Commentary

The goalkeeper's insufficient fear of the penalty

It's both a bane and a benefit for referees that we only have a second to make our decisions. On the downside, we have no time to carefully measure the pros and cons of making a call one way or the other. On the plus side, following your first instinct in the immediate aftermath of an incident may lead, in most cases, to the correct call. This past weekend I followed my instinct, knowing full well that it was going to lead to immediate trouble.

I was refereeing an intense boys U-19 game -- the second-place club was playing third-place, with both teams only a few points off the top spot. By late in the second half, the home team was down 1-2 and pressing for the equalizer. An away team forward broke clear on a counterattack and found himself one-on-one with the home goalkeeper. The goalkeeper came off his line and, in the penalty area, cleared the ball into touch. Right after making contact with the ball, he also laid out the opposing forward.

The home team's players and followers on the sideline were already congratulating the goalkeeper for his save (never mind the forward writhing on the ground). That's why I knew there was going to be a problem when I blew the whistle one second later and pointed to the penalty spot. Cue the howls of outrage from the home team, who surrounded me to protest. "But he got the ball!" "Your refereeing's a joke!" I signaled for the away team's trainer to come on and treat his clearly hurt player, waved the dissenters away, and cautioned the keeper.

The winded attacking player recovered after a couple of minutes, the penalty was converted, and the game was as good as over, though for the remaining quarter of an hour the home team played dirty, moaned a lot, and generally showed themselves to be very poor losers. While looking forward to setting out for home and settling down to the Bundesliga highlights with a cold beer, I found myself thinking about two areas of consistent ignorance among players, coaches and fans with regard to the rules of the game.

The first relates to the status of the goalkeeper, which I've written about before, and so has my colleague Paul Gardner. This is the false belief that the goalkeeper has a special status within his own penalty area. As though being allowed to handle the ball wasn't privilege enough in itself, the vast majority of those involved in soccer, including a huge number of referees, seem to think the goalkeeper can charge through opponents with impunity. That the shot-stopper can leap, dive and punch with complete disregard for the safety of the other team.

There is nothing in the Laws of the Game, not a single word, that allows the goalkeeper to act in this fashion. However, a culture of lenience toward goalkeepers has been developed over several decades, and it's going to take a counter-culture of courage from game officials and administrative bodies to chip away at this ongoing injustice. Either that, or a career-ending or life-threatening injury to a high-profile attacking player.

The second relates to the lingering belief that when a player, be it the goalkeeper or an outfield player, touches the ball before they take out an opponent then it can not be a foul. Almost every single game that I referee, some outraged hatchet man or woman will bellow that my call was wrong because, "Ref, I played the ball first!"

It was indeed once enshrined in the rules that if a player touched the ball first, then there was no foul, regardless of how much subsequent contact they made with the opponent. That law was changed well over a decade ago. It was a necessary change because it protects soccer players from the kind of overzealous, full-blooded, whole-hearted (read -- health-endangering) lummox that has no place in a sporting arena, despite the lowing of the ex-pro in the commentary booth that in his day "that would never have been a foul, let alone a card."

After the game, a home player aggressively approached me and wanted to know if he could ask me a question. Not in that tone of voice, I replied, and refused to hear him out -- I'd listened to enough nonsense from him and his teammates by that point. It's not up to me to teach the game's rules to players, I only apply them. Ask your coach, son, who should by now be busy working on a drill for one-on-ones with the keeper, and how to avoid conceding a decisive penalty.

8 comments about "The goalkeeper's insufficient fear of the penalty".
  1. R2 Dad, February 3, 2020 at 2:47 p.m.

    Preach! League and club management must address goalkeeping trainers, where this deeply-embedded belief of keeper infallibility resides and continues to bubble up from time to time like ebola from the jungle.

  2. Paul Krieg, February 4, 2020 at 11:02 a.m.

    Completely with you.

    up to, and not including, that last statement
    //home player aggressively approached me and wanted to know if he could ask me a question. Not in that tone of voice, I replied, and refused to hear him out

    you are the adult and the pro.   He is an 18 year old kid.  You wonder how he will never learn?   Good men, remaining silent.   Yes, it's painful to deal with aggrieved people, especially when they are in the wrong.   But two wrongs never make a right and our country is swimming in aggrieved people right now who won't talk to each other

    so, bravo for being right.  Just don't complain that the other side is congratulating themselves for them being right, and you being wrong

  3. Ian Plenderleith replied, February 6, 2020 at 6:15 a.m.

    You are probably right, but it was an awful game and I just wasn't in the mood. Happens to the best of us...

  4. Kevin Leahy, February 5, 2020 at 4:48 p.m.

    It has bothered me for a long time how, keepers can get away with almost everything. It is a mind set that, needs to change to protect other players including, their own teammates. 

  5. Kevin Leahy, February 5, 2020 at 4:48 p.m.

    It has bothered me for a long time how, keepers can get away with almost everything. It is a mind set that, needs to change to protect other players including, their own teammates. 

  6. Michael Saunders, February 6, 2020 at 2:14 p.m.

    Ian:  I am with you and I am highly supportive of Paul Gradner's advocacy on this issue. 

     


     


     


     

  7. Scott Larson, February 6, 2020 at 3:58 p.m.

    Its unclear from the description of the play provided, and maybe this is the question the player's had, but were not quite elequent enough to ask but...

    Why was it not considered the forward that laid out the goalkeeper after the keeper won the ball?  How do the laws define blame & fault for high speed collisions? 

    I'm sure the goalkeeper and forward were both approaching each other with similar rates of speed (i.e. as fast as they could).  Was the determining factor in fould assignment that the forward went down after contact whereas the goalkeeper remained standing? 

  8. beautiful game, February 8, 2020 at 12:28 p.m.

    I remember watching one of my friends playing keeper for his high school team many moons ago. As the game rolled along in typical back and forth fashion the keeper stretched to intecept a corner kick as an opponent crashed into him resulting in a rib injury to the keeper. On the next corner kick the same opponent tried to head the ball and the keeper came out with an outstreched  fist and clocked the opponent in the head well before the ball arrived. The opponent was knocked unconscious. It was clear and obvious to me and just about to everyone else that the keeper decided to take revenge. The referee swallowed his whistle while the spectators screamed at his incompetence.

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