Organizing Walls … Not!

Simon, an adult amateur fan, asks:

If a ref awards a direct free kick and measures out the 10 yards, should he wait until the goalkeeper has organized the wall and is ready before he restarts play? Secondly. If the aforementioned freekick comes from a foul by the goalkeeper, resulting in his sending off, should enough time be allowed for the keeper to get into place and organize the wall?

Answer

We have to correct several misconceptions – for all direct and indirect free kick restarts, there is no obligation for anyone, including the referee, to hold up that restart so that anyone organizes a wall!  Free kicks can be taken immediately, without any signal by the referee.  The only time a free kick is delayed is if the referee decides to make the restart “ceremonial” (meaning a whistle is required before the restart can be taken) and the referee is the only one who can make that decision.

Further, referees are neither expected nor required to measure out 10 yards.  The Law requires that opponents immediately withdraw to a minimum of 10 yards from the restart location.  If any opponent does not and this excessively delays the restart, he or she is subject to a caution for “failing to respect the required distance” – only new or hesitant referees ever measure out any required distance.  A common reason for the referee to hold up the restart is if the attacking team specifically asks for the minimum 10 yard distance to be enforced and, under these circumstances, the referee might move to some point on the field and direct all opponents closer to the restart location than that point to move back – a failure to do so or to unnecessarily delay moving back could also lead to a caution for any of the recalcitrant opponents.

Finally, if the goalkeeper commits a direct free kick foul inside his/her own penalty area, the restart is NOT a “free kick” but a penalty kick.  Penalty kicks are always ceremonial and the referee will not give the signal for the PK unless and until all parties, including the replacement goalkeeper and the designated PK taker, are in their proper place.  This would clearly include allowing time for the replacement goalkeeper to enter the field and take up his/her proper position on the goal line between the goal posts.  If the foul by the goalkeeper was an indirect free kick offense or if it was a DFK offense but was committed outside the goalkeeper’s penalty area, then the only obligation of the referee is to not allow the restart to occur until the red-carded goalkeeper has left the field and the defending team’s replacement goalkeeper is reasonably close to his/her goal (in other words, the referee wouldn’t whistle to restart play just as soon as the replacement goalkeeper enters the field).  See the opening 2 paragraphs above regarding the “organize the wall” issue.  If it is a PK, in fact, there is no “wall” anyway.…

Being Substituted

(The following inquiry from Heibel could not be answered directly — our private response was rejected as undeliverable)

Heibel, an adult amateur player, asks:

During the match, one of my players was subbed out and was leaving from the far side of the field, referee cards him a yellow, we ask for an explanation, ref doesn’t give one. Later in the game, I get called to sub out, I take a couple steps to leave the field from the far side but remember what happened to the other play so I immediately change direction and go towards the center of the field where the oncoming player is, I ran off at slightly less than a sprint. The ref cards me my second yellow saying i was wasting time. Now I have a red card, can’t play in the final. Should I argue it? Or was it a right call?

Answer

The Law requires (as of this year) that, with certain exceptions, players being subbed out to leave the field must exit at the closest point relative to the field’s perimeter lines (e.g., touch or goal line).

As for a card, well, it seems ill-advised.  A caution could be given if the referee decided the departing player was deliberately and clearly wasting time under circumstances where such wasting was meaningful (i.e., your team is 1 goal up with just 45 seconds remaining in the half and the stoppage involves a restart under the control of the opposing team where, with luck, the opposing team might score).  A caution is hardly mandatory and would not be given ordinarily merely because a departing player was moving off the field toward the usual, traditional, though never actually mandated location of the midfield line on the team side of the field just because that was farther away than some other exit point.

Frankly, we don’t understand the basis for the red card you mentioned receiving … unless you had already received a caution earlier in the game.  In any event, we don’t have a clear mental picture regarding what path you took in leaving the field.  You say that you momentarily began leaving by moving to the “far side” but it is not clear whether you were referring to a path that would take you off the field by the longest distance or you were using the term “far side” as a traditional reference to the side of the field opposite to the team side.  In any event, we also don’t know what you meant by changing direction to the “center of the field where the oncoming player is.”  The latter makes no sense unless you were meaning to say that you began moving to the side of the field from which the incoming player entered (which, for entering players, is still mandated in most cases).

