The Plight of Goalkeepers

(Originally published on 10/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kaleb, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

Yesterday during my soccer game I was playing goalie.  I stopped the ball and started to get up so I could kick the ball up the field.  A person from the other team started running full force at me (note, I still had the ball in my hands) so I snapped one arm out in front of my body and the person from the other team hit my arm. The Referee immediately called a penalty on me for using my arm as a weapon.  I didn’t swing my arm at him I just put my arm up to protect myself and he hit my arm.  I would like to know if putting your arm up to defend yourself is a penalty.

Answer

Could be.  This is one of those judgment calls for which “you had to be there” in order to get some sense of what the Referee saw — the decision depends on so many variables.  We will say that, in general, the picture we get when you said that you “snapped one arm out in front of my body” is the classic football (American football) photo of a pigskin carrier running down field with an arm held out to fend off opponents trying to stop him.

Let’s just admit up front that the job of a goalkeeper is, as one observer noted, marked by “80 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of terror.”  In other words, it’s not easy and every goalkeeper walks a thin line in situations like this between trying to stay uninjured and doing their job, a job which often requires the goalkeeper to get into positions on the ground or in the air which are inherently risky.  Having had some experience with serving in this position, we also understand that some goalkeepers take advantage of the quick, brief dust-ups that are a normal part of the goalkeeper’s life to respond in ways that are, shall we say, unforgiving of opponents.  Opponents, on the other hand, generally are not very forgiving of goalkeepers (except their own, of course) when it comes to a willingness to take their efforts to continue attacking the goal right to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the goalkeeper’s safety.

All that said, it is the job of the Referee in situations involving challenges to or in the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper to remember that the Laws of the Gamer require such challenges to cease immediately once the goalkeeper has control of the ball. “Control of the ball” is marked generally by having both hands on the ball or one hand on the ball against any kind of surface (ground, body, goalpost, etc.).  Keeping in mind the need to factor in the age, skill, and experience of the players, Referees should be proactive in safeguarding the goalkeeper where the flow of play appears to include one or more opponents acting recklessly despite the goalkeeper arguably having control of the ball.  In your scenario, the Referee should have begun closely monitoring the actions of the opponent who had “started running full force” at you, repositioning to warn the opponent that his behavior was being observed, and even providing a strong verbal caution against violating the Law, all in an attempt to forestall the impending offense.  At some point, the apparent intent to interfere by the opponent would warrant a preemptive whistle.

On the other hand, you are not warranted in taking actions which go beyond mere “self protection” — after all, a more effective way to protect yourself in a case like this would be to simply sidestep the onrushing opponent.  This often does not appeal to more macho goalkeepers whose mindset is, “it’s his job to avoid me so I will simply stand my ground and maybe get in a bit of mayhem on my own which will probably be ignored or justified by the Referee.”

In short, while we would have preferred to see the Referee in this case act in advance to prevent or stop a rapidly building momentum which, if left unchecked, is only likely to end badly for everyone involved in the likely collision, you had other opportunities besides snapping your arm outward in what could only be termed an aggressive manner.  Hence our answer at the beginning of all this — yes, it could be a penalty (i.e., determined to be “striking” and, since it was by a defender within his own penalty area, leading to a penalty kick restart).

Better for all concerned, however, would have been a whistle by the Referee to stop play as the opponent’s run brought him close enough to justify a decision that there was an intent to interfere with the release of the ball into play, resulting in a caution for the opponent for unsporting behavior and an IFK restart for the defending team.  Better yet would have been proactive officiating aimed at getting it through the opponent’s head that he needed to stop running at the goalkeeper once control of the ball was established.

 

Advantage vs. Offside Offense

(Originally published on 10/4/17, “Operation Restore”)

ST, an adult amateur referee, asks:

An attacker is fouled by a late tackle by a defender after the ball was passed to his teammate (foul was not cardable).  The Referee saw the teammate was in good attacking position so he shouted advantage and gave the signal.  What the referee didn’t know was the teammate was in an offside position so, when he received the ball, the AR flagged to signal an offside offense. Should the referee blow the whistle and give a DFK to the attacking team?

