The Rules Nobody Seems to Know

This article was originally published in Soccer America - Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

 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

CJSA is sponsored by: