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October 2003 Archive

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I was the referee in a fairly hotly contested U19 Boys match recently. A reckless tackle occurred by team A near the center circle, but team B's midfielder was not dispossessed of the ball. Since it looked like a good scoring opportunity may be developing, I shouted "advantage play on", gave the advantage signal and allowed play to continue. I made a mental note to caution the team A player that committed the foul at the next stoppage of play. Team B was not able to score and play continued for a full seven minutes before a natural stoppage of play occurred. By that time all players involved had forgotten the circumstances of the original foul and I ended up not cautioning the team A player. Should I have stopped play to administer the foul after a reasonable length of time had passed without a natural stoppage? Should I have cautioned team A's player anyway after seven minutes had elapsed and taken the time to explain to him why he was being cautioned. I didn't do that because I felt that it would have taken too long to explain to everyone why I was cautioning the player and it would have been counterproductive to the natural flow of the game. I did verbally warn the player to watch his tackles in the future. What was/is the correct procedure?

Answer (October 15, 2003):
There is no time limit on punishing misconduct if the game has not been stopped after the application of advantage. The referee should simply point to the place where the original foul and misconduct occurred and then caution the player for unsporting behavior and show the yellow card.

However, the referee should have made an effort to tell the player some time early during the 7-minute stretch that he will be cautioned during the next stoppage and to say it loud enough that a few others hear it too. Of course, the referee must then follow through as promised, but this way it will not come as a surprise to the player in question.


Team A had posession of the ball, no one was off sides. Team B's goalie tried to come out for the ball and was not able to gain posession of it. Meanwhile team A kept posession of the ball and kicked the ball towards the goal. A defender on team B had her hands above her head, and her hands kept the ball from entering the goal. The referee ruled that it was unintentional and gave team A a penalty kick in front of the goal. The referee also showed the defender whose hands had touched the ball a yellow card. Should that have been a goal as the defender's hands prevented the ball from crossing into the goal, or should it just have been a penalty kick. Also should it be a yellow or a red card. The coach from Team A talked to the referee at halftime, and the referee said it was unintentional.

Answer (October 15, 2003):
This situation is so full of referee and spectator/coach errors as to be almost unbelievable -- but we do believe it.

If the defender's act was "unintentional," then there should have been no call at all, and certainly not a penalty kick. The word "intentional" does not exist in the Laws of the Game, which actually refer to "deliberate" handling by a player. The key to understanding the act is to distinguish between what seems natural and what is contrived. If the player could not move her hand quickly enough to escape the contact between ball and hand (fingertip to shoulder), then there was likely no foul. However, if she left her hand there when it could have been moved, there may well have been a foul.

The referee cannot award a goal if the ball does not cross the goal line between the goal posts and beneath the crossbar. If the referee believed the defender's act to be a foul, then a penalty kick is the only possible restart.

If, by deliberately handling the ball, the defender denied the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, she should be sent off and shown the red card, not cautioned and shown the yellow card.


We recently had a referee meeting where the following scenario came up. Team A is attacking in the penalty area. An attacker for A lofts the ball which as it falls is on a trajectory to land outside the goal mouth. The keeper steps to a position where the ball will land, raises his arms, and awaits the ball. With the ball within a yard of reaching his hands, an attacker legal shoulder charges him, pushing him a foot or two from his position, then cleanly flicks the ball into the back of the net with his head. Was this challenge legal?

In the referee meeting, it was hard to dispute that this was legal yet most officials felt they would call a foul (Spirit of the Game?).

Answer (October 15, 2003):
While the goalkeeper no longer has the former protection granted him in the goal area, he is still protected from illegal charges. This one is hard to answer, as it sounds as if it were a "youhaddabethere" incident. It might have been legal or illegal. Under any circumstances, it would require a lot of courage for the referee to call a legal charge in this case.


If a ball is inches from a keeper's hands and face and an attacker takes a full kick (using maximum force, "knowing" it would likely harm his opponent), hitting the ball first, can there be a misconduct or foul (which one)? Does it matter if the foot naturally follows through and kicks the keeper (after hitting the ball), or the ball does the damage?
My assumption is most would agree that this type of play by the attacker would be likely to harm the keeper - but foul or misconduct?

