“But I got the ball, Ref!”

H. Gillan, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

Foul or no foul?
Game: U14 boys, Division 2.
Scenario: a red defender makes a sliding tackle almost from behind (roughly thirty degrees angle from behind) outside the reds’ penalty box (between the touch line and the box). The red defender clearly gets the ball first. But immediately after getting the ball, he also gets the legs of the blue striker (who, at the time, is moving with the ball towards the reds’ left corner area). The blue striker collapses (not very seriously), and the ball goes out for a throw in.
My question is: did the red defender commit a foul? (He got the ball first, but he also got the legs).


We can’t tell you how many times over the years we have been forced to clarify once again the following principle.  It’s been a while and, even though everything that follows has been said many times on this website, perhaps it is time to go through it again.

It doesn’t make any difference whether a player “got the ball” if, thereafter, the player trips, kicks, tackles, runs into, runs over, or otherwise commits mayhem on an opponent.  “Getting the ball first” is irrelevant.  The decision you have to make in these instances is, did the player trip, kick, tackle, run into, run over, or otherwise commit mayhem on the opponent deliberately/intentionally?  If so, DFK and a caution if it was done recklessly or a red card if done with excessive force.  If the subsequent action is judged not to be deliberate or intentional, it is nonetheless unsafe play and merits an IFK for playing in a dangerous manner.  In making this decision, you need to take into account the age and experience level of the players as well as what has been going on in the game up to that point.

What you described is always a foul (DFK or IFK) but what you do about it is where the real decision-making occurs and demonstrates the art of refereeing.  You can, for example, decide that, though the action is a foul (particularly if the decision is that it was an IFK offense), circumstances are such that you feel it was doubtful or trifling, as a result of which you might only chew out the defender with varying degrees of growling, frowning, or forcefulness.

A long time ago and for a period of only two years, the Laws of the Game talked about tackling for the ball and making contact with the opponent’s leg(s) in a manner which might have given the impression (particularly for Americans who are not steeped in the traditions of the game) that making contact with an opponent’s leg(s) was ok so long as you got the ball first.  That was, is, and always has been sheer nonsense and it only took the International Board a relatively short time (given the 150+ years the game has been around in its modern form) to drop that language entirely.  Despite this, there remain referees who got their entry level training during that short period and then failed thereafter to realize that the Law on this matter had been modified.  Or they continued to listen to the out-of-date ramblings of referees who “learned” this untruth and passed it along to their referee friends like a cold or the flu.