Common Sense
The Memories & Spirit of the Game, as only Ken Aston could teach it...
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-= LAW - 18 - COMMON SENSE =-
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The aim of this page is to learn about the most important law...Law 18 - COMMON SENSE
1. Introduction:

2. Spirit of the Game:   +- Spirit of the Game -+

3. A few Examples of…Common Sense:   +- Common Sense -+

4. Questions & Answers:   +- Questions & Answers -+

Spirit of the Game
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1. Introduction:

Being successful in the Football (Soccer) Refereeing exam is the easy bit. Refereeing is a life-long on-the-job training course, with constantly changing Laws, interpretations and man-management techniques to learn and utilize. The perfect Referee has yet to be found. Law 18 - Common Sense is the framework that holds all of the other Laws together. It allows both the Referee and Football (Soccer), to retain their human characteristics. The unwritten Law 18 is the most important of all the Laws; it overrides, modifies and controls all the others. Referees interpret and apply the Laws to ensure that the decisions they make, do not override the 'spirit of the game'. Law 18 - Common Sense, and the 'spirit of the game' are an integral part of the football, without them Football would not be the game that it is.

To be a good Referee, you must be able to isolate yourself from the crowd and the constant moaning players when you make a decision. If you cannot do this, then you will struggle as a Referee. Each situation that a Referee judges, must be made as if it is the first decision that he has made in the match. Referees must not carry any baggage from the past.

"Every Referee should have good eyes and bad ears!"

The uncertainty of the game-action and interpretation of incidents, is a key part of making football the exciting game that it is - and long may it remain so. Over the past 10 years, football authorities have endeavored to make the game safer for players and more enjoyable for spectators. Referees have a greater responsibility to make every decision as correct as humanly possible. The commercialism that has inevitably crept into the game, has left the poor Referee in an unenviable position - a decision made in a split-second could have a most devastating effect on the finances of a professional football club; or even a Sunday morning team fighting for promotion or fighting against relegation. Common Sense used fairly, honestly and correctly, is the greatest difference between a good Referee and a bad Referee. It is a quality, which thankfully most of us have naturally.

"Most football is now played for gain rather than pleasure"

Common Sense used during a Refereeing career is built up from experience gained within football, (whether it is by watching or participating), and by experience picked up during actual games Refereed. In general, a Referee will have the support of colleagues and Referees' Societies during his initial baptism of fire. If he is lucky, the new Referee will have an experienced Referee mentor to guide him through his early years. A great deal of experience will be gleaned from experienced officials, and the new Referee will gain a great deal more experience, as the number of games he officiates increases. It is virtually impossible to provide a definitive guide for Law -18 Common Sense, and you will not find any official Law information covering this subject. The advice expressed on these pages are a personal view, that I hope will go some way to help the newcomer understand that an individual's personality and style, is just as important as learning the Laws inside out. The advice on this page is aimed at (what I would call) the 'normal' Referee. In other words, the 99 per cent of us who officiate at the lower levels - the ones that do not have the luxury of paid hotel rooms and free transport and experienced mentors to guide us etc..... Referees at the very top level have almost been sanitized, by being asked to act less subjectively. They have been monitored, trained, cajoled, molded, and turned into efficient (almost robotic) machines controlled by their FA mentors. All done to minimize and remove (or lessen) the potential for making wrong decisions. This is obviously driven by the importance of commercialism in football at the top level. Don't get me wrong, I have full admiration for the top officials, they are under extreme pressure; and they have all been through the treadmill of officiating at the lower levels - but the element of common-sense has been lessened by the demands of business. Professional Referees are now entering the game. Albeit that this will increase the efficiency of the top Referees, it will widen the gap to the rest of us. It is a shame in a way, that most football is now played for gain rather than pleasure. It's important that Referees apply Law 18 Common Sense, conscientiously and consistently, if not always as a group.
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2. Spirit of the Game:

This is an important integral part of the game, it is so important, that the Referee will use it to override and temper the written Laws themselves. There is no 'Spirit of the Game' Laws, neither will you find much instructional material on this subject. Nevertheless, it is, and always has been, an integral part of Football that all (or at least most) participants in this sport seem to naturally learn and accept. Football is meant to be played in a fair and 'gentlemanly' fashion. The 'gentlemanly' manner has all but disappeared - but thankfully, there are elements of it that still remain. For example, when a player is injured, if the opposition has possession of the ball, they will invariably and purposefully kick the ball out for a throw-in, to enable the injured player to receive immediate treatment. Another example that happened to me some years back during a 6-a-side competition. The rules dictated that the goalkeeper was not allowed to handle the ball outside his goal area - else a penalty had to be awarded. When, I penalized a goalkeeper for doing this in one of the very first games, the penalty taker just passed the ball back to the goalkeeper from the penalty spot. This was done because the goalkeeper obviously did not know the proper Laws for that particular tournament, and the penalty taker proved to be sympathetic. It is this ethos that has almost disappeared from the game.

