Offside (Rare But Legal)

Barry, an adult amateur fan, asks:

 

Is there anywhere within the offside rule that means the free kick to opposition can be taken in your half of the pitch?

 

Answer

 

Yes, of course.  While kind of rare (mainly because most team styles of play make the conditions it would require rare), it can certainly happen.  Consider the following (simplified to save time and space but with all pertinent information):

 

SCENARIO CONDITIONS

  • Red versus Blue
  • Red #7 has the ball in his own end about 30 yards up from his goal line
  • The Blue goalkeeper is defending his goal but all his teammates are crowded upfield and all ten of them are either in Red’s half of the field or in their own end of the field but within 10 yards of the midfield line, all massed generally to the right side of the field
  • Red #16 is about 12 yards into the Blue end
  • Red #7 sees “space” (no opponents) on the right side of the field
  • Red #7 kicks the ball toward the empty right side of the field
  • Red #16 anticipates his teammate’s action and begins running toward where he estimates the ball will land, in the process of which he crosses the midfield line and, five yards in, takes control of the ball

DECISIONS

  • Red #16 is in an offside position (ahead of the ball, ahead of the second to last defender, and in the opposing team’s end of the field) while Red #7 has the ball in his possession
  • Red #16 has committed an offside offense while in an offside position (coming from where he originally acquired it) and is correctly whistled by the referee
  • The restart is an IFK for the Blue team where Red #16 became involved in active play by interfering with play (touching the ball) and that location is 5 yards inside the Red team’s end of the field

So, why do we have this question arising now and so many believing that it is not possible to have the offside offense punished in the offending team’s own end of the field?  That is also simple to answer.  Because the Laws of the Game changed several years ago but a lot of people didn’t fully understand the implications of the change.  Not too long ago, when an offside offense was committed, the decision resulted in an IFK where the offside position was originally achieved (i.e., where the attacker was when he or she acquired the offside position) but the International Board changed it to where the offense was committed while in an offside position.

 

Because it was impossible to acquire an offside position in your own end of the field, the offside offense restart was always in the defender’s end of the field.  Although it was always possible (given the scenario’s terms) to have committed the offside offense in your end of the field, the restart was always shifted to the opposing end of the field … until the Law changed.  Many simply did not understand all the consequences of this change in the Law.  There had been no comment on this when the change was first made but, within a year, it had become obvious that many were arguing that the restart couldn’t be where the Law change now made possible and, so, in the next year’s Law changes, the International Board added the observation that, of course, the restart location could be in the attacker’s own end of the field under certain (admittedly rare) conditions.  In short, the Law change didn’t involve either offside position or offside violation requirements — it “merely” changed the location of the restart.…

Restarting After An Injury Stoppage

Marc, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

 

In a U14 game, a team is in possession of the ball, and the referee stops play due to a serious injury. After the injury is taken care of, the referee goes to restart play with a contested drop ball. I mentioned that, in these situations, it’s customary for the opposing team to give the ball back to the team that had possession, and the referee indicated it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask the opposing team to do this.
1. Can you please advise if it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask or suggest this? I believe there’s a clause that indicates the referee shouldn’t specifically address players for anything not covered in the Laws of the Game, but I believe upholding the spirit of the game would warrant asking/suggesting giving the ball back.

2. Can you please advise what the recommended approach is for the ref when players may not be aware of this custom/tradition? If the ref is barred from asking/suggesting playing the ball back to the other team, an uncontested drop ball comes to mind, but seeing as the ref can’t limit the number of players participating in the drop ball, it doesn’t sound like this could be enforced.

 

Answer

 

Question 1 – It would be inconsistent with the Laws of the Game for the referee or any official to make such a suggestion, much less to enforce anything of this sort.  Indeed, other than exhortations not to commit an offense, it would be unprofessional for any official to offer any advice to any team, player, or team official pertaining to the manner in which they should conduct their play.  To make this point even more pointed, referees have long had an aphorism – if you don’t want the coach to tell you how to do your job, avoid telling the coach how to do their job.  This clearly applies to players as well.  There is no provision of the Law, however, which specifically prohibits it because, as with many other issues related to the Laws of the Game, the International Board did not feel it necessary to deal with something which would so obviously be a violation of professional ethics.

