A free kick is a method of restarting play in association football. It is awarded after an infringement of the laws by the opposing team.
Free kicks may be either direct or indirect, distinguished as follows:
The referee signals an indirect free kick by raising the arm vertically above the head; a direct free kick is signaled by extending the arm horizontally. A popular method for identifying the different signals is that, for indirect free kicks, the referee holds his hand above his head, creating the letter "I", for an indirect free kick.
The free kick is taken from the place where the infringement occurred, with the following exceptions:
The ball must be stationary and on the ground. Opponents must be at least 9.15 m (10 yards) from the ball until it is in play, unless they are on their own goal-line between the goal-posts. If the free kick is taken from within the kicking team's penalty area, opponents must be outside the penalty area.
If the defending team forms a "wall" of three or more players, all attacking players must be at least 1 m (1 yard) from the wall until the ball is in play.
The ball becomes in play as soon as it is kicked and clearly moves. The ball must be kicked (a goalkeeper may not pick up the ball). A free kick can be taken by lifting the ball with a foot or both feet simultaneously. It is legal to feint to take a free kick to confuse opponents. (This distinguishes the free kick from the penalty kick, where feinting is illegal once the run-up has been completed).
A player may be penalised for an offside offence from a free-kick. This distinguishes the free-kick from most other methods of restarting the game, from which it is not possible for a player to commit an offside offence.
|Type of free kick|
|Opponents' goal||Goal scored||Goal-kick to opponents|
A goal may be scored directly from a direct free kick against the opposing side. A goal may not be scored directly from an indirect free kick, and an own goal may not be scored directly from any free kick. If the ball goes directly into the opposing team's goal from an indirect free kick, a goal kick is awarded to the opposing team. If the ball goes directly into the kicking team's own goal, a corner kick is awarded to the opposing team.
When an indirect free kick has been awarded, the referee must maintain the vertically raised arm until the kick has been taken and the ball touches another player, goes out of play, or it is clear that a goal cannot be scored directly. If the referee fails to signal that the free kick is indirect, and the ball goes directly into the opponents' goal, the kick must be retaken.
If the ball is moving, or in the wrong place, the kick is retaken. A player who takes a free kick from the wrong position in order to force a retake, or who excessively delays the restart of play, is cautioned.
If an opponent is less than 9.15 m (10 yards) from the spot where the kick is taken, the kick is re-taken unless the kicking team chooses to take a "quick free kick" before opponents have been able to retreat the required distance. An opponent also may be cautioned (yellow card) for failing to retreat 9.15 m (10 yards), or for deliberately preventing a quick free kick from being taken.
If the kicker touches the ball a second time before it has touched another player, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team, unless this second touch is an illegal handball offence, in which case a direct free kick or penalty kick is awarded.
If an attacking player stands within 1 m (1 yard) of a "wall" of 3 or more defending players, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team.
A team may choose to take a "quick" free kick, that is, take the kick while opponents are within the 9.15-metre (10-yard) minimum required distance. This is usually done for some tactical reason, such as surprising the defence or taking advantage of their poor positioning. The referee has full discretion on whether to allow a quick free kick, and all other rules on free kicks still apply. However, in taking a quick free kick the kicking team waives their entitlement to retake the kick if an opponent who was within 9.15 m (10 yards) intercepts the ball. Football governing bodies may provide further instruction to referees on administering quick free kicks; for example, the United States Soccer Federation advises that referees should not allow a quick free kick if a card is shown prior to the restart, if a trainer has to enter the field to attend to an injured player, if the kicking team requests enforcement of the 10-yard (9.15 m) rule, or if the referee needs to slow the pace of the match (e.g., to talk to a player).
Direct free kicks awarded near the opponent's goal can often lead to scoring opportunities, either from the kick itself or from an ensuing set piece. Accordingly, developing plays from free kicks are an important part of team strategy, and defending against them is an important skill for defenders.
