Hijinks at a Free Kick

Chris, a HS/College referee, asks:

Scenario – a foul by the Blue team is committed near midfield.  The ball is properly located and a Red player is preparing to take the kick.  Meanwhile, a Blue player who was behind the ball when the foul occurred is moving back towards his goal to the defend. This Blue player is less than 10 yards from the ball but making no attempt to delay the free kick from being taken and is moving away from the ball. The Red kicker takes the free kick, deliberately kicks the ball into the back of the retreating defender, and then immediately turns to the referee asking for a yellow card.

My questions are, first, can you issue a caution to the Red kicker for unsporting behavior if, in your opinion, the player took the free kick with every intention of getting his opponent booked ?  My second question is, could you issue a red card for violent conduct (striking an opponent) if you deem that the player (whom you have already decided had deliberately kicked the ball into the opponent) did so as hard as he could?

Answer

Question 1 — yes, sure, because Law 12 (cautionable misconduct section, unsporting behavior) is written so broadly that it could encompass just about anything that you think deserves it.  We don’t mean to be flippant but “unsporting conduct” is rather general to begin with and “shows a lack of respect for the game” (one of the listed examples of unsporting behavior) is about as limitless as “how high is up?”  A retreating opponent who is closer than 10 yards at the time a free kick is taken has not committed an offense under the general Law 13 guideline that the offended team has the almost unfettered right to take the kick quickly, even with one or more opponents “failing to respect the required distance” and this extends to situations in which the kicked ball might make contact with said encroacher through no fault of his own.  Here, we have an attacker who has the unmitigated hutzpah (look it up) not only to aim the ball deliberately (as given in the scenario) at the opponent but now wants a card shown for the kicker’s lack of judgment.  The act of publicly by words or gestures asking for an entirely unjustified card could also be deemed a form of dissent.  In situations like this one, the real question is not “can you?” but “should you?”  One reason for “should not” is if the action calls for more a more vigorous reprisal.

Which brings us to Question 2 — and here we have to “interpret” your words. “As hard as he could” suggests the familiar “excessive force or brutality or endangering the safety of an opponent” particularly if the kicker were, say, over the age of 16 (though we know of a fellow referee who was almost knocked out upon being hit with a ball kicked by a U12 female player!).  Although a common scenario of this sort of play usually involves a thrown ball, we suspect that the damage from a kicked ball would likely be far worse.  Accordingly, the answer here is definitely, yes, a red card for violent conduct (not serious foul play because the kicker and retreating defender were not competing for the ball at the time) could, and probably should, be given (the expression on the face of the kicker reacting to this turnabout would be priceless).

A caution for UB, even if independently justified in the Referee’s opinion, takes a back seat to a red card for VC.  But the two are linked because the VC card would be a tough sell in the absence of the opinion that the kick was deliberately aimed at the opponent.  With no violence, the kicker’s action could be deemed UB (aided by the attempt to talk the Referee into a caution for FRD).  With a decision that the kick was an avoidable action of violence, bolstered by the evidence that it was deliberate, the send-off is the one to go with.

The restart, of course, is a DFK where the opponent was struck.

Rules of Competition

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 (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

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 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.

Respecting the Distance …

Mike, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

During a recent match, a foul was committed just outside the penalty box. Our boys were positioned too close to the ball and as the ref was directing the boys away from the ball (was talking to them), the opposing kicker shot the ball and scored. The goal was allowed. What’s the ruling on this?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Rather than a “ruling,” we prefer to think of what we do here is provide advice, explore options, and explain opportunities.  If you must have a ruling, it is this: we don’t have enough information.  Sounds a bit like a cop-out but that’s the case here.  The crucial missing information has to do with what, if anything, the Referee said/did just prior to “was directing the boys away from the ball.”

What the Referee should have done is let the kick occur with no intervention unless specifically asked by the apparent kicker for assistance in enforcing the required distance and, then, upon being so asked, the Referee’s next action should have been to clearly state by word and gesture that the kick was not to be taken except by her whistle.  If the Referee had such a request, the rest follows: “directing the boys away from the ball” was entirely appropriate, the “opposing kicker shot the ball” was not (with the resulting goal not counted), and the kick must be retaken but only upon the whistle signal.