"The Referee is just there to ensure fair play, he is not an actual player!"

Referees will have to judge for themselves exactly what action contravenes 'the spirit of the game'. This will be based on the Referee's own experience and conception of how football should be played. Football should be played as it has evolved over the many years. The Referees' role is to apply the Laws of the Game in a flexible and proper way, and to be the mediator between player disputes. The Laws of the Game are not a strict edict to be followed to 'the letter of the Law'. They are provided as a recognized framework to be used along with Common Sense - providing a controllable environment for this beautiful game. The Referee is not just a 'policeman' who blows his whistle every time one of the Laws is violated - he is (thankfully) allowed to interpret each situation sensibly - this ensures that the game 'flows' properly, and is not interspersed with numerous stops and starts due to minor Law infringements. It also allows for the individual player and Referee characters to blossom, thus adding to the enjoyment of all.

Common Sense ensures that an element of natural justice is used - the game must be allowed to flow with the minimum number of interruptions, but without the Referee losing full control. After all, Football is about the players, and they should be allowed to determine the outcome of the match - the Referee is just there to ensure fair play, he is not an actual player!

It is important for Referees to understand the history of Football, and to participate themselves in the 'spirit of the Game'. If the Referee blew his whistle every time that one of the Laws was infringed, then the game would have died many years ago. Players and spectators become very frustrated when play is not allowed to flow. To stop a game for every offence committed, would only serve to be nothing more than a protracted and frustrating series of restarts. Good Referees are able to maintain complete control of a match whilst allowing the players plenty of leeway to keep the game flowing.

That is not to say that the Referee will sometimes need to use this 'stop all infringements' type tactic to control a game that is deteriorating. For instance - if two teams are more interested in kicking 'lumps' out of each other, the Referee is advised to blow for every infringement (no matter how small). This enables the Referee to regain full control of the game. It also prevents further escalation between players. As soon as the players realize that the Referee will stand no nonsense, they quickly start to behave themselves (sometimes). Football has a long traditional pedigree that distinguishes it from any other sport. Referees often need to temper their Law judgments with a simple application of Common Sense. Football is played at all age levels and experience levels. Young players (and older players) can very often commit minor fouls inadvertently through their own clumsiness or their own lack of football skill. Experienced players will very often use 'gamesmanship' to try and win a game. Referees will need to judge just when, or if to penalize such offences. The seriousness of an offence must also be considered, before the Referee stops play for an infringement of the Laws. Every game is different, and the players, managers, and even the spectators will need to adjust to the Referees interpretation on how he wishes to control the game dependent on the attitude of the players. This difference between each game, (and you could describe it as uncertainty) adds to the enjoyment of everyone involved with Football. The Referee has a great deal of 'power' when officiating. This control of 'power' is one of the reasons why Referees enjoy their vocation. To have full control over 22 players, substitutes, Assistant Referees, managers, officials and even sometimes spectators, is an awesome power that can sometimes thrill, and can sometimes paradoxically frighten.

At the top level, players and managers are not supposed to speak out of turn about the performances of the officials. Doing so, can result in heavy financial fines, bans and even point(s) deduction being imposed.

An English top manager once said:

"A massive touch-line ban would be a big negative on behalf of the commission. I would like to think that a Common Sense attitude would prevail". By the commission, he meant his employers and the FA!

Reactions will always be a part of football - the high passion and high rewards will inevitably produce spilling emotions; after all, we are only human. The Referee should always apply a modicum of Common Sense when dealing with irate personalities. Of course, this must be finely balanced with the need to take appropriate action for aggressive instances that merit proper disciplinary action. You have probably heard mentioned, "Every Referee has their own tolerance level" and will only react when this level has been breached. Luckily, the Laws are fairly straightforward concerning abuse - the Referee has the option of either instantly disciplining an offender, or he may decide to use Common Sense and a strong warning instead. In other words, the Laws allow the Referee to make that judgment.

