Substitution Following Departure of Goalkeeper

Eric, an adult amateur fan, asks:

A team has exhausted its allowed substitutions but their goalkeeper is sent off and one of the field players takes his place.  What is the procedure?

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

Simple, do what you described.  The procedure is based on (1) a sent-off keeper reduces by one the maximum number of players the goalkeeper’s team is allowed, (2) nevertheless, the Law requires that there be a goalkeeper, (3) therefore a field player must assume the role of goalkeeper, and (4) the new goalkeeper must be uniformed in accordance with the Law.

All of these things are true whether the team has used all of its allowed number of substitutions or not.  Of course, if they have, their only option is the field player becoming the goalkeeper. If they have not, then the goalkeeper’s team can take a field player off, bring a substitute on, and then switch the new field player (formerly a substitute) into the goalkeeper position (while, of course, dressing him/her accordingly).  In the latter case, the Referee must of course be aware of the substitution, the swap of the field player into the goalkeeper position, and then the swap of the new field player with the goalkeeper.  Informally, the process doesn’t have to be as rigorously marked out as this — the field player leaves and a substitute takes the field already outfitted as a goalkeeper.

The bottom line in all this is that, by the time the whistle is blown to restart play (i.e., all this must be completed during the stoppage at which the original goalkeeper was sent off), the team has an identifiable goalkeeper and one fewer field player than they had before the send-off.

Wandering Substitute

Dennis, an adult pro referee, asks:

Defending team substitute is warming up next to his goal area.  He reaches across the goal line into the penalty area to stop the ball. What’s the call?

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

First, what the heck was a substitute doing warming up behind the goal line near the goal area anyway?

Second, this unfortunate person just ran afoul (that’s a pun) of one of the newest and more innovative changes in the Law that occurred in 2016.  You thought substitutes couldn’t commit fouls?  Wrong.  By long tradition, if not an express statement in the Law, reaching into the field (even just a finger or a foot) is considered entering the field just as if the entire body of the substitute had crossed the goal line.  As of 2016,  a substitute entering the field illegally (i.e., without the permission of the referee and during play) has committed an offense now punishable by a direct free kick or, if the point of entry involves the penalty area, a penalty kick!

Third,  the Law is also very clear as of 2016 that handling the ball to prevent a goal is a misconduct even if committed by a substitute and is a red card misconduct  if the ball was heading to or very near to the goal.  The scenario does not explicitly say that this was the case.  Even if the ball was not going into the goal, however, the substitute could still wind up getting a red card but in a slightly roundabout way — namely, a caution for illegal entry into the field, followed by another caution for unsporting behavior (the handling offense), followed by a red card for having received two yellow cards in the same game.

So,  we have a penalty kick restart after showing the substitute either a red card or two yellow cards followed by a red card (either way, the team, of course, does not play down).

Disappearing Player

Rob, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

If a player leaves the field of play and in this case left the grounds, can the team in question make a substitute for that player if he doesn’t return? Or do they have to play with 10 men?

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

Ah, an easy one.  Assuming that the game in question is using the standard youth substitution rules and assuming that the reason the player left didn’t involve being shown a red card (we think you would have mentioned this if it had happened but, you never know), the team can put a substitute on the field to bring the team’s size back to the allowed maximum number.  In a youth game, it doesn’t really matter why the player left because substitutions are unlimited and not permanent.

Of course, it was probably a good thing that the player who left the field also left the grounds because, unless he had the Referee’s permission, he has committed a cautionable offense and his disappearance just might be included in the Referee’s match report.

Roster Problem

Tony, an adult amateur coach, asks:

What happens if a referee allows a substitute to enter the field whose name was unintentionally left off the roster?   After the game, the referee checks the sheet, discovers the substitute was not on the original sheet, and then allows the player who was not originally on the roster to add his own name afterwards, suggesting it was just a clerical error.

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

OK, lets count the felonies and misdemeanors that were committed during the scenario.

