Hijinks Outside the Field

Sue, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

What are the rules governing the behaviour of parents at a game? Last week my son’s under 12s played a match during which one of our players was quite rightly sent off after hitting one of the opposing players. He has since received a fine & ban. However, the parent of the child that was hit not only went onto the pitch, but threatened our player & his family then let loose with a tirade of the most foul language I have to say I have ever heard. This delayed the game for at least 10 minutes. In addition, more threats were received at the end of the game & missiles were thrown at cars as they left the ground. Should this parent receive a warning regarding his behaviour & should he receive a ban/fine too?


Oh, my! Parents acting badly.

Asking this question as a parent puts you in a different position than if the question were asked by a referee.  The Laws of the Game, with only one exception, do not control or manage the behavior of anyone other than rostered players/substitutes and team officials (anyone who is also on the roster and allowed to be in the team area but is not a player).  All such persons are termed “outside agents” and are not under the authority of the Referee.  They are, however, under the control of the competition authority (i.e., the organization – league, tournament, etc.) which is responsible for the game.  That authority should have rules governing the behavior of outside agents.  Many leagues, for example, require that an officer or agent of the league be present at or in the vicinity of matches it is sponsoring and it is to that person that the sort of behavior you described should be reported.  Lacking a presence at the field, however, anyone present is free to file a complaint or protest with the league or tournament concerning the behavior of persons associated with a team.  If the game is held in a public place, such as a park or school field, complaints could also be directed immediately to persons representing the game site who possess police authority over the conduct of anyone there.

The only authority the Referee has in this regard (note the “one exception” mentioned above) is to suspend the match where spectator behavior is deemed to be interfering with the game (keeping in mind the ultimate objectives of youth soccer – safety, fairness, and enjoyment) and to terminate any match immediately if, in the opinion of the Referee, outside agent behavior makes continuation of the match a danger to the players, team officials, or the officiating team itself.  Further, the Referee has an obligation, whether or not a match is suspended and/or terminated, to include in the match report full details of any incidents that bear on the conduct of the match, including disruptive behavior of outside agents.

Referees are strenuously advised not to deal directly with obstreperous outsiders.  At early stages of a spectator/parent problem, Referees should work through one or both coaches to achieve a resolution of the interference — which can include a statement that the match could be terminated if the disruptive actions continue.  Where this is unsuccessful (or where the source of the problem is team officials themselves), the “nuclear option” of termination should be invoked.  Immediately contacting the Referee association or assignor is also advised.

When Is the PK Over?

Robert, a referee of older youth players, asks:

A penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving. How about giving me some examples when a ball stops moving during a penalty kick situation.


The International Board, in its infinite wisdom when it rewrote the Laws of the Game to make them simpler and easier to understand, wasn’t entirely successful in several of its changes.  This is one of them.  Note that almost the exact same language was used in Laws 10 and 14 to say when the kick was complete:

Law 10:  The kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws

Law 14:  The penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws.

More to the point of your question, both Laws include “ball stops moving” as one of the ways that a kick from the mark (KFTM) or a penalty kick (PK) may be considered ended.  This works fairly well for a KFTM and it also works for a PK taken in extended time.  As long as the ball continues to move while making contact with any one or combination of the goalkeeper, goalframe, or the ground, a valid goal can be scored.  Yet, at the same time, in each case no one else is allowed to participate in the play.  Thus, if a PK in extended time or a KFTM struck the crossbar, rebounded backward onto the ground in front of the goal, but had acquired a spin which resulted in the ball now rolling forward a few feet into the goal, that goal would count.  The same would be true if the ball rebounded from the crossbar to the back of the goalkeeper and then rebounded from there into the goal.

A regular, ordinary PK, however, is a bit different because, except for the original kicker, the ball can be played by anyone once it is in play (kicked and moved forward).  During that time, it is entirely possible that the ball could be motionless … and it doesn’t matter because, with one exception, no one particularly cares when, whether, or even if the PK is “over.”

The exception is if an outside agent interferes with play at the taking of a penalty kick.  Ordinarily, if play is stopped because of outside agent interference, the restart is a dropped ball.  We can just picture some spectator, who supports the Orange team which is just about ready to defend against a PK, thinking that, if he or she ran onto the field after the PK was taken and interfered, the referee would have to stop play and then restart with a dropped ball (effectively taking the PK away from the hated opponent)!  So the Laws of the Game provide that, if the interference occurs while the ball is moving toward the goal and hasn’t made contact as yet with any part of the goalframe or the goalkeeper, the restart will be a retake of the PK.  Until the ball stops moving forward (not just stops moving), the PK is not “over” at least for the purpose of retaking the PK rather than having a dropped ball in the case of outside agent interference.  The implicit theory of this provision is that a team which has been awarded a PK should have a reasonable opportunity to score and any event which interferes with that during the period from the ball being kicked and the ball reaching the immediate area of the goal should result in the offended team getting to redo the PK after all the dust has settled.

