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July 2021

Endangering the safety of an opponent: “intent” and “but I got the ball”

By Mal Davies





There has been such a positive response to my article two weeks ago on Nani’s red card that, after three incidents in the recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers, here are a few more of my thoughts, with the three incidents that produced three different decisions : no action, an indirect free kick and a red card.


Consider the top players in football.  They are paid huge salaries nowadays. Fans pay good money to see their star players in action.  But, far too often, those players miss games mainly due to injury through opponents’ robustness.  Sometimes one tackle will see a player miss a couple of games.  Quite often it is an accumulation of poor tackles that will lead to a player’s absence.


The robust tackle has to be eliminated from the game. The Laws need to protect the skilful player so that football becomes once again the beautiful game.  At present, football does produce a number of ugly incidents: too many, in fact.  Clubs, managers, coaches and physios ought to appreciate the improving protection the Laws give to their players.  Referees are there to enforce any new interpretations.  It is better for clubs to see their players appearing on the field every week than on their treatment table.

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Without going into detail, referees are on their way to becoming uniform on their decisions with a two-footed tackle, any tackle with studs showing and any tackle that endangered the safety of an opponent.  An argument against the red card has been : “Ah! But he got the ball.”  But people have started to realise that winning the ball is not relevant.  The robust challenge, in which the tackler claimed he had won the ball first, is a red card if the referee considered it had endangered the safety of an opponent even though the opponent may have ridden that tackle and got up uninjured.


One of the ways to tackle without risking a red card is instep to instep.  This can be delivered with a reasonable degree of force without causing injury.  But players who cannot get to the ball for such a tackle will lunge at the ball, with their body off the ground, with one or both feet, and with no control of their airborne body – it is a red card for endangering the safety of an opponent : serious foul play (SFP).


Now consider the raised foot : A player who raises his foot above waist high (a guide) will run the risk of a red card.  So a player should not do so unless certain that his foot will not make contact with an opponent.


A player can head or chest the high ball but if he uses his foot, he should make sure there is no player in the immediate vicinity whose safety will be endangered (red card).


Players now need to realise they can no longer control a high ball with their foot if the referee deems it has endangered the safety of an opponent.  The fact that the player did not mean to endanger his opponent is irrelevant.  Intent is no longer in the Laws.  The referee does not need to consider whether the player deliberately did it or not.  He looks at the outcome which is contact or no contact.


If there is no physical contact, the player can be penalised for dangerous play (DP), and play is restarted with an indirect free kick.  If there is physical contact, then the offence is no longer categorised as DP, but as SFP, and the restart is a direct free kick or a penalty kick.


A scissors kick is permissible provided that, in the opinion of the referee, it is not dangerous to an opponent.  If performed in the penalty area it can produce a spectacular goal.  But if the player has not made sure that he was not endangering the safety of an opponent then he risks a red card for SFP.


Compare the player who raises his foot because he cannot get to a high ball to head or chest it, with the player who lunges for the ball because he cannot tackle instep to instep.  The raised foot and lunge are both red cards for SFP if the referee considered the safety of an opponent was endangered.


Football must move with the times.  The game will be all the better after eliminating those incidents that endanger the safety of an opponent.  The Laws and referees have, more or less, dealt with the endangerment with the low foot, as it were.  Now they need to eliminate the high foot.



Mal Davies

27th March 2013


Here are the three recent incidents involving a high foot:
FIFA World Cup qualifier Friday 22nd March : New Zealand v New Caledonia (2-1)
Referee Strebre Delovski ( Australia )

FIFA World Cup qualifier, Saturday 23rd March : South Africa v Central African Republic (2-0)

Referee Ali Kalyango ( Uganda )
FIFA World Cup qualifier, Tuesday 26th March : Ukraine v Moldova (2-1)
Referee Kenn Hansen ( Denmark )

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13 comments to Endangering the safety of an opponent: “intent” and “but I got the ball”

  • Barndoor Bendtner

    Thanks for another good article….apart from one phrase I disagree with. At the beginning you say the ‘robust’ tackles must be eliminated. I dont think that is right.
    You correctly and clearly explain the laws as they stand, and the interpretation as it should be, but surely the aim must be to allow robust challenges, while eliminating dangerous tackles.
    At the risk of being a pedant, you can be robust without being dangerous.

