The Rules Nobody Seems to Know

By Randy Vogt

Game control of this boys under-19 game was becoming dicey with increasing dissent as we approached the midway point of the second half. I had several years of referee experience back then and this being New York in the mid-1980s, I was refereeing the game by myself with no assistant referees, just club linesmen.

As a team took a goal kick, there were only two players standing in the other half of the field -- an attacker in the kickoff circle and the keeper by his goal line. The goal kick went directly to the attacker and I thought to myself, “Oh no!”

With defenders and a couple of spectators yelling for me to call offside, the attacker dribbled to goal and the keeper made the save, which was good for me as everybody would have thought that I allowed an illegal goal. When the ball went out of play, I nicely explained that a player cannot be called offside when receiving the ball directly from a goal kick. The players thought I was crazy but if they checked the Laws of the Game after the match, they would have realized that I was correct.

Most soccer fans know that you cannot be offside on a throw-in or corner kick but you can add a goal kick to that list as well. It came as a surprise to an assistant referee who was officiating a boys U-19 game with me last summer when this rare event occurred again of an attacker receiving the ball directly from a goal kick with only the opposing keeper closer to the goal line than him. The AR raised his flag and I told him to lower it as you cannot be offside on a goal kick -- while the attacker went to goal on a breakaway. Soccer’s rules are for the most part pretty simple but there are a few rules that most people don’t know.

How about defensive restarts inside the penalty area? Most people know that a goal kick has to go outside the penalty area to be in play. Many do not know that all defensive restarts have to cross the 18-yard line to be in play. Two referees got into a big argument during a youth tournament about this. So I showed them Law 13: Free Kicks. For a free kick inside the penalty area, direct or indirect to the defending team, the ball is in play when it is kicked directly out of the penalty area.

Many people know that a keeper commits handling when he or she is standing inside the penalty area and touches the ball outside the penalty area. Yet some don’t know that a keeper could be standing outside the penalty area and not commit a handling foul if he touches the ball on or inside the 18-yard line.

Before a penalty kick is taken, if the kicker’s teammate comes into the penalty area too soon and the ball does not enter the goal, play is restarted with an indirect kick to the defending team where the infringement occurred. Who knew? Not many people, including a few refs, know that restart.

One of the most surreal games that I ever refereed occurred nearly a decade ago on the last day of the fall season. I received a call to ref from the local referee association to ref a girls U-11 game that was uncovered. When I got there, a woman yelled, “I can’t believe that my cousin is refereeing my daughter’s game!” Thankfully, nobody heard her as there were few people at the field at that time. I certainly did not know that I would be refereeing a relative.

She and her husband told me the situation. If their daughter’s team won, they won the division championship. If they tied, they were division co-champions. And if they lost, they finished in third place behind the team they were playing.

So I said, “I’m glad that you don’t care who wins!”

The husband said, “Just do the right thing, cuz.”

Their daughter was a very good forward but little Julie had a bad habit of never looking where the defenders were. I sensed this was not going to end well. I was refereeing the game by myself and wouldn’t you know that I called her offside a couple of times?

With the score still 0-0 midway through the second half, a teammate was on a breakaway, the keeper came out to cut down the angle and passed to Julie who was marked by a defender. Julie scored.

Unfortunately, that defender was the only opponent closer to the goal line than her as the keeper had left the goal. Few people understand that if the keeper comes out, another defender (instead of the keeper) is needed closer to the goal line or parallel to the attacker to keep the attacker from an offside position. I explained why the goal was disallowed and everybody seemed to understand, even my cousin.

The opposing team scored but then Julie’s team did at the end of the second half so they wound up as division co-champions. My cousin came up to me after the game and said, “Of course, you would have to come up with a professional call to disallow Julie’s goal.”

Perhaps if her team did not tie the score, there would have been a family issue.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at
12 comments about "The Rules Nobody Seems to Know ".
  1. Ian Plenderleith, November 21, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.

