Ref Watch: Joe Machnik on calls the rules don't cover clearly

Even though I had a clear view of the incident, I blanked on what the call should be. The goalkeeper grabbed a bouncing ball near his goal line. A teammate kicked it out of his hands and the ball flew into their own goal.

This happened at U-12 boys, one of my favorite groups to referee. The skills can be quite high and the play entertaining. And the players aren't at the age when boys testing the ref to see what they can get away with has become part of their game. That's not to say that preteens don't get rude, especially when they've got adults role-modeling dissent.

On this day, Team A's coach screamed at me within five minutes but I warned him, he apologized, and for the rest of the game he directed wrath only at his players. When I waved him on to check an injured midfielder, he used the opportunity to scream at his right back, "You gotta pass the ball quicker!" 

On Monday, I called Hall of Fame referee Joe Machnik, who you'll often hear bringing his expert analysis to controversial calls during Fox Sports game telecasts. I was relieved that Machnik agreed I had encountered a tricky incident with the own goal and was eager to break it down.

"Obviously an unusual situation," said Machnik.

The rulebook says that "playing in a dangerous manner is any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) ..." Because "someone" can be a teammate, and kicking the ball out of someone's clutch is dangerous, that incident sounds like an indirect kick foul. Hence my confusion.

"When unusual situations come up, you've got Law 5," said Machnik and read: "'Decisions will be made to the best of the referee's ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee, who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.'"

If I had a called an indirect free kick for the attacking team, at the edge of the goal area, Machnik said, "That'd be a nightmare for them to score and it'd take you half an hour to have everybody on the goal line when they set up the wall."

That didn't happen because I had let the goal stand.

"You made the right call," Machnik said. "You asked yourself the question, 'What would soccer expect?'"

That's from the rulebook's introduction:

"The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, 'what would football want/expect?'"

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7 comments about "Ref Watch: Joe Machnik on calls the rules don't cover clearly".
  1. stewart hayes, May 27, 2022 at 6:31 p.m.

    I would have thought the goalie had possession.  So the correct call would be a yellow card for dangerous play and drop ball to the defending team.  Player safety first.

  2. Mike Woitalla replied, May 28, 2022 at 1:16 a.m.

    It was the goalkeeper's teammate who kicked the ball out of the goalkeeper's hands into their own goal. 

  3. stewart hayes replied, May 28, 2022 at 12:36 p.m.

    .. free kick to the oppositionn I should have said...  but Mike you said the goalie had possession.  Therefore clearly no goal can result no matter who kicks the ball.  A teammate denying him the ball should not matter.  Also, dangerous play is just that.  

  4. R2 Dad, May 28, 2022 at 10:54 a.m.

    Ah! All the links in one place--thx! Good story. I might add that what football doesn't expect is for IFAB to micro-codify handling in the box so far beyond recognition as to make implementation possible for young teens in youth situations. Yet here we are, on the verge of separate VAR rules for professionals. Handling 10 years ago was so much simpler, and I think simpler was better.

  5. R2 Dad replied, May 29, 2022 at 10:41 a.m.


  6. Kent James replied, June 29, 2022 at 10:34 a.m.

    You are right about the "into the rabbit hole" journey of handling.  It used to make sense, even if everyone didn't like it.  If you used your hands (or arms) to gain an andvantage, that was against the rules.  If the ball just hit them (and they were in a normal position), there was no penalty for simply having arms, it was just like the ball hitting any other part of the body.  Sure, some people felt that if it created an advantage (blocking a ball on the way to the goal) then it should be called, but it made sense not call it.  The only thing about the rule FIFA needed to clarify was when the arms away from the body counted as being a natural position (for example, when a player puts their arms out for balance; away from the body, but not unnatural in my book).  So there was confusion in that case (while I think the ball should be allowed to strike an arm away from the body as long as that was not why the arm was away from the body without penalty, I could have accepted something like "if the arm is away from the torso by more than a foot and makes contact with the ball, it's a foul").  But now I can't even keep up with what the new interpretations are.  Simplicity is a virtue, especially in rules... Thank God I'm no longer refereeing.  

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, June 30, 2022 at 6:59 p.m.

    I keep saying: IT's FOOTBALL... Not Handball...
    Whistle ALL "Handling" below the Armpit, and OUTSIDE the Body Frame.
    Then Just Decide if it is:
    UnINTENTIONAL = InDirect Kick
    Makes it Easy on Spectators, Players and Refs.

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