We have recently come across a situation in a game where an opposing coach and I are not in agreement on a call based upon our prior experiences as well as our interpretation of the laws of the game. I am hopeful you can clarify the situation and provide us with the correct decision. Below, please find a brief description of the incident and our two interpretations.

In the game a couple of weeks ago, a keeper was in the process of punting a ball to her team mates at the top of the penalty area. However, in the process of preparing to punt the ball, she took at least two running steps outside the penalty area while holding the ball. The referee immediately blew his whistle and awarded a direct free kick from the spot of the infraction, which was about one and one half yards outside the penalty area. The kick resulted in a goal scored by one of my players. However, the opposing coach did not agree with the call and felt our team should have been awarded an indirect free kick if any award was to be given for the infraction. The opposing coach felt a warning would have been a more appropriate call since he felt the steps taken by his keeper were not done intentionally. The game continued without any incident but we both felt our interpretation of the laws of the game were correct.

Since the incident occurred in the game, we have both reviewed the laws of the game and come up with different conclusions. We are very interested in finding out the correct decision, but please understand we are not involved in any contentious discussion over the situation now or at the time of the game. I will include both of our interpretations so you can share your thoughts regarding the matter and help educate two soccer coaches.

In my interpretation, I feel a direct free kick is the correct call based upon the laws of the game I have posted below as well as my previous experience with this type of call in prior years. Since the keeper handled the ball outside the box, I feel the laws related to a player handling the ball deliberately is the most relevant law associated with the situation especially since the goalkeeper was outside the penalty area.

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offences:
– handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

A direct free kick is taken from where the offence occurred.

The opposing coach feels first and foremost, the referee should have given the player a warning but if the referee felt compelled to award a free kick, the FIFA rule for an indirect free kick should have applied as follows:
An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player, in the opinion of the referee:
– plays in a dangerous manner
– impedes the progress of an opponent
– prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
– commits any other offence, not previously mentioned in Law 12, for which play is stopped to caution or dismiss a player
The indirect free kick is taken from where the offence occurred.

The opposing coach feels that the word deliberate in the laws related to the four offenses mentioned above means the player handled the ball with “intent” and since the opposing coach felt the player did not intend to gain an advantage, the rules for an indirect kick should apply.

I feel a keeper holding onto a ball is doing so deliberately and consequently should be called for the offense if they step out of the box.

Since we are bound to run into this situation again some time down the road, I would really love to hear the proper ruling regarding the matter. The opposing coach has a wonderful team and our players get along very well together, but we are both interested in seeking the proper ruling. Interestingly, he has asked officials from his town and they support the idea an indirect kick should have been awarded if the referee felt the need to make any call to begin with. I have sought advice from referees and the director of soccer in my town and received confirmation the correct decision was made and a direct kick should have been awarded. I find it amazing we can have so many differences in opinion over the same situation and am very hopeful there is a clear ruling on this matter. I would hate to feel this type of situation is subject to different interpretations to the laws of the game which quite frankly, would make it difficult for any referee to make a call.

Thank you in advance for your help with this matter and I anxiously look forward to hearing back from you.

Answer (October 12, 2007):
Under the Laws of the Game your interpretation is absolutely and indisputably correct: The proper restart would be a direct free kick for the opposing team just outside the penalty area, at the spot where the goalkeeper first deliberately handled the ball outside her own penalty area. So, having stated the facts and feeling very magnanimous, let’s look at the opposing coach’s side as well.

There is some merit in what the other coach says about the “intent” behind the ‘keeper’s infringement and the fact that the referee might have given her a warning to be more careful in the future. And that is something the referee might do, depending on what has been happening in the game up to this point — earlier actions of the goalkeeper, for example. His point about the indirect free kick, however, is a red herring and not apposite here as none of the points under Indirect Free Kick occurred.

While the referee may choose the best solution from among the possibilities available, in this case the only possibility under the Law is direct free kick. (This is clear from the two citations from Law 12, so nothing more need be said on that.) The word “deliberate” would not apply in any case, as the goalkeeper was indeed already DELIBERATELY handling the ball when she left the penalty area; the fact that she (possibly inadvertently) left the penalty area does not change that fact and the referee could punish her for it, as happened in your case. Again, if the referee believed that the goalkeeper’s departure from the penalty area while still deliberately handling the ball was inadvertent or trifling (i. e., it made no difference in the way play ran or continued), then a simple warning after play had next stopped would have been sufficient.

Remember that the “correct” solution is not always the “best” solution. The intelligent referee will know the difference.

Leave a Reply