Throw-in Location

Clay, an adult pro player, asks:

Regarding throw-ins, how far behind the touch line can a player take the throw? For example, counter attack occurs with players still on the other end of field. Ball is cleared out of bounds. Player of counter attacking team runs to the ball and takes the throw while standing more than 5 yards/meters behind the touch line.

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

Players just love to push the limits, don’t they?  The formal Law on the subject is very clear — the throw-in must be taken from the point on the touchline where the ball left the field.  Period.  And we all know exactly where that is, don’t we?  Let’s be serious, except for a ball rolling slowly across the ground, no one really knows where the ball left the field (particularly when the ball is high in the air!).

So, whereas the Law is specific and clear, real life isn’t, and thus we offer three connected answers.

  • First, the ball left the field where the Referee (assisted by the AR) says it left and this, in turn, is indicated by where the Referee allows the throw-in to be taken.  In other words, the player has retrieved the ball and begins walking toward some point on the line — the Referee nods OK or points semi-vaguely to some general area or says nothing or (if dissatisfied) indicates to the player to move upfield or downfield or the player asks (verbally or otherwise) the AR where to take the throw-in.
  • Second, the thrower has traditionally been given an allowance of up to a yard in either direction (including back from the line) from where the ball probably left the field.
  • Third, Practical Refereeing 101 (what you learn on the field and from experienced officials) teaches us that variances greater the one yard can be tolerated the farther away the thrower is from the goal the thrower’s team is attacking.  The theory here is that it is a technical violation of the Law but, in essence, trifling and so can be ignored or given a warning since the ball was put into play without delay and without a demonstrable unfair benefit gained.

Where we Referees start to grumble is when a player takes advantage of our good will by accepting our allowing the throw-in to be taken from somewhere in accordance with answers 1, 2, or 3 and then trampling on our good will by using that point to begin a lengthy and totally unnecessary run yards farther away, thus displaying contempt for answers 1, 2, and 3.  Unfortunately, this is also often when we make a mistake by calling the player back after he or she throws the ball from a place which unexpectedly was many yards away from where we were allowing the player to take the restart and indicating that the player should take the throw-in again but this time from the correct place.  If it was bad enough to call back, it was bad enough to be subject to the penalty specified in Law 15 — give the restart to the opposing team.  If you don’t want to do that, then realize that you can’t call it back.

By the way, 5 yards back from the line is really pushing the envelop, no matter which of the three answers above you use.

Wasting Time on a Throw-in

Liam, an adult amateur referee, asks:

If a player wastes time at a throw-in, is warned, but wastes time again on the next throw-in and I caution him, does his team still have the throw-in?  Or can I give the throw-in to the opposing team?

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

Yes to the 1st question.  No to the 2nd question.  By the way, the warning you gave is often a good mechanic because “delay the restart of play” (which is the official reason for the caution) is subject to interpretation and it might not occur to a player that this is what he is doing.  The warning sets a standard so when, as here, he does it again, there should be less likelihood of there being an argument that the caution is justified.  Note that some actions which waste time are so obvious and egregious that they might deserve a caution with no warning at all.

However, the core fact of this scenario is that, before the throw-in occurs, a misconduct is committed (delaying the restart by wasting time) and therefore a throw-in by the same team is still the correct restart.  The only way a throw-in is given to the opposing team is when a throw-in which is actually taken that puts the ball into play (i.e., leaves the hands and entirely crosses the touchline) is judged to have been in violation of Law 15’s various requirements for a legal throw-in (e.g. both feet on the ground, no part of either foot entirely across the touchline, etc.).  In fact, one way to attempt to get away with delaying the throw-in restart without a caution and without losing possession of the ball is by deliberately (in the opinion of the Referee) throwing the ball correctly but in such a way that it doesn’t enter the field, thus forcing the throw-in to be retaken by the same team  You may let one of these go by — because everyone can have a bad day — but don’t let it happen twice without showing the yellow!


I am confused about the rules of your feet for throw-ins. Do you have to have 2 in completely or what? Thank you!

Answer (October 14, 2014):
Here are some illustrations of foot positioning that is allowed or not allowed. The shaded areas indicate where the thrower’s foot touches the ground.