The first point, however, is that, just as with the other player in this scenario, you were required to leave the field at the nearest point of the touch or goal line, regardless of which direction this took you.  Further, unless you WERE already sitting on a caution from some earlier incident, the prior caution for your teammate is not included in YOUR card count.  The card is given to a PERSON, not a TEAM.  Finally, we have as little support for the caution to you for “time wasting” as was already expressed for the earlier caution for the same reason – if either of you were in fact wasting time (a decision which must be based on actual wasting of meaningful time and not merely predicated on merely leaving the field on a longer path than the Law allows), then the caution is justified but only under the circumstances just outlined and only if the time being wasted was meaningful and not technical.

Referees should be conservative as regards unnecessary cards – a simple reminder to a departing player that he/she is now required to leave at the closest point (which, remember, was the reason given by the International Board for the change!) should be adequate.  Keep in mind that there is, after all, a maximum of 1,200 feet of touch+goal lines encompassing an international match field (1,380 feet if not international) and, technically, there is exactly only one precise point in all that distance that is “nearest” which any player must use in exiting in order to meet the “closest point” requirement.  Like so much in the Law, some measure of common sense must be applied and that common sense is based on actual, meaningful time-wasting which a player stubbornly, deliberately engages in despite being warned by the referee.

As for arguing, the answer is no, don’t bother.  If you are really bothered, file a complaint.…

Post-Game Misconduct

Kate, an adult amateur coach, asks:

At what point after the game does a referee’s jurisdiction end ? I am the secretary of a club and have received a suspension notice from our regional governing body. The referee saw 2 players mouthing off at each other in the car park approximately 20 minutes to half an hour after the game had ended. There was no physical contact . I have been told the players have been suspended and the matter passed to an arbitrator .

Answer

Under the Law and in accordance with standard mechanics/policies from US Soccer (which, from the language of your inquiry, suggests to us is not your governing body), the referee’s authority after a game lasts while the referee remains “in the area” of the field.  This is normally taken to include only the immediate environs – which, in turn, generally extends roughly about as far outside the field as a bit beyond the depth of the team areas.  Unfortunately, the Law/policy on this presumes a high level game played in a stadium so all that we said operationally means in such circumstances that the referee remains responsible until the officiating team exits the field into the stadium.  In practice and for everyday games where there are no changing rooms or stadiums, this becomes much looser.

However, we are more concerned about the passage of time in your scenario.  Short of a general melee involving whole teams, there is no reason for an official to remain in the area of the field for discipline matters for more than 10-15 minutes – even if the referee had to remain in the general area due to another assignment following soon after the game in question.

All this resolves into a fairly clear but at times indeterminate set of levels of concern.  Cards can only be shown to players or team officials during the match.  Once the match is over, the referee is responsible for including in the game’s official report to the competition authority any misconduct by players or team officials only while the persons committing misconduct and the referee are both still “in the area of the field” and only for a relatively short time — everyone has places to go and things to do so there is no good reason for sticking around.  At this second level of responsibility, the referee can include a general description of the misconduct plus a statement of what card and under what category of misbehavior that card would have been given had the conduct occurred during the game itself.  After this, the Law envisions no referee responsibility as a referee for any conduct by anyone.  Of course, depending on the behavior, there are civil or criminal remedies that parties can pursue.

Personally, we would suggest that the behavior in question occurred too long after the game and too far away from the field to remain clearly within the responsibility of the referee.  Of course, a league organization might well decide that it wishes to deal with behavior that, in their opinion, might reflect negatively on the organization’s reputation and might wish to gather information from the referee, not as a referee but as an ordinary witness to the event.…

Attackers/Defenders and Goalkeeper Interference

Tim, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

I have two questions:
1. I was called for a foul in game for blocking the goalkeeper from punting the ball. But after searching the rule online, I found that my play was not like any of the given circumstances. As the goalkeeper tossed the ball up to punt it, I started my run up toward the keeper and, after he made contact with the ball, I blocked it. The ref said that I blocked the the keeper, but I don’t think that makes sense. What does blocking the keeper really mean?
2. What counts as an attacking position? In that same game mentioned in the first question, the ref called the game over after a player on my team lost the ball after he was elbowed in the face. The ball rolls out of the box and the ref does not call a foul, but ends the game. His reasoning was that time had been up and we were out of an attacking position. But 8 players of our team, plus the entire other team were in the box, and our players were the closest to the ball at that point. So what is an attacking position exactly?

