Soccer Referee Resources
Ask a Question
Recent Questions

RSS FEED Subscribe Now!

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
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
Panel Login

Question Number: 33361

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 5/19/2019

RE: Competitive & Social Other

Michael Joseph Plaziuk of Orewa, Auckland New Zealand asks...

When is a nudge/lean in the back of an attacking player, not an offense by the defending player?

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Michael,
The law says that it is an offence for a player to push an opponent ''in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force.''

So if the push or nudge is none of these things, then it is not an offence. It does not matter if the player doing the pushing is a defender or an attacker. A certain amount of incidental physical contact is inevitable during a football match and if such contact does not rise to the minimum level of careless, then it is permitted. There is also the widely-applied principle that if a potential offence is trivial or dubious, it is not to be penalised. Looking at it this way, if a nudge (which is another way of saying a very minor push) is so slight as to be considered trifling or so inconspicuous that you're not even sure it really was a push, a foul will usually not be given.

Read other questions answered by Referee Peter Grove

View Referee Peter Grove profile

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Michael ,
I suppose a trite answer is when the referee deems it so. lol
The LOTG state we are to look at things from a careless, reckless excessive perspective yet while we glean intent from how the interaction occurs, most fouls are NOT based on intent but the fact they occur and have a direct result on play. We can generally determine the force issue in a reckless or excessive but it has more to do with which player is being more careless in their approach? If both are careless is one more so than the other? We judge the foul basically on which player is creating an unequal situation that can not be ignored. .

While it is true we CAN ignore inconsequential nudges I see a lot of pushes especially when shielding or close to touchlines where the player loses ball control kicking it into touch primarily due to these so called gentle nudges from behind causing a loss of possession.
There is no reason that a push must lay the player flat out on the ground, a little knock off balance, a slight stumble, caused by that gentle nudge and you whiff your attempt to control or kick the ball. This serves the same purpose as a sliding tackle with less chances of paying the consequence of a foul! If I may, can I ask you, is your your question is in reference to you seeing this occur but noting little action is taken? Or are you more looking to see why a guy jumping up the backside on an aerial ball is given free reign?

While there is pushing contact allowed in a simultaneous challenge, we need to look at how that contact is framed and which player was in the better position as often it is in whether a player is set versus one moving in. For example a player backing into an opponent, not looking at where he is going, but reacting to the incoming flight of the ball undercuts an opponent who appears to be leaping onto his back pushing . This is in fact being pushed out of the way by the player backing up. Be it in readiness for a ball in the air to head or a shielding process on the ground both players can be jostling the other, from behind with arms used to push or ward the other away as the butt backing up with arms spread is employed to push the other way lol

Some players will be moving , others staying still, both going up in an Aerial challenge, one might be jumping straight up the other coming in at angle from the backside. While we can see the the player's will occasionally look at the other player rather than the ball to ensure they are mitigating a possible challenge, by observing their actions we need to be aware they are intent on ensuring no control by the other player rather than a direct challenge to win the ball. Such things as the position & use of the arms draped over top the shoulders or elbows & free hands waving about in the face, the mass /size issue also plays a role in a decision as a larger player can shrug off a smaller one with less effort.

Read other questions answered by Referee Richard Dawson

View Referee Richard Dawson profile

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Michael
If I had a dollar for every time I heard ** In the back Ref** I would have a tidy sum of money.
The game involves contact between players and not all contact is an offence.
Law 12 lists out the offences that are punished by a free kick. The relevant ones here are pushing, jumps at and charging. Once the referee decides that the manner of same is careless, reckless etc it becomes an offence.
So two players jump for the ball and they come together in the air in an attempt to head the ball the referee can deem the contact to be part of play with no offence. The opponent might use his arm to push the opponent away (offence) or make no attempt to head the ball just charge into the opponents back (offence). Those will be clear fouls punished by a direct free kick.
There will be other times when raised arms for leverage makes minimal contact with an opponent or the player makes contact with the opponent raised arm, or the defender jumps for the ball and the attacker backs slightly into him or a raised arm that has no impact on the opponent etc. Those are not offences and at worst trifling or doubtful. Those instances usually attract shouts for a foul and a free kick. Sometimes it gets irritating as it is only an attempt to garner an easy free kick for incidental contact that has no impact on play. There are times as well when it is a mismatch in size and strength. I like games where those involved in aerial challenges are strong enough to resist any contact from behind and if the contact has impact it is without doubt an offence.
There are times as well where the attacker looks for a foul every time he loses an aerial challenge for the ball citing illegal contact in the back. Two players jumping for the ball in the air has to have a level of contact and not always illegal. The referee has to judge that looking at it fairly.
There will be times as well when the contact is minimal yet it is still an offence. An example would be where a player just as an opponents goes to head the ball makes no effort to play the ball yet nudges the opponent causing him to misplay the ball. That is an offence.
Another one is where a player goes to head the ball and an opponent steps across to prevent the player heading the ball making no effort to play the ball and contact is made on the players back. Again that is a foul against the player as he has made no attempt to play the ball just an attempt to block the opponent heading the ball by stepping across him. It can look like a charge in the back yet the intent is otherwise. In fact it is an offence against the player impeding an opponent with contact who ends up getting contacted on the side or back.

Read other questions answered by Referee Joe McHugh

View Referee Joe McHugh profile

Ask a Follow Up Question to Q# 33361
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.