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!”

A Dropped Ball and A Pesky Spectator

Marlon Edwards, a coach, asks:

Can you score on your own team from a drop ball?

Red takes a shot on goal and, as the ball is rolling on the ground directly toward the goal with the goalkeeper seriously out of position, a spectator wearing the Blue team colors runs onto the field and kicks the ball away from the goal.  What is the restart?


Two very different questions.  The first one can be dealt with fairly quickly.  The short answer is, no.  The longer, more detailed answer needs to make sure we are talking about the same thing.  The dropped ball (DB) is a unique restart in that it is the only one of the 7 ways to start/restart a soccer game which is not performed by a player.  Another unique feature is that the ball is in play as soon as it touches the ground.  Once we have gotten to the ground-touching point, however, the DB is like the indirect free kick in that a goal cannot be scored in favor of either team directly from the first touch of the ball by any player following the drop.  If the ball should happen to enter a goal directly from the initial player contact, the restart is based on which team’s player kicked it into which team’s goal — goal kick if into the goal of the opposing team, corner kick if into the goal of the player’s own team.

What is interesting about this is the word “directly” because, in soccer, it has a very definite meaning and refers to what happens immediately after a player touches/controls the ball or performs a restart.  If whatever happens does not involve another player touching the ball, it is said to have occurred “directly.”  In the 2016/2017 LOG Law 8, this was restated to be crystal clear: a goal cannot be legally scored unless, prior to entering the goal, the ball was touched by at least two different players.  So, we take away several thing from this.  First, once the ball has been touched by at least two players, a goal can be legally scored if it enters either team’s goal.  Second, the “two player” requirement is met by any two players from either or the same team but not by one player touching the ball twice.  This was not a substantive change in the Law, only a restatement for clarification.  By the way, if the ball leaves the field after the drop with no touch by any player, the DB is retaken.

On to the second question.  The fact that the spectator was wearing “colors” associated with one of the teams whose game he interrupted is irrelevant.  Even if he was wearing something like a team jersey and was decked out like a player (but his name is not on the team roster), the person is still only a spectator and we call such persons an “outside agent.”  The critical question that has to be answered in any outside agent situation is whether that person interfered with play in any way (made contact with the ball or any player or got in the way of play or a player).  If the agent did, play must be stopped and then, after the dust has settled and the outside agent removed, play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped.  Any goal apparently scored during or following such interference cannot be counted under any circumstances. If the agent did not (in the opinion of the referee), play is not stopped and the entry onto the field is handled at the next stoppage.  In the case here, it is obvious that there was interference — play should be stopped as soon as possible and restarted with a DB.


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.


To what degree should a referee protect players on the field from harassment from their own parents? Or is this a coaches job as well as a referees job?

Example: This past Saturday, a 9 year old keeper missed a ball on the ground, resulting in a goal. Her father berated her from the sidelines. She was upset…I told my wife that she would miss the next ball that came to her. Sure enough she did, likely as a result from her tears blurring her vision. Her mother then berated her from the sidelines.

I played keeper growing up and realize the physical and psychological components of the position and part of my concern is one of empathy with the player. Is such an incident in the realm of the local youth club jurisdiction in so far as a parent conduct issue only or have the laws of the game been violated by a spectator interfering with the the game by harassing a player on the field?

Answer (October 10, 2012):
Unfortunately some soccer parents just do not know when enough is enough. In theory such people as this exemplary mother should be controlled by the coach and other team officials, as the referee has no jurisdiction or specific authority to deal with spectators’ behavior — unless it brings the game into disrepute or puts participants in danger. Unless leagues set rules of behavior for their spectators, such as making the coach and other team officials responsible, there is little that can be done other than to warn the coach about his spectators’ behavior. Most coaches are good about this, but some, eminently regrettably, are even worse than the mothers and fathers.

The Laws of the Game do do cover spectators to any particular extent. In fact, the referee cannot be faulted for a decision to stop or not to stop a match due to spectator interference or any problem in spectator areas — this is not defined to any degree whatsoever, but left to the referee’s discretion — or for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason — again discretionary.

If the actions of the spectator(s) or team officials do bring the game into disrepute (a wonderful collective term for all sorts of irresponsible behavior), the referee can warn the team(s) that he or she will abandon the game if the actions continue, or may directly abandon the game. (The referee can also expel team officials for any act he or she deems to be irresponsible behavior.) If the actions do continue, the referee must then follow through.

I would recommend that you speak to the league regarding its rules of competition and how they may affect the behavior of the spectators.


In a local U9 tournament refereed by a USSF referee, three fans of a team were ejected from the field of play for unsportsmanlike conduct directed to the referee (abusively protesting calls). This behavior also had an adverse and intimidating impact on the opposing team. The ejected fans refused to leave the field of play, one issuing a “make me” taunt to the referee. The referee supposedly referred the situation to “field marshals”, play was resumed, and the ejected fans remained for the balance of the game.