Answer

Yes.

To understand why, we have to explore the intersection of advantage decisions and off side offenses.  Law 5 makes it clear that an advantage decision, once given, can be called back if the advantage that was originally thought to exist does not materialize or could not be maintained over the course of the next several seconds.  This normally is the result of such developments as the ball possession being lost or the fouled player being unable to maintain his equilibrium.

Note #1: advantage is a team concept  and applies potentially to the attacker’s entire team so the issue is not always what happens to the fouled attacker but what happens to the attacking team’s overall ability to maintain a credible attack against the opponents.

Note #2: we did not say whether they might be able to score a goal — that gets into “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (OGSO) which, though similar, is a different issue.  The key phrase for advantage is the ability to maintain a credible attack moving forward.  And this, in turn, leads us to include scenarios in which the attacker, though fouled and as a result losing his personal control of the ball, is nevertheless able to get the ball to one or more other members of his team.  All of this must be taken into consideration after the Referee has signaled for advantage.  If this credible attack cannot be kept going forward either by the fouled attacker or by the attacker’s team, Law 5 requires that we stop play and return to the original foul.

Note #3: the Laws of the Game seriously frown on using advantage if the offense involves violence of any kind.  That was not the case here because, as the scenario states, the original foul was not cardable.  If it had been an offense which would draw a red card for SFP or VC or Spitting, stop play and deal with it.

What happened in the given scenario?  Everything looks fine, up to a point.  The foul (late tackle) was called (yes, it was because the advantage signal is a declaration that the foul occurred).  For the next few seconds, we are going to see what happens.  If the attack remains credible, we let that foul go (but come back at the next stoppage if there was any nonviolent misconduct); if it does not, we come back to the original foul.

Here, the Referee judged that the team would be able to maintain its attack if the ball released by the fouled attacker went to his teammate.  Remember, at this time the teammate who was the intended recipient of the pass and who was objectively in an offside position had not yet committed any offense.  For whatever reason, the Referee failed to “read” the offside position status of this teammate but, even so, while we might quibble about whether the Referee should have foreseen the problem, there remained in the several seconds of the “advantage time” the possibility that another teammate might come roaring out of nowhere and control the ball before it even got to the intended recipient — in which case, everything could have proceeded as expected.

That did not happen, the intended recipient in an offside position made the mistake of interfering with play while in that position, an offense which would otherwise have resulted in control of the ball simply passing to the opposing team for an IFK restart but for the fact that the game was “sitting on” advantage time.  Because it was, the Referee should come back to the original foul and restart with a DFK where the foul occurred.  If questioned, the Referee need only reply (if a response were needed) that “the advantage did not materialize.”  Look at it this way.  What the Law did was to say that the teammate in the offside position was, for all practical purposes, not there and could not play the ball anyway.  It was the functional equivalent of having desperately played the ball into space with no chance that anyone on his team would get it (in which case, the return to the original foul would be obvious).  The fact that the teammate did touch the ball is irrelevant because the real issue is that, following a foul, the fouled player’s team could not continue to make a credible attack forward.  This result would have been the same if the teammate, realizing his offside position, simply stepped aside without making contact with the ball.

 

 

Straightforward Offside

(Originally published on 7/30/17, “Operation Restore”)

Jim, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

A player is on a breakaway and scores with a clean shot past the goalie. The goalie makes an aggressive tackle and injures the player on the play inside the 18 yard line. The goal is subsequently called off because of an offside violation.  Obviously the goal is not allowed, but what is the correct call in relation to the dangerous tackle on the now injured player?

Answer

We are going to treat this as  a straightforward sequence of play and not delve into any of the possible complications, interesting though some of them might be.  Accordingly, our answer is based on the following: attacker makes a shot on goal which goes into the net, then the defending goalkeeper aggressively tackles the opponent and injures him, then the decision is announced that the goal is not allowed based on the attacker having committed an offside violation.

Where several offenses occur sequentially (i.e., one after another), the first offense determines the restart.  Here, the first offense was an offside violation so the punishment is an indirect free kick taken from where the attacker became involved in active play by touching the ball (which subsequently went into the net so the apparent goal has to be canceled).

