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.