 

Question 2 – No, we cannot offer any such advice because doing so would aid and abet what we have already noted would be a violation of professional ethics.  If a team wanted to do so, there is no violation of the Law, just as there would be no violation of the Law if a team decided not to do so.  The same, by the way, applies to the so-called “preferential drop” when, say, an injury stoppage occurs with the goalkeeper in possession of the ball, thus causing a dropped ball restart contestable by both teams at a location which puts the goalkeeper’s team at a perceived disadvantage.

 

The “flavor” of the issue you have raised is strikingly similar to something that became a matter of concern for the International Board about 10 or 11 years ago.  It was commonly thought that a team had an obligation to restart play (which was usually a throw-in) by releasing the ball to the opposing team if that opposing team had kicked the ball off the field because one of its players appeared to have been injured (almost always this was done by kicking the ball across a touchline).  The team usually threw the ball in the direction of the opposing team’s goalkeeper and none of the thrower’s teammates were expected to contest for the ball.  Sparked by a spate of incidents (including one  in an English Premier League match) where this so-called “tradition” was or was not honored, the International Board declared in a Circular issued in 2009 that stopping or not stopping play for a possible injury (minor or serious) falls solely to the referee, not to a team, and this sparked an item in US Soccer’s annual Law change memorandum the same year as follows:

 

Reminder to referees

Referees are reminded that Law 5 states that the referee must stop the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured.

USSF Advice to Referees:  This statement is intended to reinforce a guideline issued earlier by both the International Board and USSF that the practice of a team kicking the ball off the field to stop play when there is an apparent injury on the field detracts from the responsibility of the referee under Law 5 to assess the injury and to stop play only if, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious.  Referees are therefore advised to be seen quickly and publicly considering the status of any player seeming to be injured and clearly deciding whether or not the situation merits a stoppage of play.  The referee must control this decision as much as possible.

 

The topic and the brief statement above in red was issued by the International Board and the text following it in bold italics is the official explanation/meaning/impact from US Soccer.  A further reminder on this issue was considered sufficiently important that similar language was included in a later circular and memorandum a year or two later.…

Cards — When and When Not

Wade, a High School and College referee, asks:

So, I am seeing different answers for this all over.  Can a referee give a red card before the match starts? It says “disciplinary action” in the Law so does that constitute a Red Card if, say, two players on the same team start punching each other?

Wade then quotes from Law 5 the following:

• has the authority to take disciplinary action from entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including kicks from the penalty mark). If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player taking part in the match

Answer

It’s very simple – you just have to understand the mind of the International Board.  Our best advice is to “read” the language of the Law as plainly as possible.  Also note that you may have to “unlearn” what you were taught many years ago because the quote above and the explanation below are based on a fairly recent (2016-2017) change in the Laws of the Game.

What comes out at the end is this … the referee’s authority to discipline starts from when he/she enters the area of the field of play and continues until he/she leaves the area of the field of play.  That authority extends to dismissing a player before the game actually begins (i.e., opening whistle) but no actual red card is shown (note the Board’s careful language — “prevent the player taking part in the match”).  The team does not play down under these circumstances because the team can simply replace the player with a substitute from the roster (without triggering any limits under Law 3 on the number of substitutions allowed – if, that is, the game actually follows the substitutions requirements of Law 3, which very few actually do).  However, the team now has one fewer substitute available for use because, under IFAB rules, someone cannot be added to a team’s roster once the roster is given to the referee.  From the opening whistle and continuing through to the end of the match (including any tie-breaking procedures), both red and yellow cards can be given but not afterward (read the bullet point that comes immediately after the one you quoted).  On the other hand, the Laws of the Game specifically provide for the referee to include in his/her match report all misconduct, both before and after the match (at least up to the time the referee leaves the area of the field), as well as of course all misconduct occurring during the match.

