cardsKnow the rules or pay the price!cards


It is very difficult to play any game if you do not know the rules, know them and you can perform to your best, not knowing or understanding them often leads to dispute!


There are specific Laws of the Game that goalkeepers must follow. Here I cover the most common rules; it is not the complete ‘bible’ for every situation you will encounter but covers many you should know.


NOTE: Some rules mentioned will not be applicable in Mini-Soccer or games played by U 10's. Check with your Football Association for any differences in the rules for younger players.


Let's first cover your equipment because if this is not correct you might not even get the chance to start the game. GK’s are required to wear a suitable top, long socks, shin-pads, and/or shorts/longs. This ‘uniform’ should be distinctive from the rest of the players (including the opponents goalkeeper) and match officials. Law 4.

Like out-feild players, the wearing of jewellery or similar items is not permitted unless it has been agreed by the Referee, which is normally only accepted for special reasons.


General rules of play:


At all times during a game there must be a goalkeeper on the field of play.

The goalkeeper is not restricted to stay in the penalty area. You may go anywhere on the field of play. However any play by you outside your penalty area, means you are now considered under the same rules that apply as if you were a normal outfield player.

Some actions of a goalkeeper during play are viewed differently due to the nature of that position. For instance, diving to the ball at the feet of an attacker. In the penalty area, you are given more leeway in tight situations; however, the general rule is that you touch the ball before any contact with opponent, every referee has their tolerance limit and goalkeepers are still expected to abide by the law. A foul by you on the opposition usually means a penalty kick.

Goalkeepers are not required to leave the pitch after they have been treated for any injury unlike out-field players.

A goalkeeper cannot be in possession of the ball with his hands for more than six seconds. This can be penalised by an indirect free kick. You are considered in possession when standing and in a position to distribute the ball, however, a referee can penalise as time wasting any lingering to get into that position. You can within the time go to any part of the penalty area before distribution of the ball. This rule was in replacement to the previous Law where you could take up to 4 steps.




Goalkeepers can be substituted only during a stoppage in the game, either via the normal substitute method or by another player on the pitch (the equipment rules still applies). If the goalkeeper is sent off after a red card violation, any of the out-field players can take-over the position. The team may also field a substitute goalkeeper on the condition that one of the out-field players is substituted out. Any form of substitution must be informed to and accepted by the referee.


Goal Kicks:  NEW FOR 2019


Awaiting offical wording of the new rules 




As a goalkeeper you can handle the ball inside your own penalty area. However, there are situations when you cannot handle the ball.

Within your penalty area you cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick. You can be guilty of a handling offence that incurs an indirect free kick.

You cannot handle a throw-in from a teammate

Once you have controlled the ball (gained possession) and then released it (ball back in play), you cannot touch it with hands or arms until it has touched another player. The ball is considered back into play if you have thrown, placed, kicked or rolled the ball away from you. You can still use your feet in this situation.

When the ball is deliberately kicked to you by a teammate, referred to as the back-pass. Law 12. An indirect free kick is awarded from the place where the offence occurred, i.e., where you first handled the ball.


Back-pass rule: When you can & cannot handle the ball


If your teammate plays the ball back to you with another part of the body other than his feet you may handle the ball.

Referees will penalise any deliberate motion by your team to create a back-pass situation. This will be considered as a deliberate trick in order to circumvent the law and can result in a caution for unsporting behaviour to that player.

Should a deliberate pass from your team hit another teammate unintentionally this will still be considered a back-pass, in the same situation if it strikes an opponent then you are permitted to handle the ball.

If in doubt clear the ball without use of hands or arms. If time permits you can always ask the referee if hands are acceptable.

Of course there can be a situation where a back-pass can only be stopped from entering your goal by use of your hands; in this case it is better to give away the in-direct free kick than the goal.

The back-pass rule was brought into play in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play.


Penalty kick: NEW FOR 2019


The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts, without touching the goalposts, crossbar or goal net, until the ball has been kicked. The players other than the kicker and goalkeeper must be: at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the penalty mark. behind the penalty mark.The goalkeeper must stay on his goal line and in between the goalposts. You are free to move sideways or make other movements as long as you do not move forwardpenalty before the kick is taken.

A referee may penalise you for any forward motion before the ball is kicked by awarding a re-take of the penalty should it be saved or missed. Alternatively he can award the goal if the penalty is scored.

The penalty may also be re-taken if any team-mate infringes into the area prior to the kick being taken.

A goalkeeper can take a penalty kick awarded to their team, although tactically not the wisest option in case of a counter-attack. The more common time is when you participate in penalty shootouts.


Game play situations:


You are permitted to retrieve the ball from outside the penalty area and once back in the area pick it up, so long as it was not deliberately kicked or thrown-in by a teammate. In a situation where an indirect free-kick is awarded for an infringement anywhere within the 6yd area, the ball is placed on the 6yd line nearest to where the infringement took place. In this case as no player defending the goal area can retreat the 10yds required on normal free-kicks, all defending players including the goalkeeper, must be on the goal-line and between the goal posts. All other players must follow the 10yd rule. For clarification, the 10yd rule means all opponents must retreat that distance at all angles to the ball, i.e. they cannot position themselves behind or to the side of the ball other than the required distance (or in any position off the feild of play). The referee should award a re-take if they infringe.

When collecting a ball within the 18yd area your body drifts outside the penalty area, it is the position of the ball that counts, if the ball has also crossed the line then a direct free kick will be awarded at the point it left the area. A referee can penalise with a caution if they consider it deliberate.

An opponent cannot impede your release of the ball from your hands whether you are kicking or throwing. However should you ground or bounce the ball he can intercept it so long as it is not considered dangerous play.


Know the difference between an in-direct and direct free kick:


indirectkick directkick



If you know the rules you will know what will be awarded. This is important as you will be able to act appropriately (setting up a wall etc.) to defend the kick.

You cannot score directly from an in-direct free kick. A referee will normally indicate an in-direct free kick by raising his arm vertically (see image above), if he does not do so assume the kick is direct.

Opponents will look to block your path or vision to the ball (corners and free kicks being prime examples); depending on their actions the referee will determine if they are doing so within the rules.

TIP: Referees or assistants have a lot to watch during these types of kicks and their vision could be distracted to other areas, if you are being impeded prior to the ball being played then bring it to their attention with the call ‘REFEREE’ (but in a polite tone!). Hopefully any infringement on you once the ball comes into play will be seen by the officials. However, at all times your concentration should remain on the taking of the kick in case the issue is not addressed. In the same way with any other infringement on you, never assume a foul will be awarded, play to the whistle!

An opponent may remain in position but is not permitted to impede your progress by a deliberate blocking motion, by extending his arms to force a block, leaning, or any form of tackle when you are not in possession of the ball.

While the kick will be awared in the opponents half, off-side is an in-direct free kick.

An opponent cannot be off-side on the initial kick of a corner kick or from a throw-in. 


Do you have a question you would like to ask on any rule relating to the goalkeeper – go to askthekeeper