The death of a goalkeeper: Time to ref differently or rewrite the rules

One month after a field player was nearly killed by a goalkeeper collision in the German Bundesliga, goalkeeper Choirul Huda  died after a collision during an Indonesia Super League game.

Both incidents were ones that are common in soccer without referees calling fouls – despite that the FIFA rulebook defines them as fouls.

In the Bundesliga case, VfL Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels crushed midfielder Christian Gentner’s face by leaping into the VfB Stuttgart captain with a raised knee.

Huda launched himself toward the feet of an opponent in an attempt to reach the ball, and got slammed by his teammate, who was running alongside the attacker.

Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner, for more than 25 years, has warned that referees not applying the rules to goalkeepers will lead to dire consequences.

In a recent column, Gardner pointed out the anomaly of referees not calling “playing in a dangerous manner” on goalkeepers when a keeper launches himself at an opponent’s feet.

“He is putting his head quite close to ground level,” wrote Gardner. “It is a dangerous move, indeed a brave one, by the keeper. But it surely fits the rulebook’s definition of dangerous play, and a foul should be called against the goalkeeper. So why do referees never call it? …

"'Playing in a dangerous manner’ is nicely identified in the rulebook as action that “threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) ...”

Laws of the Game | Law 12 | Fouls and Misconduct Page:

Cleary, bringing the head to field level where other players are running or kicking meets the definition of “playing in a dangerous manner.”

Yet, referees have not been making that call. If they did, then goalkeepers would have stopped putting themselves into such a vulnerable position, and perhaps Indonesia would not be mourning its legendary goalkeeper, Choirul Huda.

Casteels challenge, which referee Guido Winkmann and VAR deemed fair, certainly meet the criteria of “jumps at” in careless or reckless manner or using excessive force.

For its part, the world’s governing bodies, especially FIFA, have not seemed to bother instructing their referees to start enforcing the rules that apply to all players to the goalkeepers.

In the case of incidents such as Casteels’ knee, 6 feet above the grass, slamming into Gentner’s face, the rationalizations have been to cite that the goalkeepers need to protect themselves.

Although the replays show that Gentner posed no threat to the goalkeeper, obviously goalkeepers need to be protected.

If the referees do not enforce the current rules (or are allowed to ignore them), a solution that would go far in protecting the field players and the goalkeepers, would be to limit the goalkeeper’s use of hands to inside the goal area, and prohibit players from challenging the goalkeeper within the goal area.

Once outside the goal area, the goalkeeper could defend as a field player would, under the same rules as all the players. And they would no longer be tempted to put themselves in the situation that cost Huda his life.

20 comments about "The death of a goalkeeper: Time to ref differently or rewrite the rules".
  1. Ed M, October 17, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

    Another just plain stupid article misdirecting a cause for injuries or death on the field. Are players coached? Yes! Are they in control of their own bodies? Yes! Has this author, and the one mentioned, taken a Referee course anywhere at any time? Doesn't appear like it. Their understanding of the Law book and how it is taught to Referees is appalling. Using the small amount of soccer knowledge to criticise Referees for injuries caused or the death of a goalkeeper and to place the blame squarely on the Referees shoulders does the sport no justice nor does it present factual reporting. Since both authors present themselves as experts of the game, they should know the history of the Laws of the Game. Playing in a dangerous manner, which used to be termed dangerous play, was under 'technical infringements.' These technical infringements were only indirect free kick restarts. Now they are listed under indirect free kicks. If FIFA and the membership of FIFA thought that a technical infringement, a small breach in the Laws of the Game, was what such actions are worthy of then the level of injury of danger was quite low. Compare to Serious foul play which is much much more serious in nature such as potential broken leg is a direct free kick and a sending off offense. Playing in a dangerous manner is only an indirect free kick, no sanctioning, the lowest of penalties. So, how are Referees responsible for deaths of players or near death actions of players by not whistling for playing in a dangerous manner? Can these two "experts" who are claiming such punishments and officiating justify with the Laws of the Game and the directives given to Referees by FIFA how Referees are to blame? Without considering the true facts and understanding the Laws of the Game, writing on such things is just editorial trash.

