Soccer Fouls: The Complete Guide (2021)

Soccer Fouls: The Complete Guide (2021)

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As we all know, sports fans around the US can’t wait for the next NFL season to start. Whether it’s the competitiveness between the teams, the joy of winning, or a sense of belonging to a group that makes football the most popular sport in the country is unclear. There are many uncertainties around it, but one thing about football is undeniable – violence is a huge part of the sport.

Soccer, on the other hand, has no room for violence. In fact, there are strictly defined rules and laws that have a goal to prevent and penalize this type of behavior. As with any fast-paced team sport, offenes that involve contact between players are, however, unavoidable.

For this reason (and more), soccer has what we refer to as fouls. With extensive research on the topic, we’ve managed to take a fairly complicated set of rules and tried to make a guide on soccer fouls that can be useful to both newcomers and seasoned soccer veterans. Read on to find out what are soccer fouls, what types of soccer fouls exist, and how are they reprimanded.

Types of soccer fouls: What is considered a foul in soccer?

Soccer Fouls: The Complete Guide (2021)

The laws of the game of soccer, which are clearly defined by the FA, state that acts that the referee of the match considers unfair all fall into the category of fouls and misconduct. Any offence in soccer can be considered a foul, misconduct, or even both at the same time, depending on the circumstances in which it has been committed. 

The FA’s Law 12 deals with these issues in dept, and you can read about it in detail by following the link. If you’re not a soccer referee, or you simply don’t feel like reading through all of the details of the law, here a simpler version:

For an offence to be considered a foul that warrants a free-kick, or even additional reprimanding, it needs to interfere with the active play of the match. Once the officials of the game recognize that this type of offence has been committed, a free-kick, or a penalty kick in some cases, is awarded to the opposing team.

In case you’re a soccer geek in the making and you’re wondering what all of the offences that may lead to a foul being called are, we’ve created a detailed list to enable your inevitable soccer addiction. The list can also be useful to seasoned soccer fans who just want to know more about their favorite game. Here is the list of soccer offences that can lead to a foul:

1. Kicking 

Kicking an opposing player is one of the most common ways that fouls in soccer are committed. In fact, even an attempt to kick is considered a foul. Intentional kicking, or attempting to kick, is, obviously, an example of unsportsmanlike behavior; If found to be intentional in its nature, kicking can be reprimanded with the ultimate soccer punishment – the red card (more on that later).

2. Tripping

Tripping an opposing player is a serious type of foul, especially when we consider the consequences it can have: Tripping a sprinting attacker can lead to serious injuries and, if done in an obviously intentional manner, a confrontation between the two teams. For this reason, soccer referees won’t hesitate to severely punish those who trip opposing players during active play.

This action can, of course, also happen unintentionally. In this case, the consequences for the offender are usually milder.

3. Jumping

Jumping in itself is not considered a foul in soccer. However, jumping into an opponent, especially in an aerial duel when going for a header, can quickly turn ugly. This is why those players who jump with no regard for their own and others’ safety are often punished in soccer.

As undeniably fun as these duels can be, we must remember that soccer is a non-violent sport and that safety of the players is the number one priority.

4. Charging

Here’s what is possibly the most common cause of free-kicks in soccer – charging. This is another commonly used maneuver in soccer, which can, when performed improperly, place all participants in a dangerous and potentially injury-causing situation. This is why charging into an opponent is more than frowned upon by soccer referees in all levels of soccer. 

5. Pushing

We are commonly witnesses to the situations where soccer players are running side to side when one of them falls down. In the heat of the moment, soccer players can push their opponent during a tight duel. This will certainly lead to a follow being called, whether the fouled player falls to the ground or not.

There’s also a tricky side to this type of soccer fouls: All of us have also seen simulated falls during tight duels, which is a foul in itself and can be extremely hard to recognize in an instant.

6. Tackling from behind

There aren’t many situations where soccer referees won’t hesitate to reach for the red card – tackling from behind is one of them. This might be one of the most severe types of fouls, and it almost certainly carries a card as a punishment. Depending on whether the referee believes that there was an intention to the move, the card that he shows to the tackler can even be red.

7. Tackling and making contact before making contact with the ball

Soccer Fouls: The Complete Guide (2021)

Tackles are another fun aspect of soccer. There are not many moves that look as good as a well-executed tackle. When executed cleanly, the player will tackle the ball and avoid the attacker altogether. The tackling player can make contact with the tackled one only if he makes contact with the ball first.

If the first thing they hit during the tackle is the opposing player, a foul is called. Depending on the severity of the tackle, as well as the perceived intention behind it, a card might be issued.

8. Holding

Holding an opponent during active play is strictly forbidden in soccer. This means that even those players who aren’t in possession of the ball can be fouled. There are different types of holding, from subtle jersey pinches that we commonly see during free kicks, to the more obvious pulling and violent thugs.

