Friday, 31 July 2009

Opaque Rules Rule OK

Back in the good old days, before the commencement of the Barclays Premier League Asia Trophy, we produced a post on July 21st entitled "How The Rules Corrupt The Laws" (

In the article, we suggested how the Laws of the Game are being contorted by the fake implementation of New Rules that allow too much control to the match officials, particularly the Referee and the 4th Official.

The post prompted a response from subscriber Patrick Morrissey who is Life Vice President of AFA/Lonsar (Amateur Football Alliance/ London Society of Association Referees).


"Thank you for your latest missive. I agree entirely with your point about the interpretation of Laws. It applies particularly to the IFAB interpretation of the Offside Law that has made it so complex that few understand it, and more wrong decisions are being made.
You will have to forgive me as I do not know the Paul Gardner that you quote regarding the Laws of the Game.
But he is way out of date.
The change in Law you refer to concerning making contact with an opponent before the ball was made over a year ago in the Laws for 2008/9 season.
I wrote an article for the 'Argus' - the magazine of the AFA/Lonsar - for the November 2008 edition, covering the same issue. I am attaching a copy for your information (and use if you wish)."

The entire post by Patrick is printed below as it provides a very clear statement regarding the state of the Laws of the Game when under repeated attack from incremental real-time regulatory slants.

Is tackling now an 'offence' under Laws of Game 2008/9?

I wonder if you have read the Laws of the Game 2008/2009? This is a new presentation of the Laws, previously known as 'Laws of Association Football - Guide for Players and Referees'. The new Preface states that the overall wording and structure has been revised to "consolidate and reorganise the content for the sake of consistency, simplification and clarification".

Invariably, when lawmakers use these terms to describe their work, the result is something longer and more confusing. And this is no exception. We now have 133 pages of text and illustrations compared with 116 last year, even after cutting Offside illustration pages from 13 to 7 and removing all 10 of the pages illustrating incidents relating to 'Denying a goal scoring opportunity'.

The Preface says there is only one Law amendment "of substance" from the 2007/8 edition, and this appears to be about the logos to be used on footballs. Hardly earth shattering stuff! And there might seem little reason to bother reading the whole book again!

However, the section in last year's LOAF headed "Additional Instructions for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials" has been replaced by "Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees". And the application of the contents of this section is now "a compulsory requirement". So perhaps referees had better read it!

The Preface also says "certain principles that were previously implicitly understood throughout the game but did not explicitly feature in the Laws of the Game have been included in this new edition for completeness". But unfortunately the lawmakers do not tell us what these changes are! Even more reason then to read it all and find out what has changed!

So what do referees need to know about the changes?

Here are some of the changes (and non-changes) that I found:-

1. Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct - (i) In the 2007/8 LOAF, a direct free kick was to be awarded to the opposing team if a player "tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball".

In the 2008/9 Laws 'tackles an opponent' is now listed as one of the direct free kick offences. Like the other offences (kicks, trips, jumps at, charges, strikes, pushes) it is only to be penalised if "considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force".

The significant change here is that "tackling" now joins the other negative penal offences, as opposed to being an important positive skill and technique in the game. Are the lawmakers signalling that tackling is to be phased out of the game?

The lawmakers did the same thing with "charging" some years ago. And there have followed years of confusion about what is a fair charge - is it just shoulder to shoulder, or can you use any part of the body apart from arms and elbows to "challenge for space within playing distance of the ball " as the Guidelines now suggest?

Incidentally, Steve Bennett, the Premier League referee and our guest at the last Society Meeting, might be upset to discover that the Law on 'denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity' does not state that the player fouled has to be in possession of the ball. I trust he has rechecked the Law following the debate at our meeting!

2. Law 4 - Players' Equipment for the first time states that "The two teams must wear colours that distinguish them from each other and also the referee and the assistant referees". You would think this might have been in the Laws before! And why the word 'colours'? Surely shirt or jersey would be more appropriate?