Answer (October 14, 2003):
The referee is required to punish the result of the _act_ of kicking, not the "intent." In fact, the word "intent" is no longer in the Laws of the Game. If the player kicks or attempt to kick the ball into the goalkeeper's face and, despite the fact that we do not punish "intent," the referee believes there was malice aforethought, the player should be sent off for serious foul play and shown the red card. The same for kicking the 'keeper in the face. Direct free kick, send-off and red card for serious foul play.


Was recently working a U14B premier division game as a center during a tournament. During warmups before the game started, it was apparent that one of the coaches continually yelled at and berated his own players almost constantly. At no time were this coach's comments ever directed at me, my assistants, or the opponents. As a result I took no action against him. I must admit that it bothered me greatly that this coach felt obligated to abuse his own players almost non-stop.

In hindsight, could I have taken action under Law 5 and cited the irresponsible behavior of this coach for conduct bringing disrepect on the game?

Answer (October 13, 2003):
A very interesting question. There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. You, as referee, are certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method you choose would be up to you. One method might involve a quiet word with the coach.

In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.


A match is started with a ball provided by the home team that is the incorrect size for the age group playing, i.e. size 5 vs 4. A goal is scored within the first 5-6 minutes of play by the home team. Prior to the restart, an opposing team coach notices that the ball is too large & brings it to the CR's attention. The CR agrees & requires that the proper size 4 ball be provided. The coach asks that the goal be nullified and the referee refuses. Was this the correct call?

Answer (October 7, 2003):
The goal should be allowed. Although the equipment (ball) was of the incorrect size, both teams had an equal "handicap" in playing it.


When is the game called because of poor visibility? Is this strictly a judgement call by the referee? I have heard that you had to be able to see the opposing goal when standing on the opposite goal line. What is the rule?

Answer (October 6, 2003):
Didn't you know that all referees, once they pass the test, automatically become Superman clones? They can see through anything, so there is no problem with fog or smoke or players' bodies, etc.

Seriously, there is nothing on the books. It is all in the opinion of the referee, based on the need to protect the safety of the players. One rule of thumb that is fairly reliable is this: If the referee, standing near midfield, can't see either goal, it is probably time to call the game.


I've been doing a lot of games this fall. After doing a few games in a row, I've noticed that my ears are ringing from the whistle. In looking around the internet, I found several postings on hearing related issues and hearing protection for referees. The recommendation of several sites, mostly volleyball related, was for the officials to wear ear plugs if they do more than a few games a week.

The University of Maryland Center for Environment Science, Horn Point Laboratory, lists decibel levels of common sounds, including referee whistles -

I love officiating, but I don't want to be hearing impaired from it. Is there anything already published on this topic that I can review? What's the USSF position on hearing protection (ear plugs) for officials? Any recommendations on how to reduce the hearing impact of officiating (using it only as needed to control the game), but still being able to use the whistle as an effective officiating tool? Any recommendations on whistle types that have a lower hearing impact but still get the message across?

Answer (October 6, 2003):
We must admit that the matter of hearing problems in referees has never come up before. We are not familiar with any literature on the topic, nor with any research on the matter.

The U. S. Soccer Federation does not take a position on the matter of referees wearing hearing protection (ear plugs), as long as it does not affect the referee's professional appearance, nor can the Federation make any recommendations on types of whistles or how to reduce the impact of whistles on hearing.

We are, of course, concerned about the health of referees, but the questions you submit are outside our area of competence. However, if the truth were to be known, we wish more referees would close their ears a bit and get on with refereeing.


The AR puts the flag up to indicate a foul in his/her quadrant. The center ref makes eye contact, the AR wiggles the flag to indicate a foul and points in the direction of the free kick. How does the AR indicate whether it's an INDIRECT free kick?

Answer (October 6, 2003):
The process is outlined in the USSF publication "Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials" on pages 11 and 12.

After stopping play for the foul, the referee "confers with assistant referee, if necessary, to confirm the nature of the infringement (keeps field in view while moving to touch line and while conferring)."

There is no "official" signal to indicate an indirect free kick. The referee should be intelligent enough to figure out the foul for himself. If not, then the referee and the assistant referees should agree on a special signal during the pregame discussion.


Can you further illuminate what FIFA is looking for with the concern expressed about blatant holding? A number of questions have come up locally about this topic, and it would be nice to have a few resources to point out.

