When I was on holiday in France last month I caught a snatch of a video of a football match on television. The ball was about to go into an empty goal when the club physio, who was standing alongside the goalpost, for what reason I can’t imagine, stepped onto the field of play and prevented the ball from crossing the goal line. Not only that, he saved two more attempts by the attacking team to score and the ball bounced away from the goal mouth. I’m not sure what happened to the ball then, because the next thing we saw was the physio sprinting as if his life depended on it, which it probably did, hurdling over the pitch side advertisements, chased by an angry horde of opposing players and stewards, like one of those old Benny Hill programmes, and making his escape down the tunnel. I have since discovered that this was a Brazilian Fourth Division match and the loss of that certain goal meant the team were eliminated from the competition.
I would liked to have seen how the referee restarted the game. Could he, should he, have awarded the goal that would so obviously have been scored without the physio’s interference? In rugby, I believe, referees are able to award a technical try even if the ball is never touched down but in football, referees have no such discretion. ‘A goal is scored,’ the Law says,’ when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, providing that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed by the team scoring the goal’ Nothing else will suffice. What then should the referee do, he can’t give a free kick because the physio was not a player, so how does he restart the game? The Laws of the Game may not cover every eventuality but it certainly covers this one. The physio’s action is classed as ‘external interference’ for which the law says that the referee ‘stops, suspends or abandons the game because of outside interference of any kind’. Presumably, the referee would have stopped the game and when the chasing players returned to the field, (some twenty minutes later apparently) rather than suspending or abandoning the game, he would have restarted in the manner prescribed by the law – a dropped ball. Now the law says that the ball is dropped where it was located when play was stopped, and in this case we would assume the referee blew to stop the game when the ball was ‘saved’ by the physio, almost on the goal line. In cases however, where the incident occurs within the goal area, which is often referred to as ‘the six yard box’, there is a special rule. The drop actually has to take place on the edge of the goal area, on the line that runs parallel to the goal line. In other words six yards out from the goal line, a very different prospect from dropping it on the goal line itself.
There is no regulation as to how many players may gather around at a dropped ball and I wonder if in circumstances like this, how many coaches there would be like Gary Johnson, who would certainly order his players to stand aside and allow the opponents to score a goal unopposed. Remember he has done this twice when Yeovil players have scored from throw-ins, which the opponents have expected to be kicked back to their goalkeeper. More likely and what I suspect happened in this case, the defenders would mass around the dropped ball to prevent it getting kicked into the goal and there is nothing the referee can do about it. Seems unfair but referees can only apply the laws as they are written.