There are various techniques used with direct free kicks. The player taking the direct free kick may choose to strike the ball with as much force as possible, usually with the laces of the boot. Alternatively, players may attempt to curl the ball around the keeper or the wall, with the inside or outside the boot. Additionally, certain free-kick specialists will choose to kick the ball with minimal spin, making the ball behave unpredictably in the air (similar to the action of a knuckleball pitch in baseball). The kicker may also attempt to drive the shot under the wall formed by the opposition defenders using the inside of their boot in a passing manner. Free kick takers may also attempt to cross the ball to their centre-backs or strikers to get a header on goal, since they usually are the tallest members of the team, especially if the position of the free kick is close to the wings.
Most teams have one or two designated free kick takers, depending on the distance from goal and the side of the pitch from which the free kick is to be taken. The strategy may be to score a goal directly from the free kick, or to use the free kick as the beginning of a set piece leading towards a goal scoring opportunity.
The kicking team may have more than one player line up behind the ball, run up to the ball, and/or feint a kick in order to confuse or deceive the defence as to their intentions; this is usually legal as long as no other infringements occur.
Where there is a potential for a shot on goal to occur from a direct free kick, often the defending side will erect a "wall" of players standing side by side as a barrier to the shot. The number of players composing the wall varies based on distance and strategy. The wall is typically positioned to screen the area of the near side post, while the far side post is normally referred to as the primary responsibility of the goalkeeper, which is why the goalkeeper is often positioned further towards the far side post than the near side post after forming a wall.
Beginning in the 2020s teams often choose to deploy a player to lie behind the wall, to prevent the free kick taker kicking the ball below the wall when the defenders jump anticipating a kick over the top. Colloquially this role has become known as a 'draught excluder'. A kicker who has the skill to curl the ball around a wall is at a distinct advantage. Since 2000, referees at the highest levels of football have used vanishing spray to enforce the 9.15-metre (10-yard) minimum required distance for the wall; referees without vanishing spray may indicate the minimum distance verbally and/or with hand gestures. In 2019, Law 13 was changed to require attacking players to maintain a minimum 1-metre (1-yard) distance from a defensive "wall" until the ball is in play.
The following are the offences punishable by a free kick in the 2019 Laws of the Game. A free kick may be awarded only for an offence committed while the ball is in play, or at a restart of play. If an offence is committed in any other circumstance, the offending player may be punished with disciplinary action, but play restarts in the same manner it would have restarted without the offence.
The concept of a free kick—i.e., an opportunity to kick the ball without being challenged by opponents—is found in public school football games from the early nineteenth century. The three situations in which the free kick was typically found are:
The fair catch was the most common reason for a free kick in football codes of the early nineteenth-century. An early example is found in the testimony of Matthew Bloxam, in the famous passage where he attributes the innovation of "running with the ball" at Rugby School to the actions of William Webb Ellis in 1823:
[Ellis] caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these place kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground, the opposite side might rush on.
The first published laws of football, those of Rugby School in 1845, confirm that a free kick was awarded for a catch:
Charging is fair, in case of a place-kick, as soon as a ball has touched the ground; in case of a kick from a catch, as soon as the player's foot has left the ground, and not before.
Although the 1848 "Cambridge rules" described by Henry C. Malden in 1897 have not survived, Malden implies that they awarded a free kick for a fair catch. The 1856 Cambridge rules, which do survive, explicitly awarded such a free kick:
When a player catches the ball directly from the foot, he may kick it as he can without running with it.
Other early codes awarding a free kick for a fair catch include Shrewsbury School (1855), Harrow School (1858), Sheffield FC (1858), Melbourne FC (1859), and Blackheath FC (1862). All these kicks, except for Sheffield's, permit a goal to be scored directly.
The free kick after a touch-down (also known as a "try at goal") is found at Rugby School from the mid-1830s. It is also found in Rugby-influenced codes, such as Marlborough College, and in the Cambridge Rules of 1863, which were drawn up by a committee including representatives from both Marlborough and Rugby.
