More Goalkeeper Deviltry?

Bing Jong, a U-12 and under player, asks:

I was in a tournament game when a ball was kicked out of bounds for a goal kick restart.  We were playing on a hill so the ball rolled a decent way down it. The goalie was wasting time by taking his sweet little time to get to the ball.  Was that punishable and, if it is, how?

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

Let’s see.  We’re going to take a guess that it was your team that played the ball last before it went across the goal line (not between the goal posts), for a goal kick restart.  I’m also guessing that it was your opponent’s dastardly goalkeeper who took “his sweet little time” getting the ball (yes, we caught the sarcasm).  Further, you have already decided that the dastardly goalkeeper was “wasting time” (which is, in fact, a decision of the referee).  My final guess is that, because you didn’t say otherwise, the referee did not punish the dastardly goalkeeper at all or at least not appropriately.

Just so we understand each other here, the goalkeeper might have been moving slower than you expected or desired because he was at the top ofa hill and might not have wanted to trip, fall, and roll “a decent way down it” as the ball did.  On the other hand, if he was laughing, smirking, and picking daisies on the way down, you’ve got a pretty good argument.

If the former is what happened (in the opinion of the referee), there was no time being wasted.  After all, U-12 games rarely in our experience, have ball retrievers ready at an instant to get the ball back to the goal kick restart.   Or, given that the ball was played on a hill, the team playing at the downhill end at each half could have had an extra ball available for just this sort of problem.  If the latter were not the case or if, despite the presence of a pre-approved backup ball at the net, the goalkeeper deliberately ignored it and went traipsing “a decent way” downhill unnecessarily, then (again in the opinion of the referee) this could have been deemed time wasting, the penalty for which is a caution for “delaying the restart of play.”  You might note, however, that, in the absence of any prior warning about delaying a restart, most referees early on would warn the wandering-down-the-hill goalkeeper to “get a move on!” and only show the yellow card if it seemed that the goalkeeper was deliberately ignoring the referee’s observation.  Note also that the referee might base his or her opinion about the probability of time being wasted at least in part on the score at the time.  After all, “wasting time” might be considered a trifling offense if it was being done by a goalkeeper whose team was behind in the score.  Note finally that giving a caution will have the ironic result of further delaying the restart.

If there was misconduct here and if the referee decided a caution was appropriate, the restart would still be the original goal kick.  Misconduct during a stoppage of play does not change the original restart decision.



NOTE: This is a two-part query, with the original response to the first question prompting the second question. Both are relevant to the question of 1 March 2013 on Impeding an Opponent.

Original Question:
On January 19th, 2013 you stated that under Law 12, “Holding an opponent includes the act of preventing him from moving past or around using the hands, the arms or the body,” and that referees should intervene in this early.

However, often when the ball is rolling out of play (particularly for a goal kick), a defending player will “shield” the ball out of play, not allowing the attacker to reach the ball, even though the defender has no intention of playing the ball. This sort of blocking off would normally considered a foul in general open play or on free kicks.

Why has this action become standard in this one situation? A referee cannot even call this a hold now because no else does and it shows a lack of consistency.

Answer (March 2, 2013):
You seem to be confusing “holding,” a foul which requires contact, with “impeding the progress of an opponent,” which involves ZERO contact initiated by the person doing the shielding. And impeding the progress of an opponent also requires not being with playing distance of the ball, which does not figure in holding.

Does that answer your question? If not, let me know and I will try to do better.

Follow-on Question:
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to respond and so quickly. I understand the difference between the two fouls now that you have explained it. However I do require a bit more clarification:
Often there is significant contact when the attacker is trying to get to the ball. Sometimes a “fight” for the ball commences. Again, the defender has no intention to play the ball (even though it is within a yard or two of them) and the ball is taking several seconds to roll out of play. Often defenders will not just shield the ball normally, but will make a sudden, aggressive lunge to step in front of the other player, with arms out wide, which initiates the contact.

At the pro level (or at the amateur level, when playing indoor for side kick-in’s) it happens every game, but at times it seems so aggressive that it could be a foul. When would it cross the line into being an “impeding progress” foul and why is it never called? Does being within “playing distance” of the ball entitle a player to these types of actions, even if they have no intention to ever play the ball? What is to prevent several players from surrounding a ball (all within playing distance) and not allowing the other team to get to it in order to run out the clock?

I have heard occasionally commentators talk about the need to crack down on it because the referee would not allow it elsewhere on the field. Is it a matter of culture influencing referees interpretation or is this action (however aggressive and no matter the place on the field) always allowed according to the Laws of the Game?

Follow-on Answer (March 2, 2013):
Do you really mean a “fight,” or simply two players (legally or illegally) using their bodies, including shoulders, to gain (or retain) possession of the ball? That is certainly legal, as long as there is no holding (using any body parts to restrict the movement of the opponent) or pushing (with hands or other body parts to move the opponent).

Here are some definitions that may be helpful to you:

It is legal to “charge” an opponent fairly: The act of charging an opponent can be performed without it being called as a foul. Although the fair charge is commonly defined as “shoulder to shoulder” and without the use of arms or elbows, this is not a requirement and, at certain age levels where heights may vary greatly, may not even be possible. Furthermore, under many circumstances, a charge may often result in the player against whom it is placed falling to the ground (a consequence, as before, of players differing in weight or strength). The Law does require that the charge be directed toward the area of the shoulder and not toward the center of the opponent’s back (the spinal area): in such a case, the referee should recognize that such a charge is at minimum reckless and potentially even violent.

Holding an opponent includes the act of stretching the arms out to prevent an opponent from moving past or around. A player who blatantly holds onto or pulls an opponent or an opponent’s clothing to play the ball, to gain possession of the ball, or to prevent an opponent from playing the ball could be cautioned and shown the yellow card for unsporting behavior. (Up until last year it was required for blatant acts of holding, but that changed in 2012.)

