To Give Or Not To Give, That Is The Question…

The Rules of Association Football consistently cause consternation for fans as they witness so many different interpretations of them by referees.   One of the most contentious areas of interpretation is the awarding of penalties when the last defender brings down the on-rushing forward in the box.   How many times do we fans witness an obvious infringement in the area that draws an inconsistent response from the referee?  The rules seem clear: –

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any

of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be

careless, reckless or using excessive force:

• kicks or attempts to kick an opponent

• trips or attempts to trip an opponent

• jumps at an opponent

• charges an opponent

• strikes or attempts to strike an opponent

• pushes an opponent

• tackles an opponent

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any

of the following three offences:

• holds an opponent

• spits at an opponent

• handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own

penalty area)

A direct free kick is taken from the place where the offence occurred

(see Law 13 – Position of free kick).

Penalty kick

A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by

a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball,

provided it is in play.

Sending-off offences

A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the

following seven offences:

• serious foul play

• violent conduct

• spitting at an opponent or any other person

• denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity

by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within

his own penalty area)

• denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving

towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a

penalty kick

• using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

• receiving a second caution in the same match

Ok, so not that clear! – that’s quite a lot to bear in mind isn’t it when chasing after 22 players and a spheroid across a patch of grass located on a very much larger oblate spheroid.   The salient points seem to be ‘trips or attempts to trip an opponent’, ‘holds an opponent’ and ‘denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick’.  So, from the recent experience of the London Senior Cup Final, Wingate & Finchley Fans might reasonably have expected the Hendon defender to be sent off and a penalty awarded for the fouls on our striker – there was holding and tripping in the area and he was through on goal.   Yet the referee gave nothing and waved play on.   So surely, if he didn’t see it as a foul (the only possible conclusion from his play-on indication), he should have been cautioning our player for diving under the ‘unsporting behaviour’ part of the rules?

Holding & Tripping

Holding & Tripping in the Area

These are the sort of decisions that leave fans (and players) perplexed and sometimes downright angry – it can change the course of a match.

But that’s not the only issue with the penalty decision choices that referees make.   The commonest and most controversial is the penalty given but no card for the offender.   Clearly from the laws of the game above, if the referee has given a penalty and the player against whom it is given is the ‘last defender’ then it should be a red card.   Yet referees consistently give penalties with either no card or a yellow card.   Presumably, in the case of the Yellow Card they have determined that there was no goal scoring opportunity – perhaps subconsciously applying an inappropriate version of the off-side rule?   Where no card is given at all…?  Well, I can’t see how that is possibly supported by the rules of the game!

So there we have the example of inconsistency.   It seems that there is a debate going on in the background amongst the referees (and I’d like to ask one that I know) about the rights and wrongs of the rules as they stand.   Some ref’s appear to favour an approach that awarding a penalty is correct and that is enough for the offence where perhaps it was for pushing, ramping up to a card for the more unacceptable offences like holding / tripping.    Others will apply the full weight of the law and send off the offender as well as awarding the penalty.  These differing approaches are very much an interpretation of the rules rather than the application of them.   I suspect that a number of referees believe that they should be allowed discretion in this area as a penalty and a red card runs contrary to the double jeopardy concept of the British Judicial system – giving the penalty is punishment enough, adding a sending off punishes the player’s team twice for the same offence.   Like I say, I’d love to know if that debate is going on in referee’s circles.  If it is, perhaps the fans and players should also be part of the debate 😉

However, there is a further complication.  It sometimes seems that the importance of the match and the time within the game also play a part in referees decisions.   Fans will tell you (and this has definitely not been a result of a scientific study) that: –

  • Penalties with a red card do not happen early in important matches regardless of the offence.
  • Ditto late in the second half of important matches unless it might even up a match.
  • Never in extra time – though a penalty may be awarded to even things up.

In other words, referees are influencing the outcome of the game by trying NOT to influence the outcome of the game 😦   Now surely, that isn’t right?   To Give Or Not To Give….   Over to you Ref!

p.s.  And how often do we fans shout for the ultimate sanction when it’s the opposition whilst claiming it wasn’t a foul for our own defence – no consistency from us either is there?



  1. Now – I never knew that before… You can ‘Like’ your own posts… Must be a Bug 🙂

  2. I got confused after “A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if”

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