Inside the Hand-Ball Hassle

The hand-ball penalty is one of those tricky aspects of soccer. Depending on who you ask, it can be under or over-called, a fair way to play or a penalty that gets more wrong than it does right.

Below, we're breaking down the penalty--from its history to its modern-day applications--to see what all the hype is about. Take a look.

A formalized shift

Before soccer was standardized into an international code--a set of rules that all players could learn and abide by--it followed a looser, less structured style of gameplay. While you would find many similarities between the game pre-1863, when the Football Association was created, and now, you would be surprised by one thing: the use of hands.

While it's hard to know how often soccer's earliest players did, in fact, use their hands, we know that a rule against this type of handling did not exist until the new Football Association made it so.

What's in a hand-ball?

Knowing the specifics of what constitutes a hand-ball can (with luck) keep you from making the mistake yourself when it matters most.

A hand-ball occurs whenever a player is deemed to have intentionally handled the ball in a way that could interfere with gameplay. If they do it to keep possession of the ball, that usually warrants a yellow card--though more obvious offenses, like a midfielder picking up the ball to prevent a shot at goal, will warrant a red card. Both lead to direct kicks (or penalty kicks, depending on the position of the incident).

Referees should, of course, use their judgement in deciding whether there was instance of true mishandling, or if it was just a case of "wrong place, wrong time" for the ball and player concerned. If it was a clear accident, for example, you won't be penalized (though such a rule often runs into several different interpretations, which we'll get to next!).

The dreaded gray area

So, about that dreaded gray area. Many players have felt wrongly penalized when being charged with a hand-ball, when they truly didn't mean to make intentional contact with the ball. And the referee might believe them--but due to how hard it is to distinguish an intentional mishandling from an accident, hand-balls have been issued, most notably in situations where the offending player's hands are extended out and in "irregular" positions where a conclusive judgement call is all but impossible.

What are your thoughts on the hand-ball penalty? Is it usually a correct call, or way too casually used? Let us know below! Either way, we hope that today's blog gives you some added insight into the ins and outs of this tricky penalty.

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