"To have full control over 22 players, substitutes, Assistant Referees, managers,
officials and even sometimes spectators, is an awesome power that can sometimes thrill,
and can sometimes paradoxically frighten."

Most Referees love football (what other reason could there be for facing abuse in almost every game) they love officiating in the sport. Some Referees always put the players' first, they actually 'like' the players and are willing to talk with them throughout the game, as a method of controlling the match. These Referees have an ability to calm players down in heated situations, and sometimes even before heated situations occur. Interacting with players has a calming effect that experienced Referees can manipulate to their advantage.

"Preventing incidents happening? - Where is that written in the Laws?" Law 18 of course!

These efficient Referees can almost sense danger, and by remaining calm, they impart a relaxed attitude onto the players. They rely on an abundance of Common Sense, as opposed to adhering strictly to the Laws - they seldom use their cards. The trick here is to prevent, rather than punish. Common Sense is a very good tool for those who know how to get the best from it. Conversely, some Referees use little or no common sense, and plenty of cards. It is a matter of personalities, whether one system is better that the other. I would advocate that a mixture of the two would probably be the best solution. Referees, who are too lenient with their cards, do get themselves a bad 'name' for being a 'push-over' - some players can manipulate this weakness to their team’s benefit. On the other hand, Referees who are renown for 'carding' every misdemeanor are not very well liked by players. This attitude can spoil the on-field relationship and interaction between players and officials. Notwithstanding this, for example, in a match between two warring teams, it does not pay to try and be too friendly - you must be strict, both with your verbal instructions to players and with your cards. I suppose the ultimate Referee will continually adjust within each game, along the full spectrum of 'being the players best mate' to ' carding just about everything that moves on the field of play'.
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3. A few Examples of Common Sense:

Friendly pre-season matches.

A Referee officiating in pre-season friendly matches is 'betwixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea'. Friendly matches are a way for both the Referees and the teams to ease their way back to fitness before the season starts. Many local Referees have been praised for not sending-off players for offences that would have normally merited a 'Red' card. In such cases, the Referee will have already spoken to both the managers before the game. If the Referee feels that a player should not remain on the field of play (for whatever reason), the Referee need only glance at the manager, who should then immediately substitute his player from the field of play. The removed player should not be allowed to return. This is a very controversial way of disciplining players, and will not be everyone's 'cup of tea. But it is a method of Common Sense used by some Referees during pre-season friendly matches. You will of course note that incidents of violent conduct such as fighting or head butting must be acted on properly, by the punishment of a 'Red' card and appropriate disciplinary report to the authorities. Common Sense comes into its own during the officiating of friendly matches. Cautions are rarely given - the punishment can be for the manager to remove the offending player from play for about 15 minutes, by putting on a replacement substitute. The number of substitutes allowed is usually unlimited - with substituted players being allowed to return into the action later in the game. This allows the manager to give as many of his players a chance to experience some game action before the season starts. It also allows the manager to assess any new players. There are many more facets to how a Referee can use Common Sense in a friendly game; I have mentioned just a few. The Referee, who does not use Common Sense on such occasions, will not be asked back to officiate next season! This may be controversial - but it is the real world.

"The referee seemed to be making up a few new rules as he went along, but it showed a lot of Common Sense.
You don't want to see players suspended from friendly games."

"I suppose they could all have been sent off in a proper match,
so I have no problems with the way the Referee handled the situation."

"The referee was outstanding and not just because he did not give us any bookings.
He smiled during the game, showed Common Sense and was a
Referee who was part of the game rather than the focus of the play."

"(True comments after pre-season friendly matches played at the top level in England.)"

No other sport allows its officials such wide latitude in determining whether an offence has been committed. If it has had a significant impact on play, how it should be addressed? Should play be allowed to continue, even though a Law has been breached? The Laws of the Game are there to give Referees a basis on which to make their final decisions.

The Laws of football are so simple to write, yet so complicated to enforce. There's so much nuance and judgment. This in stark contrast with baseball, in which the rulebook is quite long and complex, but can be enforced directly with little additional judgment. Then there's American football, for which the rules are even more complex, and also require a significant amount of interpretation and judgment on the part of the officials. That's why they have about 8 of them, and they still miss a bunch of calls.

But that's another story.

"The 'Opinion of the Referee' IS THE LAW........ The Law on its own is not the Law!!!"

Celebrating after a goal is scored.

