Delaying the Restart

Natalie, a U12 and Under coach, asks:

Can a referee ignore the fact that a player is asking for the required 10 yards be enforced on a free kick?  There was 40 seconds left in the game.  Not only did he refuse to count off 10 yards, he then started counting to 4 and when the free kick was not taken after the 4 seconds he gave possession to the other team resulting in a goal ending the game in a tie. Not sure why this happened — please explain.  Thank you.


First of all, how do you know “there was 40 seconds left in the game”?  You may be looking at your watch but the only watch that counts is on the referee’s wrist.  We don’t mean to sound flippant here — your watch might be totally in sync with the referee’s watch — but the Law gives absolute control over the timing to the referee.  We grant, of course, that the referee’s timing cannot make the length of a half any shorter, only longer, but it is also possible the two of you didn’t start timing at the same time.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, taking into account any prior “wasted time” due to injuries, delay substitutions, lost balls off the field, etc., there are indeed only 40 seconds remaining in the half by the time this other stuff began to occur.

That said, what followed was totally wrong on just about all counts. First of all, the referee’s prime responsibility at any restart (except kick-offs and penalty kicks and dropped balls) is to allow the team in possession full latitude on when to take the restart.  There are limits, of course – first, the referee may have an external reason for holding up the restart (e.g., injury, a card to give, a substitution to oversee, etc.) and second, the referee responsibility to deal with deliberate time-wasting no matter who is doing it, including himself.

If a team is requesting that the minimum distance be enforced, that is their right and there is no basis for refusing to do so.  Of course, the referee can move to the minimum distance and declare to the asking team that the opponents were already at least ten yards from the ball (we have seen this happen and once “dinged” an otherwise very good National grade referee on an assessment for himself wasting time for ending up moving opponents back only a step or two!) or, more commonly, we end up moving one or more players back.

Remember, inexperience or stupidity aside, it is to the opposing team’s benefit to get play restarted as quickly as possible if they were on the short end of the score.  The team in control of the restart had the right to ask for enforcement … and the referee had the right (based on the facts) to declare that the opponents were in fact at least ten yards away already and to signal that the free kick could be taken.  The referee also has the responsibility to move opponents back if any were within ten yards. All this is accepted procedure.

By the way, there is no rule or accepted mechanic that requires the referee to actually “count off” ten yards.  Actually, it usually takes only a year or less  to know exactly where ten yards away is so all that is necessary is to move to that point and either declare that the opponents were at ten yards or to move them back to where the ten yard distance was.  Watch senior, experienced referees.  You will never see them “pace” off any distance – they simply walk from where they are to a place which becomes the “ten yard restraining line” because the ten yard restraint is where the referee says it is.

Upon being requested to enforce the minimum distance, the referee in this case could have simply (a) signaled that the restart cannot occur until a whistle is sounded, (b) walked to wherever the minimum distance was, (c) quickly determined that either some opponents needed to be moved back or by that time, everyone was at least ten yards away, and then (d) signaled for the restart.  From that point on, within reason, the kicking team takes the kick or, if necessary, the kicker is given a caution for delaying the restart of play. We would normally not take this latter option unless the delay was significant, the reason obvious, and we had already, after a few seconds after the whistle, warned the kicker that he/she was delaying the restart.

There is absolutely no basis in the Laws of the Game to give the restart to the opposing team even if, after all the shenanigans were over and we had cautioned the kicking team for the delay (if there had been a delay).  The only recourse for the referee would be (a) the caution and then (b) stating the obvious fact that time had been wasted so this was being added to the “wasted time count” but the only correct decision at this point is that the original team in possession remains in possession.  If there is no doubt the team in possession had been wasting time and was continuing to waste time, the solution is to clearly declare that all time from the moment of the whistle for the kick to be taken to the moment of the kick itself was being considered wasted time by the referee, thus extending the time before the whistle sounds to mark the end of the half.…

Player Shenanigans

Abdikidar, an adult amateur Referee, asks 2 questions:

1. A GK passes a goalkick to his teammate within the penalty area more than 3 times so what would be the punishment and a referee call?
2. A player went to the fan area for his opponents and, while inside the field after the halftime break, removed his shorts exposing his underwear while jeering them.  What should the referee do to that player?