My questions: is this what should have happened, and if not, what should have happened?

USSF answer (January 16, 2012):
Without going into the terminology used in the questions, we can safely say that no, this is not what should have happened. The referee has no power under the Laws to send people away from the field; however, if the field marshals do not do what they are supposed to do, remove trouble makers, the referee does have the power (see Law 5) to stop, suspend, or abandon the match because of outside interference of any kind. That includes disturbances such as you describe. If the difficulty continued after the field marshals failed in doing their duty, then the referee should have done his duty to the Letter of the Laws and the Spirit of the Game and the players and abandoned the game for this outside interference. He or she should also have submitted a full report to the tournament authorities.


Hello, my question is while the ball is kicked and pass the goalkeeper and headed to goal, at this moment if a fan inters the pitch and blocks the ball from passing the line, what will be the referees decisions?

USSF answer (November 14, 2011):
The fan is considered to be an outside agent. 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), have the outside agent removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings, and then restart play with a dropped ball in the position where the ball was at the time when the match was stopped, unless the ball 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 when play was stopped.


Two quick questions, at the half of a u18 game. AR approaches the center,and states the center is “calling for the other side” Center tells AR the game is being called for both sides. AR argues the point,and is asked by the center to return to their sideline,AR at such time throws down their flag,and quits the game. Is this not a very poor behavior,and an example by the AR,who is also a referee? forget if LAW 5 or 6 covers AR. is this not reportable to the local association. second during a very physical game, team A and Team B are struggling for the ball,play continues. center verbally warns both players about use of elbows. A spectator jumps up out of their seat on the sideline in a aggressive manner,moves to the touch line,ands starts yelling at center about elbows. center approaches partway to sideline, tells spectator both players have been warned,and it’s under control,to sit back down. after game same spectator enters the field,and approaches the center, verbally assaults,and threatens the center. spectator is instructed to leave the field. does the referee retreat,or does he still have the field?

USSF answer (November 2, 2011):
Regarding the assistant referee, Law 6 tells us: “In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve an assistant referee of his duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities,” using the the match report form each referee should fill out after every match. This AR has also failed to live up to the Referee Code of Ethics and could be brought up on charges under U. S. Soccer Federation Policy 531-10 – Misconduct of Game Officials .

Regarding the aggressive spectator, Law 5 tells us that the referee stops, suspends or abandons the match because of outside interference of any kind. Before abandoning the game, however, the referee should ask the home team (tournament/league officials, if present) to have the person removed. If there is no help from these officials, then the match is abandoned and the referee includes full details in the match report.


1. A game was being played during hot weather. A player came to the sideline for a drink of water without leaving the field of play. As he was taking a drink the ball came his way and he took off dribbling the ball with water bottle (plastic) in hand.
Which Law has he broken?
Should the player be cautioned?
What would the restart be?

2. During a game the ball had been hit hard and was certainly going out of play with no players ever getting a chance of making it to the ball to stop it. As the ball headed towards a coach he put his foot on the ball to stop it from going way beyond the field of play. The problem is that the coach stopped the ball before it had gone out of play.
Has the coach entered the field illegally? And should he be cautioned as such? And a Free Kick awarded to the opposing team?
Is the coach treated as an “outside agent” in this instance and a drop ball used to restart play?
Or do we recognize it as a glaring error by the coach who had good intentions and award the throw as if the ball had gone out of bounds?

USSF answer (October 10, 2011):
1. As he had not left the field, the player committed no offense by playing the ball; however, by carrying the unauthorized bottle of water with him, he was playing in violation of the requirements of Law 4. If a player is discovered to be wearing (in this case “carrying”) unauthorized equipment during play, the referee need not stop play, but should immediately inform the player that the item in question must be removed from the field. The player must leave the field only if he is unable or unwilling to comply and could be cautioned if he willfully refuses to comply or, having been told to remove the item, is discovered to be carrying the item again.

2. No, the coach (or any other team official) is not regarded as an outside agent. Team officials are in a separate category under the Laws. (See the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees in the back of the book.)

Despite the coach’s good intentions (keep this in mind), he has entered the field without the permission of the referee. Under the Laws of the Game coaches cannot and must not be cautioned or sent off and shown any card at all (unless the rules of the competition require it); however, they can be expelled for irresponsible behavior, one example of which is entering the field without permission. If, as in this case, we recognize the coach’s act as motivated by good intentions, rather than any base desire to aid his team (and his earlier actions in the game will provide a good gauge for this decision), the referee will stop play immediately, because the coach has interfered with play. If the coach’s behavior is irresponsible the referee must expel him from the field of play and its immediate surroundings. In this case, the referee will have a quiet word with the coach and restart play with a dropped ball in the position where the ball was at the time when the match was stopped.