What Matters?

David, an adult amateur players, asks:

Why do refs allow players to gain 20 yards with a throw in but insist on free kicks being taken from the place of the foul? Surely more of an advantage is gained with throw ins not taken from where the ball went out of play because the ball can’t be thrown as far as it can be kicked?


There are several ways to respond to your questions:

  1. Generally referees do not routinely allow a variance of 20 yards on any regular basis.  Some referees do it for shorter distances, some referees do it occasionally, some referees are comfortable with leeways of, say, 5 yards or so, and some referees allow no leeway at all (ever).
  2. The giving of more than the allowed variance of about a yard is more common the farther away the throw-in is from the goal.  The closer the goal being attacked, the more likely the referee will be stricter in enforcing the one yard maximum.
  3. As for restarts on the field (free kicks), we would say the two above points pertaining to throw-ins are often applied to free kicks and for roughly the same reason – some variance beyond what the Law demands, depending on the location, the conduct (flow) of the game, the acceptance of the players, etc. rarely matters.
  4. One of the most fundamental underlying principles of the Laws of the Game (commonly and readily accepted) is summed up in some language which used to be directly in the Laws of the Game but was dropped a long time ago because (as the Brits would say) the statement is or should be so fundamentally understood as to be not worth the effort to keep it in written form – “The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law.  Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.” (From International Board Decision 8, under Law 5, commonly thought of as one of the most fundamental principles of “the Spirit of the Game” – my emphasis)
  5. In short, if it doesn’t matter, keep your whistle down.

Where Does the Fault Fall?

Max, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

If someone has tripped on the field, is it legal to jump over them in order to get the ball on the other side?


A qualified yes.  “Qualified” because the actual, on the field, answer depends on several specific measurements that have to be made in a fraction of a second (and the assumption that the jumper and the faller are opponents).

First, how “down on the ground” is the player who tripped?  Is he flat on the ground or just down on the elbows and knees, or higher.  Second, at the moment of deciding to jump over the downed player, does it look like it just happened or it was a hard fall such that the player is “down for the count” (i.e., not likely to get up until after the leap over him)?  Obviously the more “down on the ground” the player is AND the less likely it is that the downed player is likely to start getting up, the more reasonable it is for the player going for the ball to try a jump over.

However, jumping over a player on the ground (unless the fall to the ground happened immediately right in front of the not-down player), is a risky decision and the burden of proof is on the jumper, not the faller.  In other words, if the jumper either takes no heed of the player on or going to the ground or even if the jumper makes an erroneously-decided jump, causing contact with the player on the ground, particularly if it results in an injury, it must be judged as the jumper’s fault.  Depending on the circumstances, contact with the downed player would probably result in a decision that the action was a careless (no card) or reckless (caution) foul.

Of course, probably on the rare side, the foul could be charged against the player who fell IF the referee, given all the facts and circumstances, decided that the leap over was reasonable but the downed player “retaliated” against the leaper by deliberately and knowingly attempting to get up for the sole purpose of bringing the leaper down (and preventing him from getting to the ball).  Given the assumption that such a decision by the fallen player was deliberate, the foul (tripping or attempting to kick) would be charged against the faller with a potential caution (recklessness).

An event like this could be evaluated in several different ways depending on how the referee assesses  the actions of the two players involved.…

COVID-19, Soccer, and Masks

As sports organizations are preparing to evaluate the issues and options of re-opening their sport to public display, the question has arisen regarding the wearing of facemasks by soccer players.  We understand that the International Football Association Board (IFAB, the Board) is currently evaluating certain specific issues that might come under their purview as they are the organization responsible for creating, maintaining,  and interpreting The Laws of the Game at all levels.   No publication date for this has yet been announced.

A specific question has been directed to this website regarding soccer players wearing during a match the sort of facemasks which are currently recommended for the general population when international, national, regional, or local competitions are resumed.  After careful consideration and consultation with persons directly responsible for determining what requirements may be imposed under the Laws of the Game, we are prepared to offer the following advice on this matter.

Law 4.4 in the 2019-2020 edition of the Laws of the Game (and expected to remain unchanged in the as yet pending 2020-2021 edition) states that “Non-dangerous protective equipment, for example headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material is permitted … .” (Emphasis added) This language has been in the Laws of the Game since 2016-2017.  Although it is almost certain that “COVID-19 facemasks” would not likely have been in the minds of the members of the International Board when this section of Law 4 was crafted, it is also likely that the sorts of facemasks they did have in mind were more solid, complex, and aimed at protecting the wearer for dangers which did not include viruses. 

As with any other “protective equipment” encountered on the field, facemasks need to be inspected by the officiating team before the wearer engages with other players in active play.  The only aspects of a facemask relevant to such an inspection are (a) whether it is protective as opposed to decorative and (b) whether it is dangerous.  There is no reason to believe that the wearing of otherwise non-dangerous protective facemasks would not extend equally to substitutes, substituted players, or any other person normally allowed to be in the team area. 

In short, the Laws of the Game already allow but do not mandate the wearing of protective, non-dangerous facemasks by individual players as well as by the entire team.  Of course, if a local rule of competition requires the wearing of a facemask, this must be recognized and enforced by the referee as a condition of accepting the assignment to officiate a game in that competition.

Note that nothing offered here on this subject is necessarily also applicable to members of the officiating team – this issue will likely be addressed by the International Board or, if not, left to affiliated national organizations for resolution.  The advice is intended only to assist referees in handling the wearing of COVID-19 protective facemasks by players engaged in active play.  Note finally that nothing offered here allows the referee to order or require any player to wear a facemask unless such a requirement is directly imposed by the rules of competition.  It is up to individual officials decide if they wish to accept any assignment where the wearing or not wearing of COVID-19 protective masks is inconsistent with that referee’s preference.

Readers who are involved in soccer matches governed by NFHS or NCAA rules will need to research any comparable mask guidelines issued by these organizations.…

How Do You Solve A Serious Mistake?

Mamukoya, a senior amateur referee, asks:

In a match, No. 6 was shown a yellow card for a reckless foul and, in the second half, the same No. 6 again is shown a yellow card. Unfortunately the referee failed to show the red card and No. 6 continued in the match. The other officials also failed to bring this to the notice of the referee. In the progression of the match, No. 6 scored. When the referee was about to record the scorer, he realized his mistake, no red card for No. 6 for his second yellow card. How should the match be resumed? What are the actions of the referee?


The easy answer is “Don’t let that happen!” but that’s not very helpful.  The trouble is that, when something wrong does happen, the Law doesn’t specify a solution because (a) it shouldn’t have happened in the first place or (b) it happens so rarely that the lords of the Laws of the Game see no reason to mess up the Laws with wordage that deals with once-in-a-hundred-years events.  If you read the opening section of, say, the current edition of the Laws of the Game (2019-2020 – the 2020-2021 edition won’t be out until June but we are reasonably certain it will say the same thing), it specifically says that the Laws don’t and can’t cover everything and so referees are expected to do the best they can and shape those actions in accordance of what the referee feels is best for the spirit of the game.

That said, this event has occurred from time to time, even at the highest level of the sport (it happened, for example, involving referee Graham Poll in a 2006 World Cup game between Croatia and Australia!).  This is still not frequent enough to see a written answer incorporated in the Laws but we believe there has been a general consensus as to the actions of the referee in the few publicly-reported examples of such an occurrence.  They basically confirmed that the referee had made a mistake (duh!) and the other members of the officiating team (ARs, 4th official, etc.) were also at fault (also duh!), and the longer it took them to realize their mistake, the worse the error would be (another duh!).  The officiating team individually and collectively should advise the referee as soon as possible of the error and the referee should stop play in order to handle the correction – in short, don’t wait for a stoppage to take care of it, just whistle a stoppage immediately.

Then what?  Show the 2nd-caution player a red card, remove that player from the game, and restart with a dropped ball.  Whatever that player had done between when he should have been removed from the field and when he actually was removed from the field stands.  Any goal scored before the player is finally sent off stands so long as there has been a restart.  The competition authority could do something about it after the game is over, they get the match report, and have finished skinning everyone on the officiating team).