“Impeding the progress of an opponent” means moving on the field so as to obstruct, interfere with, or block the path of an opponent. Impeding can include crossing directly in front of the opponent or running between the opponent and the ball so as to form an obstacle with the aim of delaying progress. There will be many occasions during a game when a player will come between an opponent and the ball, but in the majority of such instances, this is quite natural and fair. It is often possible for a player not playing the ball to be in the path of an opponent and still not be guilty of impeding.

The offense of impeding an opponent requires that the ball not be within playing distance and that physical contact between the player and the opponent is normally absent. If physical contact occurs, the referee should, depending on the circumstances, consider instead the possibility that a charging infringement has been committed (direct free kick) or that the opponent has been fairly charged off the ball (indirect free kick). However, nonviolent physical contact may occur while impeding the progress of an opponent if, in the opinion of the referee, this contact was an unavoidable consequence of the impeding (due, for example, to momentum).

I have little time for indoor soccer and do not keep up with the rules, which vary from arena to arena (except in professional leagues). In the case of the “circle of friends,” the referee can always add time–at least in the outdoor game of soccer–or possibly consider the act to be one of time wasting, for which the players could be cautioned for unsporting behavior and shown the yellow card. (That would be a bit extreme, but certainly useful in cases where the amount of time in a period of play in a tournament game is limited by the rules of the competition.) In all events, if this is done anywhere on the boundary lines of the field, the player who is contesting for the ball ia permited by the Law to pass over the touch line or the goal line to beat an opponent or a “ring of friends.”

Playing distance has nothing to do with playing the ball in any particular manner; it means simply that the player could play the ball immediately if he wished to do so.

In my opinion—and others are welcome to their own—most commentators, at least those on television and radio, have absolutely no clue of how the game should be called, even those former players who didn’t know the rules when they played and know even less now.


If a player puts the ball down for a goal kick and then moves it to the other side of the goal area is it a IDFK or just a warning and a possible caution for delay of the game?

USSF answer (January 26, 2011):
Unfortunately, we cannot lay our hands on a particular document, but the general rule is that If, upon being awarded a goal kick, the defending team blatantly wastes time by placing the ball within the goal area for the restart and then subsequently moves it unnecessarily to another location within the goal area, this act can be deemed as timewasting.

The option of placing the ball anywhere in the goal area was intended to speed up play.  Given that guideline and goal, the only factor then is to avoid undue delay or timewasting. If moving the ball after being placed is not permitted, what should the referee do?

As with most questions of this nature, the only correct answer involves how the referee interprets the action and how he or she uses common sense and.  If there were a real, worldwide problem in this area, the IFAB would include the answer as a Decision under Law 16. Here is a clear and simple rule: Moving the ball around like that is wasting time, pure and simple. Unless the movement is blatantly outrageous and used in the closing seconds of a tight game by the goalkeeper or other player of the team in the lead, the referee should warn first and, on repetition, caution the guilty player.


I have followed your “Ask the Ref” for about 5 years now and have learned and enjoyed reading your responses to the questions posed. Please consider this scenario from the past weekend.   

In the waning minutes of a competitive level GU11 match, with the White team leading 1-0, Blue is awarded a Goal Kick. The Blue defender clearly places the ball in the corner of the goal area and scans the field looking for an unmarked teammate. After 5-10 seconds the Blue defender picks up the ball and sprints across the goal area and places the ball in the other corner of the goal area to take the goal kick.  I as the referee stop play and warn the Blue defender that she is not permited to move the ball once it has been placed for the goal kick. ATR 16.5 states that “the defending team wastes time if the ball is clearly placed within the goal area in preparation for the restart and then is moved unnecessarily to another location”. I interpret ATR 16.5 to then inidcate that a team should be warned against this practice and that the referee may caution for a repeat offense.   

My question involves the concept of wasting time in this case. The Blue defender was not intending to waste time. In fact my stopping play to issue the warning wasted more time than the defender sprinting across the goal area.    Blue was trying to get the goal kick upfield quickly. Should the Spirit of the Game preclude warning the Blue player in this instance?  The ATR calls this an “offense”. Can or should this “offense” be ignored? Blue was moving the ball for tactical reasons, not to waste time. Thus would the offense be trivial, as this portion of the law is designed to preclude time wasting? Would the answer be any different if the Blue team was ahead instead of trailing by one goal?    

USSF answer (May 6, 2008):
In point of fact, the time-wasting tactic of shifting the ball from one side of the goal area to the other after it has been placed is misconduct in and of itself and should be punished with a caution for unsporting behavior. However, all such matters fall under the rubric of “the opinion of the referee.”

Tactical reasons are not a reason to allow a player to flout the Laws of the Game. Tactical actions are a major cause of cautions for unsporting behavior. So, despite the existence of The Seven Magic Words, “If, in the opinion of the referee, . . .,” which might suggest that the referee could do as you did and warn first before cautioning, the referee in this case should punish the infringement. That would be true, no matter what the score.

We have some concern with the reference in your scenario to the fact that you stopped play to issue the warning, and then your second thought that you might havecaused more of a delay by doing this than the player did by moving the ball. Our answer, yes, you did. But what does “stop play” mean in this context? Play is already stopped (with a goal kick being the prescribed restart)! We favor giving a warning if this is the first time this happened, but the warning can certainly be given “on the fly” — there is no reason to “stop play” (which we would take to mean that you stopped the players from setting up for the goal kick while you lectured them on their offense). A much easier way to handle it would be call out to the fullback to put the ball back where it was and then say, “Don’t move it once you have put it down.” There should be no trouble after that.