The second offense was a tackle which, by its description, would seem to meet the definition of having been taken with excessive force and without regard for the safety of the opponent. However, because play was already considered to have been stopped when the offside offense was committed, the goalkeeper’s action was not a foul but it is misconduct.  The goalkeeper should be sent off and shown the red card for violent conduct.

Just as an indication of how and where this could become sticky, the offside offense and the excessive force tackle could have happened at the same time — we would not like to try to figure that one out.  Most referees would probably avoid the problem by declaring the events were sequential rather than simultaneous.

 

 

Backpass and Advantage

(Originally published on 7/22/17, “Operation Restore”)

Wilson, an adult amateur parent, asks:

On a game I watched today the defender made a pass to the keeper but the ball was heading to goal.  The keeper then decided to deflect the ball with her hands.  She touched the ball but could not hold it.  The ball kept going towards goal, the attacker kicked it in and scored.  The Referee disallowed the goal and gave the attacking team an indirect kick for the backpass.  Shouldn’t the Referee have applied advantage, since calling the backpass benefited the offending team?

Answer

Good heavens, why would the Referee not have applied advantage?  Except for someone very inexperienced, whose mind was still fixated on “call the foul,” Referees past their fifth or sixth season should be positively looking for opportunities to demonstrate that they know how the game is played by waiting a moment to see what happens next and only then deciding what to do.  Pavlovian reactions to fouls cause more trouble in games with experienced players than almost anything else we can think of (excepting total ineptitude).

The “pass back to the goalkeeper” offense (the very term is misleading — it doesn’t have to be back, it doesn’t have to be a pass, and it doesn’t have to be to the goalkeeper) is an offense like any other and there is no reason to think it is exempt from the use of advantage.  We find utterly mysterious how the Referee could have thought this was a good decision since it replaced a 100% goal with  (given that the restart was an indirect free kick facing what was probably an impenetrable wall) a 20% goal at best.

We are getting uptight and perturbed discussing this so we had better stop.  The answer is, Yes.

 

Injured Referee

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Murray, an adult amateur fan, asks:

If a Referee gets injured and there is no replacement, does the result at the time stand or does it depend on the time the game was stopped?

Answer

Yes, if the Referee is the only official assigned to and present at the match.  Yes, if there are other officials but none is qualified to take the Referee position and responsibilities.  No, if there is at least one other member of the assigned officiating team qualified and willing to take the Referee position.

In matches with a full crew assigned (Referee and two Assistant Referees), one of the Assistant Referees is often designated as AR-1 and this is usually for the purpose of identifying that AR as the official who takes over if the Referee is unable to continue (in which case a volunteer linesman could be sought for the AR-1’s position) or is unable to serve as the Referee but deemed able to swap places with the AR for the remainder of the match.  Alternately, the local rules of competition may specify another method.  If no method is specified and there is no prior designation of one of the ARs as “senior” or first in line to take over, the Referee would usually be expected to designate which AR (assuming that AR is amenable) would take over the Referee’s position.

Are you getting the feeling the assumption is that Referees are not expected to become sufficiently unable to continue to the point of needing a replacement?  You would be correct.  If you are not comfortable with that ambiguity, ask the Assignor or know in advance if there are any rules in place or traditional in your area which govern this sort of problem.

If none of these options is available or acceptable or workable, the match is terminated, after which the resolution of your question is in the hands of the local competition authority (the body under whose authority the particular game is being played).  In any event, full details must be included in the match report.

 

Coaches and Cards

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kat, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

What happens when a coach gets a yellow card?

Answer

Consider the following:

Case 1:  What happens?   Well, it shouldn’t happen because, technically, coaches cannot get a yellow card. Under the Laws of the Game, only players, substitutes, and substituted players can be carded (yellow or red).  We draw your attention to Law 5 where it states that the duties of the Referee include “takes action against team officials who fail to act in a responsible manner and may expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.”  This is routinely interpreted to mean that the only basis for disciplinary action against coaches (or any other team official) is “irresponsible actions” and the only discipline allowed is to “expel them from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).