  • Malaysian gunner

    It’s about time the football authorities get tough with the thugs and their conniving clubs. The std 3 game ban aint enough to serve as a deterrent.The thug shd be banned for as long as the injured player is out of action or a minimum of ten games with five points docked for the offending club.
    During ww2 and Malaya was occupied by the Japs criminals were beheaded and their head diplayed in public.As a result the crime rate was low or non existent.
    It’s time the FA have a relook at their statutes and update the punishment. Football has changed and the rewards are staggering.Skill shd hold sway over brute force and if the the latter uses it to intimidate or injure,the ref shd send the thug off.
    Btw,linesman and refs who overlook such
    injury threatening tackles shd not be allowed to ref matches.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I tried to improve the outlook of the page a bit. Was my initial fault. Sorry

  • bilzo

    Whatever, I love big tackles in games, not horrific two footed or dangerous tackles. But i hate watching a game of football when the ref is blowing up for every tackle breaking up the game like they do in Spain and sometimes the champions league. The tackle is dying from football yet it is one of the most fantastic aspects of today’s game and it has been for a long time. A dangerous tackle is a dangerous tackle and there is a line. But punishing good hard tackles will just ruin our game, take away the fluency and simply illegalize one of the most traditional and exciting aspects of the English game.

  • bilzo

    Someone like thomas vermaelen for example bases his game on a good hard challenge

  • Gf60

    Even when I was a kid back in the mid 50’s, the two footed tackle raised screams of protest. In the 60s and 70s Revie and his back breakers with Norm Hunter prominent at Leeds, Chopper Harris at Chelsea and even our own beloved Peter Story weren’t the stuff of dreams for timid forwards.

    BUT is it just my looking at my youth with the rose tints on or were there far, far less injuries suffered then compared with now?


    In the 60s ,70s , 80s and the very early 90s most teams had there hard men then rules changed no tackling from behind also the game slowly over the next 2o years got faster and faster ( lighter boots and balls ) . S0 IMO speed has caused a good percentary of injuries to players in recent times

  • Adam

    Good read, thankyou.

  • Domhuail

    Steve V…….while the game has become more rapid and faster paced,it couldn’t be speed alone that is at fault for injuries sustained for the following reasons:

    1) ALL players have become faster, so defenders have no problem keeping up with their opponents. However the art of firm but safe tackling seems to have declined.

    2)Most teams still have their hard men but regardless, tackling from behind was never really permitted as it, by its very nature, entailed a blind tackle and often a desperate one.

    3)A good tackle is defined as either a shoulder to shoulder charge which neither injures or risks the opponent’s getting injured. It is also defined as a fair and firm challenge for the ball between two players or more, without the risk or presence of dangerous or serious foul play.

    4)There are thousands of fair and firm tackles every day in Football where nobody gets injured. Why would dangerous or serious foul play represent anything desirable in the Game?

    There is a vast chasm between a good hard tackle and dangerous or serious foul play and any yearning for the latter is nefarious and misplaced in any Football context.


    Hi Domhuail just got up the tacckle can be fair but if impact occures its the speed of collisionand how you come out of the tackle.It could be a fair tackle but the speed you were travelling at propels you into the advertising hoarding

  • ARSENAL 13

    Nicely written @Mal.

    Hope you come up with more….and enlighten us in the process.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Also, I am surprised at the silence on RYOs injury by Mirallas.

  • Domhuail

    Steve….Do you mean tackle, or occurs or boarding? I had trouble understanding your post. Yes, at high speed a good tackle can send a player flying but the referees know how to handle that and if, in their opinion, there was dangerous play or serious foul play, then they’re supposed to call it. Football is a physical game, but it should NEVER be dangerous or foul.