The problem with these otherwise clear, clean, and easily administered requirements is that they assume a type of game which is different from, roughly, more than 95% of all games played in the US (and this already excludes games played under NFHS/NCAA rules).  Go out to almost any park field for a youth/competitive game or any adult amateur game and you will seldom find such formality.  So, you improvise.  Suppose you don’t have a roster?  Suppose the local rule is that the team has until halftime to get a roster to you? Suppose a player strikes another player just as you are being handed the roster?  Suppose you have been assigned to a game where the local competition authority expects you to show cards for all misconduct whenever it occurs?  And just exactly what constitutes the “area of the field”?  For a stadium, it’s easy.  For anything else, not so much.  Suppose you are the AR on a 9am game and, just as it ends, you see a player who has arrived at the area of the field for an 11am game for which you are the referee and that player strikes one of the players who is exiting the field from the game which just concluded?

Despite all of this, however, the formal expectation of the Laws of the Game is simple.  You now know exactly what to do if you are refereeing an MLS match; otherwise, try to get close to the intent of the Law but do the best you can.…

Mayhem on the Field

Vanessa, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

My son plays on a u14 club team. We had our semi final this past weekend. My son was fouled by another player and they exchanged words.  My son was walking away and the other player lunged at and started to physically attack my son.  Both boys started fighting. The ref tried breaking them up but the other team’s players came and it was chaos. Refs had completely lost control of game. Meanwhile, my son is being jumped by 6 players of the other team.  He is on the floor being kicked and punched by the other team. I see that he is bleeding and the refs aren’t helping him, so I ran on the field, pulled my son up and held him tight, basically shielding him from getting hit again. All of this was caught on video. My question, is when can a parent, coach, or bystander intervene and enter the field for the safety of the child if refs have lost control of game?

Answer

That is at once both a deeply pertinent as well as unanswerable question.  There is the Law … and then there is practicality.  Finally, there is so much more we would need to know (despite your detailed description) about what did and did not happen that would be directly relevant to coming up with any useful answer.  Nevertheless, here goes.

First, “the Law” makes completely clear that no one is allowed to enter the field of play without the express permission of the referee.  Note that the Laws of the Game were and still largely are written with a particular sort of game in mind – e.g., Britain’s men’s national team versus Mexico’s men’s national team played in Azteca stadium which seats more than 100,000+ spectators where the entire perimeter of the field of play is fenced and patrolled by security guards.  We assume that doesn’t describe the game in your scenario and, as a consequence, much of the behavior you described simply could not happen in a match directly sponsored by FIFA.  It is thus not surprising that things could happen in the ordinary, everyday youth match played in a local field which is guided by a local league which is affiliated with a state association which is affiliated with US Soccer which is affiliated with FIFA.  That’s like being a second cousin twice removed.  It’s still the Laws of the Game, with some limited differences that take into account the age and experience level of the players, but such differences are mainly limited to substitution rules, the size of the field, etc.  So, the official answer is that, unless and until the referee officially declares the game terminated, it remains illegal for anyone to enter the field of play without the permission of the referee.

Second, standard mechanics for officials taught worldwide in association with those Laws, provide that, in the event of a confrontation involving players, the primary task of the officiating team is to attempt to prevent any widening of the altercation but otherwise to watch and record misconduct which must then be included in their match report which then goes to the “local competition authority” which then has the task of sorting out who did what to whom, when, and how seriously.  Directly intervening in an altercation is not recommended – the officiating team is (a) at most 3 people, (b) most likely themselves  youths who are themselves probably only 2-5 years older than the players, and (c) potentially faced by as many as 22 players plus various substitutes from off the benches.  We are not aware of any local referee training which explicitly provides that any of the officials individually or all of them together are expected to wade in and start pushing or pulling players away from each other (i.e., “breaking up the fight”).  Can you imagine the legal liabilities (particularly in the ever-litigious US) faced by an official who started physically grabbing youth players and tossing them around?  Referees are firmly and in no uncertain terms told that they must not touch players.  What you were implicitly advocating would have put all the officials into serious legal jeopardy!

Third, it is both incorrect and unfair to say that the “refs had completely lost control of game” – more accurately, the players had taken control of the game and the coaches had lost control of their players.  The referee team is not tasked with “breaking up confrontations” – they are tasked with doing what they can to prevent a widening of one, to observe the commission of misconduct, to terminate a match, and to write a full, accurate report of who did what for later submission.