If the Referee was not asked to enforce the minimum distance, then there was no restriction to prevent the attacking team from taking the kick as and when they wished (presuming no unfair delay) and the goal would count.  The Referee’s “directing the boys away” and “talking to them” was faulty mechanics for which the Referee would properly be criticized if this match were being evaluated by a mentor or an assessor (such interference without a reason is unnecessarily distracting to the defense at minimum).  While we frequently say (incorrectly, it turns out) that the opponents against whom a foul has just been called “have no rights,” being distracted by the referee when the kick could be taken at any moment is unfair.  Indeed, it would not be unreasonable for the Referee’s conversation to be thought an indication that the kick could not yet be taken.   “Surprise!” or “My bad!” is a poor apology.  Let us hope that the misguided Referee did not compound the errors by calling the goal back.

Because your scenario does not explicitly mention that the proper procedure was followed, we must assume there was no request to enforce the minimum distance and therefore no need for the attacking team to do anything other than exactly what they did — take a quick kick while the Referee was drawing the attention of their opponents away.  The resulting goal, though valid, must be chalked up at least in part to the improper intervention by the Referee.  Note that we are assuming the game where this scenario occurred was in fact somewhere in the U13 – U19 age group — slightly different procedures might be followed for younger players.

Retreating the Required Distance on a Free Kick

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?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

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 highly relevant fact 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 so 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.

Arms and the Free Kick

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

When blocking a free kick when your arms are by your side, is there an offense if the ball hits your arm and your arms do not move from your side?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

No.

The International Board has been very clear in the section titled “Handling the ball” in Law 12 (2017-2018 Laws of the Game).  It starts off by explicitly stating that the offense involves “a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm” and goes on to note that, among the things to be considered are “the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)” and “that the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

What you described doesn’t even come close to an offense.

Restart Management

Hyung, a referee of U12 players, asks:

It’s not clear to me how to manage restarts for free kicks when the attacking team doesn’t know the procedure/options (e.g., ceremonial vs quick ).  Should the attacking team always initiate asking the Referee for a ceremonial restart? What if they don’t ask?  Is it the Referee’s duty to ask the attacking team?  A few seconds pass and it’s obvious the attacking team will not take the free kick quickly.  Also, they didn’t request enforcing the minimum distance (10 yds).  Is it at this point the Referee should take charge and do the free kick ceremonially?  If the attacking team doesn’t ask for 10, is 5 yds acceptable? Is this in the rules? Is it best for the Referee to lead in this confusing situation and restart ceremonially?

Answer

You have some good questions here, all of them pertaining to issues of correct or preferred mechanics and procedures but not so much matters of Law.  In fact, the term “ceremonial restart” is not found anywhere in the Laws of the Game — it is entirely a matter of tradition and recommended procedures.  In short, you will not find answers to any of your questions except in publications which, mostly unofficially, attempt to explain the art of refereeing.

We can, however, start with some fundamental principles and work from there.  First, the core definition of a free kick (Law 13) is a restart given to a team because the opponents have violated the Law in some way and the Referee has stopped play for it.  It is called a “free” kick because the team awarded this restart must be given the opportunity to put the ball back into play without hindrance or interference (i.e., freely).  To this end, all opponents are required by Law to retire (move away) at least ten yards from the location of the free kick in every direction.  This is a legal burden placed on the shoulders of every opponent and the Referee’s job is to punish any opponent who fails to do so (before, during, or after the kick).  In a perfect world, what should happen is that, as soon as the Referee whistles for a stoppage and signals a free kick restart (indirect or direct), all opponents hurriedly move at least ten yards away in the spirit of sporting behavior and the attacking team is able to take its free kick in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, this expectation is rather akin to also asking players who commit an offense to publicly admit their error, apologize to the opposing team, hand the ball over to them, and clear a path between the kick and the defending team’s goal.  Needless to say, this is not what happens in our imperfect world.  What usually occurs, depending on the circumstances of the stoppage, the temperature of the game, what’s at stake, and simple hormonal imbalances, is that some opponents will try to interfere — by not moving at all, by standing near the ball, by kicking the ball away, by blocking the likely path of the kick so as to diminish the attacking team’s ability to recover from their opponent’s commission of a violation, and other tactics limited only by the inventiveness of wily soccer players trying to gain an advantage at almost any cost.