In your scenario, play was already stopped (for a goal) when the error was discovered but, as far as solving the problem goes, the cause of the stoppage doesn’t matter (foul, substitution, midgame break, weather, etc.): the restart for the stoppage remains what it would have been but only after the player is shown the red card and sent from the field (this includes a stoppage because the opposing team scored a goal).  If, however, that stoppage was caused by a goal scored by the team whose player had not been sent off and, during that stoppage the lack of a send-off is realized and confirmed, the goal does not count (regardless of who scored it).  In this case only, the restart changes to a direct free kick taken from the position of the player who should have been but wasn’t removed from the field (Note: this restart has not yet been tested because the Law (3.9) changed in 2017-2018 and we are not aware of any error of the sort we are discussing here occurring at a high enough level since then to have caught the attention of high level soccer authorities).

The best solution remains “Don’t let it happen in the first place!”…

Handling versus Spectator Interference

Kannan, an adult pro referee, asks:

A player handles the throw-in from his teammate and at the same time a spectator also blows the whistle from the stadium. How will play be restarted?


It really depends on your judgment and the critical question is whether the spectator whistled measurably prior to or after the ball handling.  By the way, we should add that, under the Laws of the Game,  you should always “know” which event happened first – “simultaneous”  is not in your vocabulary when it comes to such matters.

If the whistle occurred clearly prior to the handling, then the restart is a dropped ball (outside agent interference) where the ball was when the interference occurred (i.e., the whistle) and the handling is ignored.  If that location is in either penalty area, the drop is defended by the goalkeeper in that penalty area.  If not in either penalty area, the drop is for a player of whichever team last touched the ball prior to the interference.

If the handling occurred clearly prior to the spectator whistle, then the handling is an offense resulting in a direct free kick where the handling occurred.

If it is not immediately clear which event occurred first, then you must make a quick judgment as to which event caused or played a part in the other (e.g., did the spectator whistle to call attention to the foul on the field or was the handling a player misjudgment that the whistle came from the referee and the player was simply getting the ball?).  All data, no matter how secondary to the event itself, must be considered.  For example, what was the player’s demeanor immediately afterward?  How did the player act? If the sequence of events is still not clear, then you must nevertheless make some judgment, announce it clearly, and manage the correct restart accordingly.

All other things equal, it seems to us that a player catching and holding the ball directly from a teammate’s throw-in would not make much sense unless the player was convinced that the whistle was a spectator interference because, if not, what benefit is achieved for the player’s team?  None, and indeed the team will be punished for it.  Further, the overwhelming number of players who would seek to handle the ball during play (goalkeeper excepted, of course) are more likely to attempt to hide the action rather than display it publicly.

Nevertheless, based on the events in the game so far, which of the above decisions best supports the game?  The one thing you absolutely cannot do is order the players to just keep playing!  And you should have a quiet word with the player during the stoppage to make the point that, while you understand the player grabbed the ball for apparently good reasons, try not to do it ever again – the next referee might not understand.

Regardless of the above issues, you should advise both coaches that the offending spectator be removed from the field by whichever coach has responsibility for the spectator (or by both of them if the spectator is not apparently associated with either team) and that the game is suspended until this is done to the referee’s satisfaction.…

Handball Following a Restart

Daniel, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Direct free kick for the attackers 18 meters in front of the goal. After the ball has been released by the referee, an attacker shoots the ball towards the goal. A defender runs 3 meters ahead of the wall forward and fends off the shot with a deliberate handball. Referee’s decision? Please motivate the disciplinary sanction.


Your description of the scenario is incomplete in several potentially important areas.

First, what do you mean by “after the ball has been released by the referee”?  Referees don’t “release balls” on any kind of free kick.  Indeed, there is only one restart that involves the referee releasing the ball and that is the dropped ball.

Second, if it is a direct free kick (DFK) restart (and thus there is no “referee releases the ball” component), there nevertheless is the major issue of whether this DFK restart is ceremonial or not.  If it is ceremonial, then the DFK cannot occur unless and until the referee signals with the whistle that the kick can be taken.  If the DFK is not ceremonial, then it means that the kick can be taken immediately by the attacker.

