The forgotten law of football

PHO 10Jun23 233734 300x235 The forgotten law of footballDo you remember obstruction? It used to be quite the thing. Defenders would often use this tactic to stop opposing players. Usually a defender would surreptitiously block an attacker by placing his body between his opponent and the ball. “Obstruction” we would cry. “Shoulder to shoulder!”, the other side would contend nonsensically.

I still hear protests of obstruction, but there is no mention of that offence in the laws of the game. It has gone. Nobody obstructs any more. It is defunct, irrelevent, written out of the rule book.

We now call it Impeding the Progress of an Opponent. It is Law no.12.

Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.

So there we have it, players no longer obstruct, they impede. And I think everybody would agree that there’s a lot of impeding going on. So why don’t our officials referee it?

We see impedement at every single corner kick. At Under 10 level, where I coach, I have never told my players to defend corners like American footballers, but they all do it. It is now the first thing they think of at a corner kick. Small, otherwise innocent children are grappling with each other in complete ignorance of the ball coming their way. They think it’s OK, they’ve seen it on the telly.

I would love to see it punished at the top of the sport. It’s a blight on the game. Bizarrely, I think referees more often penalise attackers for fouls at corners. Well I have yet to meet that attacker who would rather foul his opponent than try to score a goal. I can’t say the same about defenders though. It seems to me that if there is anyone impeding in the box, it would be the defender. I just wish referees would punish them.

The other occasion when the law needs to be changed is in the act of “shepherding the ball out”. Does anyone think that this should be legal? Anyone? We regularly see defenders place themselves between an attacker and the ball and prevent them from reaching it as it rolls out of play. Why is this a good thing? One of the main accusations against rugby is that it is the only sport in the world where kicking the ball out of play is deemed to be a skill. Well “shepherding the ball out” is no better.

All our natural instincts tell us that it should be illegal. One player is trying to play football, the other is trying to kill the action. But the laws of the game specifically state that it is acceptable:

Shielding the ball is permitted. A player who places himself between an opponent and the ball for tactical reasons has not committed an offence as long as the ball is kept within playing distance and the player does not hold off the opponent with his arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.

A player may be charged by his opponent? Really? I never thought that charging would be specifically encouraged by the laws.

The key phrase in that paragraph is as long as the ball is kept within playing distance. In other words, a defender is entitled to prevent access to the ball as long as they would be able play it themselves if they wanted to. That’s just weird. Why do defenders get such benefits? The law assumes that because the ball is within possible playing distance that it belongs to the defender. The law has never seen Gavin Maguire play football.

The law should change now. Nobody should be deemed to be in control of the ball unless they have touched it. Of course once they have touched it, the defender wouldn’t want to kill the game as they would be conceding a set-piece. The ball would stay in play, and the flow of the game would continue, which would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?

6 thoughts on “The forgotten law of football”

  1. A couple of good points there. I hate watching corners being taken at the highest level, the Chelsea defence of Terry and Carvalho were the worst culprits. I am certain that most refs would give a free kick to the attacking side if the same incidences occurred outside of the box.

    I like the idea that the ball can only be ‘shielded’ once the player has touched the ball. This is a similar issue to the back pass rule of the early 90s,

  2. I totally agree. Not trying to be clever, but I’ve pointed this out for years. At whatever level I referee, my attempts to get players to operate within the laws are thwarted by the way the professional game is controlled (or not, as the case may be). But this is hardly the worst scenario. Every time a free-kick is awarded, someone will shout out “stand on it”, meaning block an immediate taking of the kick. This is just accepted now. For as long as i can remember (long before i was a referee) I used to ask: Why do the law-makers not adopt the rugby law, i.e. that each opposing player must IMMEDIATELY retreat to outside of ten yards from the free-kick. Referees seem to collaborate with this unsporting practice by, for example, holding the whistle up to OBLIGE the attacking side to wait. Why should they? And why should the offenders be allowed to deny them the advantage that a quick free-kick could often bring. I’d book them all, every time. Well, I would. But I don’t, because it’s difficult to fly in the face of the received culture of the game. Professional football’s worst excesses help to damage the game at lower levels, especially among kids.
    Alan Rhys-Thompson

  3. When I played and refereed football, admittedly many years ago, you could only shield the ball if you demonstrated that were genuinely in control by playing it. The present rule means that you no longer have to be in control, just in the vicinity
    (1-2 YARDS) and this is nonsensical. Who authorized the change?

  4. Hold on. Forwards regularly shield the ball without having first played it too, usually to prevent the defender getting in a challenge, but there are many other situations too. There is nothing wrong with that or shielding the ball out, so long as it is within playing distance as the law says. On the other hand the defending of corners and free kicks is now utterly ridiculous to the point that teams feel hard done by when they are punished for blatant offenses. Also, as Alan points out above, what’s with standing on the ball at free kicks. How did that ever become acceptable and even encouraged?

  5. My recollection of obstruction when I played was that you could shepherd the ball out as long as you didn’t move your body so as to block (obstruct) an opposing player from playing the ball. If you moved to block (obstruct) then you had to play the ball, which seemed reasonable to me.

    On a different subject do foul throws only count in the amateur game. I’ve seen so many foul throws on the telly and can’t remember the last one I saw given. Every weekend when my sons and daughter play the game is littered with foul throws.

    All in all the whole professional game needs a kick in the pants. Players should be immediately booked for confronting officials and the available technology should be used as it is in most other sports. If a 4th official made the big calls up in the stands with a monitor I think a lot of the abuse the officials get would stop. Then that might feed down to the grass roots and we wouldn’t be confronted with 10 yr olds trying to emulate their heroes on the TV.

  6. Ok now,lets clear things out first….
    (I am a defender ,playing as CB)
    I came here because my friends used to say that shepherding the ball is illegal.
    Technically if the opponent knocks the ball hard ,then the defender is closer to the ball…then if the defender is within ~3 feet distance(legal playing distance) then obviously he is capable of getting possession which means the attacker and he has equal right to the ball.however if decides to just let the ball roll AND prevent loosing possession then it should be legal.(Which it is)
    The laws were made with discussions.Respect it.Finally thanks a lot for clearing my confusion from impeding,shepherding and sheilding

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