Illegal Substitution Problems

An adult/pro level referee asks:

A goal is scored in the 50th minute and, during the stoppage that results, the referee notices that the scorer had not been a player when the first half ended.  Apparently,  the scorer had swapped places with a teammate who had been a player at the end of the first half and then, as players were returning to the field for the start of the second half, entered the field in effect as a substitution that had not been brought to the referee’s attention. What should the referee decide?

Answer

First, this sort of thing should not happen, either as a result of referee inattention or as a breakdown in communications within the officiating team, all of whom have a collective and individual responsibility for ensuring that the Law’s requirements are met (see Law 3, section 3: “If a substitution is made during the half-time interval or before extra time, the procedure must be completed before the match restarts”).

Second, although this situation could theoretically occur in any match, it is much more likely to happen in a match which is not being governed by the strict substitution requirements of Law 3 … in other words, in a youth game where substitutions are usually unlimited and with a “right to return” (see, again, Law 3, section 2).  Detailed recordkeeping of who enters and leaves under these common circumstances is often nonexistent because it is so cumbersome.

Third, following from the first two comments, it is highly likely that the “substitution” was not the result of a willful, intentional desire to circumvent the Law to gain an advantage or to show a lack of respect for the game.

Frankly, this situation is not directly or clearly covered by the Laws of the Game.  You might think it is but it really isn’t.  A student of the Law would likely point to Law 3, Section 5, which suggests that the scorer, having entered the field illegally (i.e., without the referee’s permission using standard substitution mechanics), should be cautioned and play restarted with an IFK where the ball was when play was stopped.  This is fine if the entry had been during play, was seen, and play stopped for this infraction.   Others might suggest that the situation is governed by Law 3, Section 7, which provides for sanctions in the case of an “extra person” who enters the field and interferes with play.  But the scorer is not an “extra person” as that term is generally used.  Here, the stoppage occurred solely because the ball left the field (into the goal — but it could just as easily been across the touchline for a throw-in restart.

“By the book,” there isn’t a clear answer.  Is there something close?  Consider the following: caution the scorer for entering the field without the referee’s permission, cancel the goal, require the scorer to leave the field and be replaced with the original player, and restart with a goal kick.  This stitched-together set of referee actions is supportable by various sections of the Law and by the underlying intent of the Law.

For a match below the highest competitive levels (where, as suggested, this sort of thing is more likely to have occurred), there is, however, a fairly simple alternative.  It is commonly understood that, when the referee signals for the start of the second half (as with the first half and all subsequent periods of play), this is an implicit confirmation that the referee (assisted by both ARs) accepts that all players are correctly on the field under Law 3, their uniforms and equipment meet the requirements of Law 4, and the field itself is acceptable under Law 1.  The signal to start the period of play could thus be reasonably taken as an implicit acceptance of the player “substitution.”  If this line of argument is persuasive, then the substitution has been tacitly accepted, the score stands and no caution for illegal entry is needed.  Absent a belief by the referee that the “substitution” was undertaken for nefarious  and unsporting purposes, why make things more difficult for everyone and for no particularly compelling reason?  The player (and the player’s coach) could be reminded of their obligation to make sure in the future that the referee is more properly advised about any otherwise well-meaning substitution that had been made during a between periods break.

We hasten to add that the immediately preceding suggestion is not officially recognized and you are welcome to act according to your own conscience.  However, we believe that the way Law 3, section 5 (“a named substitute starts a match instead of a named player and the referee is not informed of this change”) resolves this situation is in the same spirit in which our “simple solution” is offered.

Update:  As of the 2017/2018 revisions to the Laws of the Game, the “common sense” answer suggested above has been approved by the International Board.  The new version of the Laws of the Game provides that a substitution made during any break between periods of play (e.g., half-time) without the prior knowledge or approval of the Referee is to be accepted as valid and is not subject to a caution for misconduct.

“Pass Back” to Keeper and OGSO

David Najarian, a parent, asks:

Defender plays the ball back to his keeper with his feet. Keeper stumbles and it appears the ball will head into net. So, keeper grabs it with his hands. Is it an IFK for keeper illegally handling the ball, or a PK and red card for keeper for preventing a goal with a deliberate handling? My initial reaction is IFK since a keeper can never be called for deliberate handling within the penalty area. But I think I could also argue it the other way.

Answer

Trust your instincts.  Your “initial reaction” is correct — IFK, no red card.