Case 2:  What happens?  Well, that’s easy, the coach (or any other team official) has been cautioned.  In general terms, the yellow card is a warning about present behavior and a statement that subsequent misbehavior will likely result in a red card — in which case, the team official is “expelled from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).  How can the Referee get away with doing something which is contrary to the Laws of the Game?  Because a local competition authority (league, tournament, association, etc.) has decided they want this done in their games and the Referee has agreed to accept the assignment to officiate that game.

In either case, what constitutes “irresponsible behavior”?  Basically, it includes anything a player could do which is described in the misconduct section of Law 12 (under cautionable offenses and sending-off offenses).  The Referee is advised, even when local rules allow cards to be shown to team officials, to state in the match report that the team official was expelled (in case 1) or cautioned or sent off (in case 2) for irresponsible behavior, followed by a list of the specific indiscretions leading to the punishment.  Further in case 2, if the warning were unsuccessful in changing the team official’s behavior and the irresponsible actions continue, the Referee would be justified in showing directly (no second caution) the red card with the straightforward explanation that, despite a warning (the caution), the team official persisted in behaving irresponsibly, followed by a list of the additional specific actions.   In fact, if the first instance of irresponsible behavior were sufficiently irresponsible (i.e., equivalent to player actions that would immediately draw a red card), the Referee should deal with the team official the same way.

 

Yelling “Mine”

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Sue, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Is it an offence for a player to call out “mine” to let his teammates know he is intending to play the ball?

Answer

Maybe.  It depends on the circumstances as seen at the specific moment by the Referee.  Here are some issues or concerns that the Referee would probably consider before deciding what (if anything) to do about it.

  • Was the shout done in such a way as to startle, confuse, or redirect the attention of a nearby opponent who might also be “intending to play the ball”?
  • Did the shout actually result in startling, confusing, or directing the attention of an opponent?
  • Was the shout performed in close proximity to the opposing goalkeeper who was also in a position to receive the ball?
  • Had there been a history during the game up to this point of shouting such claims?
  • Was the shouter easily identifiable at the time of the incident  as in fact an opponent (i.e., not coming from someone directly in view rather than behind or out of the peripheral vision of a player hearing the shout) or could the hearer believe that the shout came from a teammate?

All these factors come together to form an opinion in the Referee’s mind as to whether the shout of “Mine” was or was not either intended to distract generally or to confuse the identity of the shouter such that a player might be deceived and allow the ball to be left to someone the hearer thought was a teammate.  It doesn’t really matter what the shouter intended, which may have been entirely innocent, but what happened as a result — much the same as what happens with other offenses, such as fouls, particularly with younger player.  One of the most common aphorisms among Referees is that the older the players the less likely anything that happens is by accident.

If the Referee decides that the shout was not permissable, it becomes a misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior) but the Referee might also decide that, while the intent to deceive was there, it might not be worth a caution if, for example, it was unsuccessful (i.e., the misconduct was trifling).  Alternately, the Referee might decide that it was misconduct, it deserves a caution, but play ought not to be stopped because “advantage” should be applied (the practical consequence of which is to hold the caution until the next stoppage and then show the offender the card).

 

Offside — U-10 Version

(Originally published on 7/20/17, “Operation Restore”)

Esther, a U-12 and under fan, asks:

I was watching a U10 game.  R9, a Red forward, had been hanging out offsides. The ball got kicked up the field towards the goal Red was attacking and it passed R9. He ran after it and kicked it. The ref called him offsides. My question is this: was he offsides because he was offsides before the ball passed him or was he onsides because he didn’t touch the ball until after it passed him? Note: the other team’s defenders weren’t involved–they weren’t even on their side of the field!

Answer

We are sighing (metaphorically) as we face once again a question regarding Law 11 (Offside) which we can’t really answer because crucial information is missing.  Why is this so?  It’s not because someone is deliberately withholding it but, rather, because (we’re guessing here but guessing based on a lot of experience) so many people don’t know what “offsides” is and therefore don’t know what the Referee has to know in order to make the correct call.