  2. R2 Dad replied, October 18, 2017 at 1:33 a.m.

    Since you are such an expert, you must agree the sport has changed over the years and the LOTG had to change to reflect the faster speed of play, the greater impact that collisions had on the health and safety of the players. If you need reminding, here are a couple compilations of tackles in the 80s' through the 2000's:
    Regardless of the the thinking and ranking of fouls and their severity in the past, the above clips reminded FIFA that in order to grow the game, they needed to protect the players. Being pedantic about the history does nothing to diminish the validity of Mike and Paul's arguement. After all, everyone is paying to see the magical moments of skillful play and not the chainsaw massacre of goons shown in these clips--that sort of play had to be eliminated. The only element of unmitigated violence left unaddressed is that allowed of keepers on field players. This column is a timely reminder that FIFA/IFAB's job is not done and further clarification is needed to protect field players going forward. Do you have anthing to contribute to the discussion, or are you just here to vent your spleen?

  3. Paul Cox replied, October 18, 2017 at 5:05 a.m.

    I'm a certified ref and I have absolutely no problem with these columns. The rules are there to positively affect player safety. The rules are also clear, but we (referees) all too often ignore what the rules say when it comes to goalkeepers.  

    We should be calling this stuff, period.  Gardner was right when he predicted that someone would die and sure enough, look, someone did.

  4. Kevin Korenberg replied, October 18, 2017 at 9:29 a.m.

    Paul Cox, Paul Gardner couldn't have predicted what has sadly happened several times in the past.  A quick internet search will find several players who have died due to injuries sustained on the pitch.  The mitigating factors in these deaths from injuries (not from heart issues) has to due with head injuries.  Some of the causes are hits from goalkeepers.  Some are field players hitting each other's heads.  And some are head injuries from other causes.  So what is the solution?  Mandatory soft hemets?  Banning the use of the head similar to Law against the use of the hands?  I don't ask this to be flippant but to try to move the conversation along.  The group of articles highlights a perceived epidemic but does not offer any solutions.  Do we abolish the position of goalkeeper?  Is there some other solution within the current Laws of the Game?

  5. Ed M replied, October 19, 2017 at 4:32 a.m.

    R2 Dad, your argument is as weak as the authors. Blaming the Referees is just plain stupid. Making the statement that some video you provide supports the authors claim is misguided and misses the point. Players decide to play as they do. They are coached to play a certain way. Referees do not read the future. Since you are such an expert, why don't you tell us where in the Laws it describes what the Referees should be doing something? What are justifications under the Laws the Referees are to use to "make the call" that will save a life? Dangerous play, as you call it, is only a technical infringement, pretty low on the infringement ladder. What do you really know about this?

  6. Kevin Korenberg, October 17, 2017 at 8:17 p.m.

    First, I play goalkeeper and coach goalkeepers.  I am absolutely disgusted that SoccerAmerica would use the untimely death of Choirul Huda to continue their unwarranted witch hunt against goalkeepers.  Watch the embedded video.  When the keeper goes down to get the ball, he is not in a dangerous position.  The danger comes when the offensive player makes contact with the defender, forcing him into the keeper.  The failure is not calling the foul on the offensive player in this case.  There is no serious foul play by the goal keeper.  He gets hit by someone pushed into him.  It is an unfortunate outcome that it cost him his life.
    These constant attacks on goalkeepers are pathetic.  When a goalkeeper is on the receiving end of a collision with a raised knee (Manchester United FC vs Sunderland AFC, 4/9/17, Ibra vs Pickford), nothing is mentioned.  Why?  Because it doesn't fall in your myopic narrative of goalkeeper bad/field player good?  By the way, in the above example, no card was brandished despite a knee being raised and aimed at the Sunderland goalkeeper on an attempted tackle outside the box (I should note that I am a Manchester United shareholder).  And that's the problem.  That the laws of the game aren't applied consistently game to game, league to league, minute to minute, and location of the field to location of the field.  I completely understand the latitude and instructions referees have in applying the Laws of the Game and why some of the decisions are made.  But trying to lay blame for some incidents while ignoring others on all goalkeepers is wrong and irresponsible.  And in trying to tie in this unfortunate event into your campaign is shameful.  It is disgusting enough to cause me to respond for the first time and consider cancelling my subscription.