In 1996, FIFA recognized that a reasonable celebration should be allowed after a goal is scored. At the lower levels of Football, celebrations are part of the game, and enjoyed by all. The Referee must make a concerted effort to control excessive celebration. Referees should not intervene when a reasonable celebration is taking place; for example when it is done quickly and without time wasting, or when it is done without the purpose of demeaning the opposing team or the spectators. Referees do not wish to be seen as 'Killjoys'. The scoring of a goal can be a very emotional moment, and celebration is just an automatic reaction - I know, because I've done it myself on many occasions as a player - you just can't help it. It is not done with the intention to cheat, waste time or to incite the crowd - that's just the way it is.

The recent practice at higher levels (and on TV), of exaggerated, and choreographed celebration, could be seen as either unsporting behavior, or a tactical ploy to delay the restart of the game. A good Referee will quickly intervene when excessive celebrations take place, thus minimizing the need to discipline players. Preventative action is yet another example of Common Sense used by the Referee. But any excessive time wasting tactics done with the sole aim of wasting time, should be penalized accordingly. The Referee should not be a 'killjoy' by penalizing simple bouts of enjoyment. Because football / soccer is about enjoyment.

Referees should of course, caution players who make provocative gestures that are derisory or inflammatory, or when they incite the crowd by there celebratory actions. The Referee should use Law 18 - Common Sense when dealing with the celebration of a goal. Players who run off the field of play to celebrate, should return quickly back into the field. The Referee should not unduly punish a player who by his momentum, runs behind the goal post after scoring a goal, runs around the back of the goal net, and then quickly returns to the field of play. Leaving the field to celebrate a goal is therefore, not deemed to be an automatic caution. In such cases, the Referee should again use their discretion and Common Sense, and not resort to cautioning a player too quickly.

(Season 2001/2002): The FA Board has now recognized that the celebration of a goal was an important and emotional part of football and relaxed the earlier statement in FIFA Circular 579 of 23 January 1996 that any player removing the jersey while celebrating a goal should be cautioned. Players will no longer be cautioned if they remove their shirt but they will be cautioned for unsporting behavior if their celebrations are provocative and intended to incite or ridicule opponents or opposing spectators. Players guilty of excessive time wasting while celebrating a goal will also be cautioned.

"Some Referees have more Common-Sense than others."

Pitch Inspection:

I'm not going to explain the ins-and-outs of how a Referee should inspect the field of play before each game - but just to explain how Common Sense is also a part of the pre-game action. Many football / soccer pitches are managed by Local Organizations. Those Organizations have a responsibility to ensure that the fields are fit for play, but the Referee makes the final decision whether a pitch is safe or not. Most Organizations accept that the Referee will inevitably decide. (For detailed advice on Field of Play Inspection, see the Law 1 page).

+- Law 1 -+ covers the Field of Play - the Referee uses his Common Sense when allowing a game to proceed on a field of play that is not 100 per cent as defined in Law 1. For example, in the local Sunday morning leagues, a large number of the grounds are in countryside villages, or just somewhere out in the 'wilds'. Invariably, some of the line markings might not be as clear as they should be. Or someone has forgotten to mark out the semi-circle, and there is no white-line marking machine available. Referees will use their Common Sense. Let's be honest, if you (the Referee) have traveled some 30 miles on a cold Sunday morning, and all the players are changed and waiting for you on the field of play, would you cancel the game because someone forgot to mark out the penalty spots. I wouldn't, but I know some Referees who would - some Referees have more Common Sense than others.

Matching Shirt Tops:

Most competition rules' state which team should change their kit if there is a clash of colors. Most teams at park level do not HAVE a change of jerseys!. Common Sense should be used when deciding which team should change. If the competition rules state that the Home team must change, but the Home team do not have a change of jerseys, (BUT the Away team does have a change of kit), then obviously, the Referee should ask the Away team if it would mind changing. At the very worst, one team could turn their jerseys inside out; this very often serves the same purpose. Players will generally be happy to oblige where they can - because it is difficult for them to discern colleagues when both teams have similar colored tops.

Of course, the Referee and his Assistant Referees should aim to wear shirts of a similar color and style. This is important, as it establishes initial credibility for them as a team, and it also demonstrates their kinship and separates them from other players on the field of play.

(See +- Law 4 -+ for Players' Equipment).

Throwing in the towel!

It has also been sometimes noticed, that when a team has a player who is capable of throwing the ball a large distance, strategic towels are placed around the field of play, to enable this throwing player to dry his hands and gain extra purchase to enable the ball to be thrown further into the penalty area during wet weather. I see this as an unfair advantage, and against the spirit of the game.