Fourth, as a practical matter, it is quite understandable for one or more parents to feel impelled to jump in to protect their children and support their team.  Of course, doing so is quite likely to lead to a widening of the conflict unless the intervention is very specific and limited to protecting one or more players who appear to be the target of any violence.  We note that no mention was made about the actions and behavior of the coaches – they should be “first responders” and the referees should (though this is likely to get lost in the building mayhem) quickly signal permission for the coaches to enter the field and exercise their more direct and meaningful authority regarding the behavior of their players.

Fifth and finally, everyone who saw what happened should make notes to document their recollections and then vigorously pursue whatever avenues are available with respect to the “local competition authority” to ensure that those who started and/or added to the mayhem are properly punished to the degree of their culpability.  Only in this way can you help make less likely similar occurrences in the future might.…

Injury Issue and Absent ARs

Chris, a U13 – U19 player, asks

Two questions.  The first one is, if a coach yells from the sideline and the ref thinks he heard him say injured player, should he stop the play dead, give away our advantage, and then say, oh, I am sorry, I thought you said someone was hurt?   The second question is, for a u15 game, if the ref was the only official on the field, can he refuse any ARs?

Answer

We can only respond to what you have asked above, even though both scenarios are rather vague, but we’ll try, based on what we think are the real issues involved.

First, regarding the issue of an injury, the Laws of the Game lay the responsibility for stopping play solely in the hands of the referee.  It doesn’t matter what anyone might be yelling about an injury even if the message is totally explicit, concrete, and clear.  At most, it might result in the referee deciding to take a quick scan of the field.  People yell all kinds of things from off the field which in most cases the referee simply must ignore and should not ever by itself constitute a reason for the referee to actually stop play.

The referee should be aware of what is going on everywhere on the field (assisted, preferably, by two ARs who definitely can and should get the referee’s attention if there is an injury someplace where the referee is not naturally looking).  Where the referee is alone, hearing something that may or may not be an injury alert coming from a sideline (whether it is the coach or anyone else) should result only in the referee attempting to ascertain for himself what might be going on.

This is then followed by the even more pertinent decision (assuming that the result of this is seeing what might be an injury) as to whether the injury is serious or not.  The Law requires the referee to stop play only if he determines that there is a serious injury (keeping in mind that “serious” is a judgment call which is highly dependent on the age and skill level of the players).  If the injury is not serious, play continues.  “Advantage” is never an issue in the case of a serious injury – no player should want anyone on his team who is seriously injured to be ignored even if his team appears to be only moments away from scoring the game-winning goal … and this same attitude should apply equally to players on the opposing team.  This is one of the reasons why faking or simulating an injury can (and should) be harshly punished.

As for the second question, it all depends on the local rules of competition.  If ARs have been assigned to the game, the referee has no basis for refusing to use them and any attempt to prevent their use would and should be reported to the assignor or local referee association.  However, if no ARs are assigned (or if two ARs are assigned but one or both don’t show up), there is no requirement in the Law that ARs must be used.  In fact, the Law is very specific that anyone brought on to assist the referee in the absence of one or both official ARs (meaning certified and assigned in accordance with local rules) comes with two significant limitations: (a) the referee agrees and (b) their role is limited to signaling only if and when the ball leaves the field.  Such a person is called a “linesman” and they are limited completely to this one responsibility.

So, the issue comes down to the basic question – were one or two ARs officially assigned to the game and were they present?  If so, they must be used – and the Law is clear that the referee must take their input into account in his decisions.  If not, and in the absence of local rules to the contrary, no one has to be used.  It has long been customary in lower level games (youth/recreational) to allow, but not require, the referee to request assistance in the absence of appointed ARs but the most assistance that any unofficial AR can provide is indicating if the ball left the field.  Some local rules provide for what is sometimes referred to as a “step-in assistant referee” which refers to a program which requires each team in the league to have at least one person on the sidelines who is a certified official who can and is willing to “step in” if an AR has been assigned but is absent.  In such programs, although the step-in AR is not limited to the ball leaving the field, it is quite common to not allow the step-in AR to signal fouls.…

Injuries and Type 1 Versus Type 2 Errors

Ken, a U12 and under coach, asks:

If a defending player is injured (non head injury) in a youth game and goes down to a knee, does the referee have to stop play right away? I had this happen where my left back was down and the attacking team continued to press and then score. The referee disallowed the goal when he saw the injured player was on the ground. We did not have an advantage at any point.