Seriously, the Laws of the Game are unclear as to the existence of and details about rosters (look it up if you don’t believe us).  In one place (Law 3.1), they talk about whether the competition rules require that all players and substitutes be named before the start of the game  In another place (Law 3.4), they mention that the names of all substitutes must be given to the referee before the start of the match and that any substitutes “not named” by then “may not take part in the match.”   In another place (Law  3.6 and 3.7), they use the term “named substitute” with the inference that “named” applies to a list.  Finally, at several different locations (e.g., definition of “technical staff” on p. 167 of the Glossary), they use the term “official team list” which implies the existence of a document containing the names of, implicitly, both players and substitutes as well as team officials whose inclusion on the list allows them to occupy the technical area.

What we can take from all this is that, while various lists are contemplated and even expected under certain circumstances (see particularly Law 3.6), there is no explicit guidance as to who provides them, when they must be given to the referee, and whether the list can be modified.

Ironically, however, the single most concrete statement in the Laws of the Game pertaining to the issue at the core of this question explicitly makes illegal what the Referee did — allowed a person to enter the field as a substitute who was not named prior to the start of play.   Worse, the Referee was at least a co-conspirator if not in fact an instigator in efforts to falsify a document.

That said, however, we must be ever-mindful of the ability of local competition authorities to create their own version of the Laws of the Game which might have been the case here (though given the degree of sly, stealthy misdirection involved in the scenario presented, we doubt it).  The point is that the Referee must know what these rules are and then follow them if assignment to the game was accepted.  But one thing is sure, the Referee has absolutely no authority to make such rules on his or her own … even with the best of intentions.

Illegal Substitution Problems — Update

On January 26, 2017, we posted a question and answer on the topic of “Illegal Substitution Problems.”  After reviewing the Law issues, we offered a practical solution which, at the time, was not consistent with the letter of the Law but, to us, seemed acceptable and consistent with the “spirit” of the Law, and we warned that adopting this approach might be met with resistance by some officials.  We invite readers to locate this item, review the different options it discussed, and feel comforted in the fact that the International Board has now officially adopted the “practical” solution we offered as part of the Board’s newly-adopted 2017-2018 version of the Laws of the Game. 

Substitutes Misbehaving

Mick, an adult/pro referee, asks:

A substitute comes onto the field of play without the Ref’s permission and prevents a goal by kicking the ball out of the penalty area.  What is the decision of the Ref with the new interpretations of the laws?


For the very first time, the Laws of the Game provide for a direct free kick or a penalty kick if a person other than a player commits an offense.  In this case, we have a substitute illegally entering the field of play and interfering by kicking the ball away from a location within the penalty area.  Since no goal was scored, the remedy is found in Law 3, section 7 (if a goal had been scored, we would used the remedies provided in Section 9).  Summarizing the specified remedy, 12.7 requires that, since there had been interference, play must be stopped and resumed with a direct free kick or a penalty kick.  Since the interference was inside the penalty area, the restart would be a penalty kick for the opposing team (we are presuming that the invading substitute was from the defending team since it would make little sense for an attacking team substitute to have kicked the ball away).

We have the restart now but what about misconduct?  Let’s assume for the moment (though the specifically relevant elements of an OGSO scenario are completely missing from the question’s scenario) that we are, in fact, dealing with an OGSO.  Unfortunately, even so, things are a bit murky and what follows is an unofficial interpretation and recommendation until such time (if any) that the IFAB clarifies the matter.  We know that the invading substitute is subject to a caution (illegally entering the field) but is he or she subject to a red card for OGSO?  We would have to report that the answer is unclear.  Law 12 states that “a player, substitute or substituted player” who commits any of the following offenses is sent off and then lists 7 violations, the second one of which is “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” so one would think that the answer would be, yes, the substitute could be shown a red card for kicking the ball out of the penalty area.

