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FIFA Website - Laws of the Game Detail

Laws Of The Game -Popular Misconceptions 

By Paul Tompkins

Spectator and player frustration which can result in those less able, or indeed unwilling to control their emotions, directing vitriol at a referee, is often borne out of ignorance of the Laws of Association Football (LOAF).

This page aims to help with an understanding of the more common 'complaints' such as "handball ref", "his feet are over the line"  and more. In some cases, such as an understanding of Law 11 - the Offside Law, I can really do no better than direct you to the FIFA website. The site has, I think, an excellent  InterActive Guide. I recommend you check it out , (especially if you have occasion to 'run the line')  so that the next time you have a debate about why a goalscorer was not given offside, you will be that much better informed! Just remember when you hear the likes of Andy Gray or Alan Hansen say "that was a very late flag" that the maxim is "Better late than wrong" in other words think about whether or not they are interfering with play.

If you have an example of play that is penalised or not as the case may be, and you think the reason is often misunderstood then let me know.

So lets start with that 'hardy perennial' -"HANDBALL REF"!

Law 12 covers Fouls & Misconduct or in other words reasons why a free kick may be given. Handball does not as we all know just mean quite literally the hand. It covers the hand and arm up as far as the tip of shoulder. Most  crucially however is the word deliberate. To quote:

 "a DIRECT free kick is awarded........if a player....handles the ball deliberately (except the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)"

Frinks handball- Kahn keeper

Some spectators and players seem to forget or have never realised  the need for it to have been deliberate. Some take the view that if an advantage has come from the ball hitting the hand then a free kick has to given whether deliberate or not. This is not the case.

Just as a penalty may not be given if a striker blasted a ball from close range onto a defenders hand within the goal area then neither would a goal be disallowed if a defender blasted a ball against an attackers hand that ended up in the net. UNLESS in the opinion of the referee the hand/arm was deliberately moved into the path of the ball. It must always be remembered that it will be in the opinion of the referee. That opinion will be affected by his/her position and distance from the incident. Remember England v Argentina in the World Cup, 'The Hand Of God' Diego Maradona v Shilton! We can all make mistakes and whilst a die hard fan  might be being seeing red , the likes of Premiership Referee Graham Poll (yes even Graham Poll) make them!

Maradonna Hand of God Goal

Angles can be deceptive and we all know that if you talk to 10 spectators you will probably get 10 different opinions!

Want to see what that fine old established institution the BBC has to say on the matter? Not that it has a better opinion!


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FOUL THROW? Not hard to spot - is it?

A throw in is how the game is restarted after the ball has left the field of play via the side lines (touch lines) and is covered in Law 15.

The main elements of a throw in are: Where its taken from, where the feet are positioned and the over the head arm action.

It is ,I would suggest, fairly easy for a referee to spot a foot up off of the ground but help is needed from the Refs Assistant to spot the positioning of the feet in relation to the line. That said how many really know what is allowed? In my experience it would not be an exaggeration to say that 8 out 10 'Club' assistants don't know the law. 

Where the throw is taken is obvious isn't it? The ball has to come from behind the head in one continuous movement-simple.

Lets think about the feet first.

Look at the following feet positions and decide which are not allowed (assuming the arm action is OK and a foot was not raised). If your eyesight is not so good you can get a larger view by clicking on the picture then click on the link below to see if you were right.




Are you one of the 80%? Check here 

(If you meet people in the future who don't believe you then direct them to this page and the link to the Laws of Association Football!)


OK so now you know for sure where the feet can be what about the place that the throw should be taken from? Obvious isn't it? Simplistically yes.....but.

Amazingly there are many players who still think that if the referee pulls a player up for taking the throw in the wrong place then they get to take it again from the right pace. WRONG! This is as much a foul throw as lifting a foot would be and the throw goes to the other team. Again ensuring it is from the correct place.

They also think that the referee should tell them where to take it from. Whilst many refs will indicate by pointing or standing in line with the point where the ball left the field of play, and they will always if asked indicate but THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT IN LAW TO DO SO. The onus is on the player.

Many referees will be 'more fussy' when a throw is taken in an attacking position. In other words gaining a couple of metres in your own half is not gaining as much of an advantage as in the attacking half. But it's not just about gaining ground. It could be that a throw taken, say 10 metres closer your own goal than the place where it went out of play, is gaining an unfair advantage. The defending team could be lining up for a throw from the correct place but then the thrower sees a team mate or keeper who is not being covered so takes the throw nearer to them. Foul throw, as an unfair advantage was being gained.

Can a throw be taken say 5 metres away from the line? Yes as long as it was in line with the point the ball left the field of play.

You never knew a throw in could be so complicated and that's without considering the behind the head movement which we won't go into here. It's just too difficult to describe on paper......


Oh and don't forget that the 'eyeball to eyeball' throw is no longer allowed. In other words a defending player cannot be less than 2 metres from the thrower. (Season 2005/6)

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JEWELLERY - it's alright if I tape it up isn't it?