Burst ball, in play or out of play?

Question: If the ball is bursts on its way towards the goal whilst a player is taking a penalty kick, what action should the Referee take?

Answer: Law 2 (The Ball) states that 'If the ball bursts or becomes defective during the course of a match - the match is stopped - the match is restarted by dropping the replacement ball at the place where the ball became defective. (If the ball was out of play when damaged, restart as normal e.g. goal kick, throw-in etc..... )'

During the taking of a penalty kick, the ball becomes 'in-play' as soon as it is touched and moves forward. In this example, the ball was on its way, and therefore 'in-play'. The correct restart by 'the letter of the Law' should be a dropped ball at the place where the ball became defective during the taking of the penalty kick. But in my opinion....

If the ball bursts on impact without actually moving forward, then the ball is NOT in-play - Law 2 (The Ball) states 'If the ball bursts or becomes defective whilst not in play at a kick-off, goal kick, corner kick, free kick, penalty kick or throw-in: the match is restarted accordingly.'

It would be very difficult for the Referee to identify exactly when a ball bursts. Did it burst immediately after it has been kicked or did the impact of the kick itself burst the ball?

In my opinion, it is best to give the benefit of the doubt to the kicker, and retake the penalty kick. The fact that the impact of the boot on the ball is almost certainly the catalyst for making the ball burst. The fact that the ball bursts immediately, or just after not irrelevant. The moment of impact occurs 'out-of' play, and therefore, the kick should be retaken.

If the ball hits the goal post or crossbar, bounces back into the field of play and then bursts, the restart should be a drop ball at the place where the ball burst, or if following the rebound, the ball bursts in the goal area, the dropped ball should be taken place on the goal area line parallel to the goal line, at the point nearest to where the ball burst. In this instance, it was the crossbar and not the kicker that was the catalyst in making the ball burst 'whilst it was in-play' after the penalty kick had been taken.

If the ball burst when it hits the crossbar or one of the goal posts:

(a) The Referee should stop the game, asks for another ball and restart the game by dropping the ball,
(b) If the penalty-kick is being taken in additional time (see +- Law 7 -+) and the ball strikes the goal-post and/or cross-bar and bursts, the game ends. (FIFA)
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4. Questions and Answers:

Question 1: During the taking of kicks from the penalty mark, to decide the outcome of a drawn match, a penalty taker who is just placing the ball on the mark before taking his kick, is seen to be NOT wearing his shin guards. The Referee either did not see this or he just ignored the fact. It was then noticed that some of the kicker's colleagues had also discarded their shin guards in the center circle. What action should the Referee take? Should he caution every player who takes a penalty kick without wearing his or her shin guards? After all, Laws 4 states that players must wear shin guards covered by stockings.

Answer 1: The Referee would be in his rights to caution the player before he takes the kick, and to ask him to put his shin guards back on properly. This would ensure that his colleagues 'get the message' and follow suit. If the player takes the penalty, and a goal is scored. The Referee could ask the player to take the kick again - because the player has infringed Law 4. The Penalty Kick Law 14 states that "The player taking the penalty kick infringes the Laws of the Game... the referee allows the kick to proceed......if the ball enters the goal, the kick is retaken. The Referee could also ask the player to leave the field of play to correct their attire, and allow re-entry during the next stoppage! BUT the players taking the penalty kick are supposed to remain on the field of play!

Phew.... let's have a bit of Common Sense here. At the very top levels of football, one would hope that the players and managers know how to behave themselves properly, and that this situation should never happen. At the lower level, where most of the Referees officiate - GET REAL.... The NOT wearing of shin guards during the taking of penalty kicks from the penalty mark will have no effect at all. NO!, no effect at all. Let them get on with it - after all, the Law 4 stipulation about wearing shin guards is there to prevent players getting broken legs, and this has nothing to do with taking penalty kicks - unless of course the ball is hit so hard, that it rebounds back off the crossbar, hits the kicker's shin and breaks his leg!!!!!!!!

Question 2: On arrival at a field of play, the grass was found to be overgrowing. There were also some deep ruts in the muddy ground. The players and the team managers have already made a pitch inspection, and have agreed between themselves that they would be happy to play the match. The Referee carefully inspects the field of play, and decides that it is not safe or fit for play. The players and the team managers - all who have traveled some distance - angrily approach the Referee to remonstrate about the cancelled game. Is the Referee correct to go against everyone else's view - especially as he gets paid whether the match is played or not.

