Rich, a U-12 and under coach, asks:
I coach a U12 boys team, and experienced a peculiar incident with a referee this past Saturday at one of our games. We were winning the game 2-1 and, within the last 10 minutes, our team committed an indirect free kick offense within the goal area.
What was peculiar is that the referee immediately directed the attacking team to place the ball on the goal line and raised his arm, all within seconds, and two attacking players that were directly in the area initiated a kick-pass and solid shot on goal, and subsequently scored. There was no time given for our goalie to prepare, nor any time whatsoever for our defense to establish protective positioning. My concern and following question is this. We are dealing with U12 boys and the safety of the our goalie was my first concern as he was not even looking towards the kick when it was made and, secondly, is there not a rule that puts responsibility on the ref to give the defending team at least adequate time to prepare and/or the right of the defensive team, especially the goalie , to acknowledge preparedness? Although the goalie did not get injured, it could have ended with a much different result. This all seemed very unsafe and unfair for these boys.
We regret to inform you that the Referee’s mechanics and procedures, as described, were 100% correct and far from being “peculiar.” The call itself was correct (which you acknowledged), the placement of the ball was correct, and the signal for the restart was correct. What you are questioning (the quick restart) is also correct. Indeed, it is entirely consistent not only with the letter but also the spirit of the Law.
Every restart performed by a player with the exception of the kick-off and the penalty kick is, and is intended by the Laws of the Game to be, taken as soon as the attacking team meets two conditions: the ball is properly placed and stationary. Being the party aggrieved by an offense that was committed against them, they have the right to take the restart with no delay — even foregoing such ordinary requirements placed on the defending team as “respecting the required distance.” Here (and we are only theorizing), the attackers exercised their legal right to take advantage of the confusion and disarray of their opponents by restarting play when the necessary conditions were met (stationary ball on the goal area line). It was a gamble on their part that the likelihood of scoring (keeping in mind that it was an IFK restart) was greater if they did it quickly despite the increased risk of the ball being intercepted by nearby opponents. They certainly would not be better off by waiting for all the things you wanted your team to be able to do — delay the kick, give us time to regroup, get more of our players between the goal entrance and the location of the kick, and get our goalkeeper primed and ready to defend.
We understand your frustration. We would feel it also under the same circumstances but with one exception: we would know there was nothing we could do about it and that we were the ones that set up this scenario by committing the offense in the first place. With very few and rare exceptions, a team which commits an offense resulting in a free kick restart has no rights … and certainly no right to detract from the Law’s award of the ball to the offended party. Indeed, almost any attempt to interfere with or delay the attacking team’s right to a quick restart would be a cautionable offense.
There is nothing in the Laws of the Game contrary to this nor is there any expectation that the age of the players would affect this basic principle. The only time a safety issue might be invoked is if a player had been seriously injured and the Referee was obligated to hold the restart until the injury was properly dealt with (not wishing to leave the impression that this might be a good strategy, we remind everyone that a faked injury is also a cautionable offense). It is one of the core tenets in training referees that they should do nothing to cause a delay in taking throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, or free kicks unless there is a clear, legal, and compelling reason to step in with an order to “Wait!”