There are two problems with this red card.  First, the OGSO card must arise from the commission of an offense punishable by a free kick “(unless as outlined below)” and what is “below” is a section of Law 12 which provides that an OGSO misconduct is not punished with a red card unless the offense is “holding, pulling or pushing” (which isn’t what happened) or the substitute “does not attempt to play the ball” (which he most assuredly does attempt, and succeeds) or the offense is one that would be “punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field” (it isn’t).  Exactly what offense did the substitute commit?  Only one — illegally entering the field.  Kicking the ball is not itself an offense … and certainly not one that would earn a red card if committed anywhere on the field.  Second, the section providing a more detailed explanation of an OGSO red card refers only to a player, not a substitute.  And, as noted, this might not even be an OGSO situation in the first place if it is decided that merely kicking the ball is not an offense and/or not against an opponent (as opposed to, say, tripping or holding an opponent).

Now we move to a bit of speculation.  Suppose the Referee decided that the substitute, while being on the field illegally, has committed unsporting behavior misconduct which is cautionable.  Would this be unreasonable?  What is included in “unsporting behavior”?  According to Law 12, one example of unsporting behavior is “shows a lack of respect for the game” which would seem to provide a great deal of flexibility and might well include merely kicking the ball.  If so, then the Referee could show the invading substitute a yellow card for illegally entering the field, a yellow card for unsporting behavior, a red card for having received a second yellow card … followed by a penalty kick restart.

As the French might say, “Voila!”

Recalcitrant Coaches

A HS/College Referee asks:

I was officiating a U15G game. Before the game even started, I and my ARs took our positions on the field. I blew my whistle to get the teams to take the field. The Home team came right out and took their side of the field. The Visiting Team stood on the sideline listening to their coach give last minute instructions. I proceeded to wait another 15-20 seconds (to let him complete his instruction) then I blew my whistle a second time … no response. I then waited another 15-20 seconds and whistled a third time and stated loudly and within 10 yards of the team “Coach, let’s get your team on the field” … still no response. I then stepped closer and said “Coach, let’s go,” but he stuck his head up and stated “What???” I said “Let’s go” … but he proceeded to keep coaching. I said “Coach, you have a warning.  Let’s get them on the field” but again only “What??” I gave him a yellow card for dissent.  Is this the correct procedure, or is this a delay of game?


First off, any answer to this has to depend on a critical issue — namely, who or what was the competition authority?  In other words, (a) what set of rules were you under and (b) did those rules involve any local exceptions?  We ask because, although none of the standard rule sets (IFAB, HFHS, NCAA) has an explicit rule or ruling pertaining to a team failing to take to the field when requested by the referee, each rule set provides different tools the referee can use in such a case.  Moreover, specifically with respect to IFAB’s Laws of the Game as practiced in the US, many local competitions (leagues, tournaments, etc.) have special rules which can and do provide recourse.  Indeed, we are not familiar with a single tournament in this country which does have some sort of unyielding mandate to start and stay on time.

For example, many youth and adult amateur leagues around the US require that a game must start on the scheduled time and that, if a team does not or cannot field at least the minimum number of players at the scheduled time (or within some certain number of minutes thereafter), the referee is authorized either to consider the match as forfeited then and there or to go ahead and start the clock (this would apply to any period of play, not just the starting period) until some point is reached after which the match is considered abandoned by the players.  This can cover not only situations in which a team doesn’t have enough players present to start and either knows no more will appear or is waiting to see if more will appear.  This would also cover the situation you describe where a team refuses to take the field when required (which can also happen at any stoppage — a coach might decide to withdraw his or her team due to disagreement with circumstances or some specific decision with which the coach vehemently disagrees).

