On Improving Refereeing

Some might say that posting a blog criticising referees on the day after an embarrassing Arsenal defeat is … curious, but believe me, dear readers, my motives are pure as Donald Trump’s conscience!

There is a little known rule in football called Rule 14. I say it is little known, by which I mean referees seem never to have read it.

It is the law which describes the procedure to be applied when a penalty is given.  Now it is not my intention to talk about diving, simulation, handballs – intentional or otherwise – or any of those other hot potatoes the media love to mash to death.

Those issues are always ones of split second interpretation by human beings of circumstances that often develop very quickly, and on the whole, I do think referees in the Premier League get most of these decisions right.

No, my (vegetarian) beef is with another aspect of Rule 14 which is far less controversial, far easier to enforce and universally ignored by pundits, commentators, players and officials alike.  It is this…

The players other than the kicker and goalkeeper must be:

  • at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the penalty mark

  • behind the penalty mark

  • inside the field of play

  • outside the penalty area

Well that’s pretty clear. It says that, before the ball is in play (i.e. before the taker kicks the ball) everyone other than the keeper and the taker must be outside the penalty area.

Entering the penalty area before the kick is taken used to be called “encroachment” and, if my memory serves, used to be enforced.

No longer. Last night, two penalties were awarded in the Premier League – one for Chelsea (hilariously missed by the hideous cheat Diego Costa) and the other for Middlesbrough.


From this still of the former, you can clearly see a Liverpool player well inside the penalty area (and another inside the D) at the moment the ball is kicked.

Rule 14 states: “If, before the ball is in play … the goalkeeper or a team-mate infringes the Laws of the Game:

  • if the ball enters the goal, a goal is awarded
  • if the ball does not enter the goal, the kick is retaken.

So, much as I laughed at Costa’s distress, the above kick SHOULD have been retaken.

The other penatly, taken by Alvaro Negredo, is an even worse (or should that be better?) example.


Here, you can clearly see players of BOTH teams two or three paces inside the area as the ball is kicked. This penalty, too, SHOULD have been retaken, whether it was scored or not.*

I have been pausing Match of the Day all season, and around 75% of all penalties taken involve significant encroachment by one side or the other or both.

Yesterday’s were far from the most egregious examples. This one, from Grimsby v Dover in 2015 is particularly impressive.



How the referee, whose view of the penalty taker was actually obscured, missed this encroachment is beyond me!

Actually, it’s not. In both the Grimsby and Boro shots, you can see that the referees are watching the goalkeeper – yellow arrows – presumably to ensure they don’t advance off the line.

Very commendable, you might think, but actually, no. It isn’t. Though the FA is not prescriptive, FIFA helpfully assigns jobs to the referee and his (or her) assistant.

According to FIFA, it is for the assistant to watch the keeper. The ref’s job is …


… so in all the cases above, the ref should have been looking across the area, should have seen the encroachment and awarded a retake.

I’m well aware that encroachment is far from the most pernicious of the evils currently infecting the beautiful game, but a simple, unambiguous law exists to deal with it, it’s an easy one to enforce and it’s only a matter of time before a rebound is either cleared or scored by a player who was yards inside the area to settle an important match.

Sort it out now, please, FA.

Speak soon

Labenal (@Labenal1)

* To cover all bases, I should point out that the consequences of an attacking player encroaching are …