Question 1: I assume that the “3 times” is because each time the referee understood that the goal kick must be retaken because the ball was not properly put into play.  If this unsuccessful restart occurs 3 times, the referee should caution whoever did the third kick (regardless of whoever did it either of the first two times) for “delaying the restart of play.”  The intelligent referee, after the 2nd unsuccessful goal kick, would have warned the third kicker that the 2nd attempt was an unfair delay of the restart and, if it happened again, he “would deal with it” (don’t get any more specific than that).  The really intelligent referee would also evaluate the circumstances of the first unsuccessful attempt and, if the delay under those circumstances appeared to favor the kicking team (e.g., a favorable score for them with little time remaining), give this warning after the 1st unsuccessful kick and caution if it happened again.  Finally, this approach should be used even in situations where the second or third unsuccessful kick wasn’t on the same restart (i.e., this happened on a goal kick at the 88th minute and then happened again less than a minute later).

Question 2 : Caution immediately for unsporting behavior (showing a lack of respect for the game).…

Ending A Period of Play

Maninder, a HS/College fan, asks:

Today in a match ( Real Madrid vs Malaga), it was first half injury time going on, i.e in the 47th minute. Malaga got a free kick.  The Malaga player kicks the ball into Real Madrid’s penalty area and another Malaga player scored from a header.  But the goal wasn’t given because the Referee blew the halftime whistle just after the Malaga player kicks the ball.  Is this the right thing from the Referee?


There is no kind way to answer this because the correct answer is absolutely clear – yes.  Maybe.  Probably.  Hopefully.  We, of course, have no way of knowing what was in the Referee’s mind when he whistled.  Ironically, the questioner above is a HS/College fan where none of what follows is a serious problem because HS and College matches in the US use a visible stadium clock, officially stop/start time for various things during a period of play, and sound a loud horn to stop play when the count-down reaches 0!  In the match cited in the question and all other matches played under the Laws of the Game, time is controlled solely by the Referee.

The point is that the Law is very inarguable about match timing.  Assuming the half is 45 minutes, then the whistle blows to end play when the moment the watch count-up timer hits 45 (remembering that a 45 showing on the timer means that the 45th minute has ended, not begun). The  only exception is that a penalty kick signaled before the end of the 45th minute must  be taken regardless of the time, and the period ends when the PK ends.

But what about what is variably called “Referee time,” “injury time,” or “wasted time”?  The Referee must announce any additional time to the lowest full minute (i.e., 1 minute and 45 seconds is 1 minute, 45 seconds is 0 minutes, etc.) before the period of play is due to end.  When 45 minutes + that time is up, time is over and play must stop, no matter what is going on (unless, during this “extra” time there is further time wasted).  No flexibility in this element of the Law is allowed.  Stopping the half can happen just before a goal is scored or while play is stopped for a throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, etc.  Play can stop just before a player on your team is getting ready to make the game-winning shot on goal that will make them the champions (Boooo! Idiot Ref!) or the opposing team is getting ready to make the game-tying shot on goal that keeps your team from winning (Hurrah!  What a great Ref!).

There are some Referees who won’t stop play even if time is over if one team is attacking the opposing team’s goal from nearby.  They are wrong.  There are some Referees who would refuse to stop play even though time was up until a corner kick is completed (because they might score).  They are wrong.  There are Referees who, in a 9-0 game, might allow the team with no goals that just happens to look like they might score and he wants to give them a chance to go home with at least something.  They are wrong.  There are Referees who believe that the Law requires there to be a restart after every stoppage even if time ran out during the stoppage.  Except for a penalty kick, they are wrong.  There are some Referees who really hadn’t been keeping track of wasted time and thus hit the 44:50th minute with no notion of how much wasted time there had been but with the vague feeling that there had to have been some so they let play continue for a bit longer.  They are wrong.  Finally, there are Referees who know all time is up (both regulation and extra time) but they let play continue because they fear becoming the object of anger by one team or the other based on whatever was going on at the time.  They would be not only simply wrong but sadly wrong.

By the way, we have dealt before with questions regarding match timing and this is as good a place as any to draw every reader’s attention to the readily available “Search” feature ( try the “Law 7 – Duration” category).  We decided to answer this question even though it (or something like it) has already been asked and answered because we felt this building up inside and needed to get it out.  We feel much better now, thanks.  And, getting back to the Referee, he was entirely within the Law if (a) the match was set at 45 minutes for each half (as usual), (b) he announced before the 45th minute that there were 2 minutes of additional time, and (c) there was no excessive loss of time during the extra 2 minutes.…


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.…