Jordan Willis

The Whole Twelve Yards.

Former Aston Villa Youth Goalkeeper Coach Jordan Willis talks through his experiences on the training pitch and in the locker room with a focus on how to get the best out of your training sessions.

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“I got the ball ref!” The biggest misinterpretations of the rules in the modern game.

November 23, 2012

As a part time referee, my thick skin is truly tested most weekends I decide to referee a game. I can handle the abuse; in fact often I find it outright hilarious. I also make mistakes; much as I do when I’m playing there are days when I will walk off the pitch and realise I’ve had a shocker. In a way, though the abuse to referees in the modern game can often get out of hand and constant protesting is never going to get players anywhere – a concerted effort to notify me if I’ve made a bad decision keeps me on my toes and makes me strive to be the best I can. However, beyond the sometimes justified protests of players, one thing that really gets to me is players, managers and spectators protesting my decisions based on little phrases and idioms that actually have no place in the laws of the game. As such, I’ve decided to collect my short list of the most used, and as such most frustrating ‘rules’ that people in the soccer community decide to apply to themselves.

“I got the Ball ref!”

This is by far and away the worst offender on this list. The rule explicitly states that a sending off should be issued if a player makes a challenge with “excessive force”, and makes no mention of whether the ball needs to be touched or not. Obviously, the definition of “excessive force” will change over time to meet the modern demand. The common interpretation of the law and the phrasing means that any challenge that is unnecessarily high (compared to the ball height), two footed or lets both of the defenders’ feet off the ground at the same time be deemed “reckless” and thus a sending off. Thus, whilst this challenge would have been deemed a great piece of defending in the 1980s, in today’s game it is justifiable red card, despite clearly winning the ball. Indeed, just as the player doesn’t need to make contact with the ball to justify a red card, he doesn’t even need to make contact with the player. In both cases you can easily justify that the challenge was reckless and could have endangered the safety of another player, thus should be treated equally. This rule also applies to tackles from behind and the giving of cautions, where the ball is also never mentioned in the law, just the severity of the challenge.

“Ball to Hand ref!”

Up until July 2012, the handball rule’s phrasing was that only a “deliberate and blatant” handball was to be considered an infringement upon the laws of the game. Thus, it may seem that penalties such as the one from a couple of weeks back in the Arsenal Fulham game may seem very harsh (for more analysis on that game, see here). The hand was close to the body and the Fulham defender had very little time to react. However, the recent consensus on the interpretation of “deliberate”, especially in the English game, is not one that is synonymous with ‘on purpose’, but is actually taken to mean ‘giving a distinct advantage to that player’. Thus, whilst I would agree that it is a harsh penalty, by the laws of the game it has to be given. It certainly is a grey area, but my personal tip for defenders would be to either place the hands and arms directly in front of the torso (if it hits here, there is no advantage to be gained as the ball would otherwise hit the body) or behind the back, as Branislav Ivanovic famously does, when attempting to block a shot or cross from inside the area.

Furthermore, as of July 2012, the word “blatant” has been taken away from the rules as it was difficult to translate into some languages. Thus, even with the hands at the side of the body, from now a caution should be issued for any and every hand ball decision.

“You can’t change your mind now!”

This one really perplexes me. It belongs on the Sunday league pitch more than anywhere else – and more than once I have often found myself shouting it at referees when I’m playing or spectating. This sentence has absolutely no grounding in the law, and surely a referee with the confidence to change his mind after thinking about the situation should be applauded rather than lambasted. Though, in my opinion, if a referee has to change his mind without the assistance of a linesman or any of the other officials, he should be waiting a moment to consider his decision before blowing, surely if he or she arrives at what they believe to be the correct decision in the end this is the best possible outcome.

On a side note, the idea that a player can shout “you can’t change your mind now!” at a referee, as an attempt to get them to change their mind twice on a decision instead of once, is one of the most stupid tactics I have ever heard.

“He can’t pick that up!”

Actually, he can most of the time. There will always be one player on the pitch who will shout this. Again, this rule relies on the word deliberate and the definition of a pass. If the ball is clearly in the possession of the attacker and the defenders tackle the player – then a goalkeeper picks up the resulting tackle, it is not a backpass as the ball wasn’t a deliberate pass. Furthermore, if one of the defenders who plays in front of me were to have one of their characteristically poor touches in the box and I pounce on the free ball, this is not a backpass (despite the last touch being from a defender and the ball being in his/her possession), because it does not meet the definition of a pass. Also, a defender can control the ball with their thigh and the keeper pick that up. Though a ball off the thigh would be considered a pass, the rule states that only balls played back below the knee should be considered a backpass, thus a ball off the thigh should be categorised alongside a header or chest back to the keeper.


For more news, views and opinions or to insult me further, follow me on Twitter - @JMWillis01 and join our community on Sportsideo - The Short Corner

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