Afterwards he came up to me and said that the hardest part of his job is when he knows a player is injured and there isn’t anything he can do about it. Why would that be?

Answer

Stopping play for an injury is a referee decision and does not depend on anything the player may or may not do.  All experienced referees have heard the sideline call “if you’re hurt, go down.”  That is a bunch of (we’re going to use a technical term here) hooey.  “Going down” does not necessitate a stoppage, nor does not “going down” mean that play cannot be stopped.  Injuries come in all shapes and sizes — heatstroke, for example, can and should be recognized as serious with play stopped even while the player is standing up.

In the statistical analysis of data, there is something called the “type 1 versus type 2 error” — simplified, the first involves saying something is false when it is actually true while the second is deciding something is true when it is actually false.  Refereeing, plus a lot of other things in life, involve error.  Mistakes happen.  Given that we can be wrong either way, the intelligent referee has to decide which mistake has greater negative consequences and that, in turn, depends on the level of the game — U6 recreational game versus a World Cup final being an extreme range.

In general, stopping play for a possible but eventually not serious injury can produce less negative impact than not stopping play for a seemingly minor injury which turns out to be serious (at least from the point of view of the player’s health).  It also turns out that, again in general, the first mistake would be considered more tolerable in the U6 recreational game but could be career ending if made in the World Cup final.  You should take away from all this two principles.  One is that the decision depends critically on the age and experience of the players.  The other is that it is better to be safe than sorry.

Indeed, it is not unheard of that, for players under the age of 12 (nothing magic about that age break point), the greater danger of not stopping play if Johnny appears to be injured is that Johnny’s mom is likely to come running onto the field anyway, thus making stopping play mandatory.  (Our apologies to all “Johnny’s moms” — we love you but you can be very excitable.)  The higher the level of play (and experience of the players) the greater is the likelihood that you would be led into serious mistakes because “going down” is not unheard of as a player tactic to get you to stop play for the advantage of that player’s team (i.e., faking/simulating).  It’s bad enough to  make a Type 2 error but the decision is even more consequential when players themselves want you to make that mistake and are feverishly trying to help you make it.

Given your scenario, it would be even worse for a referee to decide to cancel a goal that was scored before the referee became aware of a player injury that was only then judged serious enough to stop play.  It would be ludicrous for a referee to decide that he or she wasn’t aware of the injury when it occurred and then, after the fact, decide it had been serious enough that he or she should have stopped play when it occurred, and then, to top it all off, negate anything that happened between the injury and the actual stoppage.  We don’t know of any experienced referee who would, for example, apply the same rationale for canceling a foul and/or a card! Unless there are facts related to play making it unassailable that the goal was scored only because everyone else on the field was affected by the player being on the ground, the goal should stand.

We don’t have the slightest idea what your referee meant when you report him saying “the hardest part of his job is when he knows a player is injured and there isn’t anything he can do about it.”  The fact of an injury is not the issue, it is the seriousness of the injury that has to be judged.  Furthermore, assuming the referee understands this part, it is not in the slightest way difficult to know what to do about it.  We train referees to exercise their judgment, which they must do throughout the game anyway, on situations involving possible injury.  The issue of concussions has been made very easy (a good thing) by declaring that ANY contact between the head and a hard object or surface constitutes a potential serious injury for which play must be stopped no matter the age or circumstances.…

Field Conditions and the Referee

David, a U-12 and under player, asks:

Referee called a foul in the penalty area. Walks over to the coaches and says the match is terminated due to unplayable field (rain). Should he allow the PK to continue?
Should he allow players to remain of the field?

Answer

This will be one of our shortest posts in at least the last year and a half.

For the first question, Yes.  The only “maybe not” is if the field generally is unplayable (meaning, not safely playable) but, at one end of the field, there is a penalty area which is safely playable (relatively speaking).  If this is the case, the penalty kick could be taken but under “extra time” rules — meaning that the kick ends either in a goal not with, in the latter case, no further play and an official termination.

