“8 yards is not close” Time to test out what is and what is not a penalty

By Tony Attwood

I wrote the other day about the way in which the BBC frantically tried to prove that the referee was wrong in not giving Aston Villa a penalty for a ball that hit a raised arm in the penalty area.

Now the point of that piece was that the pundits were confusing the raised left arm (which certainly was raised to an “unnatural” position at one stage) with an incident a second later in which the ball actually hit the right arm near the joint with the shoulder.  Two questions arose: is the joint of the shoulder part of the arm, and the arm was at the player’s side, so presumably not in an unnatural position.

However that little piece of mine raised a further issue that I must admit I had not considered – although it was one that Match of the Day pundits brought up.   That a penalty cannot be given if the ball is hit from such a close range that the player cannot get out of the way in time.

Now the Match of the Day know-alls said, and all agreed, that eight yards was not close so that “too close” rule could not apply.   But what they didn’t do was consider just how fast the ball can travel from the ground towards a players arm across eight yards.  The just said “eight yards is not too close” and tried to turn it into a rule writ in stone.   Yet as ever they gave no evidence.

Obviously what they should have done, and what would have made great entertainment, would have been having the ex-footballers they love to employ kicking the ball at each other standing eight yards away and seeing just how much time it took for the ball to get from the ground to the player’s arm.  Then one would ask, “can a player react in time to move out of the way at a distance of eight yards?”

From the evidence supplied I doubt it.

Gord wrote in to tell us that the ball is probably travelling at upwards of 39 yards per second. That means that the ball will travel 8 yards faster than any player could react to get his arm out of the way.

Now obviously I was watching “Match of the Day” and not “Math of the Day” (ho ho) – for the pundits on this, as with all other football shows in the UK – rejoice in their inability to do basic maths.  If you are a long term reader you may recall that when BT Sprout became involved with the Emirates Cup it had its pundits making fun of the fact that in the Cup the teams get three points for a win, one for a draw and one for a goal.

Live in the studio they all proclaimed that they could not do the resultant maths, and started making fun of the Emirates Cup.   Untold along with other Arsenal sites made a fuss, and the following day the Sprout reigned in its commentators who suddenly found that they could do the maths after all (although probably prompted down their earpieces).

But in such a situation, it is hard to imagine football presenters being able to calculate the speed of a ball over a distance.  And yet here we had the Match of the Day threesome all proclaiming that eight yards was not “close”, so the excuse of closeness could not be used to excuse a handball (although as I have said there was no handball anyway).

But in fact what we need to know – and what I hope someone will help me sort out – is how far away does a player have to be, to be able to react in time to get an arm out of the way of a ball hit with power straight at the player’s arm.

We know that the penalty spot is 12 yards from the goal, and that all a keeper can do is guess which way the ball is going to travel; keepers don’t dive once they have seen the ball in flight.  So I suspect 12 yards is also not enough distance for a player to be able to get his arms out of the way.

Of course players can help themselves when defending by keeping their arms down – and indeed that is what happened in the case we looked at – it was the BBC who made the mistake of confusing a left arm raised with a ball hitting the right arm a few seconds later.

But if we knew that a player could simply not get his arm out of the way in time to avoid a shot hit with force from a certain distance, that would help.  Players would still have an obligation to keep their arms down rather than waived akimbo, and indeed we see many defenders stick their hands behind their backs while defending in the box, but this could be another helpful piece of information.

If anyone can tell me how far away from a ball hit with power a player has to be to have time to move his arm out of the way as the ball approaches, I could publish that, along with a guide to the meaning of left and right (for the benefit of BBC pundits).

35 Replies to ““8 yards is not close” Time to test out what is and what is not a penalty”

  1. Just to add to the discussion, I have watch the MOTD highlights and the Sky Sports highlights. The Sky highlight will be longer as it is programmed slot of 30 mins as opposed to MOTD’s much shorter offering.So taking away advert time and commentator waffle about 20 mins was shown on Sky. The much reported handball on MOTD was not even shown during the Sky highlights.In my opinion a very clear example of MOTD bias against Arsenal.

  2. The BBC match commentators did not think it was penalty though. There was also a VAR review (while play continued) which they agreed completely with.

