Which Calls (or Non-Calls) Create the Most Disagreements Between Football/Soccer Players, Fans & Coaches and Referees

Football (or in the U.S., soccer) players, coaches, and fans suffer from a number of misconceptions about laws or interpretations that cause unnecessary dissent, delay or distraction to ongoing play in matches.

Going for the Ball? Isn’t Everyone Doing That?

“I was going for the ball, ref” is unquestionably the most frequent response to a foul call against a player. And they always say that as if it separates them from the rest of the players (implying that those other players aren’t going for the ball, I’m entitled to that ball) Of course, this is nowhere in the laws, as it doesn’t matter why a player was late or reckless coming into a challenge for the ball. But somewhere, somehow, some players or coaches have developed the idea that any attempt to play the ball trumps the prohibitions against pushing, tripping, jumping, charging, kicking, striking and the other direct kick offenses. Even a player who is first to the ball, in some cases, can be cautioned for playing in an out-of-control manner, or with excessive force, if he can’t control what happens on the “other” side of the ball that they won.

This point was made crystal clear at a USSF Clinic held before & after a Chicago Fire game at Soldier Field in 2005 in a match versus the LA Galaxy. Hercules Gomez (LA) and Gonzalo Segares (Fire) were both approaching a loose ball from opposite sides at full speed. Segares went to a slide tackle to get to the ball first, and Gomez, realizing he was a step or two late, slowed his approach, and was standing about 1 yard beyond the ball at the moment when Segares played the ball. However, Segares’ momentum carried him into Gomez at almost full speed, recklessly disregarding Gomez’s safety and position on the field. Referee Alex Prus whistled the play dead, and cautioned Segares for reckless play. That type of play could even qualify for sending off, where it endangers the safety of another player. For example, if Segares had entered the challenge with his studs exposed, that may justify a send off.


If going for the ball is the most common player misconception, then offside is certainly the biggest fan misconception. Beyond definitions, which I will only briefly address here, there are a few “secrets” to properly understanding why or why isn’t a player being flagged for offside. Determining an offside infraction requires two elements, one is that the player is in offside position (any part of the attacker except his/her arms is closer to the opponents goal than the next-to-last defender), and that the player in offside position actively plays the ball.

What your average viewer, player or coach almost always gets wrong, when it comes to offside, is that for the perfectly timed onside run, anyone who watches the passer play the ball forward, by the time their eye(s) catch up to the attacking player making the run, s/he will already appear to be in offside position. Only a properly positioned AR (or other observer) who is carefully watching the “line” of the 2nd to last defender and listening for the boot of the pass being played forward, can be confident of making the correct call on a well-timed play.

Secondly, the most recent rule or interpretation change involving offside was the change where ARs were instructed to keep flags down when both onside and offside attackers are chasing down balls, waiting for the offside attacker to touch the ball or interfere with an opponent making a play on the ball before signalling for offside. If the onside player gets to the ball first, FIFA wanted attacks to continue and not be arbitrarily terminated due to the presence of an offside attacker. Given the number of fan complaints about offside players while other onside players are still playing for the ball, fans still have a long way to go before it can be said that they understand this aspect of offside.

Finally, many observers are flummoxed by the offside call that occurs after an attacker runs backwards towards their own goal to collect a ball, and s/he appears to be clearly onside. This call only gets made by alert ARs who are watching and monitoring players who remain in offside position, and then before regaining an onside position, see a play that they can make and take off running to a place on the field that is well onside. The problem for them is that if the ball was last played by a teammate while the attacker was in an offside position, then that attacker remains in offside position until a teammate plays the ball while the attacker is onside.


Finally, the most frustrating constant request for calls that most refs are not going to make, are all of the calls for “handball”. In some cases it seems to be the only call that some fans feel comfortable criticizing or calling for — mainly because they don’t know the rules well enough to complain or call for anything else.. Unfortunately, most fans don’t get to see how the game changes from skilled u15 and up players to u8 players to Frosh B girls. Girls in the middle ages (11-15) and at levels lower than competitive travel seem to have the most difficulty with arm/hand position, naturally reacting to protect themselves when balls approach them above the waist, and raising their hands above their shoulders and heads during play when there’s absolutely no use for them up there.

Referees all hope that they are in position to catch the type of handlings committed by Maradona or Henry, but if they don’t have a good view of the misdeed, most are uncomfortable with making calls on a hunch, without AR or 4th official confirmation.

However, most handling complaints are about balls that nick off the hand as they go by, or are kicked into opposing players who are too close to be expected to have time to react, or are any number of other types of incidental contacts to the hand or arm that does not really affect play, or are purely accidental and could not be interpreted as possibly being intended to prevent a goal or dangerous pass.

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