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  • Don't Fight The Laws #9: The bestest, most amazing (and possibly illegal) goal


    ccs-3097-140264007717_thumb.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Don't Fight The Laws, in which I combine my years of being a referee with my years of being a smartass to provide my answers to your questions about the Laws of the Game, controversial decisions and other odds and ends relating to referees and what they do.

    Got a question? Send it over to canadiansoccerguys@gmail.com. But for this week, we have the following...

    I remember when I played as a kid being called for a high kick a bunch of times, which the ref once described to me as "kicking above the waist". So my question is, what's the difference between a high kick and the kind of play that Rooney pulled off against City? -- Andrew Knowlton


    If one of the 54 soccer fans worldwide who haven't been exposed to ol' Wayne's bicycle-kick dandy in the weekend's Manchester derby happens to be reading this, here's what we're talking about:

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    Now, Andrew, it's possible that your childhood referee was simply a particularly inflexible and bitter chap, who saw fit to penalize those limber enough to kick above their waist. But I can assure you, there is nothing in the Laws of the Game prohibiting a player from kicking above their waist. If you're particularly tantric, you can scratch the back of your ear with your cleats all day long, should the mood strike you.

    However, the ol' "high foot" -- as I usually describe it to youth players -- contravenes the Laws of the Game when it drifts into the territory of "play(ing) in a dangerous manner", for which the penalty is an indirect free kick awarded to the opposing side. In other words, you can stick your foot as high up as you want if there's no one around, but once it becomes a hazard to another player, it's time for the ref to step in.

    A bicycle kick is allowed "if, in the opinion of the referee, it is not dangerous to an opponent." But a player is to be called for playing in a dangerous manner if they commit "any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone... It is committed with an opponent nearby and prevents the opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury".

    Take a close look at Rooney's strike. It does appear that City defender Vincent Kompany (I think it's him) pulls up ever-so-slightly from attempting to head the ball when he sees Rooney's boot zooming towards it. So by the absolute letter of the law, the referee would have been justified in blowing the play dead and awarding an indirect free kick to City.

    But he'd have also deprived the footie universe of the goal pr0n it subsisted on for a full day and a half. So maybe sometimes it's just to defy an unjust law.

    (For what it's worth, if you actually make contact with an opponent while trying a bicycle kick or some other sort of high boot, they're awarded a direct free kick, as the infringement crosses over from being "playing in a dangerous manner" [iFK] to "kicking, or attempting to kick, an opponent" [DFK]).

    The Stoke City long throws... is the towel-drying at every throw allowed? Would a ref have the ability to deny towels, and why don't Stoke games have significantly more stoppage time because of it? -- Duane Rollins

    Yes, my colleague Duane -- in his unending quest to manufacture ways in which his beloved Manchester City is being victimized by the rest of the league -- evidently went to the trouble of tracking every stoppage in a Stoke game last week, and concluded that the average Stoke throw-in took 27 seconds. By comparison, the opponent took an average of 15 seconds.

    Now, when we talking about time-consuming Stoke throw-ins, we're nearly always referring to the preposterous restarts launched by the gangly-but-talented-in-this-regard Rory Delap:

    There's no specific towel-related rule handed down by FIFA -- I'm guessing if the bigwigs of that organization are more interested in the sorts of towels being handed around at a Silvio Berlusconi pool party than the ones at Brittania Stadium.

    Of course, if the referee feels that a player is engaging in unsporting behaviour by taking an excessively long time to dry down his balls before launching them (what?), a yellow card may be shown.

    But the question of stoppage time becomes tricky, since it never accurately reflects the cumulative total of all the times the ball went out of play. If an average throw-in takes, as Duane says, 15 seconds, then imagine adding up all of those, plus all of the stoppages for goal kicks, corner kicks and free kicks, not to mention substitutions, injuries and other unforeseen events... if you actually took a stopwatch to it, there's a chance every game would have 10 to 15 minutes of stoppage time, per half.

    So the ref guesstimates, and that guesstimation is usually influenced by the "big" stoppages (i.e. injuries, substitutions or other major events) rather than by the routine piddly-shit ones like throw-ins. If the ref notices one team taking especially long on throws, he/she certainly could add more stoppage time to account for it... but that could end up helping the team that was wasting all the time to begin with (say, by giving them a few more minutes to bag an equalizer).

    Ultimately, if one team's time-wasting on restarts is egregious to the point of negatively impacting the flow of the game, the ref should step in early on (with a caution, if necessary) to, ideally, nip it in the bud.

    Besides, if the towels were banned outright, Delap would probably be out of job. And what's the point of soccer, if not giving ugly dudes like Rooney and Delap a chance to be great at something?

    That's it for this week. Send your questions to canadiansoccerguys@gmail.com, and your query may turn up in the next edition of Don't Fight The Laws.

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