Holding and Pulling
The International FA Board has expressed its concern at the amount of holding and pulling which is prevalent in football today. It recognised that not every instance of holding and pulling of jerseys and shorts is unsporting behaviour, as is also the case with deliberate handball. It expressed regret, however, that Referees were not applying the Laws fully in dealing with blatant cases of holding and pulling and issued the following Mandatory Instruction for season 2001/2002:

"Referees are instructed that, in the case of blatant holding and pulling, the offence must be sanctioned by a direct free kick, or a penalty kick if the offence is committed inside the penalty area, and the player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour."

Some guidelines on what to look for to label a holding foul as blatant, and thus requiring a caution, would be most appreciated. My dictionary defines it as "offensively conspicuous, obtrusive (undesirably noticeable, unattractively showy), obvious."

Most holding is obvious, or obviously we wouldn't call it, right? So, it must involve something that elevates it above a simple foul. Since holding is one of those fouls which must just happen, no careless, reckless or violence judgment required, how does a referee decide it is now blatant, as opposed to "just" holding?

Answer (October 6, 2003):
Perhaps it is easier to ask the referee (and the players) to consider the difference between deliberately handling a ball or pushing or holding an opponent, simple fouls that anyone can recognize, and the blatant (hyper-obvious) handling or pushing or holding which truly violate the Spirit of the Game and must be punished with a caution and yellow card. But it is sometimes difficult to translate the concept into words. Location of foul and level of play are other important considerations, but there is no checklist for the referee to follow, as in the case of the denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

According to Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition, Unabridged, blatant means "offensively obtrusive; demanding undue or involuntary attention, as by vulgar ostentation or by tasteless or inconsiderate conduct; coarse." Thus "blatant" can be said to mean "beyond obvious and approaching Fourth of July fireworks." An obvious act is not necessarily blatant; it is simply obvious to the observer. The blatant act calls particular attention to itself and thus qualifies as well beyond merely obvious. It has nothing to do with force per se, but with the way in which it goes so far outside the necessary.


The following happened to me last weekend at a youth tournament. The attacking team takes a shot on goal and an obvious handball by the defending team in the PA ensues. Instinctively I blow my whistle for a PK. However, by the time the whistle sounds, the ball is already in the goal. I pointed to the center mark and let the goal stand. No one complained. In fact, no one even noticed, presumably because many referees (I am not one of them) blow their whistle upon a goal being scored. My question: did I act correctly under the circumstance or should I have "enforced" my own initial decision (PK), keeping in mind the rule that the game stops when the referee intends to blow the whistle, not when it actually sounds. On the other hand, could one argue that enforcing my decision would only have compounded my earlier mistake of too quick a whistle (instead of letting advantage develop)? Should the fact that no one noticed my mistake have affected my decision to count the goal from a "common sense" perspective (i.e., let sleeping dogs lie)?

Answer (October 5, 2003):The referee's power to display a red card and send off a player who should have been sent off is indisputable. In this case ATR 5.14 would apply (see below) and the red card may be shown and the player sent from the field even if play has been (incorrectly) restarted.

If the referee awards a restart for the wrong team and realizes his mistake before the restart is taken, then the restart may be corrected even though the decision was announced after the restart took place. This is based on the established principle that the referee's initial decision takes precedence over subsequent action. The visual and verbal announcement of the decision after the restart has already occurred is well within the Spirit of the Law, provided the decision was made before the restart took place.

Referees must remember that play is stopped when the referee makes a decision, not when the decision is announced, and the referee can call back ANY restart if he/she has already decided to hold up the restart in order to give a red card. The referee must include full details in the match report. (Next time you might want to remember that if you have blown the whistle prior to the ball entering the goal, then there has been no goal.)


What do you do if the ball squeezes between two players on opposite teams shoes and goes out??

Answer (August 26, 2003):
You make a decision -- and then you sell it!


At the high school level, if a player receives a red card, they are removed from the field and out of the game, can they be replaced on the field? or does the team have to play man down the rest of the game? If a team receives two red card on the same call are both players removed and the team must play two men down?

