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Question Number: 30313

Law 3 - Number of Players 4/17/2016

RE: Rec High School

dave d of etna, ca USA asks...

This question is a follow up to question 30051

I disagree with the answers provided. I believe play stops when the keeper is injured.

The applicable law is the one that discusses the number of players. It states that each team must have at least 7 players, one of which must be a goalkeeper.
When the goalkeeper goes down with injury, that team no longer has a goalkeeper. Thus, play stops.

Sometime between 1995 and 2000, when I was much more involved, there was another website that dealt with referee questions. It might have been a USSF site. That was the answer provided there.
And I have never seen a game on television at upper levels in which play was allowed to continue with an injured goalkeeper.

Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Dave,
Play is only required to be stopped for a serious injury - and the keeper is no exception. A player on the ground does not stop being a player, so the number of players (or one being a keeper) isn't applicable here.
But I do understand the concern that due to the unique, critical nature of the keeper's role, referees should probably be a bit quicker to stop play for a keeper than any other player.
But that doesn't mean stopping play immediately. If we were to do that as referees, then goalkeeper's would just stay down or take a dive whenever they've been beaten.
Immediately stopping play isn't practical nor required - and it wouldn't be fair to the opposing team either. For a slightly keeper, play should be stopped fairly quickly - I'd personally argue, after the current phase of play is the best balance of fairness for both teams.
Also, often the space of a second or two often isn't enough to tell if somebody is actually injured, or if they're just staying down for a moment to catch their breath or for the shock of the impact to fade.
I once had an incident in my game - attacker was 1 on 1 with the keeper, and as part of the challenge getting around the keeper, the keeper went down, possibly with a minor injury. Within about 2 seconds the attacker had recovered the ball and scored. I believe it would have been unfair to stop play purely because the keeper was on the ground and didn't get up straight away, as it would have been unfair to take an opportunity for a goal away when there is no apparent serious injury. Within those 2 seconds I had nothing to indicate a potential serious injury - though had it been a minor injury, given the short time frame I still would have allowed play to continue in accordance with the laws of the game.
You say you've never seen a similar situation at televised levels; well, neither have I - but 99% of the time if the keeper is injured in these games there's a foul or the ball has gone out of play. Perhaps at those levels, keepers would be unlikely to stay down for a minor injury.

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Answer provided by Referee MrRef

I looked over the question and the responses and I hold the opinion you need to rethink and reread the answers. There is no written requirement that the goalkeeper MUST remain on the field of play or that he participate in play. The goalkeeper is permitted to leave the field during the course of play, just as are all players. "If a player accidentally crosses one of the boundary lines of the field of play, he is not deemed to have committed an infringement. Going off the field of play may be considered to be part of playing movement."
Earlier questions and this old answer (2006 IFAB Q&A, Law 3) also illustrates the point:
20. During a match, the goalkeeper sprints from the goal to stop an opponent. He kicks the ball out of the field of play and a throw-in is awarded to the opposing team. The momentum of the goalkeeper takes him off the field of play and before he can return, the throw-in is taken and a goal is scored. What action, if any, should the referee take?
A goal is awarded since no offence has been committed.

Lets say the keeper strained his thigh or pulled his quad in his haste to stop and turn or he cramped up and the goal was scored cause he was late getting back? He was off the FOp and injured but the goal likely counts as the timing and nature of the injury were not serious in the mind of the official

The clear intent of the Laws is that the goalkeeper remain on the field of play. The keeper is a player but IF play is stopped he does not required to leave the FOP to be treated as would a player. That is demonstrated through the provisions in the Law that the goalkeeper may be treated on the field, even though (with some specific exceptions) others must leave. (For the exceptions, see Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, Injured Players.)

Play would be or should be stopped by the referee if he recognizes the keeper is incapable of functioning as a keeper but that applies to any player the referee deems seriously injured.

Whether you or I would allow play in the same situation is debatable, a hard head shot tends to get my attention and the fact that one eye was swollen. While I agree that play could be stopped, but, if the referee is ok with it? His match is his decision his reputation.

Here are several responses from the USSF site you referenced <

In order to play there are X number of players and a specifically appointed goalkeeper. This is a two part question. If the goalkeeper is injured does play stop? If the keeper is injured for a period of time and play is continuing does the goal count if it crosses the goal line?

USSF answer
A two-part question gets a two-part answer.

