Monday, 7 August 2017

No room for manoeuvre - a push is a foul

Game 6, 2017-18

There’s a very straightforward clause of Law 12 stating that it’s an offence to push an opponent. This means, quite simply, that if referees see you pushing an opponent, then they should blow for a direct free kick. It’s astonishing how few players understand this, though it could be a consequence of too many referees failing to penalise it.

Unrequited shove - too often
players get away with pushing.
It’s easy to identify a push when two players are, say, jumping for a high ball, or when a shove or even a subtle nudge to the back sends an opponent sprawling on the floor. The problems arise when two players are running side by side and the upper limbs start coming out left and right. Often it’s best to let them have a go at each other until one or the other emerges with the ball. But when it’s only one player pushing the other (rather than fairly using their shoulder), I always blow for a foul. And the reaction is almost always the same – ruddy-faced outrage.

During yesterday's season-opener in a men’s reserve league, I pulled up the home team’s number 4 for exactly such an infringement. He complained loudly, so I explained the call. “But this is football!” he protested. Meaning, I presume, that referees let him get away with it every week, and he sees
players on the television getting away with it every week, so it must be alright. Except that it’s not – if you’re using an out-stretched arm or elbow to push an opponent away from the ball, it’s a foul.

After the game, the player came up to me and started to explain why I’d got the call wrong, but I stopped him in mid-sentence. “You were lucky to stay on the pitch today,” I said, changing the subject. I’d given him a yellow card for dissent after he screamed about another foul given against him, but then had let him off with a final warning after a deliberate and nasty trip just before half-time. He behaved after that, but it preyed on my mind for the rest of the game that I’d been too lenient. I recapped all this to the number 4, concluding with, “You’re welcome,” then I headed for the exit.

He'd clearly not got my point about pushing, and if a referee lets him get away with it next weekend then he'll no doubt feel vindicated. Yet although there are plenty of Laws to ignore or interpret with flexibility, this isn't one of them. There's no legal way in football to push an opponent, just as there's no legal way to trip, hold or strike one. Allowing the mutual shove described above is merely to keep the game flowing (though in theory - but rarely in practice - it's a drop-ball).

Crowds flock to stadiums
for the thrill of the nil.
The game itself was a classic August showpiece. The first half was fairly peaceful, but as the heat kicked in then the lack of fitness following the summer break began to tell. Numerous players kept asking, “How much longer?” and then groaned when I told them (the first request came after just 27 minutes). The mistakes, the fouls and the frustration all piled up, as did the yellow cards for dissent and dirtiness. One player took his second yellow in the 88th minute and walked off without a word of complaint. He was probably relieved that he'd be first into the shower.

There wasn’t a single clear-cut chance during 90 minutes of mediocre toil. The few saves were all routine. It was the usual mix of once talented players now too slow to keep up, enthusiastic but erratic youngsters trying too hard to make an impression after coming up from the youth team, and reserve team journeymen just lacking a few important basics – first touch, condition, discipline, and the ability to either pass or shoot in a straight line.

This game absolutely got the result it deserved: 0-0 (5 x yellow, 1 x yellow-red).

Did you enjoy this piece? Then please support the writer by pledging to buy a copy of his forthcoming book, The Quiet Fan, here at the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. It's about the importance of football. Thank you very much.

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