all misconduct, both before and after the match (at least up to the time the referee leaves the area of the field), as well as of course all misconduct occurring during the match.

The problem with these otherwise clear, clean, and easily administered requirements is that they assume a type of game which is different from, roughly, more than 95% of all games played in the US (and this already excludes games played under NFHS/NCAA rules).  Go out to almost any park field for a youth/competitive game or any adult amateur game and you will seldom find such formality.  So, you improvise.  Suppose you don’t have a roster?  Suppose the local rule is that the team has until halftime to get a roster to you? Suppose a player strikes another player just as you are being handed the roster?  Suppose you have been assigned to a game where the local competition authority expects you to show cards for all misconduct whenever it occurs?  And just exactly what constitutes the “area of the field”?  For a stadium, it’s easy.  For anything else, not so much.  Suppose you are the AR on a 9am game and, just as it ends, you see a player who has arrived at the area of the field for an 11am game for which you are the referee and that player strikes one of the players who is exiting the field from the game which just concluded?

Despite all of this, however, the formal expectation of the Laws of the Game is simple.  You now know exactly what to do if you are refereeing an MLS match; otherwise, try to get close to the intent of the Law but do the best you can.

Mayhem on the Field

Vanessa, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

My son plays on a u14 club team. We had our semi final this past weekend. My son was fouled by another player and they exchanged words.  My son was walking away and the other player lunged at and started to physically attack my son.  Both boys started fighting. The ref tried breaking them up but the other team’s players came and it was chaos. Refs had completely lost control of game. Meanwhile, my son is being jumped by 6 players of the other team.  He is on the floor being kicked and punched by the other team. I see that he is bleeding and the refs aren’t helping him, so I ran on the field, pulled my son up and held him tight, basically shielding him from getting hit again. All of this was caught on video. My question, is when can a parent, coach, or bystander intervene and enter the field for the safety of the child if refs have lost control of game?


That is at once both a deeply pertinent as well as unanswerable question.  There is the Law … and then there is practicality.  Finally, there is so much more we would need to know (despite your detailed description) about what did and did not happen that would be directly relevant to coming up with any useful answer.  Nevertheless, here goes.

First, “the Law” makes completely clear that no one is allowed to enter the field of play without the express permission of the referee.  Note that the Laws of the Game were and still largely are written with a particular sort of game in mind – e.g., Britain’s men’s national team versus Mexico’s men’s national team played in Azteca stadium which seats more than 100,000+ spectators where the entire perimeter of the field of play is fenced and patrolled by security guards.  We assume that doesn’t describe the game in your scenario and, as a consequence, much of the behavior you described simply could not happen in a match directly sponsored by FIFA.  It is thus not surprising that things could happen in the ordinary, everyday youth match played in a local field which is guided by a local league which is affiliated with a state association which is affiliated with US Soccer which is affiliated with FIFA.  That’s like being a second cousin twice removed.  It’s still the Laws of the Game, with some limited differences that take into account the age and experience level of the players, but such differences are mainly limited to substitution rules, the size of the field, etc.  So, the official answer is that, unless and until the referee officially declares the game terminated, it remains illegal for anyone to enter the field of play without the permission of the referee.

Second, standard mechanics for officials taught worldwide in association with those Laws, provide that, in the event of a confrontation involving players, the primary task of the officiating team is to attempt to prevent any widening of the altercation but otherwise to watch and record misconduct which must then be included in their match report which then goes to the “local competition authority” which then has the task of sorting out who did what to whom, when, and how seriously.  Directly intervening in an altercation is not recommended – the officiating team is (a) at most 3 people, (b) most likely themselves  youths who are themselves probably only 2-5 years older than the players, and (c) potentially faced by as many as 22 players plus various substitutes from off the benches.  We are not aware of any local referee training which explicitly provides that any of the officials individually or all of them together are expected to wade in and start pushing or pulling players away from each other (i.e., “breaking up the fight”).  Can you imagine the legal liabilities (particularly in the ever-litigious US) faced by an official who started physically grabbing youth players and tossing them around?  Referees are firmly and in no uncertain terms told that they must not touch players.  What you were implicitly advocating would have put all the officials into serious legal jeopardy!

Third, it is both incorrect and unfair to say that the “refs had completely lost control of game” – more accurately, the players had taken control of the game and the coaches had lost control of their players.  The referee team is not tasked with “breaking up confrontations” – they are tasked with doing what they can to prevent a widening of one, to observe the commission of misconduct, to terminate a match, and to write a full, accurate report of who did what for later submission.