We clearly have what is commonly (though incorrectly) called a “passback violation” — a defender plays the ball deliberately with the foot, followed directly by the goalkeeper handling the ball.  And, yes, the Law specifies an indirect free kick (IFK) for this offense, taken from where the goalkeeper illegally handled the ball.  As you describe the scenario, because the ball apparently was headed for the goal, if the goalkeeper had handled the ball outside the penalty area, this would have been a DFK (for the handling offense) and a red card (for the OGSO-by-handling misconduct).  But this goalkeeper was inside his penalty area and Law 12 says that the OGSO-by-handling offense does not apply  under these circumstances.

Frankly, we don’t think there is anything here that would support an argument going “the other way”!  Note that we said the offense is “commonly (though incorrectly)” called a passback violation.  This foul has been the subject of (now) 20 questions and answers and most of them have turned on a basic misunderstanding of the offense.  An answer back in 2011 stated the issue succinctly:

The offense rests on three events occurring in the following sequence:
– The ball is kicked (played with the foot, not the knee, thigh, or shin) by a teammate of the goalkeeper,
– This action is deemed to be deliberate, rather than a deflection or miskick, and
– The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else)

When, in the opinion of the referee, these three conditions are met, the violation has occurred. It is not necessary for the ball to be “passed,” it is not necessary for the ball to go “back,” and it is not necessary for the deliberate play by the teammate to be “to” the goalkeeper.

A Dropped Ball and A Pesky Spectator

Marlon Edwards, a coach, asks:

Can you score on your own team from a drop ball?

Red takes a shot on goal and, as the ball is rolling on the ground directly toward the goal with the goalkeeper seriously out of position, a spectator wearing the Blue team colors runs onto the field and kicks the ball away from the goal.  What is the restart?

Answer

Two very different questions.  The first one can be dealt with fairly quickly.  The short answer is, no.  The longer, more detailed answer needs to make sure we are talking about the same thing.  The dropped ball (DB) is a unique restart in that it is the only one of the 7 ways to start/restart a soccer game which is not performed by a player.  Another unique feature is that the ball is in play as soon as it touches the ground.  Once we have gotten to the ground-touching point, however, the DB is like the indirect free kick in that a goal cannot be scored in favor of either team directly from the first touch of the ball by any player following the drop.  If the ball should happen to enter a goal directly from the initial player contact, the restart is based on which team’s player kicked it into which team’s goal — goal kick if into the goal of the opposing team, corner kick if into the goal of the player’s own team.

What is interesting about this is the word “directly” because, in soccer, it has a very definite meaning and refers to what happens immediately after a player touches/controls the ball or performs a restart.  If whatever happens does not involve another player touching the ball, it is said to have occurred “directly.”  In the 2016/2017 LOG Law 8, this was restated to be crystal clear: a goal cannot be legally scored unless, prior to entering the goal, the ball was touched by at least two different players.  So, we take away several thing from this.  First, once the ball has been touched by at least two players, a goal can be legally scored if it enters either team’s goal.  Second, the “two player” requirement is met by any two players from either or the same team but not by one player touching the ball twice.  This was not a substantive change in the Law, only a restatement for clarification.  By the way, if the ball leaves the field after the drop with no touch by any player, the DB is retaken.

On to the second question.  The fact that the spectator was wearing “colors” associated with one of the teams whose game he interrupted is irrelevant.  Even if he was wearing something like a team jersey and was decked out like a player (but his name is not on the team roster), the person is still only a spectator and we call such persons an “outside agent.”  The critical question that has to be answered in any outside agent situation is whether that person interfered with play in any way (made contact with the ball or any player or got in the way of play or a player).  If the agent did, play must be stopped and then, after the dust has settled and the outside agent removed, play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped.  Any goal apparently scored during or following such interference cannot be counted under any circumstances. If the agent did not (in the opinion of the referee), play is not stopped and the entry onto the field is handled at the next stoppage.  In the case here, it is obvious that there was interference — play should be stopped as soon as possible and restarted with a DB.…

Coming from an Offside Position

Shane Wallace, a parent from Tomball TX, asks:

Can a player who is passively offside come back onside to receive a pass? During our game, our forwards were checking to an offside position and then running back to an onside position to receive a pass. The ref on the field was calling them off side. When they had received/touched the ball, they were in an onside position. What is the correct ruling here?
It caused a big uproar because the opposing team was doing it and the ref was not calling it.

Answer

Let’s deal with the easiest issue first … the last statement.  If the referee was making calls on exactly the same situation one way for one team but a different way for the opposing team, then this is clearly incorrect.  However, there is no way that we can comment on things we haven’t ourselves seen.