    As a ref with probably around 7,500 games less experience than Randy, I love these columns. Please keep them coming.

  2. Marc Silverstein, November 21, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.

    or how about this particular play I had this year...a GK takes the free kick after an offsides call at her 6 and then manages to drill her own sweeper in the back of the head who is standing inside the top of their own penalty area. As the ball is heading towards the goalpost and then over the end line I'm thinking that I know that I have this completely covered for a corner, but would anyone have known what to do? So at the end of the match I asked my referee partners and both coaches what they would have called if the ball had entered the net instead of hitting the goalpost. Everyone told me that the goal would have counted and all would have been incorrect.

  3. Chip Thomas, November 21, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

    Thanks for the column Randy, it brings back memories of refereeing in the mountain towns of Colorado. Many, many times was I asked by either my daughter's coach or the opposing coach to ref their game because they were so short handed with refs in the area. Good thing it wasn't state cup or tournaments...just regular season games in the lower divisions. But I guess I was asked those many times, because I was fair to both sides and knowledgeable in the laws of the game...that and over twenty five years experience playing, coaching, and refereeing games. Thanks again for this, it brought back some good memories for me.

  4. Dan Woog, November 21, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.

    THANKS, Randy. But don't leave us hanging. You wrote: "if the kicker’s teammate comes into the penalty area too soon and the ball does not enter the goal, play is restarted with an indirect kick to the defending team where the infringement occurred." Okay - what happens if the ball DOES enter the goal in that situation? And why is it different than your original scenario?

  5. Randy Vogt, November 21, 2013 at 3:55 p.m.

    To answer my old friend Dan Woog, if the kicker's teammate enters the penalty area before the PK is taken and the ball goes into the goal, the PK is retaken. Successful PKs are retaken when there's an infraction by the attacking team. Also, should there be an infringement of the rules by both teams, the PK is retaken no matter whether it went into the goal or not.

  6. Dan Woog, November 21, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

    That's what I thought, Randy -- just wanted to make sure. THANKS!

  7. Barry Ulrich, November 21, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.

    Marc- Gentle reminder that the term is offside, not offsides.

  8. sergio vasile, November 21, 2013 at 7:21 p.m.

    To answer Marc,
    Play should be blown dead as soon as his teammate was hit by ball, retake kick because ball has not left penalty area.

  9. R2 Dad, November 22, 2013 at 1:29 a.m.

    good stuff! Don't forget DOGSO criteria. Players and coaches have no idea, and the consequences are huge. Never bodes well for the officials...

  10. Walter Lowe, November 24, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

    I've only been refereeing seven years, but I knew all these. The Seattle Sounders were scored on at Philadelphia a couple years ago when the unmarked attacker received the goal kick deep in the attacking end. Apparently only he and the referees realized he was not offside.

    A couple years ago I had to book a coach in a BU11 tournament final when his keeper successfully defended a PK and I stopped play to give his team an indirect kick where the infringement occurred. He was livid because he wanted his keeper to punt, but I felt it was better at that age for the players to realize they had entered the penalty area too soon, although I probably would have played advantage for an older team and not made any call.

    Today in my son's U15 match the keeper made a save and was bumped to the ground. As he landed, the attacker kicked the ball from his outstretched hand into the goal. The center referee, very experienced, correctly disallowed the goal, and then spotted the ball on the one-yard line within the goal area! Shouldn't it have been placed on the 6-yard line?

  11. Randy Vogt, November 25, 2013 at 11:21 a.m.

    Walter, that free kick could have been taken from anywhere in the goal area. Happy Thanksgiving, Randy

  12. Allan Lindh, December 30, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.

    Best column and comments in a coon's age. Please keep them coming. I personally would appreciate a column by Randy on a ref's responsibility for the "spirit of the game." Many youth refs seem engrossed in details of the law, while ignoring that a brawl is slowly breaking out. Especially with boys, youthful testosterone sometimes runs rampant.

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