A situation came up tonight in an Adult league came that caused a great deal of discussion amongst our group of referees.

Team A shot on Team B’s goal. Team B’s goalie caught the ball in both hands and was walking forward, presumably to prepare to release it.

One of Team A’s forwards (who was BEHIND the goalie) ran around the goalie and headed the ball out of the goalie’s hands and onto the ground where he then kicked it into the goal.

Goal or no goal?

The center referee called the goal back on the grounds that heading the ball out of the keeper’s hands was not allowed.

Team A was livid and insisted that HEADING the ball out of the keeper’s hands was a valid technique, not like KICKING the ball out of a goalie’s hands, and that the goal should have stood. The center referee stood by his decision (as he should have).

After the game though, in discussion with his A/R’s, the center ref rethought his decision & now believes that he should have allowed the goal to stand, that there may be some validity to the argument that heading the ball is indeed different from kicking it.

I have read (and reread) the Laws of the Game and agree with the center ref’s initial decision. I can find nothing that would support the premise that heading the ball away from a goalie is allowed, much less from this position. (If he came from BEHIND the goalie, wouldn’t he have been offside?)

Is this correct? Or should he have allowed the goal to stand? If so, why?

USSF answer (April 16, 2008):
Law 12 states quite clearly:
An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player, in the opinion of the referee:
– prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands

The referee’s initial decision was correct. No one is allowed to interfere with the goalkeeper’s ability to put the ball back into play.

The USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” defines goalkeeper possession:

The goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball while bouncing it on the ground or while throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, while throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to strike the ground.  While the ball is in the possession of the ‘keeper, it cannot be lawfully played by an opponent, and any attempt to do so may be punished by a direct free kick.

If it is any consolation to the referee in question, much of the world got this wrong until FIFA finally clarified the interpretation.

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