Quite simply NO

Law 4 covers the Players Equipment. What must be worn and what must not. (Oh and whilst on the subject of equipment Shinguards MUST be worn)

Law 4 has always said that jewellery must not be worn but it has been common practice to allow rings and earrings to be taped. In July 2006 after FIFA tightened up and said NO JEWELLERY WHATSOEVER but the FA made one exception. That exception is a flat banded wedding ring and then only if it cannot be removed  due to say 'podgy' fingers AND if referred to the referee prior to the commencement of the game and that includes girls and ladies! (See a copy of the Gloucester FA communication)

New for 2007-8 the Referee is included in the ban on jewellery. Only exception being a time piece. Luckily!!

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OFF-SIDE - OK so I said at the top that I could do no better than direct you to the FIFA website and the excellent animation but I've just remembered a recent experience whilst officiating at a local league game.

The Bristol & District League state in their rules that "Each club shall provide a Club Assistant Referee for the whole of the match who will report to the Referee before the start of the game. Failure to do so will result in a £5.00 fine against the offending team." (Correct as at 2006/7)

The reality is that a 'conscript' is nominated by the manager after the Referee has asked who it is to be. Most likely a Substitute and more than likely a younger player who will moan the least about being picked on! Knowledge of the Laws will vary enormously from one individual to another as will be their ability to correctly signal etc. but what you may think is basic knowledge is not always. So especially for the benefit of the young lad who flagged twice for offside from a throw in - despite complaints from the opposition and my failure to take action on his first flag YOU CANNOT BE OFFSIDE DIRECT FROM A THROW IN.

Another perhaps more common mistake is to be flagged offside from a goal kick. YOU CANNOT BE OFFSIDE DIRECT FROM A GOAL KICK.

Not really a matter of Law but should anyone reading this 'volunteer' to run the line be confident in your flagging and make sure you keep the flag up and stand your ground until acknowledged by the ref.. There is nothing worse than a half raised flag which is taken down again with the play moving on....... 

One last comment on Offside. YOU CANNOT BE OFFSIDE FROM A CORNER.

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Talking of the CORNER-KICK surely that's straight forward isn't it?

Well yes it is really but......

Law 17. I don't think I need to say when a corner kick is awarded but there are a couple of potential areas for 'dispute'. When is the ball in the corner arc and when is it not? How close can the defenders be to the kicker? Can the flag pole be taken out?

Quite simply the flagpole CANNOT BE REMOVED.

Just like any free kick the defending players cannot be closer than 9.15 metres (10 yards in old money). If you haven't noticed this before , next time you watch a match on the telly you will see a small line on the goal line 10 yards from the corner flag. The marks are put there to assist the officials in judging how far back the defenders should be but are not compulsory. Local park pitches rarely have such luxuries!

Perhaps the most interesting is 'when is the ball considered to be in the corner arc'. To start with the corner arc must be a quarter circle with a radius of 1m (1yd equivalent is what its says in the Laws so does that mean corner arc is bigger on the Continent!). I have seen local junior pitches and indeed Coronation Park where adult football is played,marked with triangles. Technically not a 'legal' pitch. And whilst talking of 'legal' pitches flag posts are required at each corner, but one at halfway is optional. Goal nets are not technically required but more often than not League rules will state that they are.

Back to the ball in the arc. The lines (usually white but don't have to be) must not be more than 12 cms (5in) wide. Many will think that the ball must be fully within the outer edge of the white line and indeed within the last couple of years I have actually watched a  Champions League match where the Assistant Referee actually insisted this was the case but he was WRONG!

Think of of it in the same way as for a throw in. For the ball to be out of play the whole of the ball has to cross the whole of the line. Therefore it is perfectly feasible for the base of the ball be sat outside of the arc. Imagine the corner arc line extended upwards from the ground like a wall. As long as the 'wall' passes through the ball it's OK.

The following diagram can be found on the excellent site for all things referee.

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KICK-OFF - nothing simpler?

Many still think that whoever wins the toss gets to kick-off. Youth football more than adult but WRONG.

The team that wins the toss gets the choice of ends, which if you think about it is likely to be much more important i.e. strong wind, sun in keepers eyes, sloping pitch....

   " can we change ends?"      

Often 'forgot' is that all players have to be in their own half. How many times do you see a player 2 yards inside the oppositions half receiving the ball from the kick-off? That said at least the ball will have travelled forward as required and not back! When made to retake players will often say that it's pathetic or 'picky' but then where do you stop being and start being 'picky'.......rolling ball, not taken from the correct place, not far enough back, all the ball wasn't over, it's OK to quietly abuse someone etc etc. What I think is pathetic is that they can't kick a ball forward to a player in their own half! Sorry I'll put my soapbox away now!

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Assistant Refs -nobody wants to be one!

What has an old floor covering and an Assistant Referee got in common? They are both 'affectionately' known as 'lino'!

How many times has the 'volunteer' been nothing of the sort and a very reluctant substitute for someone  else?

If you sometimes act as an Assistant Ref. and you are reading this I am probably preaching to the converted.

