Rinku, an adult amateur Referee, asks:
If in case I discover that a team has 12 players by mistake, what should I do if I am the referee?
Well, in general, you correct the situation as soon as you become aware of it. However, what you do also depends on what substitution rules you are using (e.g., standard Law 3 or some local variation) and whether there is a goal scored that can complicate the matter.
The best solution, of course, is to not let it happen in the first place … which means don’t rush through a substitution without following, as closely as possible, the requirements of Law 3. There are only two scenarios that can result in an “extra player” getting on the field: one is an error in a substitution (allowing two substitutes to come on) and the other is that a substitute simply enters the field during play. The first is definitely the fault of you and/or the bench-side AR and is easily preventable. The second is something that can happen any time, but all members of the officiating team should be aware fairly quickly when it does.
Where the problem arises more commonly is when the rules of competition don’t adhere to Law 3 and allow unlimited substitutions with “the right of return” (which is often the case in youth recreational matches). Law 3 is strict — a team gets only a certain number of substitutions and, once substituted, a player cannot return to the field. This means that you can easily keep a record of which players started (by jersey number, for example) and then update this by noting which player left and which substitute replaced that player. If you follow this practice faithfully, you will always know who is a legal player and who is not.
Youth recreational play seriously muddies the water and you simply must keep track at least by not restarting play without someone (you or an AR) counting the players on the field before signaling that the substitution has been properly completed and play can be restarted. Too many referees get sloppy and pay no attention to the details of a substitution. Normally, you can get away with this but the problem is that, when an “extra player” results, the correction can become complicated.
Still, however it happens, you are faced with 12 players on the field for a team and it must be handled. In the simplest case, if play is going on and you can catch the “12th player” quickly before he or she becomes involved in or interferes with play, you can verbally order the person to leave the field without stopping play and, assuming the person follows your order, just allow play to continue with no further action needed. If you do not become aware of the existence of a “12th player” until after that person actually becomes involved in or interferes with play, you must stop play, order the “12th player” to leave after showing a yellow card for illegally entering the field, and restart with a direct free kick or penalty kick (depending on where the player was at the time).
The issue of “interference” is key. A substitute, for example, might enter the field for some reason during play, realize the illegality of this (or have you or an AR shout to him or her), and quickly leave the field. This does not call for either stopping play or issuing a caution. Stop play only in the case of involvement/interference, thus triggering the need for a card and the proper restart.
Where things get complicated because you haven’t been following proper procedure and don’t know which person on the field is the “12th player,” then you have to try to figure it out. You can check with the ARs (if you have them) and get their input. If no information comes to you (from rerunning through your mind the most recent substitutions or using information from an AR), then you can only do one of two things – simply order that one of the 12 players leave the field and chalk it up to your error or you can tell the captain (or the coach) to pick which of his team’s players must leave but whomever he picks is also going to receive a yellow card for illegally entering the field. By the way, note that neither of these two options is supported by the Laws of the Game because the Law assumes you did what you were supposed to do and would therefore always know who the extra player was! They are entirely our own, decidedly unofficial, practical advice.
There is one seriously complicating factor if you discover the extra player at a stoppage resulting from a goal being scored. Now, you have an additional problem – what to do about the goal. The Law says that the goal counts if the team that scored had the correct number of players on the field at the time but does not count if it was scored by the team which had the extra player. If the goal is cancelled, the restart is a direct free kick from where the extra player was at the time play stopped for the apparent goal. Unfortunately, if the continued existence of that extra player is not discovered until after play was restarted with a kick-off, the goal is counted. The best way to prevent this from ever happening is to do a quick count of the players, both at the time the goal was scored and again before the restart (in case an extra player entered during the stoppage). In any event, the presence of an extra player after a kick-off must still be handled as described above even if it is ultimately determined that the extra player was on the field prior to the goal being scored.
Finally, note that everything described here applies equally to any extra person on the field, including team officials. However, if the extra person is an outside agent (e.g., spectator), any stoppage requiring a restart must use a dropped ball instead.