Answer (October 2, 2003):
National Federation (high school) rules are the same as for FIFA on this subject (with a couple of exceptions). The basic answer is, yes, the team must play down for each red card received by a player. The two major exceptions are, first, playing down is not required in high school if the red card is received during the halftime break and, second, playing down is not required in high school if the reason for the red card falls into a category commonly referred to as "soft red" offenses (Rule 12-8-2) -- taunting, excessive celebration of a goal, or having received two cautions.

Please note that this site can only offer personal and unofficial guidance on matters which do not come under The Laws of the Game. For authoritative answers to questions about National Federation rules, you should address your query to your state interpreter.


I've always heard that a ref's decisions should take into account whether it will affect the final outcome of the game, but I cannot find any reference to this anywhere except for a brief mention in the instruction materials, of avoiding undue interference - is there any specific instruction about this topic? I can't find anything in the LOTG or position papers, so I'm wondering if this is just extemporaneous on the part of those who've expounded this philosophy?

Answer (September 30, 2003):
You will find as you go through life those who pay no attention to the rules of the game they are engaged in, whether as players and referees, colleagues in the office, boss and employee, or members of the same family. These people make up their own rules to suit their current need. As you have learned in your research, there is no such requirement in the Laws of the Game, in the position papers from the U. S. Soccer Federation, or in anything published by FIFA. Why would that be?

Every call the referee makes affects the final outcome of the game. Everything the players do affects the final outcome of the game. The weather and the condition of the field affect the final outcome of the game. We are human beings, subject to human whims and failings. We make mistakes -- even coaches make mistakes, but you will not get them to admit it.

The referee should call the game in accordance with the Laws of the Game and the players should play it the same way. If a player infringes upon the Law, then he or she -- and therefore the team -- must be punished. Lex dura sed lex -- the law is hard but it is the law. Everything that happens from kick-off to the last whistle affects the final outcome of the game.

Don't let the "philosophers" ruin your game.


There is a debate about the keeper handling and the correct restart. If the keeper, while in possession of the ball, crosses over the penalty area line and takes the ball with him/her in order to punt the ball away. What is the correct restart if the official signals for handling?

Answer (September 29, 2003):
The correct answer, if the referee believes the act to be a foul, is to restart with a direct free kick. In most cases, the intelligent referee will take a moment and warn the goalkeeper on the first occurrence. Then, if it happens again, the referee will apply the Law as written.

It would be well to reference an answer given here back in April: The referee need consider only this: Was there an offense? Could it have been called? Should it be called if, in the opinion of the referee, the infraction was doubtful or trifling? No.

The intelligent referee's action: If the goalkeeper's actions had no obvious effect on play and were accepted by both teams, consider the infringement to have been trifling and let it go. If it was not trifling, punish it.

Trifling is trifling when the result of the action makes absolutely no difference to the game. Or, in other words, when the result is to get the ball back into play, the Law has been served and what comes after that is just part of the game.

Doubtful means it probably wasn't a foul at all, but people reacted and started asking for the doubtful "foul" to be called.

The "severity" of the infringement is not the issue; the issue is what effect did it have. The intelligent referee's action: If the infringement had no obvious effect on play, consider the infringement to have been trifling and let it go. If it was not trifling, punish it.


I know the sanctions in Law 12 regarding a player and goalkeeper changing places without notifiying the referee, and have read your explanation. However, a question came up today that I was unable to find the answer to. What if two players change uniforms, either during the game or at halftime, without informing the referee?

Is this a breach of the Laws, if so which one? What course of action should the referee take (if any) if this unannounced switch is made?

Answer (September 29, 2003):
While player numbers are not required by the Laws of the Game, they are required by most competitions in which players participate. Numbers are meant to provide an identifying symbol so that referees and administrators know which player is which. Obviously, they are also used by opposing players to identify which opponent is the one to mark more closely. Because the numbers are supposed to be confined to the player to whom they were originally issued, changing uniforms at halftime or during the game is considered to constitute that form of misconduct known as "bringing the game into disrepute." Players who do this should be cautioned for unsporting behavior and shown the yellow card. (But please check the local rules of competition to be safe. In the absence of such a rule, neither opponents nor the referee should count on a number attaching irrevocably to a player. Indeed, they could just as easily have no numbers at all!)

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff/National Assessor), assisted by Dan Heldman (National Instructor Staff), for their assistance in providing this service.

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