Soccer Referee Resources
Ask a Question
Recent Questions

Previous You-Call-It's

VAR (Video Assistant Referee)

Q&A Quick Search
The Field of Play
The Ball
The Players
The Players Equipment
The Referee
The Other Match Officials
The Duration of the Match
The Start and Restart of Play
The Ball In and Out of Play
Determining the Outcome of a Match
Fouls and Misconduct
Free Kicks
Penalty kick
Throw In
Goal Kick
Corner Kick

Common Sense
Kicks - Penalty Mark
The Technical Area
The Fourth Official
Attitude and Control
League Specific
High School

Common Acronyms
Meet The Ref
Contact AskTheRef
Help Wanted
About AskTheRef

Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

Panel Login

Question Number: 34335

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 9/13/2021

RE: 7 Adult

ray JOSEPH sharman of broughton astley, leicestershire United Kingdom asks...

when and is it acceptable to charge an opponent

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Ray,
If you research the site we have responded many times on this aspect of the game and it remains to this day a controversial decision in many matches1
In football, a FAIR charge is coming together, shoulder to shoulder with the ball in playing distance. A ball within playing distance is about 2 steps at the speed of play give or take.

My colleague describes a fair charge as more of an easing off the ball rather than a knock him to the ground blast from the side. We do look at such things as the use of the inside arm to hold and pull or used as a lever in a ward off extension? Is the location of impact into the back or chest? Is the hip or thigh used to bodycheck or trip? A correct shoulder charge, sees the defender make contact with his opponent while erect in terms of body posture, with a leg or a foot reaching in wrestling for control of the ball. Not a lean in the lowered shoulder, body slamming angle loading up to remove the opponent off the ball not really worrying about playing the ball. Whereas I agree with my colleague's phrase when it comes to easing an opponent off the ball indicating a V type intersect is far better than an L-shaped intersection.

In terms of direct speed and mass. You are more or less on the same angle of pursuit & usually near the same speed because intersection angles where the force (speed and mass) is applied are more often an actual charging foul. A shoulder charge is applied at a critical moment where the one player is ill-prepared with feet close together standing or running with the inside leg raised at the moment of contact. Chances are he goes flying and loses the challenge but it DOES not make it unfair or unsafe in the sense the opponent who timed his lean in right should be punished.

That is not to say there is no danger of being hurt on a legal charge, two players can vector and intersect quite hard and if one or the other has their inside foot raised they could be tumbled over in dramatic but FAIR conditions. You have to make a clear effort to get to the ball, without first knocking, tripping, shoving, or bashing him aside.

ITOOTR plays a huge role in how these incidents affect the match, struggling with the foul recognition sequences of a fair versus a foul charge. Were you aware it is actually difficult for a taller player and a shorter player to legally charge one another? Tall players tend to push or lean in & down a holding motion whereas a shorter player often has to jump up into a taller one.

Many a spectator, coach or player consider the relative merits of an official by their interpretation of these defining moments that reveal whether a ref truly understands the game or whether they simply know the rule book. If you follow the letter the whistle sounds far too often yet if you do not understand the game it does not get blown enough when it's needed. The balancing act of tolerance versus acceptance! Spirit in harmony with the LOTG permits a good FAIR competitive match.

Since I have participated in the beautiful game as a child, as a parent, as a coach, as a fan, as a spectator as a player, and as a referee I watch in amazement at how well-timed tackles and challenges are perverted into fouls in some matches yet blatant terror tactics are permitted in others as part of the normal play? You will not FIX a problem during a match if a referee has decided what is fair and foul for that day for that match by arguing. In essence, a referee is a match condition, just like the weather or pitch surface you adapt and play. Practise, patience, purposeful instruction, and procedures are developed over time. I remind all to please recognize when it's time to agree to disagree and move on.

Shoulder charges can be legal, hard and could cause injury but that does not make it a foul. The fact they call it a fair charge gives the impression charging is ok.
I think it should be called a shoulder barge.
Take away the idea that charging is fair.
The reasoning is what speed and what intersection angle is occurring?
Are they players in sync in terms of pace and angle?

