Several Ways to Mess Up a Throw-In

Stephen, a U13 – U19 fan, asks:

What is the correct restart if a player takes a throw-in incorrectly but the ball touches the ground before entering the field of play? It appears that in the past there was a clause in the interpretations to the Laws that explicitly stated that, in this situation, the throw-in was given to the other team, but that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Could you provide evidence that shows what the correct call is? Thanks.

Answer

It’s always nice to see fans who have a desire to know, and keep up with changes in, the Laws of the Game. Unfortunately, sometimes there are complexities that only Referees (at least most of the time) are aware of even when the language seems pretty clear.  You are partially correct in your basic question.

Specifically, for many years the interpretation of Law 15 (The Throw-in) was that, if the ball hit the ground before it entered the field, it was considered not to have entered the field at all (even if it physically did).  In short, for the ball to be in play, it must enter the field of play and do so without hitting the ground outside the field.  However, that’s all it was — never properly put into play and therefore retaken by the same team (but not necessarily the same player on that team) in the same location as the original throw-in attempt.  Let’s shorten this to “legally put into play.”

On the other hand, and separate from the issue of the ball being properly put into play, Law 15 has several requirements for how (the mechanics) the ball must be put into play — both feet in the ground, at least a part of both feet either on or behind the touch line, ball thrown over the head, taken from within a yard of where the ball left the field, etc.  If a player violates any of these requirements, that can make the throw-in itself illegal even if it is properly put into play by entering the field without making contact with the ground outside the field.  If this happens, the control of the ball is given to the opposing team for a throw-in at the original location (a requirement that is often forgotten or not known, thus leading to the new throw-in frequently being taken from the wrong location … which, surprise!, makes the first retaken throw-in illegal, which leads to ….  well, you get the idea).  Let’s shorten this to “legally thrown.”

So, on a throw-in in years past, the ball can be (a) legally put into play and legally thrown, (b) legally put into play but not legally thrown, (c) not legally put into play and legally thrown, and (d) not legally put into play and not legally thrown.  In (a), the throw is entirely good and play continues but this is not the case with (b) – (d), in each of which the throw-in is not completely good and play must be restarted.  But how and by whom?

In scenario (b) — the throw-in restart is given to the opposing team.  In scenario (c) — the same team is allowed to retake the throw-in.  In scenarios (c) and (d) — the same team was allowed to retake the throw-in because the controlling factor was the correctness of the throw-in itself and it didn’t matter how it failed to legally go into play.  Now it apparently does.

The current language of Law 15 is both clear and specific — there is a difference in who gets the restart if the ball fails to go into play as a result of making contact with the ground outside the field of play and then continuing on to enter the field versus all other possible ways for the ball to have failed to legally go into play (i.e., at no time entering the field regardless of whether or when or how the ball made contact with the ground.  In the case of the “all other possible ways,” the result is the same as in scenario (c) above.  However, now, if the “not legally put into play” is caused by the ball making contact with the ground before entering the field but was legally thrown, the result is that the throw-in is taken by the original team (as in scenario (c).   However, if the ball makes contact with the ground before entering the field and was not legally thrown, the thrown-in restart goes to the opposing team (as in a revised scenario (d).

Frankly,  we are uncertain as to why there should be two versions of how a ball has not legally gone into play or why that should make a difference, but there it is.  Nevertheless, until such time as the International Board states otherwise, Referees are advised to follow the clear wording in Law 15.  Fortunately, we have rarely seen actual throw-ins in which the thrower perfectly executes the throw itself, only to have the ball bounce on the ground and then enter the field.

Speaking of good and bad throw-ins, we are going to exercise our ability to mount a soap box and rant about a related topic.  While the above discussion necessarily was wrapped up in part with illegal throw-ins, we would like to emphasize once again (as we have in prior posts about Law 15) that an illegal throw-in does not necessarily call for a whistle.  Most illegal throw-ins are harmless transgressions (another name for which is “trifling offenses“).  Purists, hardnoses, brand new referees, and the like would gasp at this heresy and that is their right.  But, for the good of the game, plus experience with skilled play,  at least admit (and maybe follow through on it at least occasionally) that pristine throw-ins are about as rare as motionless balls at a free kick because players (and hopefully referees) know that the purpose of these restarts is to get the ball back in play and to do so as quickly as possible.   Except for enforcing the location of the restart as it edges closer to the goal the thrower’s team is attacking, the significance of faults in the performance of a throw-in is vanishingly small.