Answer 2: If the Referee had allowed the match to be played on an unsafe field, he would have been accepting responsibility for the condition of the field, and for any injuries incurred as a result of those field deficiencies, even though all those concerned said they were prepared to accept the consequences of any accident. The Referee has a duty to closely inspect the condition of the pitch before every game The Referee must always consider the safety of the players. If the Referee has any doubt as to the safety of the players because of the field of play deficiencies, then he should not allow the match to take place. It can be very difficult for the Referee to go against others' wishes. Common Sense advises, that Referees should rely on their intuition. It is usually blatantly obvious when a field condition is dangerous. Players and managers are always very friendly when they want something, but they can turn monstrously dangerous in an instance, if one of their key players suddenly breaks an ankle because of stepping into a deep rut.

Question 3: Following a foul tackle on an opponent, the Referee was seen to be running alongside the perpetrator, giving him a quiet lecture about something or other? The player had obviously breached Law 12, and a free kick should have been awarded. Why did the Referee not take the required action by awarding a free kick to the opposition, and why did he not caution the perpetrator?

Answer 3: Law 18 Common Sense comes into its own during situations like this. Experienced Referees will very often have what is called a "quiet word" with a player who has committed a minor 'niggling' foul. This allows the Referee to warn the player as to his future conduct, and allows the game to keep flowing whilst letting the offender (and everyone else) see that the Referee has noticed the offence, and that he is aware of what is going on. The Referee is not advised to threaten the perpetrator with a caution at the next offence; it is better to just warn the offender about his behavior. If the Referee threatens the offender with a caution next time, then the Referee MUST adhere to this threat and definitely caution the player next time around. Should the next offence be a very, very minor one, this does not leave the Referee with any leeway - but to caution the player. Besides, it's not gentlemanly for a Referee to threaten players with disciplinary action under such circumstances.

Question 4: A goalkeeper who has gained possession of the ball in his hands, does not release the ball until [6] six seconds. +- Law 12 -+ states that the goalkeeper must release the ball within six seconds after gaining possession. Why doesn't the Referee award the opposing team an indirect free kick?

Answer 4: This is another one of those instances where if the Referee rigidly applies the Law in every case, the 'spirit of the game' would be the real loser. The idea of the six-second stipulation is to prevent the goalkeeper from time wasting by unduly keeping possession of the ball. So long as the Referee is satisfied that the goalkeeper was not deliberately wasting time and seeking to gain an unfair advantage, play should be allowed to continue. The 'saving grace' here, is that the Referee is the sole authority regarding time keeping - so who is to say that the goalkeeper took 5.5, 5.75, or even 7 seconds before the ball was released.

Question 5: The Assistant Referee raised his flag to indicate that an attacker was in a ‘clearly offside’ position in the penalty area. The ball carries on through safely to the defending goalkeeper. The Referee acknowledges, and overrules the Assistant Referee by raising his arm, and allows play to continue without a stoppage. Why didn't the Referee award the defending team an indirect (off-side) free kick?

Answer 5: Experienced Referees will always try to keep the play action flowing continuously when an offending team broaches a Law by committing a minor offence, AND the ensuing action enables the opposing team to gain a better advantage by continuing play (rather than stopping play to award them a free kick for the offence committed against them). Because the ball had gone straight on through to the goalkeeper (who is known to have a good kick when releasing the ball from his hands), the Referee deemed that it would be more beneficial for the goalkeeper's team to continue play by allowing the goalkeeper to distribute the ball to his colleagues, rather than award an indirect free kick for offside. There was little to be gained by awarding an indirect free kick in this instance. Common Sense applied by the Referee in this case, allows the goalkeeper to punt the ball back up field or to distribute as he chooses to continue the game with the minimum of delay.

In this instance, the Referee has used Law 18 Common Sense, to acknowledge that the Assistant Referee’s signal was correct, but that the Referee had decided that the defending team goalkeeper, who had safely gathered the ball in his arms would benefit more by allowing play to continue, than from stopping play to award the defending team an indirect free kick for a correct offside decision. This action taken by the Referee allows the play to flow – and is respected by both the players and the spectators.

In this instance, the Referee would also have been correct if he had awarded an offside - because the Assistant Referee correctly indicated that the player was ‘clearly offside’, in other words the player was either: interfering with play or interfering with an opponent or gaining an advantage by being in that position

Offside is based on the changing relative positions of players and the ball. It is important to judge offside when the ball is actually played and not when it is received. A Referee will need to take into account the moment the ball was played, who played it, the position of the players at that moment, and whether there was any involvement in ‘Active’ play.

