It’s a Game of Yards, Feet, and Inches
by Brian Goodlander
Law 18, common sense, is an often-quoted mantra of the soccer referee. Whenever we are stuck in a situation that the Laws of the Game do not really address, we are always told to follow Law 18. When dealing with positioning the ball and/or the wall, I use the mantra of “It’s a game of yards, feet, and inches.”
The Laws of the Game dictate that the ball be placed at the spot where a foul occurred. Imagine, however, that you are the referee of a match where the same direct free kick foul occurs in three different areas of the field during the game. The accuracy of the placement of the ball for the free kick may be different for each situation.
The first of this series of fouls occur in the defensive third of the field. The defender is held by the attacking player at about the 20-yard line. You blow your whistle and award the direct free kick to the defense. If you insist on the ball being put on the exact blade of grass where the foul occurred, you are in compliance with the Law but you will frustrate both teams and delay the restart of the match. In the defensive third of the field, soccer is a game of yards. The placement of ball in insignificant since the resulting attack will not vary dependent upon the exact placement of the ball. The key in this area is to get the ball back in play as quickly as possible.
Later in the match, one player is holding an opponent near midfield. Again, you recognize the foul and award the direct free kick to the fouled player’s team. Here you must be more attentive about the ball placement but still not overly concerned. In this area of the field, soccer is a game of feet. At midfield, a ball placed central and a ball placed nearer the touchlines may result in very different tactics and a very different attack. For that reason, take some time to make sure the ball is placed with a three yard area of the where the foul occurred, trying to minimize the time lost for the placement and allowing for the quick restart, if desired.
In the final situation, the attacking player is held by the defender at the top of the penalty kick arc, just outside the penalty area. In this area of the field, the resulting direct free kick is typically ceremonial and the placement of the ball is extremely important. Now soccer is a game of inches. Regardless of the desire for a quick restart or not, make sure the ball is placed very close to the point of the foul. A shift to the side or back and forth can dramatically change the options to the attacking team and specifically to the kicker. A skilled place kicker can make the ball do many things given the right angle and room. Similarly, his teammates will take a different tact depending upon the ball’s placement.
If the kick is going to be ceremonial, follow the normal mechanics:
- Inform the kicker to wait for your whistle,
- Move the wall to the proper position,
- Make eye contact with your lead assistant and be assured that he/she is properly placed,
- Move to your position and
- Blow the whistle for the taking of the kick.
Many referees also like to inform the keeper that the kick is a direct free kick. This is particularly important if the players are not experienced or are unskilled.
Depending upon where the foul takes place, soccer is a game of yards, feet and inches. Be aware of when to worry about ball placement and when to apply Law 18, common sense, and just get the ball in play.