  3. To put reaction time into perspective, we have to look at some of the incredible saves made by goal keepers from less than 8 yards. I won’t deny the pundits their reaction time which is more than a lifetime compared with the split seconds the players on field have.

    In all honesty it is getting to the point where players will have to wear armless jackets when defending against pundits.

    What would be interesting, is to have pundits do an intelligence test to assess their logic and perspective of interpretation of what they see.

  4. And to add to the problem, simply getting the arm out of the way obviously involves moving the arm.

    If the ball still hits the arm as you try to move it out of the way it could, and almost certainly would be construed as a ‘movement towards the ball’ and would definitely be penalised.

    As such, to my mind, a player is better off leaving his arm as is, because ANY movement will always be construed as a movement ‘towards’ the ball, even if in actuality it was an ultimately fruitless movement ‘away’ from the ball.

  5. It’s strange that people who have made a living through life out of kicking a football to a high standard of technigue with proven entertainment values do not appear to have the ability to assess the speed of a travelling ball, but instead jump straight to declare an assumption, and once the assumption is made, jump straight to the next assumption – it was a penalty, why wasn’t it given?!!! – which leads straight to the next – Arsenal.Everything verified.

    The numpties at the bar all agree. A sea of nodding heads. Bigotry maintained. It all comes around next week yet the original evidence remains concealed, not even examined.

  6. “A lovely goal by Southampton” but they lost by 2 goals to 1 away to Tottenham Hotspur to send them 4th in the table before Arsenal play a big game tomorrow away to Man Utd. Arsenal and Leicester are now in contention for the 3rd spot tomorrow. But I hope Arsenal will not disappoint us Gooners by dropping points to Man Utd tomorrow at Old Trafford but collect maximumly points in the match to appoint to us a win over Man Utd.

  7. SAA…watch the highlight of the Southampton goal…it was another Hugo Lloris special

  8. Tony after reading this article, I felt to get a more objective idea of what you really think about handballs and penalties I would need to also need to look at your reaction when it was our opponent handling the ball in their penalty area. I dug up 2 cases, where the penalties were also not given, one against rashford in a 3-2 win for united and the 2nd against Vincent kompany from a Walcott attempted cross. In both cases the ball struck our opponents at less than 4ft, your(and Walters) conclusion in both cases? CLEAR PENALTY. + red card to rashford. Pgmo robs us of points. No confusion about distance or speed of travel of the ball.



    I maintain that you undermine a lot of the great work you do(and I do concede some of the work you do, like the 160game review with videos is quite impressive and commendable), when you keep trying to defend the ref when most people agree that he was wrong to our favor. It’s more helpful then to be more outspoken against the ref. Then the impression would be given that you’re more interested in refs getting it right than refs favoring you. Just my little advice

  9. I think that is a fair point, but only up to a point. For I would say that until I saw the comment after the article (which you must admit was not discussing distances but about the BBC’s confusion of left and right) I had never thought of the importance of considering the distance and speed of the ball as an issue in penalty awards. At least I the decency not to go back and change what has been written in the past (in the style of Winston Smith in 1984).
    I’ve admitted this is new to me and I’ve not considered it before so now I am starting to change my mind about penalty awards.
    And this I think is a key point about Untold. We’ve been exploring new ground for over 10 years, and all the time we learn and we change our minds – something that is inevitable given that we are one of very very few commentary places where evidence is considered to be the key to everything.
    The people I think you should be really worried about are the people who never change their minds no matter what. For me (and it is a personal issue of course) those are the people who are the biggest danger to all discussion in politics, football, life the universe and everything (to add to Douglas Adams), because no matter what one says, no matter what evidence is put forward, these people will not budge.
    I leave all the past articles from untold on line (apart from a few lost in an online crash), so that no one can ever say I am maipulating past discussions, and so that everyone can see the evolution of the ideas we explore here.
    Once we get a measure of how far from the ball the player has to be to be able to remove an arm from the line of flight, when the ball is hit at force, then we’ll have a measure, and will use that in all cases.
    I find it hard to see how you can blame me for having a view of an issue where specific evidence has never been brought up before and where I have the willingness to say, right this now changes how we see things.
    My worry is the vast majority who have fixed views. These are, in my opinion, the real trouble makers.