Now, as for the core issue, the referee was entirely correct to call an offside violation under the circumstance which you described.  Issues related to Law 11 (Offside) are the 5th largest category of questions on this site and at the heart of many of them is the situation you have described.  Spectators are often confused by this element of Law 11 because the term “offside position” appears to refer to a place on the field.  It doesn’t.  It refers instead to a “flag” which is set to “offside position” whenever an attacker, at the moment the ball is touched/played by a teammate, is ahead of the ball, the midfield line, and the second-to-last-defender.  Once “flagged” for an offside position, the attacker cannot get rid of this until one of three things happens — the ball is again touched/played by a teammate and the attacker no longer meets the three criteria, the ball is deliberately played by an opponent, or the referee stops play (e.g., the ball leaves the field in favor of the defending team, there is an injury, a foul is committed, etc.).

In short, once in an offside position, an attacker is still in an offside position from that moment forward no matter where his teammates move, no matter where the defenders move, and no matter where the ball moves!  And this is exactly what you described.  Your player was in an offside position at one point and then moved to a different place on the field where he may have looked like he was in an onside position, but he wasn’t, he was still in an offside position because he “carried” it with him.  This is often referred to as “coming from an offside position” and is matched by its exact opposite — “coming from an onside position” which refers to an attacker who makes contact with the ball in an apparent offside position but remains onside (and shouldn’t be called for a violation) because he was in an onside position when his teammate last played/touched the ball.

By the way, the term “passive offside” is no longer used precisely because it muddies the water.  The offside position is neither passive nor active and, by definition, the offside violation is always “active.”…

Throwing things

From a referee in Romania:

LOG USSF edition 2015/2016  writes at page no. 128: “If a player standing inside the field of play throws an object at any person standing outside the field of play, the referee restarts play with an indirect free kick from the position of the ball when play was stopped (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).”  This situation is not presented expressly in the LOG 2016/2017.  How should we handle a situation in which, for example, the goalkeeper aggressively throws the ball at a person off the field of play?

Answer:

It’s always difficult to figure out what to do when there is no explicit guidance.  The best approach is to continue doing what the Law has said in the past because the prior guidance has not been specifically modified or rejected.  So, in short, continue following the prescribed restart:  an indirect free kick where the ball was when play was stopped.  However, that said, your question also raises two issues that we might usefully address.  First, why is it an indirect free kick?  Second, what does “where the ball was” mean in practice?

Although we use an indirect free kick because this is what the Law says (or said last year, as well as for many years before), it often helps to know the reason.  The Law involving thrown objects generally is based on the notion that, whenever anything is thrown, the object becomes an extension of the hand.  For example, if a player throws a rock at an opponent during play, this is considered a form of “striking” with the rock simply standing in for the fist.  Aside from the misconduct, where is the restart for this striking?  It is where the target was struck (or where the target ducked and avoided being actually hit).  It is as though the player had run up to that opponent and swung his fist.  Where the target is off the field, then, the thrown object leaving the field means that the thrower, in effect, left the field (there is, of course, still misconduct).  What is the restart if you stop play for a player who has illegally left the field?  An indirect free kick!

Now, as to the issue of the location of the restart, we come to a problem.  Wherever in the law an indirect free kick is specified as the restart and the location is not the usual “location of the offense,” the alternate location is “where the ball was when play was stopped.” (See, for example, the restart specified in Law 4 for a player re-entering the field without permission after being ordered off to correct or change equipment).  In all such cases, the location of the ball at the time of stoppage is easily determined because the ball has remained on the field.  This is true even in the case of a thrown object where the object is not the ball, but it is not true when the object is the ball and the ball has been thrown at something off the field.  Moreover, when has play actually been stopped?  Most people assume that this occurs only upon hearing a whistle but, actually, it is when the referee has decided to stop play.  In practice, though, by the time the dust settles, two things are locked in everyone’s mind — play is stopped and the ball is off the field. Since we do not restart play from off the field, we have to come up with something else — something consistent with the spirit of the Law.  Two location possibilities come to mind.  One is where the ball was last on the field when all this started and that would be where the thrown ball crossed the field’s boundary line.  The other is where the goalkeeper was when he or she launched the throw.  Either is supportable but, for various reasons, we would recommend defining “where the ball was” based on the position of the goalkeeper (it is probably the quickest to determine and the easiest to sell).…