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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 34531

Law 13 - Free Kicks 3/13/2022

RE: Adult

Ryan of Phoenix, AZ USA asks...

For the "attacker in a defensive wall of 3+ players" rule, how should the referee manage this before the kick? I gave a free kick about 20-22 yards from goal. Kicker asked for 10, 3 man wall was lined up in front of the penalty spot, and an attacker stood in line at the end of the wall. I blew whistle to start, ball kicked right into net from the FK and I blew the whistle to give an IFK going out. Of course players had no idea the rule existed.

So my question is: Should I have not allowed the kick to occur and made the attacker move out of the wall before blowing my whistle? I feel that doing that would be basically "telling" a player what to do to not break a rule and that seems like an unfair advantage against the defending team. And if referees were expected to do that for this rule, then why is the rule even in place, because when would it ever be able to be enforced? If you warn one player about not going into the wall, then I'm sure no one in that game would do it.

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Ryan,
If you watch any top level games, you will see that the referees in these games always actively manage this situation by warning any player that lines up too close to a defensive wall. In games where "vanishing spray" is in use, referees will sometimes use this to indicate not only where the wall should be, but also how far away the attackers should stand.

I would advise you to follow their example and actively take control of the situation. It's usually better to avoid an offence taking place, than to have to penalise it after it happens. For instance, taking the example of highly-qualified and experienced referees again, they will often talk to players during a game, warning them against committing fouls when it looks like they're about to do so.

Also, waiting until a player commits an offence that as you say, they don't even know they're about to commit, and then blowing up for it, smacks of what we call "Gotcha" refereeing, which is the practice of trying to catch players out unexpectedly with technical or obscure offences, just because you can.

As my colleague ref McHugh rightly points out, at a ceremonial free kick, if you're going to enforce the 10 yard distance for the wall, then you should enforce the 1 yard distance for the attackers in a similar fashion.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Ryan
Tough way to learn a law.
The reason this law was introduced was to stop misconduct between players who in free kick situations were trying to place themselves in defensive walls in what they considered favourable location. That resulted in unpleasant pushing, shoving, players stepping on each other, aggressive behaviour and generally difficult situations to deal with. In addition it included some instances where attackers at the end of the wall engaged in pushing / pulling the end defender in the wall to make space for the ball to get past the end of the wall as it was kicked. The law change has stopped most if not all of those shenanigans that went on before between attackers and defenders. So it has worked as intended.

Once a referee makes a free kick ceremonial then it is expected that the referee will ensure that all the correct elements for a free kick are in place. That includes the ball being placed in the correct location, the defensive wall is moved back the required 10 yards and now since the law change to ensure that no attacking player comes closer than the required one yard of the 3 player wall. If you think about it the one yard is no different than enforcing the 10 yard in a ceremonial free kick or asking a player to move back at a corner kick. Referees do not have a problem telling defender to move 10 yards so why would it be any different on the 1 yard law for the attackers. The law is there to help the game and the referee to ensure that no misconduct occurs. It is a case of simply enforcing it.

As to enforcing it the referee has powers to do so. When I'm setting up a wall I get the ball placed and then pace the 10 yards. I ask the defenders to move back the 10 yards, If an attackers comes towards the wall I tell that player/s that he cannot stand closer than 1 yard to any part of the wall. I would ask him to move, then I would tell him to move and if he failed to do so the player might get cautioned. If I really did not want to caution I would tell the player that standing there at a free kick is an offence punished by an IDFK and it will be called once the free kick is taken.

In your instance what should have happened is that the player should have been told that he cannot stand closer than a yard to the wall and point out that location. If the player pays no heed then the referee has to deal with it in the way he feels best deals with the situation.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Ryan,

If you see a player committing an offence like this before play starts, then you should be proactive in managing it. By seeing it, then doing nothing until you penalise it (especially when it's a law that a lot of players are probably unfamiliar with), it comes off as 'gotcha' refereeing - looking for an excuse to call something.

Also, a quick word to manage the wall means that no offence occurs (and if it does, then iit's an easy sell), and the whole thing is quite forgettable. Instead, what has occurred is a significant, match-changing decision (losing a goal), and this can also lead to dissent and further issues - either directly at the incident, or indirectly as player frustration builds, and dissent occurs later on. Proactive refereeing doesn't just manage this one incident - it also reduces the flow-on effects.

If the attacker moves in at the run-up, then nothing you can do there - you're not going to blow the whistle to halt the runup, so all you can do is apply the law. If the attacker is there during the setup of a ceremonial FK, then there's no reason to not manage it proactively.

As Ref Grove stated, referees are often proactive with players - for instance, if players are starting to jostle and grab at a CK, a quick loud 'hands down!' is better than watching and waiting for the ball to be kicked so you can blow the whistle (though sometimes after a few instances, you may choose to do that to get your point across).

For more technical offences I would agree that warning a player may start to cross the line into tactical advice - for instance, if a PIOP and an onside attacker are running for the ball, you're not going to proactively shout out who can touch it (although if the PIOP asks if he's offside, you can respond). If I see a keeper about to pick up a ball deliberately kicked to them by a defender, I'm not going to warn them (though some might - I think if it's a lower grade I'd be more likely to), but I'll answer if asked.

One key difference here though, is that the ball is currently out of play.

Look at it this way - at the ceremonial FK you move the defenders 10 yards back, don't you? Rather than simply wait for the ball to be kicked then caution for failing to retire? In doing so, you're preventing an infringement from occurring by taking action while the ball is out of play. So, why not apply the same to the attackers?

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