I am a fairly new referee (since July 2007), but I have worked and enjoyed about 100 matches this year in youth select soccer. I have been coaching soccer for about 6 years, but I was never actually a soccer player, which has left me with a few holes in my soccer knowledge at times.

I was a center referee on an 11 year old premiere level boys game recently and I would like some clarification about the goalie position in regards to the laws of the game.

Please note that I had previously spoken with a goalie coach who had told me that the goalie was not considered to have control of the ball until he had pulled the ball into his body or until his hand (or hands) were on the ball and the ball was between the goalie’s hand and the ground. I am not sure if this information was correct or not.

In my game situation, the ball had been kicked towards the goalie by an attacker and the goalie was jumping for the ball in the goal box. Another attacker had entered the goal area and was following the trajectory of the chipped ball. Just prior to the goalie making contact with his hands; the attacker headed the ball and subsequently ran into the goalie while scoring a goal. The goalie was not injured on the play and I awarded a goal. The goalie’s coach became very upset and began screaming at the midline that I had not protected his goalie, until I finally warned him that he was showing dissent. The coach quieted down after that, but his body language made it quite obvious that he was very angry.

I am assuming that I made the correct decision, and my AR’s, who were experienced referees, stated that they believed that my call was the correct one, but I want to add some additional questions to this scenario because this is an area that I feel a bit unsure about. I am assuming that the collision between the goalie and the attacker was legal as this was an obvious goal scoring opportunity and I don’t believe that either player was attempting to do anything but play the ball.

1.) Assuming the ball would have struck the goalie’s outstretched hands in the air prior to the attacker arriving – would it had then been appropriate for me to call a penal foul?

2.) Assuming the ball was headed into the goalie’s hands and then rolled into the goal with a collision between the players still occurring – would this had also been an instance appropriate for a penal foul?

I understand that we as referees have a duty to ensure each player’s safety, but I don’t want to stifle or take away what would otherwise be deemed a fair challenge.

Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

USSF answer (October 2, 2008):
Just so you and the coach both know what is correct, here is the guidance we give to all referees, taken from the 2008 edition of the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball when the ball is held with both hands, held by trapping the ball between one hand and any surface (e.g., the ground, a goalpost, the goalkeeper’s body), or holding the ball in the outstretched open palm. Once established, possession is maintained, when the ball is held as described above, while bouncing the ball on the ground or throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, after throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to hit the ground. For purposes of determining goalkeeper possession, the “handling” includes contact with any part of the goalkeeper’s arm from the fingertips to the shoulder.

While the ball is in the possession of the goalkeeper, it may not be challenged for or played by an opponent in any manner. An opponent who attempts to challenge for a ball in the possession of the goalkeeper may be considered to have committed a direct free kick foul. However, a ball which is only being controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than the hands is open to otherwise legal challenges by an opponent. The referee should consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and err on the side of safety.

1. No, not if it was clear that both were playing or attempting to play the ball.

2. No. See 1.

All players are entitled to the same protection under the Laws of the Game. The goalkeeper has no right to special protection. The goalkeeper’s role is, by the very requirements of that role, inherently dangerous. Goalkeeper’s know this going in and most operate accordingly.

The coach’s outburst was, as you note, an expression of emotion, but without foundation in the Laws. (And coaches all work to exert influence on your calls, so we might suggest that there might also have been that factor at work.)

Note: We regret and apologize that we have lost the email address of the person who sent this question.

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