Hijinks at a Free Kick

Chris, a HS/College referee, asks:

Scenario – a foul by the Blue team is committed near midfield.  The ball is properly located and a Red player is preparing to take the kick.  Meanwhile, a Blue player who was behind the ball when the foul occurred is moving back towards his goal to the defend. This Blue player is less than 10 yards from the ball but making no attempt to delay the free kick from being taken and is moving away from the ball. The Red kicker takes the free kick, deliberately kicks the ball into the back of the retreating defender, and then immediately turns to the referee asking for a yellow card.

My questions are, first, can you issue a caution to the Red kicker for unsporting behavior if, in your opinion, the player took the free kick with every intention of getting his opponent booked ?  My second question is, could you issue a red card for violent conduct (striking an opponent) if you deem that the player (whom you have already decided had deliberately kicked the ball into the opponent) did so as hard as he could?


Question 1 — yes, sure, because Law 12 (cautionable misconduct section, unsporting behavior) is written so broadly that it could encompass just about anything that you think deserves it.  We don’t mean to be flippant but “unsporting conduct” is rather general to begin with and “shows a lack of respect for the game” (one of the listed examples of unsporting behavior) is about as limitless as “how high is up?”  A retreating opponent who is closer than 10 yards at the time a free kick is taken has not committed an offense under the general Law 13 guideline that the offended team has the almost unfettered right to take the kick quickly, even with one or more opponents “failing to respect the required distance” and this extends to situations in which the kicked ball might make contact with said encroacher through no fault of his own.  Here, we have an attacker who has the unmitigated hutzpah (look it up) not only to aim the ball deliberately (as given in the scenario) at the opponent but now wants a card shown for the kicker’s lack of judgment.  The act of publicly by words or gestures asking for an entirely unjustified card could also be deemed a form of dissent.  In situations like this one, the real question is not “can you?” but “should you?”  One reason for “should not” is if the action calls for more a more vigorous reprisal.

Which brings us to Question 2 — and here we have to “interpret” your words. “As hard as he could” suggests the familiar “excessive force or brutality or endangering the safety of an opponent” particularly if the kicker were, say, over the age of 16 (though we know of a fellow referee who was almost knocked out upon being hit with a ball kicked by a U12 female player!).  Although a common scenario of this sort of play usually involves a thrown ball, we suspect that the damage from a kicked ball would likely be far worse.  Accordingly, the answer here is definitely, yes, a red card for violent conduct (not serious foul play because the kicker and retreating defender were not competing for the ball at the time) could, and probably should, be given (the expression on the face of the kicker reacting to this turnabout would be priceless).

A caution for UB, even if independently justified in the Referee’s opinion, takes a back seat to a red card for VC.  But the two are linked because the VC card would be a tough sell in the absence of the opinion that the kick was deliberately aimed at the opponent.  With no violence, the kicker’s action could be deemed UB (aided by the attempt to talk the Referee into a caution for FRD).  With a decision that the kick was an avoidable action of violence, bolstered by the evidence that it was deliberate, the send-off is the one to go with.

The restart, of course, is a DFK where the opponent was struck.