The third incomplete information issue is when did the defender run “3 meters ahead of the wall”?  If the defender was in the wall at the time of the kick and then ran forward before the attacker kicked the ball, that is an offense by the defender – carries a caution and a retake of the DFK.  If the defender began to move closer than the wall after the ball was kicked (assuming it was no closer to the DFK location than the minimum required distance), then no encroachment offense was committed even if that defender made contact with the ball well within the minimum distance requirement.  What is interesting about this scenario element is that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter because, if the defender actually ran forward before the ball was kicked, this retake is overtaken by what is discussed below under the fourth element and the misconduct is overtaken by what is discussed below in the fifth element.

Fourth, several different issues arise when you state that the defender then handled the ball.  Based on your scenario, the DFK restart was 18 meters from the goal which puts the restart just 1.5 meters from the top of penalty area.  The minimum distance for the defenders was 9.15 meters from the ball.  Assuming all lines are straight, 90 degrees from the goal line, and not beyond the sidelines of the penalty area (if any of these three requirements is not met, the issue of where the defender made contact with the ball is impossible to determine in relation to the penalty area.  All that can be said unequivocally is that, if all three are true, then the defender handled the ball inside the penalty area.  Accordingly, if that is the case, the restart becomes a penalty kick.  To understand this element, you will probably need to draw a field diagram and mark up the pertinent distances (that’s what we did to make sure we understood the scenario!).

The fifth and last incomplete information issue relates to whether any misconduct occurred and, if so, what color card.  If, in the opinion of the referee, the ball was going into or it was an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (high likelihood inside the penalty area), then the card color is red (denied goal by handling).  If, in the opinion of the referee, the defender handled to ball merely to interfere with or stop a promising attack (a less likely possibility inside the penalty area), the card color is yellow.

As far as motivating the disciplinary sanction, that’s easy.  It’s what the Law calls for.  The really critical motivator is that, based on your stated distances and making a necessary assumption about lines being straight and perpendicular to the goal line, the offense was committed in the penalty area.…

To All Regular Readers and Occasional Dabblers

In case you were thinking about this, given the times we are going through, the askasoccerreferee website remains live and well, free of COVID-19, and observing all rules of social separation and self-isolation.  We are happy to report that we ourselves are well and safe, if a bit stir-crazy, and remain as ready as ever to respond to your questions.

So, should you find yourself getting bothered by some situation or scenario you saw while watching a replay of a match between Iceland and Latvia in the 1969 World Cup, first check your schedule because there was no WC in 1969 and, even if there had been, we can just about guarantee neither country played a game in it.  If you paid for the replay, you just got scammed!  Can’t help with that.  If, however, you were watching an actual game with actual players under the Laws of the Game and still want an answer to your puzzlement, drop us a Q&A and we’ll be happy to answer, privately or (if it’s really a dilly) with a published answer suitable for framing.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay away.  Social separation is the best contribution you can make to the players, coaches, referees, and spectators that we will need again soon enough.

Decisions About Ball Possession

Lisbette, a high school and college fan, asks:

What happens if the referee is uncertain of which player last touched the soccer ball that traveled out of play?


Your question seems simple but carries a lot of significance for the referee.

Don’t take this the wrong way but “the referee always knows who last touched the ball” and proclaims his/her knowledge clearly, strongly, and with no debate.

The only exception to this is that a good referee will always accept information from an AR (if there is one) who might have had a better view (or is frantically waving the flag to catch the referee’s attention) and, if this seems needed, consults with the AR before making a public announcement (if possible).  However, any unnecessary delay in announcing a decision carries the potential for trouble.

It is important to remember in all this is that, except for the ball going out of play across the goal line (where the difference between a corner kick and a goal kick can be important), it is rarely significant in the case of a throw-in restart – statistics indicate that, on a throw-in, the ball is often taken by the opposing team within 2-3 “plays” following the throw (of course, it can be more significant either way the closer the restart is toward either goal).

It does the referee no good to dither about ball possession: the response must be firm and clear because, if players become aware of indecision, a large chunk of the referee’s reputation is gone and increasingly constant arguments from the players will be the result.  Indeed, this is true for virtually every decision the referee makes.  Players “smell” indecision (much as predators “smell” fear in potential victims) and will use that to their advantage whenever possible.  This is not a matter of Law but of officiating techniques developed over many years.  Obviously, it is better to make the right decision: the problem is that making no decision, hesitating too long and/or too often, or becoming embroiled in debate is deadly.…

An Answer with No Question

We don’t normally do this but, based on some recent conversations, we think advising you of the following official clarification of the 2019-2020  Laws of the Game that was issued by the International Board (IFAB) last August deserves some space here.  Interestingly, it is not actually a “clarification” but a new interpretation or practical guideline.  Either way, it clearly directs referees to make a change in how they handle one specific violation.