9. Touching the ball with your hands

Another big no-no in soccer is touching the ball with your hands. Unless you’re a goalkeeper, there’s no situation in which you can touch the ball with your hands while it’s in the field of play. Whether the ball hits a player when it has been kicked, or they touch it intentionally, a foul will be called by the match officials.

Soccer foul consequences: What are the penalties for committing a foul in soccer?

A free-kick is what comes out as a consequence of most fouls in soccer. In cases when the defending team causes a foul in their own box, a penalty kick is awarded to the attacking soccer team.

Even though in the majority of cases soccer fouls are just awarded a free-kick, some instances do require a more severe punishment to the offending player, as apparent from the previous section of this article. In these cases, the referee can decide to issue the player with one of the cards that all main officials carry during every match. The first one is colored yellow, while the other one is red. Here’s a bit more on both:

1. Yellow card

A yellow card is the first of the two major means used to discipline players that step over the line. Being the first major warning, this card is mostly used as a way to caution players that have stepped over the line. Any soccer player that receives a yellow card is not out of the game, and they can continue playing.

Here are the situations that are guaranteed to lead to a yellow card for the offending player:

  • Unsportsmanlike behavior
  • Arguing with the referee’s decision
  • Committing excessive fouls
  • Intentional game delaying
  • Exiting or entering the field without the referee’s permission

2. Red card

The more drastic measure of disciplining soccer players is issuing the red card. This card means that the player that is receiving it has grossly injured the rules of the game, and it also means that he is expelled from the rest of the match. If you think that this isn’t severe enough, it should be also kept in mind that the team is not allowed to replace the expelled player and that they must play the rest of the match with one player fewer.

Here are the situations that lead to a red card:

  • Serious fouls
  • Violent actions against the game officials or other players
  • Hand use in order to stop a goal
  • Cursing or using bad language
  • Receiving a second yellow card

It should be noted that in case the match referee finds any foul offence to be slightly over the line but not severe enough to warrant a card use, they can opt to verbally warn the offending player as an additional consequence of committing a foul. This means that that specific player will be under close observation for the rest of the match and that they are more likely to be facing a yellow, or even a direct red, card.

Goalkeeper fouls: When is a foul called on a goalkeeper in soccer?

Soccer Fouls: The Complete Guide (2021)

Fouls in soccer don’t always mean that there has been a violent act, either an intentional or an unintentional one. In some cases, a foul is called on a goalkeeper if they mishandled the ball. There are three instances in which a goalkeeper can commit a foul:

  • Holding the ball for over 6 seconds
  • Passing the ball using his hands only to receive it back into his hands after it’s been kicked back by a teammate
  • Touching the ball with his hands directly from a throw-in performed by a teammate

In all of these cases, an indirect free kick is called. This means that the team that is awarded the indirect free kick cannot make a direct attempt at the opponent’s goal, despite the fact that the ball is located within the penalty box. As frustrating as it sounds, the ball needs to make contact with another player first before it can be returned to the one performing the free-kick, or directed towards the opponent’s goal.

There is plenty of confusion that surrounds goalkeeper fouls and indirect free kicks. Luckily for all of us, indirect free kicks, and goalkeeper fouls in general, are not a common thing in modern soccer.

Soccer foul frequency: How often are fouls committed in soccer?

According to the older Premier League statistics, there are 23 fouls per game in this league. Looking at the 2020/21 season data for the entire European continent, we can see that the top teams such as Arsenal, Barcelona, and Bayern are committing a foul every 10 and a half minutes. In 30 or more matches, all 3 of these superstar teams have committed around 300 fouls, which is extraordinary.

Comparing the other end of the same data chart, we can see that lower-tier teams such as the Greek PAS Giannina and Volos NFC, as well as the Serbian FK Backa Palanka, can’t manage to play more than 5 minutes without a foul play whistle going off. These teams averaged 600+ fouls in just over 30 matches during the 2020/21 season.

When it comes to red cards, looking at the data derived from nearly 20,000 games across the top 5 soccer leagues, we can see that close to 4,600 red cards were shown. There is an average of nearly 400 minutes of game time between two red cards being shown. This means that, roughly, 1 in 5 games sees a red card.

Soccer fouls and referee’s judgment: Are they always right?

Follow the rules written by the officials and keep an eye on what’s happening on the field; Even though it seems as simple as this at first glance, the job of a soccer referee is much more complex. Ultimately, their job is to determine which acts are cautionable, while following a set of very broad rules and categorizations. This is why we can find their decisions controversial and questionable at times. What we need to keep in mind in these situations is the fact that those referees are much more familiar with the specific circumstances under which some laws of the game are administered.

During the last few decades, the technology that tracks the play has been implemented, reducing the potential for human error to a minimum. Still, one thing should be kept in mind:

Even though that FIFA and the FA have issued an extensive list of rules for soccer, we still must remember that the practical application of those rules is in the hands of human beings who are prone to making mistakes. So, the next time your favorite soccer team is not awarded a foul, try to get less mad at the referee.