(Originally published on 10/17/17, “Operation Restore”)
Kaleb, a U13 – U19 player, asks:
Yesterday during my soccer game I was playing goalie. I stopped the ball and started to get up so I could kick the ball up the field. A person from the other team started running full force at me (note, I still had the ball in my hands) so I snapped one arm out in front of my body and the person from the other team hit my arm. The Referee immediately called a penalty on me for using my arm as a weapon. I didn’t swing my arm at him I just put my arm up to protect myself and he hit my arm. I would like to know if putting your arm up to defend yourself is a penalty.
Could be. This is one of those judgment calls for which “you had to be there” in order to get some sense of what the Referee saw — the decision depends on so many variables. We will say that, in general, the picture we get when you said that you “snapped one arm out in front of my body” is the classic football (American football) photo of a pigskin carrier running down field with an arm held out to fend off opponents trying to stop him.
Let’s just admit up front that the job of a goalkeeper is, as one observer noted, marked by “80 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of terror.” In other words, it’s not easy and every goalkeeper walks a thin line in situations like this between trying to stay uninjured and doing their job, a job which often requires the goalkeeper to get into positions on the ground or in the air which are inherently risky. Having had some experience with serving in this position, we also understand that some goalkeepers take advantage of the quick, brief dust-ups that are a normal part of the goalkeeper’s life to respond in ways that are, shall we say, unforgiving of opponents. Opponents, on the other hand, generally are not very forgiving of goalkeepers (except their own, of course) when it comes to a willingness to take their efforts to continue attacking the goal right to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the goalkeeper’s safety.
All that said, it is the job of the Referee in situations involving challenges to or in the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper to remember that the Laws of the Gamer require such challenges to cease immediately once the goalkeeper has control of the ball. “Control of the ball” is marked generally by having both hands on the ball or one hand on the ball against any kind of surface (ground, body, goalpost, etc.). Keeping in mind the need to factor in the age, skill, and experience of the players, Referees should be proactive in safeguarding the goalkeeper where the flow of play appears to include one or more opponents acting recklessly despite the goalkeeper arguably having control of the ball. In your scenario, the Referee should have begun closely monitoring the actions of the opponent who had “started running full force” at you, repositioning to warn the opponent that his behavior was being observed, and even providing a strong verbal caution against violating the Law, all in an attempt to forestall the impending offense. At some point, the apparent intent to interfere by the opponent would warrant a preemptive whistle.
On the other hand, you are not warranted in taking actions which go beyond mere “self protection” — after all, a more effective way to protect yourself in a case like this would be to simply sidestep the onrushing opponent. This often does not appeal to more macho goalkeepers whose mindset is, “it’s his job to avoid me so I will simply stand my ground and maybe get in a bit of mayhem on my own which will probably be ignored or justified by the Referee.”
In short, while we would have preferred to see the Referee in this case act in advance to prevent or stop a rapidly building momentum which, if left unchecked, is only likely to end badly for everyone involved in the likely collision, you had other opportunities besides snapping your arm outward in what could only be termed an aggressive manner. Hence our answer at the beginning of all this — yes, it could be a penalty (i.e., determined to be “striking” and, since it was by a defender within his own penalty area, leading to a penalty kick restart).
Better for all concerned, however, would have been a whistle by the Referee to stop play as the opponent’s run brought him close enough to justify a decision that there was an intent to interfere with the release of the ball into play, resulting in a caution for the opponent for unsporting behavior and an IFK restart for the defending team. Better yet would have been proactive officiating aimed at getting it through the opponent’s head that he needed to stop running at the goalkeeper once control of the ball was established.