Pardon us if we vent just a little bit more.  There is no such thing as “offside” — indeed, there is no way using proper English that the word “offsides” would ever be correct (unless we were talking about several of them).  Moreover, in the offered scenario above, the word (plus it’s kissing cousin, “onsides”)  was used five times and in each case it is arguable as to which of the two standard meanings was intended.  So, let’s start:

  • Offside Principle #1: There is no such thing as “offside” unless the word is paired with one of two other words — position or violation.
  • Offside Principle #2: An “offside position” is a condition an attacker acquires by being in a certain place at a certain time.
  • Offside Principle #3: An “offside offense” is a violation of the Law and, in most cases, is punished by stopping play and giving the opposing team an indirect free kick.
  • Offside Principle #4: Every offside offense requires being in an offside position but being in an offside position is not by itself an offense.  In logic, this is can be stated as “An offside position is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an offside offense.”

One more thing before we move on to the substance of the question.  Most U-10 recreational soccer teams (boys or girls) use what are called “small-sided” soccer rules rather than the “full blown” Laws of the Game and these “small sided” rules were set up years ago by the US Youth Soccer organization affiliated with US Soccer.  Those rules do not include Law 11.  In brief, therefore, we were confused right at the very start when the scenario implicitly declared they were two U-10 teams which were apparently using “offside” in their game.  Certainly, this is possible because many local organizations have their own special local rules that don’t always follow what the national or state soccer organizations say they should.  Given this is is apparently the case here, it becomes impossible to guess what those rules may be since, technically, they shouldn’t be there at all.

Accordingly, the only thing we can do is to discuss the scenario as though the teams involved were using Law 11 exactly, without any special local rules.

R9 had every right to be where he was (although it must be noted that Law 11 was intended to be a specific deterrent to “hanging out offsides”) — which we are going to translate as “offside position” because that is the only meaning it could have at this point.  This makes the further assumption that the designation of “offside position” was used in the meaning of Law 11 that R9 was past the midfield line, past the ball, and past the second-to-last defender while one or more of his teammates had possession of the ball.  We assume that, when the ball was kicked “up the field,” it was kicked by a teammate of R9.  When R9 “ran after it and kicked it,” he committed an offside offense (becoming involved in active play by interfering with play — kicking the ball — while in an offside position).  He was, therefore, correctly and appropriately called for this offside offense.

R9’s offside position was created the moment his teammate kicked the ball while he occupied the position we described above.  He kept the offside position through anything and everything that happened between the time his teammate kicked the ball until he committed the offside offense … which is when play was stopped by the referee’s correct decision. No other issues were involved.  A9 could have not run after the ball and, though still in an offside position, would not have committed an offside offense.  A9 could even have started running after the ball and still not have committed an offside offense so long as he did not touch the ball or interfere with an opponent.

 

Rules of Competition

(Originally published on 7/18/17, “Operation Restore”)

Mike, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

My son’s U12  team recently won a game 4-3 but scored a goal on a PK which was awarded in error when the opposing GK touched the ball outside the penalty area. It should’ve been a free kick, but the ref awarded my son’s team a PK. The PK was converted and we won 4-3. The next day we received an email from the opposing coach who said he was protesting the game as the ref told him AFTER the game he had awarded the PK in error. The game was over-turned and the game is going to be replayed. Is this correct?

Answer

Yes, probably, on both counts.  First, the referee clearly “set aside a law of the game” which is the official reason for a protest.  It doesn’t require any admission by the Referee that he or she made a mistake to file a protest, merely a recitation of the facts of the case.

Second, it is entirely up to the rules of competition under which your game was played whether a protest would be considered at all.  Most tournaments don’t but, for regular season games, the local league probably does but usually only for an issue which clearly involves a rule of law.  Usually this means that issues which are based solely on judgment, no matter how wrong they might be, are not allowed to be protested.  In this case, for example, deciding if an offense occurred inside or outside the penalty area is a judgment call, but deciding that stopping play for an offense occurring outside the penalty area could be restarted with a PK is governed solely by the Laws of the Game.

