I’ve been meaning to pen this letter to FourFourTwo magazine since I was about 12, so there is likely to be over a decade’s worth of pent-up frustration and half-baked arguments in the following few paragraphs.

The foul throw rule has always baffled me. Of course, I understand the basic principle of the rule – there are certain ways in which a throw-in can and cannot be taken as permitted by the sacred laws of the game.

What concerns and confuses me, though, is the sheer disregard paid to this rule by the professional elite. You don’t have to watch many top level games to notice players regularly committing foul throws at an alarming rate.

And I can scarcely remember seeing a professional player being pulled up on their offence by a referee. When you consider that committing a foul throw is a legitimate rule break just like a ‘keeper handling outside of the box or a backpass, it is rather bemusing that these indiscretions are treated so nonchalantly by officials.

Compare this, then, to grassroots football where a foul throw is treated as a cardinal sin. Go to any park on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you’re likely to see at least one instance of a referee lurching into a lung-busting sprint in order to pull up an unsuspecting child for a foul throw. If one of a player’s boots ventures so much as an inch off the turf, you know it’s getting given.

When I was younger and played for a Sunday 11-a-side team, I vividly remember one training session being more or less exclusively dedicated to practicing throw-ins due to us taking foul throws like they were going out of fashion the previous week. I can’t quite imagine Pep getting his mob to do the same, can you? It even seems a bit of a stretch for someone like Neil Warnock or Mick McCarthy these days.

And this all seems pretty harsh on a bunch of prepubescent aspiring footballers to me. If professional athletes in their 20s and 30s do not have to lose sleep over the embarrassing thought of being punished for committing a foul throw, why should a group of ten-year-olds who play down the local rec on a Sunday?

Let’s be clear, being penalised for a foul throw is a truly galling experience. It’s not quite on par with scoring an own goal or missing an open one, but I would say it is comparable to being nutmegged or taking a shot that goes out for a throw-in.

If this has happened to you before you will know the feeling. Being pulled up for a foul throw gives the impression that you can’t even master the basic art of throwing a football from behind your head with your feet on the ground, let alone doing anything productive with one at your feet. In other words, it makes you feel like an inadequate piece of shit.

We all know that many of the traditional links between grassroots and professional football were broken a long time ago (think facilities, fitness, finances). But one thing that is usually and should always be constant at whatever level the game is being played at, is the rules. So why are foul throws committed by professionals being ignored?

If players can’t be arsed to take throw-ins properly and referees certainly can’t be arsed to punish unsightly deliveries, then I’m proposing an abolition of the foul throw rule. And we can just have a free (throw) for all instead…


By Conor Shilling

Follow us on Twitter @fourpintslater and listen to our latest podcast here.


3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to foul throws

  1. Conor you ranting legend!
    As much as I enjoyed this prolonged, well-versed rant that almost certainly stems from childhood trauma, I feel like that’s all it is. A rant. Where’s your evidence? What is it about the throw-in that you feel is being committed illegally on a regular basis amongst the professional elite?
    I’m game for the conversation but surely a bit more meat-on-the-bones of this rant is needed to make a real argument?!
    Love, Ryan


  2. Ryan – you may well be right, my friend.

    I could argue that there are so many foul throws that it’s hard to give specific examples or perhaps that I get so blinded by rage when one occurs that I can’t remember who or what was committed. Anyway, let’s go with the latter….

    I guess the main point I was trying to get across is that I find it bizarre that foul throws are so stringently policed at grassroots football – something we can all attest to, if only anecdotally. And then, when it comes to the professional game – where you would expect the highest standards of the rules to be upheld – foul throws are not treated with the same gusto by officials.

    I could look up some stats on how many foul throws are committed in the professional game – which would helpfully demonstrate my point – but I don’t think I would be able to find any and this is precisely where I’m coming from.

    Foul throws in professional football most certainly happen – most commonly an attacking player who doesn’t usually take them aiming to get a quick advantage and releasing the ball from in front of their head – but they are extremely rarely acknowledged by commentators, fans and the like.

    And so before we can start using examples and getting figures to show the extent of the problem – it needs to be recognised as a problem first!

    And all it would take is for referees to ‘get hot’ on it and police all throw-ins, but they just don’t seem to care…

    Hope that adds a little more meat to the bones – but may just classify as another rant…

    Thanks for the continued support mate – it is much appreciated!


  3. Excellent points good sir.

    I have to confess a part of me wanted a Carrick-esc defence following my rather bait-like comments to your original point!

    The truth is foul throw-in’s are genuinely not something I have noticed as a regular occurrence in our professional game. Indeed I am one of those “commentators, fans and the like”! I will however now very much be on the look out.

    You certainly seem to have spotted a flaw in the system and if this is indeed something that is going unpunished, particularly when put in context with the stringent policing the rule receives in our youth game, then certainly it deserves the additional attention you suggest.

    My main gripe with commentators and fans frustrations at various applications of the Laws and Rules that govern our game (and I am quite sure this does not apply to you) is that they rarely seem to know the rules themselves. I often find myself watching MOTD, BT Sport, Sky, or whatever other channel I can find playing my favourite addiction, wondering if a simple day of referee training wouldn’t do the world of football punditry and indeed then indirectly the world of football fans the world of good.

    I am aware it seems that I have rather sidetracked from the original point however I feel that this point highlights my concern with ‘rants’ regarding the Laws of the game rather than more specific arguments. I think overall if we are going to criticise the, already heavily criticised and integral, umpires of our national sport, then we must do it cautiously.

    We are beginning to see the best of our officials disappear to foreign money and/or early retirement and honestly who can blame them. I was one who took early retirement from officiating the game, indeed barely 12 months after qualifying. Still the unpleasant attitude towards officials, an attitude that appears to be so widely socially accepted in our country remains and I think it discourages and drives away those who could help better it.

    I would also like to add that I think when a ‘rant’ is as well-versed and considered as yours it ceases to become a rant at all! Indeed I have heard enough of Four Pints Later to know that you all often support referee’s and their difficult tasks. Long may this support of our officials continue and long may we be able to have such coherent arguments that encourage a more positive mindset towards referees.

    A Four Pints Later and Conor Shilling super-fan, Ryan.


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