Law in Absentia


In the UK, men over the age of 14 must carry out two hours of longbow practice a day, by law. In Zion, Illinois, it’s illegal to offer cigars to your pets. In France, it’s against the law to name a pig Napoleon. And in football, according to urban legend, it’s in violation of the laws of the game to do any of the following when throwing in the ball:

  • Facing away from the field of play.
  • Not having part of each foot either on the touch line or on the ground outside the touch line.
  • Failing to hold the ball with both hands.
  • Not delivering the ball from behind and over your head.
  • Not delivering the ball from the point where it left the field of play.

Now, anyone who has seen a single minute of any football match ever will immediately realise that at least a few of these procedural rules are rarely, if ever, followed by the players. Referees will occasionally attempt to force a player edging up the touchline back to the approximate point where the throw in should be taken, but such stringency isn’t very common. More often than not, the player will just throw the ball in, often in a completely downward direction from well past the top of his head, and no one bats an eye. And, just like squads of highly trained policiers aren’t kicking down barn doors, demanding to see the name tags of various squalid swine, referees turn a blind eye because it’s largely not that important. A few yards here or there hardly offers a significant advantage to the thrower, so why slow the game down with petty nitpicking? Why? Because it’s in the bloody rules, that’s why!

Endless hours are frittered away by air-headed football pundits on whether or not ‘contact’ justifies a player going down to win a foul. Some of them are of the opinion that, regardless of the presence of a toe on an ankle, the fact that such minute limb-to-limb connection would never send Didier Drogba tumbling to the turf means that to go down is borderline cheating, nay, it’s flat-out diving. The others argue that attempting to definitively state exactly how significant an intervention is needed to bring down Didier Drogba is a silly endeavour, that contact means a trip, or at the very least an attempted trip, and so the player is fully entitled to let his leg crumple beneath him and receive various congratulations as the whistle shrieks out. When such divisive actions occur in the box, sure, it can decide the outcome of an entire match. But these talking points are brought up with as much venom when the dive occurs in much less consequential areas of the pitch, and are poured over retroactively even if the said event had no real effect on the outcome of the match. Because the laws of the game associated with fouls (along with the stellar acting abilities of a lot of players) make it difficult to say who did or didn’t dive, the urge to argue over it is heightened, but the fact that a lifted trailing foot, or an ignored throw-in spot are easily judged to be illegal shouldn’t mean it isn’t worth pointing out too. In fact it should make it even more deserving of the attention it rarely gets.

The fact that the advantage gained from lifting your back leg while throwing in is only a small one shouldn’t make it fine and dandy to ignore. I mean, if a goalkeeper punted the ball from 2 or 3 metres outside of his own box, it would hardly be ignored even though the advantage gained would be minimal. If a defender collected a goal kick from his keeper while a couple of metres inside their own box, the referee would take notice. The introduction of the vanishing spray in the Premier League is designed to, firstly decorate Santi Cazorla with a festive dusting of faux-snow, but more importantly to stop walls from edging forward a few inches during free kicks, an infringement that also offers only the smallest of payoffs. The argument for clamping down on foul throws isn’t one that bases itself on the advantages or disadvantages gained or lost though, it’s more about the frustration of seeing such a solvable issue lazily tolerated. It really wouldn’t take much to sort out, just a few months of reversed throw ins so players wouldn’t try to steal a few extra metres, or release the ball incorrectly to surprise a backtracking defence. It shouldn’t take an illegal long throw that results directly in a goal to bring attention to it. Just fix it now.

Here are some exceptional examples of the foul throw, including a clip from a match between Wrexham and Dartford where consecutive illegal throws were both penalised by the official.

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