Answer

Purely as a matter of Law, there is no such offense as “blocking the keeper” – what you described is, using the terminology of the Law, interfering with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play.  That “release” is further understood to include the process of physically releasing the ball in preparation for a kick.  In your first scenario, you definitely interfered.  As a matter of mechanics, however, most referees would have stepped in the moment they saw you not only NOT retreating but, worse, moving closer, and shouted for you to get back.  Failing to do so is not only an offense (indirect free kick restart) but also cautionable as unsporting behavior.

The Laws of the Game provide a relatively simple answer to your second question.  By common definition, every player on the team which has control of the ball or which last had control of the ball is an attacker … everyone else is a defender.  This includes circumstances in which the ball is not in play, in which case the team that has the restart are the attackers.  The only time in a game in which there are no attackers or defenders is during the midgame break.…

Jersey Numbers

Christopher, a High School & College referee, asks:

The keeper wearing jersey #31 was injured and replaced with a substitute keeper wearing jersey #1.  This keeper then got a red card and had to leave the field. A player on the field became a keeper but wearing the same jersey #1 worn by the keeper who was red carded.  Is this permitted?

Answer

This is less a matter of Law than a matter of procedure governed by the local rules of competition.  Another way of putting it is that we have no particular answer to it because it is not strictly a Law question – the Law per se has nothing to say about jersey numbers, only the fact that the keeper’s jersey has to be clearly distinguishable from the jerseys of everyone else and that, in turn, is solely a matter of color (and secondarily, of design).

The purpose of jersey numbering has little to do with distinguishing field players from goalkeepers and much more to do with (a) maintaining a “clean” team roster and (b) enabling the referee to record jersey numbers rather than actual player names if/when there is ever a need to record behavior generally and cards specifically for the match report at the end of the match.  For example, the local rules of competition might well have a requirement that each player and substitute have a unique number on the jersey which matches the a number identifying the player in the roster given to the referee before the start of the game.  It also depends on the level of competition because, at lower levels, teams generally may not have sufficient funds to have uniquely numbered “backup” jerseys in cases like goalkeeper replacement and/or replacement of a damaged and/or bloody jersey.

By the way, note that, as part of the point made earlier that the Law has nothing to say regarding jersey numbers, there is certainly nothing requiring goalkeepers to wear any particular number (e.g., 1) or that a replacement player has to wear a jersey with the same number as worn by the player who was replaced.  At most, local rules might require that any jersey numbers noted on a team’s roster might need to be adjusted as/when there is a change.…

Making Contact with the Ball First

Leif, a HS/College referee, asks:

At the MLS level and equivalent I often see what I consider a push/trip/charge violation ignored because the offending player touched the ball first. At the high school level I am starting to see more fellow referees follow this. I can find no law that states this is the correct procedure. Recently a long ball was played and the goalkeeper punched the ball but his foreword momentum had him hit the attacking players face with his fist shortly after. In my opinion as the AR I felt he had sufficient time after the punching of the ball to not contact the offensive player but the center claimed as long as he got the ball first there was no violation.

Answer:

This is typical.  First of all, it involves a misreading of how the Law was written 10-12 years ago (and quickly rewritten precisely because it had become so wrongly interpreted).  Second, the warped interpretation became ingrained in player’s heads because they thought it gave them “cover” to commit a foul.

In the 2007-2008 Lawbook, the following language was in Law 12 under the general heading “Direct Free Kick”: “A direct free kick is awarded … if a player … tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball.”  (We added the emphasis.)  That language had been around for a while but 2007-2008 was the last year precisely because it was being interpreted to mean that, as long as the player made contact with the ball first, it was thus OK to do harm right after contacting the ball.  Thus was, of course, not the intent of the language and, as a result, it was replaced in the 2008-2009 Lawbook by the simple statement “tackles an opponent” with the simple proviso that this action became a direct free kick foul only if it was performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force.  That should have done it.  It didn’t.

