Are shoulder charges still allowed?

Football fans often complain that ‘players can’t use the old fashioned shoulder charge these days’. I’m sure that Manchester United supporters were saying something similar when Wayne Rooney heaved Glen Johnson off the ball as they ran towards the Stoke goal. Rooney went on to the put the ball in the Stoke net, only for the referee to decide his charge was a foul.

The shoulder charge does still have a place in football, but it has to be correct and legitimate. The Laws describe it as ‘a challenge for space using physical contact within playing distance of the ball and without using arms or elbows’. This means that the player’s arm from shoulder to elbow must be kept tightly tucked into his body when the charge is made. The television replay showed that although Rooney was within playing distance of the ball, when he made his charge he lifted his arm outwards from the elbow turning it into pushing. So despite Rooney’s remonstrations the referee was correct in ruling out the goal.

A fair charge must be shoulder to shoulder, a charge in the back or chest is not permissible and the force of the charge may affect the decision. People still talk about the 1958 Cup Final, when Nat Lofthouse of Bolton charged Manchester United’s goalkeeper, Harry Gregg with such force that he knocked him over the goal line and a goal was given. Today of course, a goalkeeper cannot be challenged once he has the ball in his hands, but it is not just goalkeepers who are protected against over enthusiastic shoulder charging.

In fact in the rewrite of the Laws in 1938, charging became an offence if it was dangerous or violent. Today the words are different, but the sentiment is the same. The law now says that a player must be penalised if his charge is careless, reckless or made with excessive force. And of course he must keep the arms down.

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