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.