Foot positioning for throw-in
Foot positioning for throw-in


Player takes a throw-in, throws ball at opponent (not hard or violent) bounces off opponent, throw takes possession of ball.
This was happening all game and I think thrower was intentionally doing hit.
Can you help me?

Answer (September17, 2014):

This tactic, if performed as you describe it, is perfectly legal. U. S. Soccer’s guidance to referees is that if a throw-in taken in such a way that the ball strikes an opponent is not by itself a violation of the Law. The act must be evaluated separately as a form of striking and dealt with appropriately if judged to be unsporting behavior (caution) or violent conduct (send off from the field). In either event, if deemed a violation, the restart is located at the place where the throw-in struck the opponent. If the throw-in is deemed to have been taken incorrectly, the correct restart is a throw-in.


When defending a free kick, is there a law that forbids a team from erecting a human pyramid on their goal line, i.e. standing on each other’s shoulders to obstruct the goal mouth. If there is no specific law, would it come under ‘bringing the game into disrepute”?

Answer (November 24, 2012):
No, there is no “Law” on this, but there is an old International Board Decision from the International Football Association Board, the people who make and change the Laws. It declares that using a teammate’s shoulders to boost one’s height in order to make a play for the ball was misconduct. It was originally IBD #4 under Law 12 but became IBD #2 in 1995. So, yes, there is at least an interpretation of the Law that remains valid guidance for such situations. In addition, there is tradition, which holds that other than when they are jumping into the air to play the ball, players are expected to remain earthbound, not stacked high like cheerleaders, circus acrobats, synchronized swimmers, or cans of soda. They may kneel (although not when taking throw-ins) or jump into the air, but definitely may not build a pyramid. Doing so would constitute the cautionable act of unsporting behavior and bringing the game into disrepute.


As a referee, I have always been told that the lines on a field are part of the area of which they “contain”. However, this seems to be in conflict with the law regarding throw-ins and the placement of the feet of the individual taking the throw-in along the touchline.

I recently had a game in which I had to explain the lines are part of the area of which they contain and he brought up the fact that on a throw-in as long as both feet are touching the touchline in some form that the throw-in is considered legal. However he then pointed out that by my description, would not that be illegal since in a throw-in the player must take the throw-in from outside of the field of play, however the line is considered in play?

The only reasoning I can come up with for this is that at its most basic form the throw-in is a method of restarting the match and thus follows a slightly different set of circumstances or rules than normal course of play.

But is there any further reasoning as to why a player is allowed to be completely in the field of play when taking a throw-in (in the case where they keep both heels on the inside edge of the touchline) and yet the throw-in is technically taken to put the ball back in to play?

USSF answer (November 24, 2011):
The answer to your question lies in applying Laws 1 and 15 as they are written, not in finding reasons to doubt them. “He,” whoever “he” may be, was totally wrong in suggesting that having one’s feet on the line had anything to do with a dichotomy in the Laws. Your original understanding is correct. Your interlocutor is talking apples and applesauce, two different things, and creating his own muddled version of the Laws.

Law 1:
Field Markings
The field of play must be rectangular and marked with lines. These lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.

Law 15:
At the moment of delivering the ball, the thrower:
* faces the field of play
* has part of each foot either on the touch line or on the ground outside the touch line

This is the Law and it is also tradition. Where the Law is clear, follow the Law; where it is not, do the best you can (including applying logic).


Having a debate here about definition of ‘delay of game’.

On a kick-off from the half line, after a goal, or starting a game, if a team does an improper kick-off (i.e. ball does not move forward, and cross over the half line) several times, is this delay of game? I have seen teams do this in the past. I would allow this twice, then give an IDFK to the opposite team. I was recently told by a senior official that this is not a delay of game and not IDFK. Well, if so, what do you do about it?

USSF answer (November 17, 2011):
The tactic you describe could be considered to be delaying the restart of play. A number of examples are given in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The following are specific examples of this form of misconduct (some of which may also be committed by substitutes):

• Kicks or throws the ball away or holds the ball to prevent or delay a free kick, throw-in, or corner kick restart by an opponent

• Fails to restart play after being so instructed by the referee

• Excessively celebrates a goal

• Fails to return to the field from a midgame break, fails to perform a kick-off when signaled by the referee, or fails to be in a correct position for a kick-off

• Performing a throw-in improperly with the apparent intention of being required to perform the throw-in again, thus wasting time

• Unnecessarily moving a ball which has already been properly placed on the ground for a goal kick

• Provokes a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play

Because the ball was out of play at the delay, the restart after any caution in this case would still be the kick-off.