  7. R2 Dad replied, October 18, 2017 at 1:52 a.m.

    Goalkeepers are a summation of all the tactics, habits and practices of their coaches, as you well know. Sadly, there are still plenty of neandertals our there like yourself that are self-righteous and unrepentant in their insistence that keeper violence is acceptable, despite the LOTG not allowing for this violence. Shockingly, you are still allowed to train new keepers in these dark arts. Please re-read the LOTG and show me where it states that keepers can injure their opponents and not suffer the consequences as field players would. I'll save you the time and tell you that it's not in the LOTG anywhere. The fact that it's been allowed to continue for so long is more tradition than anything written. As the LOTG evolve, so must coaches, players and officials. You, sadly, are unable and unwilling so should retire your old ways as you present a danger to youth soccer. Here's your hat, what's your hurry?

  8. Paul Cox replied, October 18, 2017 at 5:06 a.m.

    It's not about "GK bad, field player good".  They should BOTH get called when they play in a dangerous manner, period.  The point is that the LOTG should be applied consistently, and differently than they are now.

  9. Kevin Korenberg, October 18, 2017 at 9:03 a.m.

    R2 Dad, Which of my sessions have you witnessed or partipated in?  What do you know of the tactics or techniques that I coach?  I think I made it clear in my post that I want a consistent application of the Laws of the Game, regardless of position. The problem I have with this author and Paul Gardner's campaign is how myopic and desperate it is.  They ignore an incident of serious foul play of a field player colliding with a goalkeeper with a raised knee because the person receiving that knee was the goalkeeper and it doesn't fit the narrative of out of control goalkeepers.  They missed an excellent opportunity to point out how the Laws of the Game are not applied correctly as well as a chance to highlight the shockingly poor standards of concussion protocol.  Instead, there was silence.
    These constant attacks on a single position are not helpful.  The attempt to use Huda's death to further their campaign was disrespectful.  I apologize, R2 Dad, that somehow in my post you got the impression that I advocate for a game to played in a manner similar to traditional calcio.   There is an issue in the game where the Laws are not applied correctly and dangerous play is not penalized enough across the field.  There isn't one position that is more out of control than another.  And that's the discussion to be had.  Not continued attacks on a single position when the issue is larger than that.

  10. R2 Dad replied, October 18, 2017 at 5:52 p.m.

    Three words: Concussion Protocol Liability.

  11. Bill Riviere, October 18, 2017 at 9:36 a.m.


    First, I have refereed for over 20 years.  I think your views are biased because you are a goal keeper and GK coach.  You claim the collision imbedded in this article was in good part caused by the attacker pushing the defender.  Not so.  The push (actually more of a holding action until the collision) did not propel the defender into the goalkeeper nor prevent the defender from colliding with the GK.  The defender's forward speed/motion was too fast for the defender to avoid the collision, in my opiniion.  The goal keeeper put himself in harm's way by throwing himself in front of a speeding wall of (2) players.

    So, does that mean the GK committed an infraction of the rules?  Well, he certainly played in a dangerous manner with his action.  You can't bllame the field players for anything in this situation--all they did was run at full speed toward the goal attempting to make a play.  The GK rushed in front of a train with his head barely two feet above the ground.