For the second question, of course the players can remain.  Once the referee terminates the match, the referee’s authority effectively ends.  Others might take over — e.g., the field owner, the coaches, etc. We dislike putting it this way but, absent someone else stepping in, the players can do whatever they want.  Even in the case of dangerous weather conditions (e.g., lightning), the referee’s direct authority stops once the match is terminated (not merely suspended) and the officials would have no responsibility to do anything more than encourage the players to leave (along with getting out of there themselves!).…

Dismissing a Team Official

Gareth, a U-13 – U19 player, asks:

What happens if a coach has been ejected and asked to leave the field of play but does not go far enough to be out of sight and sound? If the same person returns to the field after regulation time to instruct players, what is the next action to be taken?

Answer

First, if a team official (e.g., coach) has been dismissed from the field, the game should not be restarted until and unless the referee is satisfied that the dismissed team official is in fact “out of sight and sound.”

Second, if a dismissed team official reappears in “sight and sound” at any time prior to the end of the match, play should be stopped again, the team official removed again, and the match only then restarted.  Although not a “rule” regarding team official dismissal, we would recommend terminating the match if the dismissed team official reappears a second time.  The reappearance should be included in the match report.

Third, depending on the local rules, the formal dismissal lasts only until after the game is over.  Once it is over, the referee’s authority over the dismissed person ends but, even after the match ends and while the referee is still in the area of the field, any further irresponsible behavior from the same person should be included in the game report.…

Stopping for an Injury

Brian, a U-12 and under Referee, asks:

During a youth game (U-8 or U-9), there is a stoppage for an injury. The coach comes on to check on the player.  Since the coach entered the field to help the player, does that player need to step off the field before play resumes?  I know at older levels, this is the case, but am curious about at the younger levels.

Answer

Actually, some of your question assumptions are incorrect.  Under the Law, an injured player must leave the field if play has been stopped due solely to an injury.  It has nothing directly to do with the coach coming onto the field because, under the Law, the coach cannot enter the field without the express permission of the referee and no referee is going to give that permission until and unless play had already been stopped.  Some referees read the Law “sideways” and forget that the Law is expected to be understood as a whole, not in pieces.  So, the fact that the referee has stopped play solely due to an injury means by definition that the injury is serious because only serious injuries can be the basis for stopping play.

Where things get a bit complicated is if the referee stops play for some other reason (e.g., a foul) and then determines that a serious injury occurring during the stoppage or as a result of the foul that caused the stoppage in the first place.  Then and only then does the referee call for the entry of a team official (coach, trainer, etc.) – which, also as a result, requires that the player leave the field.  There are certain exception to this “must leave the field” requirement – e.g., the injured player is a goalkeeper, the player was injured in a “common collision” with a teammate, the injury was so severe that the player cannot be safely moved, or the injury was caused by a foul for which a caution or red card was given.

And we would never say that “the coach comes on to check the player” because you have already performed such a “check” and thus the coach does not.  There are no circumstances under which a coach can decide whether or not a player is to leave the field if the referee has (a) stopped play solely for the injury or (b) waved the coach onto the field for an injury caused by an opponent’s foul.  The player must leave according to the Law.  The only time a coach has any “say” in whether the player leaves or not is if the injury has occurred under circumstances where the Law itself does not require the player to leave (e.g., the goalkeeper was injured).  In short, if the Law says the player has to go, the player goes.  If the Law says that the player doesn’t have to go, the player doesn’t have to go unless the coach/trainer/parent wants the player to go.

Everything said above applies to all age groups, not just for U-littles.  The only decision in which the age of the player is relevant is your decision as to what constitutes a serious injury in the first place.  Once that decision is made, all the rest of it happens strictly in accordance with the Laws of the Game — neither you nor the coach (or anyone else) has any subsequent say in it.  This is one of the reasons why we train officials from entry level upward that, if play is stopped solely because an injury has been determined by you to be serious or if it is already clear to you at the moment of stoppage for a foul that the resulting injury is serious, your very first task after whistling for the stoppage is to wave someone from the injured player’s team (coach, trainer, etc.) onto the field — not to “assess the injury” because you have already done that, but to arrange for the safe removal of the player from the field (unless one of the exceptions applies).…