So, we cannot answer the core question without knowing the rules applied to the game.  And, if there are such rules, our answer would have to be, first, know what they are ahead of taking the assignment and, second, simply and faithfully follow them.  You might even engage the coach of the team which is ready to play in an effort to advise the visiting team of these rules.  However, if there are no local or competition-specific rules pertaining the scenario, we suggest you look to common sense and what you would do if, at the scheduled time, there was only one team present.  How long would you wait?  What reasonably could you do to ascertain the circumstances for the absence?  If this involved the very beginning of the match, could you adjust the length of the periods of play to accommodate the delay?  Are there following games which would be adversely affected by the delay?  Is it late enough in the day that the delay could result in unsafe lighting?

There is another approach that might be considered.  Even though the opposing team in your scenario is there, technically they are not “there” because “there” is defined as “on the field of play” and, as long as they are not, they are in effect not there at all.  This means that they are subject to any requirement that a game start on time or at least within some specified grace period … and that might become the most potent item of information you could bring to the attention of the recalcitrant coach.  “Coach, the game must begin in [x] minutes.  At exactly that time, I will whistle to start play, note the absence of the minimum number of opposing team players on the field, terminate the match according to Law 3.1, and include full details in my report to [the competition authority].”  Nothing needs to, nor should be, added to this little speech.  Then follow through.  Period.

By the way, don’t even consider formally cautioning the coach in this scenario.  First, it is not permitted under the Laws of the Game.  Second, it will only step on the tail of the dragon.

Illegal Substitution Problems

An adult/pro level referee asks:

A goal is scored in the 50th minute and, during the stoppage that results, the referee notices that the scorer had not been a player when the first half ended.  Apparently,  the scorer had swapped places with a teammate who had been a player at the end of the first half and then, as players were returning to the field for the start of the second half, entered the field in effect as a substitution that had not been brought to the referee’s attention. What should the referee decide?


First, this sort of thing should not happen, either as a result of referee inattention or as a breakdown in communications within the officiating team, all of whom have a collective and individual responsibility for ensuring that the Law’s requirements are met (see Law 3, section 3: “If a substitution is made during the half-time interval or before extra time, the procedure must be completed before the match restarts”).

Second, although this situation could theoretically occur in any match, it is much more likely to happen in a match which is not being governed by the strict substitution requirements of Law 3 … in other words, in a youth game where substitutions are usually unlimited and with a “right to return” (see, again, Law 3, section 2).  Detailed recordkeeping of who enters and leaves under these common circumstances is often nonexistent because it is so cumbersome.

Third, following from the first two comments, it is highly likely that the “substitution” was not the result of a willful, intentional desire to circumvent the Law to gain an advantage or to show a lack of respect for the game.

Frankly, this situation is not directly or clearly covered by the Laws of the Game.  You might think it is but it really isn’t.  A student of the Law would likely point to Law 3, Section 5, which suggests that the scorer, having entered the field illegally (i.e., without the referee’s permission using standard substitution mechanics), should be cautioned and play restarted with an IFK where the ball was when play was stopped.  This is fine if the entry had been during play, was seen, and play stopped for this infraction.   Others might suggest that the situation is governed by Law 3, Section 7, which provides for sanctions in the case of an “extra person” who enters the field and interferes with play.  But the scorer is not an “extra person” as that term is generally used.  Here, the stoppage occurred solely because the ball left the field (into the goal — but it could just as easily been across the touchline for a throw-in restart.

“By the book,” there isn’t a clear answer.  Is there something close?  Consider the following: caution the scorer for entering the field without the referee’s permission, cancel the goal, require the scorer to leave the field and be replaced with the original player, and restart with a goal kick.  This stitched-together set of referee actions is supportable by various sections of the Law and by the underlying intent of the Law.