    The authors are right--100%.  Whatever can be done to improve player safety, whether it is referees altering how they interpret playing in a dangerous manner or further changes by FIFA to the LOTG, it should be done post haste.  I for one plan to be more careful of my interpretations regarding GK play.

  12. ROBERT BOND, October 18, 2017 at 9:53 a.m.

    some refs allow way more contact than others....

  13. Pasco Struhs, October 18, 2017 at 1:49 p.m.

    First and foremost, this is a very sad event.  The death of any human being is terrible, especially when it is unexpected like this.  I am not a goalkeeper, coach or ref and have only a rudimentary understanding of the rules.  I wholeheartedly believe in protecting players from serious injury and certainly death.  However, I'm not sure what a referee could have done HERE to prevent THIS terrible tragedy.  I'm not sure you can compare this to the Casteels/Gentner incident.  As I watched the replay above, Huda rushes out to grab the ball and runs into the pelvis of his defender, who is also going after the ball.  It doesn't appear that the defender's knee hits Huda.  Instead, it looks like huda's head impacts the defender's pelvis, maybe hip.  Huda's head is not near the ground.  He's not sliding face first into a foot.  Goalkeepers have to make split second decisions whether or not to come off of their lines.  Some are more aggressive than others.  I think Huda simply miscalculated the distance to the ball and speed at which the offensive/defensive players were approaching.  This could have happened with two field players challenging for the ball in the middle of the field.  What is the proposed rule violation?  That Huda recklessly charged into the area of the ball with his head lower than shoulder level?  What if the ball had bounced higher and the impact to Huda was from the defender's shoulder - similarly reckless on Huda's part?  The point I'm making is that I don't think the fear of a rule violation would have stopped Huda from going after the ball.  People, even goalkeepers, don't voluntarily throw themselves into collisions that they think will cause themselves serious bodily harm.  In the split second that it took Huda to make that decision to go after the ball, I don't think he anticipated that kind of impact.  I'm sure he thought he could get to the ball without injury.  Probably get to the ball before the other players arrived.  If that's true, what could, should a referee have done in anticipation of such an incident?  I think its just a very unfortunate incident in a physical game.  Again, I'm not commenting on the Casteels/Gentner incident, which I didn't see, or any other goalkeeper collision - just this particular incident.  Feel free to enlighten me if I have missed something.  As I said before, I'm all for player safety, even if it means changing fundamental rules.

  14. ROBERT BOND replied, October 18, 2017 at 3:06 p.m.

    ping pong for everyone!

  15. Goalie001 Armstrong, October 19, 2017 at 10:34 a.m.

    As a couple other commenters I am a GK and GK coach. I played Pro in the APSL (look it up, you probably don't know what league that was, lol), USA National Futsal Team, US Marine Corps Teams and years in lower pro divisions. I've been training GKs since 89. Have all my GK lics with USSF and now called USC, with USSF 'B'. This is just background for what I'm going to say. Not a politician, so the wording will be easy for everyone to understand.
    We (as Keepers) are taught and I teach my GKs to protect themselves...while also trying not to hurt other players, can totally read between the lines on some of the comments others have made, HELICOPTER parents. I don't do a GK session where I say "ok today is the day we learn to break legs and crush players heads"...seriously sounds like some of you are saying that to some of the GK coaches on the comments above, ridiculous. So now I want you non-GKs to go outside run and jump as high as you can jumping with both feet pushing off the run and jump using your stronger leg trying to get as high as you can. Did you do it, probably not, but when you jump of stronger leg your other leg goes into bending position automatically, amazing huh. I've been taken out in so many different ways while in the air I lost track....but I do know 90% of them were times I DIDNT PROTECT MYSELF. I know of 2 times, straight concussions and probably like a American football player many smaller ones. 
    I teach my keepers to control their defense and teach them to YELL when their coming to get the ball in the air or ground challenges. I know the player is trying to score but you see a keeper coming out or running and will be jumping to get the ball and is yelling keeper...don't challenge him or her. Don't challenge him or her sounds idiotic right, well that is like saying don't protect yourself as a GK. I couldn't tell you all the laws of the game, especially because all refs are different and are gonna call different things. 
    Such a tragedy losing any player, keeper or field player. I see so many head to head hits, so do we take out heading the ball? I see players both sliding in from different directions to get the ball and then cleats to chest, groin and even head, do we take out sliding. Not a huge fan of refs in any sport and I would never ref an official way!!!! I have a friend who was a pro ref for years, MLS, Liga MX and in Europe...he is now retired but is a coach. This guy tells me he would always protect the GK because up in the air their taking their live in their hands and so dangerous to get a tiny clip and your landing on you head, snapping your neck and done. 
    People it's a game, refs are all different in their ways of deal with LOTG, you don't like it then don't watch, don't play, don't ref and DONT put your idiotic words into other people's comments.
    RIP to all the players that have passed on while playing THE BEAUTIFUL GAME 