It can be very difficult for a Referee alone to obtain a perfect viewpoint to judge offside. It is impossible for a Referee to have a sidelong view of every offside decision. The Assistant Referee and to some extent the Assistant Club Linesmen will assist the Referee in making his decision.

It is important to understand what is meant by 'Active' play.

‘Active’ play is when a player has received the ball in an offside position and is:

Interfering with play


Interfering with an opponent


Gaining an advantage by being in that position.

Each Referee has their own interpretation of exactly what the area of ‘Active’ play actually is.

Some Referees believe that any attacker in an offside position - whether they receive the ball or not - who are standing in the middle (center) of the pitch near the vicinity of the penalty area, is deemed to be interfering with play, irrespective of the position of defenders or the ball. Other Referees will ignore those players if they do not actually receive the ball, or when one of their attacking colleagues runs in from a non-offside position to play the ball.

The solution is in defining whether any attacking player is interfering with play or interfering with an opponent or has gained an advantage by being in that position - easy isn't it?

There are many diagrams available to explain whether a player is offside or not. Diagrams are the best way of understanding the offside Law. New Referees will take some time to build up confidence when dealing with off sides, particularly as they will invariably not have the services of qualified Assistant Referees in their early matches. The most important advice to new Referees is to BE VERY POSITIVE when blowing for off sides, and do not worry too much about whether you have made the right decision or not - this will come with time and experience. To stop any whining players, always blow the whistle very loud and loooooooooong, this drowns out the moans and groans from the players, and lets them know that you mean business, and that you will not be changing your mind.

The one part of the offside Law that is not fully understood is - ‘interfering with an opponent’.

If an attacker purposefully stands still alongside a defender, because he knows that he is in an offside position – that attacker is actually ‘interfering with that opponent’. It could be argued that the defending opponent is ‘marking’ the attacker, and thus not able to challenge any other attacker who may threaten the goal. (See Question No. 49 Law 11 Offside, for further discussion on this point.)

If an offside is near the half-way line, and the ball travels safely on through to the defending goalkeeper, then it is more beneficial to the defending team, to award an indirect free kick near the halfway line - rather than allow the goalkeeper to continue play by kicking the ball out of his hands from inside his penalty area..

Remember these words when giving off side:


In other words -whatever anyone else says during a game - you (the Referee) make the offside decision - and nobody else!!

Question 6: During the taking of a throw-in, in front of the technical area, it was noticed that the Referee allowed the player take it about 3 meters from the spot where the ball went out over the touchline. Later on in the game, the Referee was seen to be very particular about players taking throw-ins from the exact place where the ball had left the field of play. Why is the Referee so inconsistent?

Answer 6: Most Referees allow some latitude on the exact positioning of throw-ins. Especially if the location is away from the goals, and near the middle of the field. This allows the ball to be thrown back into play as quickly as possible. Players are usually receptive to this type of Common Sense, and are less interested in adhering strictly to the Law about exact positioning. Players do not often argue over such action, this demonstrates a good sportsmanship that will normally have little or no effect on the result of the match.

If the throw-in, is in such a position that could affect the outcome of a game (for instance, if a team has a good thrower, and the throw location is near the corner arc), the Referee should ensure that the thrower does not gain an advantage by moving along the touchline to be even nearer to the goal. Some Referees are more particular about making players take the throw from the correct position every time - but in my experience, this (along with the finicky positioning of free kicks) is the easiest way for a Referee to frustrate players.

Comment's received about Question 6 above
From Colin:
As you know the only point I object to is where you suggest that to make life easy for oneself allow players to "cheat" at throw ins and free kicks. I agree that the game flows, but, I don’t think the referee can afford to be soft in any areas especially if this shows favoritism. Yes, often it is only one of the teams that appear to win free kicks and/or throw ins. If you then leave some it is hells own delight to arrange subsequent throws or kicks properly and players will cheat by a bigger and bigger margin.

Thank you for your views Colin. It's interesting to see another Referee's perspective.
From Paul:
A little ‘pip’ on the whistle along with a helpful "Just there please, fellow." Along with "lovely, lovely" or "That’s far enough!" will help you keep control over the throw-ins and free kicks.

Thanks' for tip Paul, about moving players along the touchline during throw-ins and during free kicks. 