For a match below the highest competitive levels (where, as suggested, this sort of thing is more likely to have occurred), there is, however, a fairly simple alternative.  It is commonly understood that, when the referee signals for the start of the second half (as with the first half and all subsequent periods of play), this is an implicit confirmation that the referee (assisted by both ARs) accepts that all players are correctly on the field under Law 3, their uniforms and equipment meet the requirements of Law 4, and the field itself is acceptable under Law 1.  The signal to start the period of play could thus be reasonably taken as an implicit acceptance of the player “substitution.”  If this line of argument is persuasive, then the substitution has been tacitly accepted, the score stands and no caution for illegal entry is needed.  Absent a belief by the referee that the “substitution” was undertaken for nefarious  and unsporting purposes, why make things more difficult for everyone and for no particularly compelling reason?  The player (and the player’s coach) could be reminded of their obligation to make sure in the future that the referee is more properly advised about any otherwise well-meaning substitution that had been made during a between periods break.

We hasten to add that the immediately preceding suggestion is not officially recognized and you are welcome to act according to your own conscience.  However, we believe that the way Law 3, section 5 (“a named substitute starts a match instead of a named player and the referee is not informed of this change”) resolves this situation is in the same spirit in which our “simple solution” is offered.

Update:  As of the 2017/2018 revisions to the Laws of the Game, the “common sense” answer suggested above has been approved by the International Board.  The new version of the Laws of the Game provides that a substitution made during any break between periods of play (e.g., half-time) without the prior knowledge or approval of the Referee is to be accepted as valid and is not subject to a caution for misconduct.


Before the ball enters the goal from an attacking player’s shot, a spectator enters the field of play and slightly touches the ball with his hand but does not manage to stop the goal. What decision should the referee make?

Answer (November 15, 2015):
In such cases, the referee must follow the guidance on p. 66 of the Laws of the Game:

Outside agents
Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent, as is a player who has been sent off.
If an outside agent enters the field of play:
• the referee must stop play (although not immediately if the outside agent does not interfere with play)
• the referee must have him removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings
• if the referee stops the match, he must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when the match was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped

In your situation, Law 3 requires that the referee determine whether or not the outside agent—here the spectator—has truly interfered with play. Only the referee on the game can determine this; not the players, not the team officials, no one but the referee, with advice from the ARs, if necessary.


If a player from Team A is injured and is being substituted, can Team B also substitute at that time?
If so,is there a limited number of players that can be substituted?

Answer (November 18, 2014):
Q. 1: Yes.
Q. 2: See below.

Under the Laws of the Game, the following procedures apply:

Substitution procedure
In all matches, the names of the substitutes must be given to the referee prior to the start of the match. Any substitute whose name is not given to the referee at this time may not take part in the match.
To replace a player with a substitute, the following conditions must be observed:
• the referee must be informed before any proposed substitution is made
• the substitute only enters the field of play after the player being replaced has left and after receiving a signal from the referee
• the substitute only enters the field of play at the halfway line and DURING A STOPPAGE IN THE MATCH
• the substitution is completed when a substitute enters the field of play
• from that moment, the substitute becomes a player and the player he has replaced becomes a substituted player
• the substituted player takes no further part in the match
• all substitutes are subject to the authority and jurisdiction of the referee, whether called upon to play or not

And from the back of the book, under Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, Law 3:

Substitution procedure
• A substitution may be made only during a stoppage in play
• The assistant referee signals that a substitution has been requested
• The player being substituted receives the referee’s permission to leave the field of play, unless he is already off the field of play for reasons that comply with the Laws of the Game
• The referee gives the substitute permission to enter the field of play
• Before entering the field of play, the substitute waits for the player he is replacing to leave the field
• The player being substituted is not obliged to leave the field of play on the halfway line
• Permission to proceed with a substitution may be refused under certain circumstances, e.g. if the substitute is not ready to enter the field of play
• A substitute who has not completed the substitution procedure by setting foot on to the field of play cannot restart play by taking a throw-in or corner kick
• If a player who is about to be replaced refuses to leave the field of play, play continues
• If a substitution is made during the half-time interval or before extra time, the procedure is to be completed before the second half or extra time kicks off

As you can see from these quotes, there is no limit on the number of players that may be substituted. However, remember that this particular facet of substitution was not written to consider the system of multiple substitutions that we see in many competitions.