  16. James Madison, October 19, 2017 at 5:34 p.m.

    As a coach, referee and former player, I would distinguish between the two situations.  The GK knee to opponent's head arguably was a DFK foul---jumping at an opponent---with aggravating circumstances---recklessness---meriting a caution.  Whistling and showing a card would have been merited, but would not have prevented the injury.  

    Whether whistling the foul would have contributed or should lead to the laws not allowing GKs to raise knees to protect selves is highly debatable.  On the other hand, referees should be instructed to protect field players per the law when GKs commit a DFK foul and criticized when they fail to.  Better historians of the game can give you the names of the playes, but, although I cannot, I still cringe at the vision of the German GK in the 1982 Cup massacreing the France forward without so much as a who cares on the part of the CR.

    The GK head to teammate's knee (or foot) arguably was a "technical" violation, playing in manner dangeous to self.  Would it have been or useful in the future to whistle?  GKs can go to ground at the feet of an oncoming opponent with the ball 10,000 times and never encounter a teammate.

    Bottom line:  although rare, serious injury and even death can result in the game even in the absence of foul or technically unlawfl play without generating a need to amend the laws or changing the game.  In this connection, Gardner is right to continue arguing for enforcement of the laws with respect to GKs.  However, with all due respect, I disagree with both those who say the sky is falling because of the laws and those who say the sky will fall unless the laws were amended.

  17. Kent James replied, October 20, 2017 at 11:03 p.m.

    Schumaker was the German keeper, and what he did should have been an instant red card (took out Battison, seemingly on purpose, after Battison played the ball).

  18. Raymond Gilsoul, October 20, 2017 at 5:50 a.m.

    This is about the death of Huda.

    Both players have the right to play the ball.  The keeper has the RIGHT to play the ball with his hands.  This includes playing the ball when it is on the ground with his hands.  This inevitably places his head near the ground and attacking feet.  If the keeper cannot do this, then he does not have the right to use hto catch air balls.  The laws clearly contemplate that his head will be near the ground.  Dangerous play laws cannot be read without reference to this law as regards to keepers.

    In almost every situation where the keeper comes out at an attacker dribbling the ball full speed at the goal, the attacker knows that the keeper is coming out.  Aside from his past experience, he can see the keeper coming, and most keepers make lots of noise to make sure he knows he is coming.  KEEPER!!  PORTERO!

    The attacker can at any time pull up, jump to the side, slow down, shoot and/or conclude that if he continues the attack, he will endanger the keeper.  The attacking player expects his own keeper to stop players dribbling past him with a ball by diving hands first at the ball at their feet with the head following close behind.  He would not want anything else from his keeper.  So the attacking player has no reason to think that this keeper is just going to step aside if he continues to dribble toward him at full speed and knows that most likely the keeper is about to charge.  He is knowingly putting the keeper and himself in a dangerous situation.


