A Plethora of Cards

Steve, an adult amateur fan, asks:

If a Referee plays advantage with the intention of going back to book the player once the play has stopped but that same player makes another tackle worthy of a yellow card in the same passage of play, can the Ref deliver 2 yellow cards and send the player off?


Absolutely  …  assuming the original misconduct was also a cautionable offense.   If it was a sending-off offense, however, then only the red card would be shown at the next stoppage with no following yellow card for the subsequent misconduct because, by tradition, no additional cards are ever shown following a red card.  Nevertheless, in this sort of situation, the additional misconduct (cautionable or sending-off) is included in the match report but clearly identified as conduct occurring after a red card.  Keep one thing in mind – the International Board has strongly recommended that, if a sending-off offense has indeed been committed, advantage should generally not be applied, particularly if the red card offense involved violence of any sort (e.g., serious foul play, violent conduct, or spitting).

Getting back to your original question, it is entirely possible, at the same stoppage, for the Referee to display a yellow card, then to reshow the yellow card, and then to display a red card – three cards at one time (they are still showed sequentially, not literally at the same time)!  Finally, in a case like this, the restart would be determined by the original offense, not by what happened afterward, during the “advantage time.”  The exception would be if, in the Referee’s opinion, the advantage had been fully realized: if so, the restart would be dictated by the second offense.

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.


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.


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?


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.



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?


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?


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).


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.


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.

Goalkeeper Possession

(Originally published on 7/16/17, “Operation Restore”)

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

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.


The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

Sorting Out a Flurry of Kicks

(Originally published on 7/11/17, “Operation Restore”)

Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:

Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?


OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene?  Fess up.  By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift.  What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul?  How about, no one committed a foul?  Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?

We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed.  Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical.  This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.

To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force.  Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle.  Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed.  And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it?  And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks?  Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact?  Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?”  Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent?  All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.

If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker.  The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way.  And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all,  and old enough to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.

Sorry.  It still comes down to — you hadda be there.  All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.

Retreating the Required Distance on a Free Kick

(Originally published on 7/8/17, “Operation Restore”)

Jose, a U-12 and Under parent, asks:

If the Red team commits a foul, does the Referee need to tell whoever of the red team is standing close to the ball to start moving away from it or does the Referee have to wait for a blue team member to ask for it?


This is a frequent topic of conversation because actual practice in this matter is all over the board (or should we say “all over the field”?).  The best we can do here is to outline what are considered to be standard and accepted practices and procedures.  By the way, although the question was asked in the context of a free kick restart. what follows is roughly applicable as well to any restart where there is a distance requirement for the opposing team (e.g., particularly corner kicks and throw-ins but to a lesser degree also goal kicks — kick-offs and penalty kicks also have opponent distance requirements but these restarts are already ceremonial, a fact which is highly relevant and which we will explain shortly).

Let’s start off by noting that the Law assumes all opponents will immediately begin backing away the required 10-yard distance as soon as the offense is whistled because they know that is what is expected and, anyway, it is the sporting thing to do.  Uh huh.  This is not true across all player age groups — though for different reasons as between young players versus older, more experienced players.  For the former, failing to back away immediately is a matter of ignorance as to what the Law requires.  For older players, it is because they are at an age when they try to push the limits and “get away” with things (both at home and on the field).  For upper level youth, senior amateur, and pro players, it is because they are engaged in rational decision-making in order to achieve as much advantage as they can at minimal cost.

Effective mechanics for the Referee start immediately upon whistling the offense.  Free kicks are intended to be taken quickly and without interference (hence the word “free”) so one might think the Referee should begin shooing opponents away to allow this to happen.  One would be wrong.  Because the Law assumes opponents are supposed to do this automatically and immediately, Referees are advised to move away (preferably toward a position optimal for the free kick which is about to occur) and keep their mouths shut.  The attacking team, in fact, has the right to take the free kick as soon as the ball is properly placed even if there are still opponents closer than the minimum retreat distance.  A quick free kick may be advantageous to them because of any disarray among the opponents.  If the failure of all opponents to retreat to the full minimum distance hinders the attacking team’s ability to capitalize on the opponents’ confusion, the apparent kicker (not the spectators, not the coach, etc.) can request that the minimum distance be enforced.  That act, once acknowledged and announced by the Referee, turns the free kick officially into what is termed a “ceremonial” restart — i.e., from that moment, while the Referee is performing the requested service, the free kick cannot be taken except upon a signal (whistle) by the Referee.

Of course, the Referee might have turned the free kick restart into a ceremony on his or her own initiative if, for example, the event resulting in the free kick involved an injury or was the basis for a card being shown.  There are two other scenarios where the Referee might step in to turn the restart into a ceremony without being asked to do so.  One is if, in the opinion of the Referee, there are one or more opponents who are not simply failing to retreat the required ten yards but who are actively, clearly, and effectively engaged in forcing a delay in the taking of the free kick.  This can happen if an opponent takes possession of the ball and withholds it from the team given the restart or kicks the ball away, thus immediately interfering with how quickly the restart can be taken.  Another possibility is that an opponent is standing so close to the ball that no beneficial kick is even physically possible. These situations are usually considered so obvious and egregious a form of misconduct (delaying the restart of play) that it should result immediately in a caution (thus turning the free kick into a ceremonial restart anyway).  The other scenario where the Referee might step in without being asked (thus again resulting in a ceremonial restart) is if the teams are at a young enough age level that it becomes apparent they are not aware of or know how to exercise their rights in a free kick situation — usually, the look of utter confusion in the expressions of the attackers is sufficient to draw the Referee’s intervention.

So, there you have it.  No, the Referee does not get involved in shooing opponents away unless specifically asked to do so … and the asking is normally expected to come from the apparent kicker.  Only rarely and only under fairly specific conditions would the Referee intervene and, in all such cases, whether asked or not, the restart becomes ceremonial.

Dismissed Coaches

(Orignally posted on 7/5/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kristen, an adult pro fan, asks:

Can a coach who has been dismissed from the game watch the remainder of the game from the stands?


Maybe, maybe not.  First of all, a huge percentage of soccer games governed by the Laws of the Game don’t have “stands.”   Second, many local competition rules include specific restrictions on where a dismissed player or team official can or cannot be (e.g., at many tournaments, a dismissed team official or player has to report to the tournament tent for disposition).  Finally, the only general guideline available for dismissals (players or team officials) is that they must be “out of sight, out of sound” — meaning basically that they must be far enough away from the field and its immediate environs that they can take no further part in the match (which includes communicating through any electronic devices with “undismissed” players or team officials).  Violating this guideline, by refusing to leave or by returning or by attempting prohibited contact while the match is in progress, could be the basis for at least suspending play until the situation is corrected or by terminating the match altogether.