A common issue continues to come up in games. The issue revolves around the ceremonial restart after a foul is called. The common misperception is that the defense has the right to a whistle by the referee prior to restart if they choose to build a wall. Furthermore, it is the understanding of most players, that if one of them stands in front of the ball so as to require the referee to tell him to move. That this automatically gives them a dead ball situation and ample time to set the wall.

There are 3 reasons for a signal required before a free kick restart, if my understanding is correct:
1. If a card is issued
2. If an injury has taken place
3. If the OFFENSE request a wall relocation.

Otherwise it is the offense’s right to put the ball back in play immediately. As a referee I am aware of this, and there have been numerous discussions about this at meetings and clinics and the logical position is that the defense should not gain an advantage by commiting a foul. Problem is that the players never see this info and TV games further confuse the matter, in that pro players know how to get a signal restart, and the announcers rarely infuse it in their commentary, thus creating the impression a whistle is required any time there is a wall situation. Could you please confirm/elaborate on this issue briefly for us so we can make the info available to Team representatives.

USSF answer (December 7, 2007):
You will find all anyone, even players and coaches, could possibly care to know about this matter in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” which you may purchase (or view online) at The pertinent portions of the Advice are 13.1-13.4. Thousands of other referees have taken advantage of this opportunity. Your group could be next.

Normally, we instruct referees to allow the kicking team to take the kick quickly, if they wish, without interfering with it. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the defenders are too close to the kick, he or she should avoid playing into the defenders’ hands and becoming an unwitting player on their team — the referee has done the work of the defense by delaying the restart of play and has not made the defenders pay any price for this benefit. Once the referee has decided to step in to deal with opponents who are too close to the kick, the threshold for a caution has been met.

The defending team has only two rights at a free kick:

(1) The right to retire immediately a minimum of ten yards away until the ball is in play, i. e., is kicked and moves. Any player who fails to do so runs the risk of being cautioned and shown the yellow card for failure to respect the required distance at a free kick, no matter what they may see in professional games.
(2) The right not to be diverted by the referee interfering with the action in other than a ceremonial free kick situation. This is what the referee is doing when he or she starts talking with the opponents — even if saying nothing more than to back away — or, worse, when the referee is actively engaged in being “the first brick in the wall” while still allowing the kicking team to kick whenever it wishes. The Advice lays out a fairly simple set of rules — keep your mouth shut, unless you have to or are asked to step in — in which case the free kick automatically becomes a ceremonial restart and the first thing out of the referee’s mouth had better be an admonition to everyone that the free kick cannot now be taken without a signal by the referee. The kicking team has rights too: the right to a “free” kick, free of interference from the opponents and, if they wish to take the kick quickly, free from the interference of the referee. The referee cannot abdicate the responsibility to ensure that the free kick is indeed “free.”

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