By Edmund J. Rae, National Assessor
The goalkeeper in his or her own 44 x 18 penalty area enjoys the ability to use hands to play the ball. Other privileges are also enjoyed. After a save, six seconds are allowed to put the ball back into play; a unique shirt must be worn; the ball cannot be received into his/her hands from kick or throw-in by teammates; etc. And there are, of course, additional privileges of which you are familiar. Other than these, the keepers are just like the other players. Or, are they?
In protecting the Goalkeeper against unfair play, the Referee must scrutinize for any unfair charge, contact, or interference against the goalkeeper and then make a decision. If a charge,
Whistle for any infringement and award the required direct free kick. If play is dangerous; if opponent prevents keeper from putting ball in play, or raises foot to kick or attempt to kick ball in keeper’s possession: whistle and award an Indirect free kick offenses. In all cases these examples are clear violations of the letter of Rule 12.
The only fair charge allowed is ‘nudge’ or ‘contact’ with near shoulder, (not violent nor dangerous), at least one foot on ground, ball in playing distance, arms held close to the body.
If a goalkeeper is flat on the ground, or stretched out exposing vital organs, face or fingers-then a charge using a foot is not fair.
In fact, it may be a free kick at a minimum, if thought unsporting- necessitating a yellow card; or if serious foul play/violent behavior = disqualification/ejection via a red card.
If the Keeper has one finger, or a digit of one finger, on the ball, then attackers must back off. Referees need to be alert to illegal charges here. Even if the keeper’s hands are close-safety for the Keeper is the most important consideration. A 50-50- ball, so called, usually is not. Usually, it means an attacker often wildly-throws his foot, leg or body at the keeper, presumably with the ball in mind? Keepers have reasoned & rational doubts!!!
These collisions between players mean exposure to possible injury. A keeper’s hand against an attacker’s foot, leg or body is not 50-50; not fair, not balanced, just not right. It must be stopped immediately. Upon further repetition by anyone, must be dealt with severely.
Referees need to be credible in their calls by being close to such anticipated action. Attackers, who put Keepers at risk, illegally or unfairly, must be at least verbally warned, or penalized if necessary by either caution (yellow card) or by disqualification/ejection (red card) if necessary. Soccer is a
tough, physical, combative contact sport. But is must also be played by rule, tradition, and in the spirit of the game: fair and sporting.
Kicking at a ball near a keeper’s face or head, while she or he is on ground is not sporting. In fact, e.g., if contact with the face is made, the forward may very well merit a red card for serious foul play.
Keepers are open to injury simply by the nature of their position. Never mind foul play which can also occur and that increases the Keeper’s jeopardy.
Coaches, Players and Referees must be sensitive to this fact and enforce & advocate safe play whenever contact around the goalkeeper is at issue. Coaches must teach their players how to perform responsible challenges. Players must learn to back off rather than risk injuring a Goalkeeper. It is a soccer community effort, to do the right thing.
Referees must lead in doing the ‘right thing.’ Admonish any potentially risky behavior. Stop any action that threatens the well being, health and safety of the keeper.
What else is at risk for referees? Game and behavior control. Ugly behavior happens if allowed and not penalized. Retaliation, hard feelings, bench uproar, and retaliations may follow un-penalized unfair play. In the end, the game is debased & degraded.
Player behavior and the game can “go south” in a flash. Teammates take extreme umbrage when their keeper is ‘crashed’ unfairly. So be there. Get in there. Go near there. Rush in-when keeper vs. attacker close contact is imminent.
Referees must intervene at times. Perhaps verbally warn. Surely call fouls. Maybe issue caution-yellow cards or disqualification/ejection-red cards-to those players who: abuse goalkeepers, infringe the rules, flout the spirit of the game, and defy common sense.