3. Law 1 - The Field of Play now includes the optional marks off the field of play 9.15 m (10 yds) from the corner arc on both the Goal Line and Touch Line. And all lines must now be of the same width (not more than 12 cm or 5 ins.).

4. Law 5 - The Referee - Decisions - the referee may now change a decision on the advice of an assistant referee OR the 4th Official.

5. Law 6 - The Assistant Referee - the wording has changed as to when Assistants can indicate offences, from - "whenever the assistants are closer to the action than the referee" to "whenever assistant referees have a better view than the referee".

And at penalty kicks, from - "whether the goalkeeper has moved forward before the ball has been kicked" to - "whether the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before....".

I note the Guidelines still state that the assistant should signal if the goalkeeper blatantly (my italics) moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and a goal is not scored at a penalty. Why should it be 'blatant' before being penalised? The law is quite clear. Would you allow a long throw expert to go over the touchline when taking a throw-in? I don't think so. We must be consistent in respecting the lines.

6. Law 11 - Offside - my concern here is not with any changes, but that the wording stays in the same confused state as in the 2007/8 LOAF.

(i) The description of when a player in an offside position should be penalised continues to be inaccurate. A literal interpretation of the wording would suggest that to be penalised the offside player has to be interfering with play or an opponent or gaining an advantage at the moment that the ball touches or is played by one of his team. In practice, most situations develop in a phase of play after the ball has been touched or played.

The Lawmakers current opinion on offside would be better expressed as -

"A player in an offside position is only penalised if, from the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he becomes in the same phase of play , in the opinion of the referee, actively involved by:.............."

[It's clumsy - but this is the result of lawmakers introducing concepts like "phases of play" and "involved in active play" and tampering with areas previously left to the referee's interpretation of interfering or gaining advantage.]

(ii) And the same criticism applies to the Guidelines on Offside which continue to seek to so tightly define elements of the Law that it has become almost impossible to implement correctly - as demonstrated by the increased number of errors by even our top Premiership Assistants.

For instance - "nearer to his opponent's goal line" in offside means that any part of the player's head, body or feet is nearer to his opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. (The arms are not included in this definition.)

One has to assume that the same head, body or feet criteria apply to the second last defender.

Can we reasonably expect any assistant to determine at a distance up to 70+ yards whether at the moment the ball is last played that part of one attacker's foot was ahead or level with a defender's foot? And how are referees in grassroots football managing games without assistants supposed to work to such ridiculous criteria?

Surely it would make sense for the Laws of a worldwide game (that is 99.9% played without neutral assistants for offside) to be determined by the position of the player's shirt and upper body. If you judge or can see an attacking shirt colour in front of the defending shirt at the moment the ball is played, that should be enough.

(iii) The IFAB interpretations announced a few years ago as to what constitutes "interfering with play", "interfering with an opponent" and "gaining an advantage" continue to be unnecessarily restrictive. They are no part of the tradition or spirit of the game, and merely a 'goal-hanger's charter' for lazy forwards. They encourage attackers to stay goal side of defenders. And the result is defenders drop deeper, and we see less rather than more goals.

The overall result is more complexity and confusion. It is no wonder that Premiership Referees and Assistants are making so many mistakes. Players, managers, referees, and all lovers of the game should be united in their opposition to these interpretations. It is time they were changed.


Despite its increased pagination, and the continuing confusion of IFAB interpretations, The Laws of the Game 2008/2009 should be required reading and study by every referee. You need to understand it to referee your games. And even if you do not agree with everything in there, at least you are then in a better position to argue with it.


The integrity of the game depends on clarity of Laws.
Obfuscation, at a primary level, destroys the enjoyment of the spectacle but, at a deeper and more pertinent level, it allows outcomes to be fluid, providing far too much power to the match officials.
Particularly when we are dealing with billion pound betting markets linked to those very outcomes.

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