The foul throw: football’s most ineffective rule

Ben Mountain

It’s easy to get wound up in the world of football; irksome players, smug fans and people like Mark Clattenburg make it wonderfully tempting to throw, hit or shout at something on a regular basis. But nothing prompts this feeling more so than a pedantic referee and a bloody foul throw.

How many times do we see a player send their back leg into kingdom come or flick the ball from their nose in the ever-annoying – but astonishingly ignored – foul throw? We rage about it from the terraces as if someone has just committed a cardinal sin.

The referee’s persistent overlooking of foul throws is, somehow, one of football’s most infuriating problems. Don’t we just hate it?

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But, wait. There’s a catch. When your team commit that cardinal sin and the referee does choose to call them up on it, we go berserk all the same. It’s not uncommon to hear your mate big Steve bawl out that the referee is a ‘pedant’ in a refreshingly but bizarre change from his usual, more colourful language.

We hate it. Why interrupt the game? Just let it play, ref.

Along with foul throws, there is nothing more annoying than a nit-picking jobsworth official who calls the game back for these offences.

So, it would appear that football has quite the dilemma. Do referees take Steve’s eloquent abuse for rigidly keeping the rules or do they take his less eloquent abuse for a neglect of the small print and ignore the foul throw?

Well, the thing with us football fans is that we’re woefully fickle. We’re all guilty of turning a blind eye to the same incident that caused us to declare an undying hatred of one certain official from time to time. It’s the very nature of supporting a team.

In the belief that our actions can influence the outcome of a match, we blindly assume that by being unapologetically bias, our club will somehow benefit. So we manage to scrape together a damn or two regarding foul throws when they do it, but not when we do. It’s the same for all other offences in football. When it’s us that are guilty; fouls, handball and general misconduct, concerns fall by the wayside faster than a Liverpool team come Christmas.

In football, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to take painful issue with something one time, then completely disregard it later. It all depends on the team it involves.

Now, whilst this is unlikely to change anytime soon, it does make a point quite clear.

When a referee chooses to ignore the foul throw, aren’t they just pandering to the crowd, trying to prevent their disdain and frustration? The harmonised groan that occurs when the game is stopped can be deafening, after all.

And we’re not sure they avoid calling the game back for the purpose of ‘letting the game flow’, as it were. We see referees pace the distance for a wall to stand or whip out the old set-square to check the position of the ball at corners all the time. Referees are famously pedantic. So why not with the foul throw?

What is it about this specific misdemeanour that offends us football fans so wildly? Referees are in a massive catch 22. Should they chose to overlook the incident, the crowd will abuse them. And if they plump for stopping the game, the crowd will abuse them. Surely, that will end up leading to an even stronger home advantage when that side are in full voice.

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As long as the rule exists, there’s no avoiding it: us fans get annoyed by foul throws. Is it their triviality? Perhaps a player lifting their back leg won’t actually cause any problems either way. They all seem to do it, so what’s the point in keeping the rule?

If we allowed throws to go that extra bit further, that extra bit quicker, it would allow for a faster-paced, more attacking game to be played.

‘Boxing ’em in’ won’t be seen in that tiresome stalemate when one player hacks against the legs of another. At the other end, throws would start to offer a corner-like style of attack. Alternatively, they could be taken even faster and develop an exciting burst that attacks behind a back-tracking defence.

Thrilling stuff. Instead, players are forced to fret over an action they won’t be called up upon.

Obviously lifting your feet or releasing the ball differently does have an effect upon the throw. But is it enough to have to impose a rule that is so trivial even referees chose not to enact it? For the benefits listed above – however slight they may be – against the mild concerns over a player performing a gymnastic triple front-flip and hurling the ball into next week, the foul throw rule needs to be abolished.

But, with the FA and their love for trivial and complex rules, we can’t see this happening anytime soon.

So, why not insist on implementing the rule? That’s the simple solution, no? Well, that would interrupt the flow of the game, of course. So let’s just stick to riling fans up over a law that no longer exists. Marvellous stuff. Well done, our beloved FA.

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