What is the rules for talking to a referee? Does a player have a right to ask a referee what he was penalized for or is there a strict ‘no talking to the referee’ policy?

My main question is about two incidents I was involved in the following two incidents at a recent game and I disagree with both of the refs decisions. In the first half while I was in an offside position, the oppositions defender turned to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper without realizing I was behind him. I intercepted his pass and scored but the referee said I was offside, surely I’m not offside if I didn’t receive the ball from a team mate?

The second incident happened with ten minutes left and the game all but over as we were leading 4-0. A team mate played the ball up the line too far ahead of me and left the oppositions defender with plenty of time to deal with it. He controlled the ball, took 3 small touches and brought the ball to the sideline where he deliberately hit the ball with force into a group of spectators on the sideline who were having a picnic and drinking from glasses. It was lucky nobody was hurt. He stood about 5 meters away from me as I took the throw in and I directed the ball straight at his face. The red sent me off for this. Should I have received a red throwing the ball at his face (I threw the ball correctly) and should he have been punished for almost injuring spectators?

USSF answer (August 23, 2011):
A player is certainly permitted to ask about the reason for an infringement being called, but the referee is under no obligation to respond with more than a general comment. Some competitions do have a no-talking-to-the-referee policy, simply to prevent problems on the field.

1. No, the referee should not have called you offside in this situation — if all is as you describe it.

2. in the first instance the opposing player should have been sent off for violent conduct for kicking the ball at the spectators. However that does not give you the right to take revenge on him for his act. Yes, you should have been sent off for violent conduct for throwing the ball in your opponent’s face.


1. The ball deflects over the goal line to give Team A a corner kick. Player A1 retrieves the ball, which is about 15 yards beyond the end line and in line with the side of the penalty area, and throws it to teammate A2 who is positioned by the corner flag. A2 quickly takes a corner kick while A1, who is still a couple of yards out of bounds, is running diagonally towards a position on the field in front of the near post. A1 enters the field unmarked as the kick is in the air, and he scores on a header. Even though he was off the field when the ball was initially played, is this a legal goal since he had a legitimate reason for being off the field? Does it matter that he did not re-enter at the nearest point of the field instead running diagonally towards a spot nearer the goal? Is there any reason that the referee should delay the corner kick until he returns to play?

2. Same general scenario, but the ball goes out of touch at the 35-yard line for a throw-in for Team A in its offensive end. A1 retrieves the ball in line with the 25 yard line – about 10 yards out of bounds – and throws it back to A2 to take the throw-in. A1 then runs diagonally towards the field, entering at the 18-yard line, behind the defense who apparently hasn’t noticed him. He runs onto a long throw-in and eventually scores. Good goal? Should the referee hold up play in a situation like this?

USSF answer (June 6, 2011):
1. If it is clear to the referee that there was no duplicity in this situation, then it was probably legal. To avoid such situations (and their concomitant problems) in the future, the referee should hold up play until the player has returned to the field of play. There is no requirement that the player must return to the field at the same point from which he left.

2. Same answer. Plus, the referee must be aware of this player’s position in situations where, depending on the sequence of play, the returning player might be in an offside position.

The referee should always ensure that all players (other than the taker) are on the field when play is restarted from off the field.

NOTE: The referee is not responsible for poor defensive play. The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of the players.


In a U8 game, players get to redo a throw in if there is an infraction. This player lifted his foot the first time and was given a second chance. On the second chance, the ball never came in. Does he get a THIRD chance or does the other team get the throw in?

USSF answer (May 18, 2011):
According to the USYS U8 small-sided rules, this is the procedure:
Law 15 The Throw-In: some U8 players do not yet have the eye-hand coordination to execute a throw-in to the letter of the law. However, some U8 players have sufficient eye-hand coordination to attempt the throw-in. One ‘do- over’ per thrower should be the normal response if the throw-in is incorrect. The adult officiating the match should explain to the child how to execute the throw-in correctly.