Case Study: When Is A Trick Not Trickery?

As Fall season wraps up, I’m left to reflect on what I’ve seen over the past few months, from a refereeing perspective.  For the most part, I see an improving standard of refereeing at the youth level in my state, and that’s encouraging.

There is one small “trend” that I want to make sure we stamp out, and quickly.

At increasingly younger ages, youth teams are starting to incorporate the old “trick corner” into their games.  In the example below, note that Howard Webb and crew disallow this corner.  I can’t say for sure why this was done, but it could be that the Assistant Referee believed that the ball was never “still”. (Apologies for the poor quality of the video.)

This play may or may not involve verbal or non-verbal communication between Red A and B, as in “you come take it.”

On two different occasions this season, I have seen referees whistle this play dead and caution Red A for unsporting behavior.  Their position, both referees have said, is backed up by the ban on “trickery” in the LOTG.

Let’s be perfectly clear: both referees were dead wrong.

To start, let’s examine the exact wording from official publications about “trickery.”

Neither the word “trick” nor “trickery” appear the LOTG proper.  We must look to the “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” document to find two occurrences of the word “trick”, both on page 119 of the printed version (121 of the PDF).  The references are located in the section on Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, under the sub-heading “Cautions for unsporting behavior”.  The references are:

[box style=”info”]There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, e.g. if a player:

  • uses a deliberate trick while the ball is in play to pass the ball to his own goalkeeper with his head, chest, knee, etc. in order to circumvent the Law, irrespective of whether the goalkeeper touches the ball with his hands or not. The offence is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Law 12 and play is restarted with an indirect free kick
  • uses a deliberate trick to pass the ball to his own goalkeeper to circumvent the Law while he is taking a free kick (after the player is cautioned, the free kick must be retaken)[/box]

There are no other references to “trick” contained in either the LOTG or the Interpretations.

We must conclude, therefore, that “trick/trickery” applies only to this very specific situation.  We should keep in mind that these changes came in to the LOTG in an effort to keep players from circumventing the then-new changes to the Laws that prevented a goalkeeper from handling a ball played back to them by a member of their team.  (For our younger readers, it was once legal for goalkeepers to handle a ball played to them by a teammate.)

Using this part of the Interpretations to punish a “trick” corner kick has no basis in the Laws and is in fact, contrary to the spirit of the game.  Players attempt to deceive opponents through skillful and deceptive play for 90 minutes every match; this is the very essence of the game.  What is contrary to the spirit of the laws is using “tricks” to attempt to deceive the referee and contravene the Laws.

Let’s be alert for the possibility of these types of plays, and importantly, understand they are legal.

Still unconvinced?  Jim Allen also weighs in on the subject, and so does USSF.

13 responses to “Case Study: When Is A Trick Not Trickery?”

  1. This was a little obvious but I would not allow it to happen in my games for the simple reason that when players place it for another person to take the actual kick and by mistake, touch it slightly, I ignore it and consider the ball not in play. If we had to incorporate this trick in the everyday game, players would be paranoid at the slightest touch and would mow down unsuspecting kick-takers setting up for the kick. Needless to say people would get hurt and the argument would get out of hand.
    It’s a good trick though. Props for getting the ball into the goal to United.


  2. I was burnt last year as AR during a Adult Premier game. The attacking team did exactly what MU did in the video. I raised my flag for a double hit. The Center recognized what happened and why I raised the flag. He waved it down, which I did. He explained the “trick” corner. I haven’t been burnt since.


  3. God, I hate this play. It’s stupid. It’s crap football, and whilst I’m trying to police the pushing and shoving the box, I’m supposed to be paying attention to whether ball moves fractionally from 40 yards away? I agree that it’s legal under the LOTG, but I’d be glad if they changed the rules to get rid of it. If a team takes their chances and runs this play, I figure if I make a mistake and call a team for a double touch, they get what they get. Play proper football instead of American football-style trick plays and you won’t run have to worry about it.


  4. James, I know what you mean. I’ve always been taught to focus on the landing zone during a corner. Especially when it at the corner away from that AR, it’s going to be hard for me to notice something like this. I try to shift my attention somewhat when there is more than one player in the vicinity of the kick, but it’s still not going to be my primary concern.


  5. I have no problem with this play as long as teams understand that if the Ref or AR miss the initial touch that they may get called for the double touch by the player who now starts to dribble the ball. It can only be used once in a match unless the opponents are asleep. What I do not allow in youth matches is the coach or other adult along the touch line to call out “Johnny, you take it” to deceive the other players. At that point I disregard the other player’s “first touch” and consider Johnny to be taking the corner and if he double touches the ball the whistle blows and IDF for the opponents.


  6. I had the same situation in a game that I centered (U15 game) in Atlanta, but the difference is that the coach actually informed the AR that they were going to do this before the corner was taken (which the AR informed me); I allowed the play,not just because the coach had informed us prior, but in my opinion the kicker did play the ball forward, the ball did advance forward a little (he did not touch the ball again)before his team mate played it. The play did not result in a goal, but I actually would applaud a coach for designing such play at that level. It’s a fun stuff to watch, especially how the other team responded to every consequent corner kick.


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