There is a very useful table at the end of Law 14 which summarizes penalties for various violations connected with performing a penalty kick (not all, but the most common ones).  The third one down from the top involves what to do if the goalkeeper violates Law 14 by not having at least one foot on the goal line between the goal posts (technically termed “an encroachment”).  If a goal is scored, the violation is ignored and the goal counted but, otherwise, the goalkeeper is cautioned and the penalty kick is retaken.

The IFAB issued a Circular (#17) on August 21 last year which introduced (as a “clarification”) a change under certain circumstances in the referee’s response if a goalkeeper lunges or steps entirely off the goal line before the kick is taken.  Instead of retaking the penalty kick and cautioning the goalkeeper, the referee should ignore the foot placement violation if the ball leaves the field or rebounds from the goal frame unless the goalkeeper’s violation “clearly impacted on the kicker.”

While the IFAB provided only one clear example of impacting the kicker (the goalkeeper prevents a goal), the interpretation seems clear that the goalkeeper making any contact with the ball should result in a retake (and caution) but the goalkeeper’s “encroachment” where no contact with the ball occurs should usually result only in a continuation of play (a goal kick if the ball leaves the field, a resumption of regular play if the ball stays on the field as, for example, if the kick rebounded from the goal frame).

To the best of our knowledge, neither the NFHS nor the NCAA picked up this IFAB change and applied it to their 2019-2020 season, though either organization may do so for 2020-2021.…

Who Owns the Ball?

Shawn, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

After a goal is scored, may the scorer or a teammate of the scorer’s team retrieve the ball from the goal?  It is my understanding that the scored ball belongs to the conceding team. If the scorer retrieves the call and carries it to midfield, it shall be a caution for that player.  Please reference the law regarding this judgment.


Only at their peril ….

Under the Law, after a goal is scored against Team A, the ball “belongs” to Team A (because that is the team which has the restart) and any action by Team B seen by Team A (and concurred in by the referee) as an attempt to “take charge” of the ball can result in a yellow card to any Team B player who, regardless of a claimed motive, makes such an attempt.

Among the elements that the referee would consider in deciding if a caution is needed would be a “tug of war” between a Team B player (often the goal scorer) and a Team A player (often the defending goalkeeper or a fullback) or whether there was any proximate effort by a defender to prevent a Team B player from getting the ball.  The Team B player may claim that all he is doing is “helping” (particularly if it would be in Team A’s advantage to delay or slow down the kick-off restart).

The referee must read the game at that moment and decide if Team B’s action is an unsporting attempt to interfere with Team A’s ball possession.  Often, this sort of scenario quickly but obviously builds and can reach a flash point within seconds – the referee can loudly (with or without a hard-blown whistle) order the Team B player to leave the ball alone or it may be necessary to jump immediately to a caution if Team B’s action is sparking possible retaliation from Team A (as would be the case if there were an actual physical struggle for the ball).

The bottom line for this is to prevent the scoring team from taking an unfair advantage, either in fact or in the minds of the opposing team’s players, by wresting possession of the ball from the team that owns it.  If Team B unduly delays the restart, that is a separate problem but the scoring team has no right to step in to “help” in ways that will result in bad feelings.  If Team B has no problem with Team A (as evidenced by complaining to the referee or attempting to take matters into their own hands), then the referee should stay out of things.

By the way, this scenario is not limited to player behavior after a goal has been scored.  Indeed, you asked for a Law citation (see below) and that citation is not limited to the scenario we have been discussing.  In fact, the principle applies to any restart performed by a player (thus excluding a dropped ball).  We suspect that it happens more often on free kick restarts, followed by throw-ins, and then by goals — it’s rare on goal kicks and completely impossible on kick-offs and penalty kicks.  The citation is in Law 12 (page 110 in the 2019-2020 edition of the Laws of the Game): “Referees must caution players who delay the restart of play by … kicking or carrying the ball away, or by provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play“.…