    But no no no.  It is the keeper who is the dangerous player.  I assume as the attacking player approaches he should jump up, spin around and maybe cover his head and privates.  That is a popular if rather embarrassing and ineffective technique for amateurs that results in a lot of injuries if it goes wrong.  Or maybe he should give up being keeper, that is give up on using his hands, and just try to kick the ball like a defender. 

    Wait, you say he can still use his hands?  Well what if the defender just dribbles the ball into the goal?  At what point is it now safe for him to dive and make the save at the feet of the attacker?  Because I still see him dangerously putting his head near the feet of the attacker.

    I once played in an indoor league with a different interpretation of the Laws.  If the keeper made a play for the ball in the penalty area and an attacking player had any contact with him, the attacking player was gulity of dangerous play.  Everybody understood that the position of keeper was an inherently vulnerable position.  Everybody understood the rule, the games were fun, nobody got hurt, and the keepers retained the right to use their hands.

  19. Kent James, October 20, 2017 at 11:30 p.m.

    There are a few different issues being conflated here.  First, Mike (and PG) are correct that a goalkeeper diving at an onrushing forward is an inherently dangerous situation, since any collision of two people running at each other from opposite directions is dangerous.  On the other hand, in the clip shown, no referee, the way the game is currently called, would call that a foul (the forward got to the ball first, and clearly did not push the defender, and no ref is going to call a player for fouling a member of his own team).  Mike is correct that the rules do allow a ref to punish a player for endangering himself (this is occasionally called for people who head low balls while others are kicking them, but only at the youth level, with the idea that at the upper levels, players are mature enough to know the dangers and shouldn't need to the ref to keep them from endangering themselves).  But certainly no single referee could start calling goalkeepers for diving at the feet of onrushing fowards; if they do it in the box, it would be a PK and a red card, which nobody would accept.  So if we want to eliminate collisions of this nature, there has to be a dramatic rule change.  One possibility would be to not allow keepers to dive forward at the feet of onrushing players (they could stand their ground, and dive sideways to save the shot), but that would make goalkeeping much less effective (though it would be safer).  Or Mike's idea of not allowing the use of hands outside the 6 yard box.  These would be dramatic changes, but would make the game safer.  I think it's worth trying to think of something, and maybe trying a few out to see how they work.  

    The second issue is goalkeepers jumping forward for balls in the air "protecting" themselves with their raised knee.  First, as someone already pointed out (too lazy to go back in the comments section and find it, but you know you who you are...), raising your opposite leg helps you get higher lift, so it is not necessarily a weapon.  And if the GK is jumping straight up, raising a knee (and turning sideways to the contact) does protect the keeper (who otherwise may be subject to getting hit in the exposed nether regions), so it is not inherently dangerous.  On the other hand, some keepers certainly do use it as a weapon (and to intimidate opponents), and some (not all) coaches teach this because they think it makes the goalkeepers more effective (and if the refs don't call it, they're right).  


  20. Kent James, October 20, 2017 at 11:31 p.m.


    <p>The final issue is the leeway that refs often give goalkeepers, and this is the most insidious aspect of the controversy. &nbsp;Yes, GKs are uniquely exposed as they jump with their arms raised high. &nbsp;On the other hand, like field players, they must go straight up, not forward, or they risk fouling their opponent. They certainly can jump forward to get a ball, and their ability to use their hands to punch the ball allows them to often reach over their opponents so that they don't commit a foul. &nbsp;But too often refs allow GKs to launch themselves at (and through) other players trying to play the ball, and this is what PG (especially) objects to, and he's right (and refs do sometimes, though not as often as they should, call this). &nbsp;On the other hand, if both the keeper and the forward launch themselves at each other and collide, who do you call for the foul? &nbsp;Most will call the forward, because while they're equally guilty, a PK can change the game, while a free kick from your own penalty area won't. &nbsp;</p>

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