Fourth, as a practical matter, it is quite understandable for one or more parents to feel impelled to jump in to protect their children and support their team.  Of course, doing so is quite likely to lead to a widening of the conflict unless the intervention is very specific and limited to protecting one or more players who appear to be the target of any violence.  We note that no mention was made about the actions and behavior of the coaches – they should be “first responders” and the referees should (though this is likely to get lost in the building mayhem) quickly signal permission for the coaches to enter the field and exercise their more direct and meaningful authority regarding the behavior of their players.

Fifth and finally, everyone who saw what happened should make notes to document their recollections and then vigorously pursue whatever avenues are available with respect to the “local competition authority” to ensure that those who started and/or added to the mayhem are properly punished to the degree of their culpability.  Only in this way can you help make less likely similar occurrences in the future might.

Interfering with the Goalkeeper’s Release of the Ball

Shawn, a High School and College referee, asks:

When the keeper makes a save and has secured the ball, either with both hands, against his body, or against the ground, and an attacker dislodges the ball without a “normal” foul, the most common restart is a “manufactured” drop ball, allowing the keeper to play as if it never happened. However, I can’t find the rationale for this. Several experienced referees tell me it’s a foul, and the restart is a direct free kick. Other experienced referees tell me it’s playing the ball while it’s not in challenge, and the restart is an indirect free kick. What’s the restart?


You can’t find the rationale for it?  That’s because there is none.  Opinion is split as to whether the correct restart is an IFK or a DFK but there is no one anywhere in the world of any stature or experience who would say it is a dropped ball (“manufactured” or otherwise).

Here’s the story.  Years ago, around the time the world was formed (the soccer world anyway), it was OK to try to knock the ball out of the goalkeeper’s (GK’s) control.  Indeed, it was expected.  Over the intervening years, particularly as soccer split into two divergent paths as soccer in contrast with rugby, such rock-em, sock-em techniques were softened and civilized (you might infer our prejudices from this language).  The 1984 Lawbook, for example, Law 12 declared that it was an indirect free kick (IFK) offense to charge the GK … except when he was holding the ball!  In fact, it was an IFK offense if, in the opinion of the referee, any attacker intentionally made body contact with the GK.  Similarly, it was also an IFK restart if an opponent interfered with the GK’s release of the ball into play.

This is a great oversimplification but nonetheless is particularly pertinent when it comes to protecting the only person who is legally permitted to hold the ball, thus making him a prime target.  In partial payment for having this protected possession of the ball, Law 12 laid several major restrictions: the ball must be released within four steps (now six seconds), no GK handling from a throw-in or a deliberate play of the ball by a teammate’s foot, and no repossession of the ball without an intervening touch/play by someone else.

We come now, admittedly through incremental steps, to today’s flat out statement that “A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball.” (Law 12.2)  But the penalty for this technically remains an IFK.  Of course, that changes if the challenge, in and of itself, clearly comes under the heading of a DFK foul as described in the first part of Law 12 (e.g., opponent comes rushing into the GK and knocks him down – a challenge, yes, but also an illegal charge, resulting in a DFK restart, plus potentially a card of some color).  Then we have the grey area where the GK clearly has hand control of the ball and an opponent heads, kicks, or otherwise dislodges the ball from the GK’s control without making any direct contact with the GK.  The debate raged after after a couple of famous disputes involving opponents coming unexpectedly from behind a GK and neatly, nonviolently dislodging the ball from the GK’s grasp.  Was this even a foul?  Eventually  the Law was updated  making that a foul by providing that the GK had control of the ball even if the ball was being held openly and loosely in the upraised palm of just one hand (or even upside down if the GK’s grasp were particularly large).  In many parts of the world, however, this remained merely an IFK offense.  Clearly, it interfered with the GK’s release of the ball into play.

The US, however, took a different tack.  USSF’s interpretation of your scenario is that it was more than a mere challenge for the ball – the ball was simply an indirect way of actually making contact with the GK.  After all, a GK would be charged with pushing – a DFK foul – if the GK used “only” the ball to physically make contact with and push an opponent.  If an opponent, no matter how neatly, kicked the ball out of the GK’s hand or hands, this was the functional equivalent of kicking the goalkeeper.  As a consequence, the following language has appeared in each of the last four editions of Advice to Referees starting back in 2008:

When a goalkeeper has possession of the ball, any attempt by any opponent to charge, tackle, or otherwise challenge for the ball is prohibited. Such a challenge is considered to be a direct free kick foul because it is directed at the person of the goalkeeper and not as a legal attempt to gain the ball. A ball controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than his or her hands is open to legal challenge by an opponent. The referee must consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and err on the side of safety. [emphasis added]

A long wind-up but we think it answers your question.

