Ryan, an adult amateur player, asks:
Offense has a free kick in a shooting situation near the defensive team’s box. An offensive player wants to position himself in the defensive wall. What is he allowed to do? Can he force his way into the wall? Does it matter who “gets there first”? Does the defense have a right to set up a wall without any offensive players involved in it? I get if the wall is set up and an offensive player wants to stand on the end or in front, but can he actually have a right to be INSIDE the wall?
No, he cannot force himself into the wall nor does he have any right to be in the wall. It’s first come, first served. Obviously, if a teammate happens to be standing right where a wall would be formed, the opposing team cannot prevent him from being there, i.e., the defending team cannot complain or force him out, but expect to be aggressively squeezed or be the butt of other, hidden if possible, actions expressing their unhappiness at what they would consider to be an intrusion.
Frankly, there really aren’t any particularly good reasons to be in the wall in the first place — ducking or pulling out at the last moment in the hopes of creating a gap through which the kicker might drill a shot just doesn’t work (the theory is nice but the practice is terrible). Standing at the end of the wall only adds to the wall’s effectiveness unless there is a light pass to the teammate at the end who can quickly turn and has an unobstructed shot-on-goal opportunity.
Frankly, the maneuver most likely to be successful is to practice and then be prepared to perform the restart quickly while the opposing team is still disorganized. Many teams seem to think that the restart cannot occur unless and until the wall is formed. That is incorrect, and the surprise alone is worth it even if it doesn’t directly lead to a goal.
The Law allows and encourages the free kick restart virtually at the moment the referee completes the stoppage of play for an offense (and assuming the ball is at or near the restart location). At that moment, with few exceptions, the referee should (if they know what they are doing anyway), get out of the way and be prepared for an immediate restart. The exceptions are
- if the offense involves misconduct (the restart must be held up in order for the card to be given),
- your team asks for a delay because you want the minimum distance rule,
- there was an injury on the play that requires the removal of the injured player(s),
- one or more opponents are either so close to the ball location or have taken control of the ball (e.g., kicked it away) that they would be considered to be delaying the restart of play (which should lead to a caution — see first bullet), or
- your team doesn’t want to restart immediately for some other reason (e.g., wanting to sub).
In all these cases, the referee must clearly and quickly signal that the restart is now delayed until the restart is specifically signaled.
There are a couple of other, more rare exceptions but, basically, the referee is expected to allow (and do nothing to discourage) the quick restart. However, not all referees (notably newer ones) are aware of this expectation under the Law and jump right away into “wall management” mode. Your team also needs to be able to decide quickly when using this quick restart ability will be to their advantage and when it will not.
Going back to your original query, however, our advice is that trying to get a teammate into a wall is not a right, usually results in a lot of pushing and shoving if not downright mayhem, and rarely is worth it in the first place. There are better techniques.