Honesty has always been questioned by the players and for that matter probably always will but the reality is that 'honesty' is not a real problem it is capabilities. There is nothing  much worse than an Assistant Ref who is weak when it comes to signalling. If they also show an inability to react well to abuse or threats then quite frankly they are not up to the job. That doesn't mean they should accept abuse. They shouldn't and the Referee must support them.

Top tips-

Be clear with your signals. Stand firm with the flag held high. Don't 'waggle it' at hip height and then put it down. Was it or wasn't it?

If flagging for Off-side stand still until acknowledged by the referee. The Ref may decide to play on and if he/she does then accept with good grace and catch back up with the last but one defender (not forgetting that the keeper is a defender!)

The maxim for Off-side is 'better late than wrong'. Is the player in an offside position really interfering with play? Again do not forget that the Referee may not agree and it's up to them if the game should be stopped.

It is normal for 'Club Assistants' to be asked to flag for Off-side, throw-ins, corners and goal kicks only. Fouls are usually left to the referee.

Be your own man (or woman). Strikers will never agree with you. Your 'own' defence won't. Play it as you see it. Only you will really know if you are being honest and I believe there are very few who are not.


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The Back Pass

Much as for 'handball' the key word here is 'deliberately.......kicked or thrown direct from a throw in' to the Goal Keeper who then handles the ball within the Penalty Area. Great for causing controversy and sometimes heated debate both on and off the pitch.

Forget though, for a moment the 'was it or wasn't it deliberate'. Where is the free kick taken from?

On more than one occasion I have known players to have been convinced that the kick should be taken from the place where the ball was kicked to the keeper. I even had one player claiming that they were 'qualified' (I think he meant as a referee!) and still be adamant. No No No NO NO! 

Only when the keeper handles the ball has an offence been committed. As the kick is awarded at the place where the offence took place then that is where it is must be taken from. The only exception is when the offence occurred inside the goal area (perhaps more commonly known as the '6yd box') and then the kick is taken on the point nearest to where the offence occurred on the goal area line running parallel to the goal line. LAW 12 Fouls & Misconduct covers. It is, of course, always indirect otherwise it would be a penalty!

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You must 'put a name on it'?

"He canít say that ref!" is often heard on the pitch when an opposition player shouts to a colleague in close proximity to "leave it" or "mine" as the ball falls to him and there is nobody nearby.

It is a myth that you have to "put a name on it" and lacks foundation in the laws of the game.

However an offence is committed when it is done to solely deceive an opponent. In such circumstances, for example, a defender is stood behind an attacking player and  shouts 'leave it' or its mine'. If the attacker does exactly that, thinking it was a team mate, then it is only in these instances that it would be considered unsporting behaviour and you would award an indirect free kick after stopping play and caution the offender.

 In a similar manner if a player shouts 'boo' or such like in an attempt to put off the opposition again a caution and an indirect free kick. If a Goal Keeper is the in habit of doing it then a free kick in the area might make him change his ways......

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Substitutions are part of Law 3 – Number of Players. It may not seem to be the most important aspect of the game but if the referee gets the minor points right, the major points come easier. Also, if a referee cannot control a substitution, it does not bode well for other aspects and it is all about control. The last thing we want is 12 players in a team on the field of play because a referee has failed to take control of a substitution.


Before the Match

  1. Check competition rules for number allowed.
  2. Take names of substitutes. If not offered, ask captains when tossing coin.
  3. If a player is sent off before the kick-off he/she may be replaced by a named substitute.
  4. If a named substitute is sent off before the kick-off, he/she may not be replaced.

During the Match – Procedure for Subsitution

  1. Substitution to take place during stoppage in play.
  2. Referee to be informed and checks name. This can be left to a neutral Assistant.
  3. If substitute has not been named he may not take part in the match.
  4. Substitute enters after player being replaced has left.
  5. Enters field of play at the halfway line.
  6. Substitution is completed when the sub enters field of play.
  7. Sub becomes a player and the player replaced ceases to be.
  8. Player replaced can take no further part in the match.
  9. Substitutes are subject to the authority and jurisdiction of the referee, whether called upon to play or not.
Remember: NO NAME – NO GAME

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Ahead of the 2011/12 season, this law was amended.  To avoid any possible confusion or conflict, all non-kit worn underneath the official strips must match the colour or the strip worn over it, ie Red tops with red under clothes, blue shorts and socks with blue leggings.  Below is the complete equipment law from FIFA followed by some examples of the correct, and incorrect versions.


A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).

Basic Equipment

The basic compulsory equipment of a player comprises the following separate items:

A jersey or shirt with sleeves - if undergarments are worn, the colour of the sleeve must be the same main colour as the sleeve of the jersey or shirt.

Pass Description: C:\Users\Andrew\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\G61H0NHZ\MC900434713[1].wmf          FailDescription: C:\Users\Andrew\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\2XA0K070\MC900439584[1].png

Shorts - if undershorts or tights are worn, they must be of the same main colour as the shorts.





Are covered entirely by the stockings.

Are made of rubber, Plastic or a similar suitable material.

Provide a reasonable degree of protection.

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