Simultaneous Offenses on a Penalty Kick

Reuben, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

Law 14 has a specific provision for what happens if the goalkeeper and the kicker commit an offense at the same time. I am having difficulty understanding how this could occur, namely what the kicker’s offense might be (other than illegal feinting, which is separately dealt with). Is there a particular situation this provision is intended to address? Please advise.


Alert reader Keith caught an error in the original version of this answer.  It has been corrected.  Thanks.

We think you are either reading it incorrectly or asking the wrong question (or both).  The section to which you are referring specifically has to do with the kicker’s offense of feinting after the whistle but at the moment of the kick and the goalkeeper’s offense of coming off the line before the ball is in play.

The section basically breaks down into (a) here is what you do if the kicker offends, (b) here is what you do if the goalkeeper offends, and (c) here is what you do if both offend.  If (c) is what happened, then (1), if there was a goal, you restart with an IFK and caution the kicker; but (2), if there was no goal (which means ANY outcome other than the ball going into the net), you retake the PK and caution both the kicker and the goalkeeper.

This scenario was newly introduced to the Law in 2017-2018 and repeated in 2018-2019 without any changes or clarifications so the only conclusion to reach from this is that what it says is exactly what the International Board intended.  For any who might suggest that they don’t understand it, the language is very clear (see above).  For any who might suggest that it makes no sense and why did they specify it this way rather than some other way, the only conclusion we can reach for this is that what it says is exactly what the International Board intended … and they outrank us all.

Restarts, Walls, and Related Stuff

Ryan, an adult amateur player, asks:

Offense has a free kick in a shooting situation near the defensive team’s box. An offensive player wants to position himself in the defensive wall. What is he allowed to do? Can he force his way into the wall? Does it matter who “gets there first”? Does the defense have a right to set up a wall without any offensive players involved in it? I get if the wall is set up and an offensive player wants to stand on the end or in front, but can he actually have a right to be INSIDE the wall?


No, he cannot force himself into the wall nor does he have any right to be in the wall.  It’s first come, first served.  Obviously, if a teammate happens to be standing right where a wall would be formed, the opposing team cannot prevent him from being there,  i.e., the defending team cannot complain or force him out, but expect to be aggressively squeezed or be the butt of other, hidden if possible,  actions expressing their unhappiness at what they would consider to be an intrusion.

Frankly, there really aren’t any particularly good reasons to be in the wall in the first place  — ducking or pulling out at the last moment in the hopes of creating a gap through which the kicker might drill a shot just doesn’t work (the theory is nice but the practice is terrible).  Standing at the end of the wall only adds to the wall’s effectiveness unless there is a light pass to the teammate at the end who can quickly turn and has an unobstructed shot-on-goal opportunity.

Frankly, the maneuver most likely to be successful is to practice and then be prepared to perform the restart quickly while the opposing team is still disorganized.  Many teams seem to think that the restart cannot occur unless and until the wall is formed.  That is incorrect, and the surprise alone is worth it even if it doesn’t directly lead to a goal.

The Law allows and encourages the free kick restart virtually at the moment the referee completes the stoppage of play for an offense (and assuming the ball is at or near the restart location).  At that moment, with few exceptions, the referee should (if they know what they are doing anyway), get out of the way and be prepared for an immediate restart.  The exceptions are

  • if the offense involves misconduct (the restart must be held up in order for the card to be given),
  • your team asks for a delay because you want the minimum distance rule,
  • there was an injury on the play that requires the removal of the injured player(s),
  • one or more opponents are either so close to the ball location or have taken control of the ball (e.g., kicked it away) that they would be considered to be delaying the restart of play (which should lead to a caution — see first bullet),  or
  • your team doesn’t want to restart immediately for some other reason (e.g., wanting to sub).

In all these cases, the referee must clearly and quickly signal that the restart is now delayed until the restart is specifically signaled.

There are a couple of other, more rare exceptions but, basically, the referee is expected to allow (and do nothing to discourage) the quick restart.  However, not all referees (notably newer ones) are aware of this expectation under the Law and jump right away into “wall management” mode.  Your team also needs to be able to decide quickly when using this quick restart ability will be to their advantage and when it will not.

Going back to your original query, however, our advice is that trying to get a teammate into a wall is not a right, usually results in a lot of pushing and shoving if not downright mayhem, and rarely is worth it in the first place.  There are better techniques.