I charge using my shoulder into the back of an unsuspecting player or step in and drive it into his chest even at slow speed it is foul and unsafe. I come in at an extreme right angle at speed against a standing player even if the contact is shoulder to shoulder, used as a battering ram it was unsafe given the speed & mass applied. It was dangerous to the other player because they are not able to prepare for the assault. No different than a slide tackle that gets to the ball first but the angle & momentum & force are so unsafe it carries through into the player wiping him out.

Have a look at this image this was straight coming together PERFECTLY fair but at high speed. This brutal coming together look at the body faces and you can visualize how hard they BOTH came together. This was not one player stream rolling over another. They competed FAIRLY for a loose ball but one was injured.

Tom Cunniffe and Peter Harte go shoulder to shoulder but Harte left injured. This was a HARD LEGAL tackle look at their faces.

Players running at near the same speed who lean into one another are VERY different than intersecting at high speed that creams out an unwary dribbler. Players can come together quite hard and quite fair but it has equatable forces at play.

Here is an example where the referee has determined it was a foul, not all agree. I see it as plausible to be a more resolute attacker being stronger on the ball but there is room to think the free arm pushed and the inside leg tripped.

Here is a larger stout player leaning in but note the contact is NOT shoulder to shoulder but into the breast/chest and note the eyes there was no doubt the player was a target

clear foul this one is interesting the free arm extra is certainly wrong but note that it shows the inside leg is up and how off-balance the defender was.

clear foul push from behind!AuR3N_GEfAVagRvsW2oCp56htrLJ

no issues here play on!AuR3N_GEfAVagRxXs5gOOOQzf3HM

no issues here play on


Read other questions answered by Referee Richard Dawson

View Referee Richard Dawson profile

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Ray,

I think there are three parts of the law that are relevant here.

Firstly, Law 12 says that:

"If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent."

Secondly, in the Glossary, a (legal) charge is defined as a:

"Physical challenge against an opponent, usually using the shoulder and upper arm (which is kept close to the body)"

Lastly, Law 12 says that it is an offence to charge an opponent in a manner that is careless, reckless or using excessive force.

Taking those together, this indicates that it is only acceptable to charge an opponent when the ball is within playing distance, when the shoulder and upper arm are used with the arm kept close to the body and the charge is not careless, reckless or excessively forceful.

Read other questions answered by Referee Peter Grove

View Referee Peter Grove profile

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Ray
Thanks for the question.
The Law allow for physical contact between players in a way that is not careless or reckless. So charging is allowed with certain limits. I describe it as an easing of an opponent off the ball
It is acceptable to charge fairly when
1. The ball is within playing distance which is typically a pace or so up to perhaps two paces.
2. It is possible for the charge to be shoulder to shoulder.
3. The contact is not reckless.

A typical charge would be both player running side by side with one player on the ball and one of the players moves the other off the ball with shoulder to shoulder contact.
Another one is where the players could be stopped and one player is shielding the ball which allows an opponent to get to the ball by using a shoulder against the player’s shoulder to gain possession by moving him off the ball.

Sometimes it is easier to say what is not legal
1. The ball is not within playing distance.
2. It is not shoulder to shoulder but shoulder into the back or chest.
3. A raised arm is used which is a push
4. The force used is reckless which for example a player runs from distance and crashes into the side of an opponent.

Read other questions answered by Referee Joe McHugh

View Referee Joe McHugh profile

Ask a Follow Up Question to Q# 34335
Read other Q & A regarding Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct

Soccer Referee Extras

Did you Ask the Ref? Find your answer here.

Enter Question Number

If you received a response regarding a submitted question enter your question number above to find the answer

Offside Question?

Offside Explained by Chuck Fleischer & Richard Dawson, Former & Current Editor of AskTheRef

This web site and the answers to these questions are not sanctioned by or affiliated with any governing body of soccer. The opinions expressed on this site should not be considered official interpretations of the Laws of the Game and are merely opinions of AskTheRef and our panel members. If you need an official ruling you should contact your state or local representative through your club or league. On AskTheRef your questions are answered by a panel of licensed referees. See Meet The Ref for details about our panel members.