1. Play is stopped only if, in the opinion of the referee, the player is seriously injured. That includes all players, whether field player or goalkeeper.

2. If the goalkeeper is not, in the opinion of the referee, seriously injured and play continues, a goal would be counted if the whole of the ball completely crosses the entire goal line between the goalposts and beneath the crossbar.


I just accessed the U.S. Soccer web-site to be sure I had your up-to-date contact information and to browse the questions and answers before I sent my question, to make sure it wasn't already answered. Lo and behold, the April 14 posting "Role of the Goalkeeper" opens up the topic that I want to address, albeit a different aspect of it.

I observed a game where the goalkeeper got injured. The near assistant referee and the center referee clearly saw what had happened and had no doubt that the goalkeeper would not be able to participate in play for a little while at least. They let play continue and the attacking team score. Then the center referee called the coach out to attend to the goalkeeper.

My question is this (and it may be that I misunderstand the intent of the law): The law states that one player on each team is a goalkeeper. If the goalkeeper has been incapacitated so that he/she cannot play, in effect the team does not have a goalkeeper, that is they do not have a functioning goalkeeper. What should the referee do if that happens stop play? If you give an answer that is not just a straight "yes" or "no", please give some guidance: Does it make a difference as to the age of the players or the level of play, or the circumstances of the game. I'm looking to clear up my own murky thinking in this area and to share your answer with colleagues, too. I know there is a risk of cynical goalkeepers feigning injuries to get play stopped and I have a bit of a soft heart, so I could get suckered into stopping play inappropriately. While you can deal with the goalkeeper's simulating an injury, the effect on the game itself may not be remedied. Similarly, if a goal is scored and allowed to stand while the goalkeeper cannot play, the effect on the game is also profound.

USSF answer
Let us start with several premises:
(a) All players are perfect angels until they prove otherwise.
(b) While the team is required to have a goalkeeper, there is no requirement that that goalkeeper be on the field nor able to participate in play.
(c) The referee is directed by Law 5 to stop play only if a player is seriously injured. If, in the opinion of the referee, the player (goalkeeper or field player) is not seriously injured, there is no need to stop play and have the player treated. (We could point to an October 2004 incident in an English Premier League match between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers in which the referee allowed the goalkeeper to lie on the ground unattended for well over a minute; the goalkeeper, who had fallen without any contact from either opponent or teammate, finally got up. Luckily for him and his team no goal was scored.)
(d) The Law also allows the goalkeeper (or any other player) to leave the field during the course of play and if, after the restart (typically a throw-in), the goalkeeper has not returned and a goal is scored, life is hard.

Given that the goalkeeper is often the last line of defense against a goal, referees should interpret this to mean that they should stop play more quickly in the case of a goalkeeper injury when the players are young, unskilled, and inexperienced. Furthermore, if, as you said in your question, the referee "had no doubt" that the injury precluded the goalkeeper from participating in play, this certainly sounds like it should have been considered a serious injury at just about any level of competition.

From our pitch to your pitch in the spirit if Fair Play

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Dave
My colleagues have given detailed answers. The facts are that the law does not make specific provision for injuries to goalkeepers other than they do not have to leave the field of play for treatment. Once the team has a player with a funny shirt and he begins the game he is deemed to be on the FOP at all times including when he is down on the ground or otherwise or when he is legally off the FOP through momentum et .
Now you say that you have not same a game continue with an injured goalkeeper
In this instance play continues and the player stops in the interest of Fair Play which is not part of the Laws.
Now referees want to deal with all players that are on the ground in a fair manner yet there will be many times when it is a minor injury such as cramp which does not need immediate treatment. Same could apply to the smack by a ball. It would be patently unfair for the referee to stop the game in every instant that a player including the GK went down to ground. Sure the GK on dangerous breaks could simply lie down to get the game stopped which would also be patently unfair.
Now most referees when they see a player down including the GK they will stop play either immediately if it is a serious injury or allow play to continue if he considers otherwise until the next stoppage.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone

The high school rule concerning injuries to goalkeepers or any field player is as follows: If the referee stops the clock for an apparent injury to a field player or a goalkeeper, the field player or goalkeeper will have to leave the field. The field player may be replaced, and to goalkeeper shall be replaced by either a substitute or a field player. You are correct. In high school play, there always has to be a goal keeper. Please note that high school and rec rules differ. I hope this help.

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