Question 7: At the very end of a game, the Red team who was winning 1-0 was pinned in their own penalty area. The ball remained in play for some time. It was only when the ball was kicked out for a throw-in that the Referee finally blew for the end of the game. Why didn't the Referee blow for full time, when the 90 minutes were up?

Answer 7: Most Referees like to wait for the ball to be in a relatively neutral area of the field before blowing the final whistle.

As soon as the Referee has decided that the time added on for stoppages has expired, most Referees will wait until the ball is out of the 'danger area'. Referees are very loath to blow the final whistle when the ball is up in the air, or on its way toward the goal! The Referee is the sole timekeeper, and as such, is the only person who knows exactly what the time is, in a game. Referees are strongly advised not to use watches that emit a clear signal after 45 minutes. I would suggest that at the very least, you set your signal to come at 48 minutes instead of 45. This way, players will not argue with you, if whilst the ball is on its way into a goal during the last moments of a game, your watch suddenly gives out a loud beeping sound at 45 minutes. You are also advised to take the following action, immediately after you blow for the end of each half. Reset your watch (or at least the watch that you have used to stop/start time during the game) to zero time. Players on the losing side have a nasty habit of trying to see what time is showing on your watch - this could lead to arguments about the amount of added time you had allowed in a game.

Question 8: Following a challenge for the ball between an attacker and a defender on the edge of the penalty area, the ball was seen to squirm off one of the players and deflects towards a second attacker who is standing in an offside position near the penalty spot. It looked as though both of the players were taking a kick at the ball, at the same time whilst making the challenge, and at first, it appears as though the defender may have made contact a fraction of a second before the attacker but from a distance it looks as though they both made contact with the ball at the same time, causing it to deflect to the offside attacker. Should the Referee allow play to continue, or should he penalize the offside attacker for being in an offside position when the ball was deflected (touched) to him?

Answer 8: It all depends on the Referees perception, and (for want of a better term) his Default Automatic Method Navigator (D.A.M.N. because your damned if you do, and your damned if you don't!). The same goes with throw-ins and corner/goal kicks. These type of decisions are probably the easiest to make, even though they are the hardest to make. This may seem like a contradiction - but let me explain. Firstly, the Referee must recognize that there will be many times during each match, where it is impossible to make the correct decision. This is due to a number of factors. The speed of play, the distance between the incident and the Referee, the fitness of the Referee, whether there are players in the Referee's line of sight, the shielding of the ball by the players' body - and dare I say it "the Referee's eyesight"!

In situations of this type, the Referee can give the decision to the attacking team or he can give it to the defending team. Some Referees automatically give unsure decisions to the defending team - this is how it has been done historically in the past. Some modern Referees give unsure decisions to the attacking team, thus embodying a modern movement to give the attackers the advantage, therefore increasing the chances of a goal being scored -which in turn will increase the enjoyment of the spectators. (For example, if a Referee or an Assistant Referee is unsure whether an attacker is level or not with the second last defender, then the benefit of the doubt should go to the attacker.)

Referees are advised to chose which of the two D.A.M.N. methods to use when being unsure on which way to give a decision. Of course, the above advice also applies (more so) to the Assistant Referee. So the answer to the question is?...... Law 18 Common Sense.....There is no answer; it's up to you!

The Referee should not 'lose any sleep' worrying about whether he has made the correct decision or not during a game. Even if the Referee (or Assistant Referee) makes the wrong decision - it is the right decision as far as the match is concerned, because he is the only one responsible (some decisions you win and some you lose). These types of incidents happen in split seconds and Referees' have to make instant decisions and continue onwards with the game. If a Referee shows any weakness or uncertainty when making such decisions, the players, the crowd and the team officials will certainly make the most of it! Be firm and positive and accept that you will make genuine mistakes that are not made by you on purpose.

See the Decision Making page on this web site for in-depth advice covering decision-making.

And a very good point emailed to me by a Referee colleague (Paul Faulkner) from Essex:

"For off sides, regardless of whether you will give the ‘benefit of doubt’ to the defense or attack, ALWAYS be consistent throughout that game - and when you have made a decision, even if in an instant you think you might have made the wrong one, be POSITIVELY wrong."

Whether a decision is really factually right or factually wrong does not matter. What does matter, is that the Referee always makes an honest decision - which in that fraction of a decision making second, seemed correct in his opinion, at that particular time. Of course, don't forget that the Referee can change a decision - but he must do so before play is restarted.
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