There were many who watched the game between Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City, particularly those fans who watched it live at the stadium, who felt that QPR were robbed. The most mystifying incident was after the visitors had been awarded a free kick inside their own penalty area. Their England goalkeeper, Joe Hart, took the kick but the ball only travelled some fifteen yards or so outside the area as far as Ranger’s Charlie Austin, who promptly put it into City’s goal.
QPR players started to celebrate, but Hart raised his hand and the referee, Mike Dean, came racing from the half way line to disallow the goal and make the kick be retaken. To be fair to the referee, the television camera from behind the goal showed that he had blown his whistle as soon as the ball was kicked. Closer inspection by the camera showed what he had spotted was that Hart has slipped and his left foot had moved the ball slightly before he kicked it upfield with his right foot. So what difference did that make to the referee’s decision?
Every football fan knows that there are two types of free kick – direct and indirect. But for the referee, free kicks also fall into two other categories – those which are given on the field of play outside the penalty areas and those given inside. One thing that is common is that the kicker is not allowed to play the ball a second time before it has been touched by another player. Outside the penalty area, if a player does so, the referee stops play and awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team. If it was a simple, second touch, then there is no problem but sometimes it is not so obvious. A couple of years ago I awarded a corner when refereeing a county cup tie. The ball bounced back to the corner taker who promptly crossed it back into the goalmouth. I blew my whistle for a free kick and there was an uproar of disbelief but what had happened was that the ball had not rebounded from another player but from the goalpost. Although I shouted as loud as I could that he had played the ball a second time, it took a little time to sink in.
In the penalty area the referee has other considerations. A direct free kick to the attacking team is of course a penalty. The ball must be kicked forward and if the kicker then plays it a second time, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the defenders. But if for some daft reason the kicker kicks the ball sideways or backwards and then plays it a second time, he would be ordered to take the kick again. If it was an indirect free kick to the attacking team in the penalty area, then the rule would be the same as a kick outside the area, a free kick to the opposing team for playing it twice, which ever way the ball was kicked.
For free kicks to the defending team, an indirect free kick would only be awarded to the attacking team if the ball was played a second time once it passed outside the penalty area. Otherwise, as in the case of the Joe Hart incident, the free kick is retaken. Why the difference? It is because until it is kicked forward at a penalty or it goes outside the penalty area from a defender’s free kick, the ball is not deemed to be in play. The law quite clearly states that you cannot give a free kick unless the ball is in play, so Mike Dean had no option other than disallow the goal and order the kick to be retaken.