  10. Tony,
    Here is a go at answering your question:
    From the source below, ball speed is 67 miles per hour.
    This (if my maths is right) is equal to:
    117,920 yards per hour (1,760 yards in a mile)
    1,695.33 yards per minute and
    (more usefully)
    32.756 yards per second

    So, for a ball to travel 8 yards (from the moment of impact with foot or head or whatever) is 0.244 seconds

    From the second source, the average human reaction time to visual stimulus is…0.25 seconds.

    That is reaction time. Moving an arm takes a bit longer.
    That is average reaction time, but the rules are for all anyway, aren’t they?

    I will allow you to draw your own conclusion as to whether 8 yards is too close or not 🙂

    Ball speed:

    Human reaction time:

  11. While my comment is awaiting moderation, here is an edited version, which I hope, is clearer…

    Here is a go at answering your question:
    I use average values as I assume that these rules cover the whole game, not just the professional version.

    From the source below, average ball speed is 67 miles per hour.

    This (if my maths is right) is equal to:
    117,920 yards per hour (1,760 yards in a mile)
    1,695.33 yards per minute and more usefully)
    32.756 yards per second

    So, for a ball to travel 8 yards (from the moment of impact with foot or head or whatever) is 0.244 seconds

    From the second source, the average human reaction time to a visual stimulus is…0.25 seconds.

    That is reaction time. Moving an arm takes a bit longer.

    I will allow you to draw your own conclusion as to whether 8 yards is too close or not 🙂

    Ball speed:

    Human reaction time:

  12. Ella, in the case of Kompany he had stuck out his arm to make himself big and the ball hit his hand (that was away from his body). A clear difference with the Sokratis incident where it hit the upper arm.
    The Rashford case was stopping a ball on the goal line. The red card is then obligatory. Rashford made a move with his arm to stop the ball.
    Again a different situation.

  13. Matt

    The reason for moderation, was more than 1 URL in posting.

    The GNU units program is available for Windows, and being GNU-ish, it will compile on anything that looks like UN*X.


    Your calculated speed agrees with what units calculates.

    Reaction time is probably variable. A goalkeeper facing a penalty, can concentrate on a much smaller volume to react to what happens when the ball is struck. From open play, a defender may have to concentrate on more things, which would slow down reaction time a little.

    That speed is also equal to 5.96 rods/second or 1.49 chains/second. 🙂

  14. Nobody seems to of picked up the point I made earlier (which isn’t unusual to be fair) but I think it is really important.

    In summery, I contended that moving your arm for any reason is pointless, and definitely the wrong thing to do, simply because ANY movement will be construed as a movement TOWARDS the ball, whether it was, or whether it was in fact an attempt to move the arm away from the ball.

    You are best keeping your arms down, and leaving them down, and if the ball does hit your arm, trusting to fate it is construed as a ‘natural position’ by both referee and VAR.

    Personally I don’t think if your arm is straight down by the side of the body it should ever be a hand ball, whether struck from 2 Metres or 20 Metres.

    Once the arm is away from the body you are in ‘un natural’ territory and in the hands of the pigmob and VAR.

  15. I think it is best to say that your arms are expected to abut the sides of your torso and upper legs. Most referees seem to think that if a person either flexes or extends their shoulder (in the sagittal plane) as the ball “impacts” the shoulder area, that a “handling of the ball” has been affected. So, a person not only has to have the arm abut the torso, the houlder must be in a neutral position (no flexion or extension).

    If a person is leaning forward, the “natural” position of the arms would be to drop straight down from the shoulder, which still results in the arms being placed so sa to increase the possibility of collision; and hence would be deemed “handling the ball”.

  16. @Nitram and Gord, I believe the laws of the game describe what is the natural position of the arm. I’ll check it up if I have time. But I know for one, if a player is falling and stretches out his arms to break his fall and the ball hits the outstretched arm, it’s not a handball. So nitram, yes once the arm is unnaturally stretched out (especially to make one’s self big) in the first place, it has to be considered handball if the ball hits that arm even though it’s on its way back. It should be seen as a player trying to correct a mistake but not doing it fast enough to avoid being penalized.