The dangerous notion that contacting the ball first made anything that follows legal had become so widely misunderstood that, eventually, the International Board inserted into the 2016-2017 Lawbook the simple statement “If an offense involves contact, it is penalized by a direct free kick or penalty kick.”  In other words, if an action comes under the “careless, reckless, or excessive force” heading, it must be considered a direct free kick (or PK) offense if the player involved contacts an opponent before, during, or after the offense.  Briefly, then, if the tackling itself is illegal, it doesn’t matter if the opponent made contact with the ball before committing the offense.

Accordingly, for all practical purposes, the “contact with the ball first” defense was never actually legal but, so many had thought this was the case that this language was removed from the Law a decade ago and then, in case there was a player (or referee) who didn’t get the message, the International Board said in 2016 that, look, contact with the ball first excuses nothing — we took that language out of the Law for a reason so get with the program.…

Another Pass at “Pass-Back”

Mike, a U13-U19 referee, asks:

GK receives passback from teammate. GK receives ball with his feet outside the penalty area. Can he dribble into the  penalty area and then pickup the ball?

Answer:

There is debate on this issue.  The International Board has not definitively dealt with the question, much less offered an answer.

Personally, we would count it as a pass-back offense since it meets the two basic requirements – (1) deliberately played by the foot of a teammate and (2) handled directly thereafter by the goalkeeper.  Note, in this respect, that “directly” in soccer has always (regardless of the specific scenario) been defined as “no intervening touch/play of the ball by anyone other than the originator of the play and the recipient.”   Obviously, in your scenario, there is no involvement by any other player between the teammate’s kick and the goalkeeper’s handling.

The Board modified this section of the Law this year, however, and has said that, following a deliberate kick from a teammate, if the goalkeeper tries to kick the ball but is not satisfied with the result and then handles the ball, the goalkeeper should not be charged with a pass-back offense because “the goalkeeper has clearly kicked or attempted to kick the ball to release it into play.”  This quote is from Law 12 and we have emphasized the part of the quote that, to us at least, significantly limits what the goalkeeper can do to avoid a pass-back violation.  The best way, of course, is not to handle the ball in the first place!

Later in the section of the IFAB Lawbook that explains the Board’s new language regarding this situation, the Board says “When the GK clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the clearance attempt is unsuccessful, then goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offense.”  Again, to us, this explanation does not allow the goalkeeper to avoid committing an offense if he/she takes control of the ball outside the penalty area, dribbles it back into the penalty area, and then picks it up (which is exactly your scenario).  This not only doesn’t show an intention not to handle the ball, it actually shows an intention to get the ball into the penalty area precisely to handle the ball.

The goalkeeper has committed an offense.…

“Extra Time” Issues

Brian, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

I’m in Australia and I was at a U15 match where several times the ball was kicked out and was to be returned as a throw in where the ref had not whistled time out but, however, stopped and started time on his watch, thus appearing to extend the length of the match.  Is this allowed ?

Answer

We rarely deal with questions arising from outside the US because, in some cases at least, countries may have their own interpretation of certain things in the Laws of the Game.  Here, however, we feel fairly comfortable offering the observation that, no, what you described is not allowed.  However, there are several factors to keep in mind.

First, purely as a matter of mechanics, the referee in a match under the Laws of the Game never “stops and restarts his watch.”  Referees worldwide are trained the same way – timing of a match is continuous throughout the entire period of play (e.g., first half, second half, and tie-breaking periods).  On the side, though, referees must also measure what is referred to as “added time” (also, frequently but confusingly, termed “referee,” “extra,” or “injury” time).  Exactly how this is handled is up to the individual referee – their preferences, their early training, etc.  Some referees simply keep a mental running tally of time lost during a period of play so that, when the time on their watch closes in on the specified time for that period (e.g., 45 minutes is the standard for matches above the youth level), they already know how much (if any) time must be added on.  Referees also differ in the precise manner in which they measure the time.  All referees should use a watch that has a timing function but there are two alternatives here – some watches “count up,” some “count down,” and some have both capabilities.  After gaining experience each way, we personally settled down and used a “count up” timer function thereafter.  In any event, that’s a personal preference thing.  Many referees may be seen with two watches, one on each wrist, with one of them always kept running continuously and the other stopped and restarted but only for excessive delays.

