One of the biggest and most topical issues in the game is the amount of pushing and holding in the penalty area from free kicks and corner kicks. Referees are constantly criticised for not dealing with it, but are often criticised  when they do.

When referees award a penalty for pushing, the defending team’s coaches, fans and sometimes even commentators and pundits will claim that the force was not enough to cause the player to go to ground. The players can often make this one of the most difficult decisions a referee has to make. Defenders will put their hands in the opponent’s back and attackers will fall down as soon as they feel contact.

It can be argued that defenders run the risk by raising their hands knowing that the attacker will go to ground. The problem referees face is judging the amount of force and did it in fact cause the player to fall.

In this week’s Play of the Week we are looking at two penalties that were awarded for pushing.

The first play is from the game between Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake. When the ball is crossed from a corner Crew’s Luis Argudo goes down following contact from behind by Real’s Danilo Acosta. Referee Drew Fischer who has a good viewing angle from a good distance has no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

The second play is from New England Revolution v DC United, Wayne Rooney’s new team. Again from a corner the ball is moving around inside the penalty area when United’s Darren Mattocks takes possession of the ball with his back to goal and goes down following contact from behind by Revolution defender Claude Dielna. Referee Allen Chapman who also has a good viewing angle, and is in close proximity, confidently awards the penalty..

When you examine both of these situations they have many similarities:

  • The defender has his arms raised
  • There is contact
  • The attacker goes down

These are facts that the referee has in his thought process. However the most difficult element that the referee will always consider is does the contact cause the player to fall? When you look at these two plays it is very hard to make that judgement. So the referee has to work with the facts to make his decision:

  • The defender has his arms raised
  • There is contact

These are the only two elements that really matter, whether the attacker goes down or not shouldn’t be a consideration but we know in reality it would be difficult to award a penalty if the player does not go to ground in these circumstances. It is the responsibility of the defending player not to raise his arms and push or hold the attacker. By doing so he gives the referee a decision to make. Additionally, whilst not condoning cheating, it gives the attacker an opportunity to fall whether or not it was caused by ,or was commensurate with the contact made!

In both of these plays neither attacker has a real opportunity to score so it makes you wonder why the defender takes such a risk. Referees can only work with the facts. So if they see the arms raised and pushing or holding taking place it is difficult to argue with their decision to award a penalty kick.


  1. In first situation, appears that attacker was tripped by team mate as well. However, that is not clear or obvious either. PK can be supported.


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