  17. Ella I think the rules were changed this summer along with quite a few other rules, and now speak about the player’s profile – which includes the arms down by the player’s side. A ball to the body when the player’s hands are straight down is no longer hand ball.

  18. @Tony you do have an uncanny way of changing your mind after arsenal suddenly becomes the beneficiaries of something you had been castigating. Someone pointed out a while ago how you were writing articles dissing the FA cup as lately as January/February 2014, calling it a dead competition, only good for trying out the youth teams. Then boom! May 2014 arsenal go ahead and win it after 9years of trying. Suddenly it becomes the biggest trophy in world football to you. Now, arsenal benefits from handball played from 8feet, suddenly you change your mind about a penalty call where the ball was played from closer than 4feet, which you vehemently claimed was a handball then. Andrew even comments on it in the end of year rant against the refs.


    I’m sorry Tony but it’s too much of a coincidence to believe

  19. @Tony, I believe that’s exactly what I was saying. Only adding that some other situations where the arm is not down by the side(natural silhouette) are also considered like in situation where the ball hits a falling players hand between his body and the ground

  20. @walter, read the article, Tony doesn’t deny that Sokratis’s was stretched out(unnatural position). Except you want to make that your argument. What Tony contends is that the ball played in from 8yds was too close for sokratis to get his hand out of the way in time.

  21. I don’t think that is right Ella. In the case shown on the BBC one arm was stretched out, but returned to his side as the ball moved towards him. But the ball struck the other shoulder.

  22. What I don’t get Ella is why you keep reading Untold when you find it unbelievable. You are of course very welcome to do so, but it surprises me.
    Anyway, re the FA Cup, since Chelsea and then Man City came along with the backing of multi-billionaires the entire football world has been turned upside down. Before Abramovich took over Chelsea I felt that clubs that were well managed and inspirationally led could achieve all sorts of things. But then it became clear to me that with the PL and Uefa not willing to deal with this new situation, our aspirations had to change.
    Personally I find people with fixed views the biggest problem of all – one can never debate anything with them. People who are willing to change their minds tend to be more fun to be with. The ones who don’t ever change their minds in the face of changing circumstances tend to be rather dull in my experience.

  23. Ella, I don’t agree when you say some people never change their minds. Everybody changes something, it just depends on “what” you change. For example, those people you accuse of never seeing something good in arsenal (who never change), the same you accuse them of holding the FA cup in high esteem before arsenal started winning it again, but beginning to denigrate the competition once arsenal began to win it. So on one hand you accuse them of never changing, on the other hand you accuse them of changing. In your case it’s the opposite, you have refused to change in your assessment of whether or not arsenal is doing well, but then you have changed in ur view of the FA cup. So both parties are resolute unmoved in one aspect which is the constant, while shifting the goal post when it concerns the variable. However I’d say the truth is somewhere in between.

  24. Tony are you seriously contending that
    1. The ball hit the shoulder and not the(upper) arm?
    2. The arm which the ball hit, was not outstretched?

  25. Tony please just drop it. The mark of maturity is being able to speak the truth even to your own hurt. I didn’t watch the match, but in the previous article Ella posted a video of Sokratis hand ball, it was clear as day. Sometimes it is better to just keep quiet and let it go away. Even Villa who should feel cheated have moved on, yet you’re still here trying to defend the indefensible. Please call a spade a spade, we were lucky to have gotten away with one, period!

  26. @Tony, I’m not quarreling with you or anything of the sort. I’m only suggesting that you’re in support of the decision of the ref in this particular instance just because the decision favored arsenal and not due to a change in your understanding of handball penalties. I doubt this is a new accusation to you or indeed fans of any clubs whatsoever. I believe every villa fan can bet his house that the penalty call was unjust. I don’t see why concluding that and saying it to you should make you wonder why I read untold. Neither does it color my entire appreciation of the work untold does. Thanks.

  27. But Tony there’s a video which you can watch and make up your own mind, instead of quoting an imaginary commentator, without evidence

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