Second,  just because play is stopped for some reason does not translate necessarily into that time needing to be taken into account by the referee and added to the length of the period.  Both the Law and its well-settled traditions are clear that time is added to a period only if the stoppage produces an excessive and unnecessary delay.  Stoppages for injuries are a good example of time lost that should be added to the period.  Stoppages for the ball simply leaving the field are not, except under rare circumstances such as the ball becoming lost and difficult to find.  Even a lost ball stoppage is rare because every game should be played with one or more “extra” balls that can be immediately used to restart play while someone else hunts for the lost ball.  The Laws of the Game provide that the referee is the sole judge of how much extra time is to be added to the period of play.  In short, even where the Law provides for the possibility that an event (such as an injury situation) may require that extra time be added, it is still the referee who determines exactly how much time that will be.

What this boils down to is that no experienced referee should be starting and stopping their watch in the first place – among other issues, that practice often leads to the referee losing all control of time when (not if) the referee forgets to restart his watch.  Virtually the only time the referee should actually stop their watch during play is when the game is officially suspended (e.g., bad weather with the prospect of being able to restart).  Furthermore, the mental measuring of “lost time” should include only excessive delays, not just simple delays that are brief and considered a normal part of the game (throw-ins, for example should almost never be seen as involving “lost time” as meant by the Laws of the Game).  Even a stoppage for a foul (without an injury) during which a card is given and/or one or more substitutions are allowed would not usually involve “lost time.”

Finally, while we cannot speak for Aussies, in the US, the official guidance on “lost time” is that it is always measured in full minutes rounded downward.  For example, a mental estimate of 2 minutes and 45 seconds would be announced as 2 minutes of extra time.  The concept of “extra time” always includes the possibility that there might be a “time lost” event which occurs during the playing of this extra time.  US Soccer also strongly recommends that the amount of any extra time being allowed is announced shortly before the expiration of the official time of the period of play so that players, coaches, and spectators will know why the game is continuing even though it might appear to be over.  The existence of a stadium clock is irrelevant, only the referee’s watch counts.…

Penalty Marks (Who Knew?)

Every once in a while, a question comes in that piques our interest because it has resulted in some historical research that turns up interesting but odd outcomes.  Recently, a reader of the site asked the following question:  “At a penalty kick, the kicker places the ball just by the side of the spot but part of the ball touches the spot.  What should the referee do?”

Our response back to the questioner was equally brief but was not published because the matter was very narrow.  This is not at all uncommon.  Narrowly defined questions whose answers are equally narrow are often handled by a private e-mail reply.

In this case, however, we were piqued enough about a “side issue” that we engaged in some historical research about the penalty mark which turned up surprising results.  They did not change the response to the above query in any way.  The referee should do nothing. The ball, as described, was properly “on the penalty mark” because the penalty mark is like any other marking on the field (e.g,. penalty area lines, touchlines, center circle lines, etc.).  All follow the general rule that the ball is in whatever area is enclosed or defined by that line so long as any part of the ball is on or overhanging any part of that line.  For example, a goal is not considered to have been scored unless and until the entire width of the ball has entirely crossed over the entire width of the part of the goal line which is between the goal posts.  Until that happens, the ball is “on the field” and not “in the goal.”  The same principle applies, for example, to both perimeter lines, corner arcs, penalty arcs, and so forth.  In this case, the ball would be considered “on the penalty mark” if any part of the ball touched or overhung any part of the mark.

There are a few, narrow exceptions.  For example, the midfield line is considered to define both ends of the field simultaneously.  Any player standing on the midfield line is considered to be in either end of the field depending on the circumstances — that is, based on the specific issue where this fact is important.