Third, once a protest is allowed and decided, again the local rules of competition determine what the person or body of persons who made the decision can do about it.  This could certainly (and often does) include ordering that the game be replayed in its entirety.   The close score could be a factor but often this solution is taken no matter what the score was … on the theory that a wrongfully given PK-which-converted could affect the playing dynamics for the rest of whatever time remained in the match and, literally anything could have happened.  But the decision could also have been to replay the game from the point of the erroneous decision but using the correct restart.

In brief, what you described would not be an unusual decision, but everything depends on the local rules of competition.  This is not something that is determined by some single rule or law that covers the entire country.  We wonder, however, whether either team sought to bring the mistake to the Referee’s attention or whether either of the assistant referees saw the location of the foul and, as would be their duty, sought to prevent the Referee from compounding the error.  Given that a PK is the most ceremonial of all restarts, there certainly would have been time and opportunity to do so.  Just wondering.

 

Helpful(?) Dissent

(Originally published on 7/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Roy, a U12 – U19 referee, asks:

An attacking player, feeling he was fouled, expressed his frustration with me (the referee of this U19 game) by talking with his fellow players – “he’s not calling anything.”

Does this rise to the level of dissent? This was a player already on a yellow card and someone with whom I had been talking all game long about not complaining to me about calls or non-calls.

Answer

OK, please don’t take this the wrong way but, you care about this why?  What is it about what was going on that you would feel justified in pulling a yellow card for dissent and then, perforce, showing a red card because the yellow card you just showed was the player’s second one of the game?  We are not asking these questions as an indication that we are about to tell you that you are all wrong about this and you should just “man up” about it.

Dissent is misconduct for a reason.  Publishing (i.e., making public) negative, argumentative, abrasive, disrespectful, derogatory, etc. comments directed at an official (Referee and/or ARs) is an insult to the game and to its long history of “gentlemanly” conduct upon which its Laws are based.  In the match, dissent which continues becomes insidiously pervasive to the detriment of the sort of communal trust which makes the sport enjoyable for its participants (including the members of the officiating team).  We think there should be and probably is widespread agreement regarding this.  And yet … there it is.

Sometimes you can see (and hear) it coming.  It may build slowly and incrementally until it crosses the line and becomes like the roaring sound of an approaching tornado.  Sometimes it just jumps out at you, full-blown, unexpected, and caustic enough to strip skin on first touch.  Are these inevitable end-points?  Only if left untouched or undiverted.  Rarely does dissent cease of its own volition because the very essence of dissent is “try war, not diplomacy.”

Was the player’s comment “he’s not calling anything” dissent?  Who’s the “he”?  You?  Did you automatically assume the “he” is you because of your history during the game of talking to him about his expressed unhappiness regarding your decisions?  Do you think the player expressing this opinion now to his teammates is an escalation of the situation?  Senior referees should already have been exposed to the “3 P” philosophy about dissent — the need to deal with dissent grows according to the degree to which it is or is becoming Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • Personal – directed at an official by eye contact, by name, by nearness
  • Public — increasingly easily heard or seen by an increasing number of persons
  • Provocative – the specific content of the speech or the common interpretation of the nonverbal communication — e.g., wagging the finger versus “the finger”

How effective is any concrete act of warning about possible dissent watered down by repetition without retribution during the game?  Is running by you and suggesting that “you’re not calling anything” as a quiet aside more “dissentful” (a word we just made up to express the concept of a qualitative amount of dissent) than shouting it out loud in a stadium full of people or than saying it to some of the speaker’s teammates loudly enough that you and perhaps a few others could hear it?

At some point, the dissent virus begins to spread, which is exactly what you don’t want because, if you are at that point, you will either have lost control entirely or, alternately, it will take a huge amount of your professional resources to halt it.  Far better to kick the snowball apart at the top of the mountain than to be crushed by it at the bottom.

Oh, and by the way, get in the habit of listening carefully to what players are saying, even if it is disagreeable, because you might need to hear it even if you don’t like the manner of expression.