All of this is summarized briefly in the general principle that the Referee’s obligation in these cases is to allow, expect, and protect as much as possible the taking of the quick free kick.  Why?  Because a quick free kick (a) gets play moving again — usually a good thing, (b) restores as much as possible the condition of the harmed team prior to the offense, and (d) serves as a better deterrent to future illegal acts.  The antithesis of the “quick restart” is the “ceremonial restart.” (more…)

What Is a Kick?

A HS/College coach asks:

Is it within the laws of the game to “lift” the ball (meaning to slide your foot under and propel the ball up in the air — as opposed to striking or rolling it with your sole) on a kick-off, corner, free kick, etc.

Answer

Yes.  We think.  Probably.  Actually, the only place which specifically deals with your question is in Law 13 (Free Kicks) where it states that “a free kick can be taken by lifting the ball with a foot or both feet simultaneously” (2016/2017 edition).  So, at least for direct and indirect free kicks, the answer is clear.

What we don’t know, because the Law doesn’t mention it, is whether the same “ruling” would apply to such other restarts as penalty kicks, kick-offs, corner kicks, or goal kicks.  Because, in general, all restarts involving kicking a ball are similar in many respects, our conclusion would be that, in practice, the “lift with the foot” approved for free kicks would apply to all “kick the ball” restarts, but with the proviso that all such restarts must still be governed by any other characteristics specified in the Law.  For example, a penalty kick must still “go forward” even if lifted up.  Another example would be that, even if the ball is put into play by lifting it up with the foot (or both feet), a player who did so and then headed or volleyed the ball would still be guilty of a second touch violation.

Perhaps the reason the Law is silent on whether the “lift with the foot” kick applies to kicked-ball restarts other than free kicks is that it really makes little sense (at least as regards to the purposes and dynamics of these other restarts) to kick the ball in this particular way.  Why, for example, would a player want to take a goal kick or penalty kick using that technique?

In any event, however, the answer is absolutely clear with regards to free kicks, and probably the same for any other kicked-ball restart.

Throwing things

From a referee in Romania:

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

Answer:

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

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

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

RESTART FOR MISCONDUCT

Question:
While team A is attacking, the ref blows his whistle and shows a yellow card to a player on team B. The infraction is loud dissent over a call made 5 minutes prior. When the ref whistled for play to stop, the cautioned player was 40 yards from the ball, and farther from the goal that team A was attacking.

The ref restarted play by awarding Team A an indirect kick from the spot where the cautioned player was standing when the whistle was blown.

Was the restart handled correctly? Correct spot and correct method of resuming play?

Answer (July 24, 2014):
Your answer is found in Law 12:

• An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player:
• plays in a dangerous manner
• impedes the progress of an opponent
• prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
• commits any other offense, not previously mentioned in Law 12, for which play is stopped to caution or send off a player

The indirect free kick is taken from the place where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).

This is analogous to what happens if, during an attack on the opposing goal, the attacking team’s goalkeeper fouls one of the opposing team’s players back in the attacking team’s penalty area, no matter that it might be 80 yards down the field from where the current attack is occurring: the restart there is a penalty kick.

MAY A PLAYER KICK THE BALL WITH THE BOTTOM OF THE FOOT?

Question:
Please clarify that kicking the ball for a corner kick it is ok to kick with the bottom of your boot.

Answer (March 8, 2014):
Yes, the kicker may use the bottom of the foot as long as he has played the ball in a kicking motion. The referee needs to use common sense and apply practices currently accepted in modern soccer, no matter how much these may differ from what we have learned and applied in the past. On any free kick, whether direct or indirect, the Law is clear: The ball must be moved a minimum distance with the foot, preferably in a kicking motion. In many cases, this means that the ball may be stepped on, although it still must move some minimum distance. If the referee does not see some minimal movement on the initial kick, then the ball is not yet in play and the kick must be taken correctly.