Our research on the penalty mark resulted in upending what we had thought we had learned decades ago.  “Everyone knows” that the penalty mark (like the center mark) is a circle.  Every field diagram in Law 1 in Lawbooks we reviewed back to 1985 shows that!  Case closed.  Looking closely, though, we discovered that this apparent “fact” does not appear anywhere in the text of the Laws — only the term “penalty mark” was found.  Furthermore, the field diagrams up through 1995 clearly showed that the penalty mark had a specific dimension (nine inch diameter) which further supported the assumption that the mark was a circle because only a circle is defined by a single measure of “diameter” (all other ovoid shapes have multiple diameter measurements).  What was surprising is that this nine inch diameter “requirement” disappeared — with no further announcement or explanation — after 1995.

Accordingly, we followed up this research with a query to someone in a high position with the International Board with whom we have discussed in the past tricky Law issues in order to achieve the most reliable information possible for this website (as well as for our own peace of mind).  The response was more than interesting.

Without getting into details about how, when, and why the disappearance of this “nine inch diameter” suddenly occurred, the basic answer was startling.  The text of Law 1 never specified the diameter of the penalty mark because (a) the mark has no official diameter and, more surprisingly, (b) the penalty mark doesn’t have to be a circle.  Further, it is not unknown for penalty marks used elsewhere in the world (places which are members of FIFA and adhere to the Laws of the Game, as required) use shapes other than a circle for the penalty mark.  Indeed, “various shapes including doughnut/polo mint, crosses and boxes” was mentioned in the reply of this source.

Two things should be taken from this little excursion.  First, nothing emerged from this discovery that should shatter your world.  The size and shape of the penalty mark is not a big deal — Law 1 is very clear as to where to place whatever shape and size of mark is being used.  Second, it’s always possible to learn something new and, if you ever encounter something you once thought was certain based on what you learned long ago, be open to the possibility that you are dead wrong.…

Dropped Ball Restart Under Current Law

Frijol, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If during play a player remains on the ground while play continues, possibly injured with no obvious foul being committed, play is stopped, however I’m a little fuzzy about the restart. I have witnessed other refs passing the ball back to the injured players team to restart! What is the correct restart?

Answer

First, your responsibility is greatly affected by the age and experience level of the players.  If Johnny is young (say, under 14-15), it is quite likely there is a “Johnny’s mom” on the sidelines who is fighting the urge to run onto the field.  This is definitely something you don’t want to happen.  Equally likely, if Johnny’s mom isn’t champing at the bit to run onto the field, then she is likely to be hopping about on the touchline screaming at you to stop play.  Since you are the sole judge of what a “serious” injury is, the younger the players the more likely you should be ready to stop play even if it might seem to you that it is not truly serious – the probability that you should take this approach increases if Johnny is not moving at all and/or if play looks like it might be moving toward Johnny-on-the-ground.

Second, if the reason why Johnny is on the ground is that he had been fouled and you had initially judged it as not serious and Johnny’s team had the ball and was making a promising attack on goal and you have applied advantage and the advantage had not been maintained for very long (2-3 seconds), then you simply whistle for the original foul, wave the coach onto the field (and/or Johnny’s mom!), and then restart based on the foul.

Third, if there was no foul and, depending on the age factor, you decide to stop play solely for the serious injury (it officially became “serious” the moment you stopped play for no other reason), then the Law requires that the restart be a dropped ball.

However, as of June 1, the dropped ball restart has been significantly revised as to how it is done.  You must know two things – one, which team last touched/played/contacted the ball before you stopped play and, two, where did that touch/play/contact occur?  If the touch/play/contact was inside the penalty area of the team which last touched/played/contacted the ball, the restart is from that location and only the goalkeeper of that team is permitted to participate in the drop.  If the location of contact was not in the penalty area of the team whose player made this contact, then any player on the team that last made contact with the ball (one and only one!) can participate but the drop is still taken where that last contact occurred.  All other players of both teams cannot be closer than 4 ½ yards from the location of the restart.  Since you are the one doing the drop, do not do it until you have made sure the other players are no closer than this minimum distance … and it could be a cautionable offense if any of these other players moved in closer just as the ball is dropped but before it hits the ground (it’s a judgment call only you can make).

Any referee who doesn’t follow the procedure in the paragraph immediately above is making a mistake.  Technically, doing anything different would be what is called “setting aside a Law of the Game” and could lead to a valid protest.…