The first Rugby School rules (1845) awarded a punt or a drop-kick to the opposition after a player took "a punt when he [was] not entitled to it". The 1846 revision of the Rugby School rules kept that rule, but added the provision that a goal could not be scored from such a drop-kick, giving an early example of an indirect free-kick. Other codes that used a free kick to punish an infringement of the rules included the Uppingham laws of 1857 (for offside), and the Melbourne FC laws of 1860 (for any offence).
|Year||Code||Name||Free kick awarded for|
|Fair catch||Touch down||Offence by |
(uncodified, based on
|1845||Rugby School ||Place-kick
|1847||Eton Field Game||—||No||direct||No|
(as recalled by Malden)
|1856||Cambridge Rules||"Kick it as he can"||direct||No||No|
|1857||Uppingham School||"Kick it as best he can"
|1858||Harrow School||Free kick||direct||No||No|
|1858||Sheffield FC||Free kick||indirect||No||No|
|1859||Melbourne FC||Free kick||direct||No||No|
|1860||Melbourne FC||Free kick||direct||No||direct|
|1862||Blackheath FC||Free kick||direct||No||No|
|1862||Eton Field Game||—||No||No||No|
|1862||The Simplest Game||—||No||No||No|
|1863||Cambridge Rules||Free kick||No||direct||No|
|1863||Football Association||Free kick||direct||direct||No|
The original laws of the Football Association, published in December 1863, awarded a free kick in two situations:
In both cases, the kick could be taken "in such manner as the kicker may think fit". This was interpreted as allowing a kick from hand (a punt or drop-kick), in addition to a place kick. In the first ever game played under Football Association rules, (Barnes v Richmond, 19 December 1863), Barnes FC attempted six such "tries at goal", but missed all of them.
At the first revision of the FA laws, in 1866, the free kick was removed from the game. Reference to the fair catch disappeared from the laws (though catching was still permitted), while the touch down, rather than being rewarded with a free kick, became a tie-breaker to be used when an equal number of goals was scored by each team.
In 1867, Sheffield Football Club proposed to the FA that handling should be banned, with a free kick awarded as punishment for handball. Records of the FA's annual meeting do not indicate that this proposal received any formal discussion, and it was not adopted: however, a similar proposal was incorporated into the inaugural laws of the Sheffield Football Association later that same year.
In 1870, handling was completely banned in the FA laws, upon the basis of a proposal by Upton Park FC. Wanderers FC and Civil Service FC both suggested that handling should be punished with a throw-in to the opposition, but their proposals were not adopted.
In 1872, the free kick was reintroduced, on the basis of a proposal by Harrow Chequers F.C. It was awarded to punish illegal handling of the ball, and did not allow a goal to be scored directly. The 1872 laws neglected to define exactly how a free kick should be taken; this omission was made up in 1873, when it was specified that the ball must be on the ground, with opponents at least six yards (5.5 m) from the ball, unless behind their own goal-line. These restrictions were proposed by Clapton Pilgrims, and amended by Francis Marindin of Royal Engineers FC.
In 1913, the distance opponents were required to retreat was increased from six yards (5.5 m) to ten yards (9.15 m). In 1936, it was further specified that players could be less than ten yards (9.15 m) away only if they were on the goal-line between the posts (rather than anywhere on the goal-line).
In 1965, opponents were required to remain outside the penalty area when a free kick was being taken from within the kicking team's penalty area. (A similar change had been made to the laws for the goal kick in 1948).
In 2019, members of the team taking the free-kick were forbidden from standing within one metre of any "wall" made by the defensive team.
In 1887, it was specified that "[t]he ball must at least be rolled over before it shall be considered played". This requirement was made more precise in 1895: the ball "must make a complete circuit or travel the distance of its circumference" before being in play. In 1997, this requirement was eliminated: the ball became in play as soon as it was kicked and moved (and left the penalty area, if necessary; see below). In 2016, it was specified that the ball must "clearly" move.
In 1937, a free kick taken within the kicking team's own penalty area was required to leave the penalty area before being considered in play. This followed a parallel change in the goal-kick law the previous year. Both changes were reversed in 2019.
In 2007, the laws specified that feinting, and lifting the ball with one or both feet, were both legitimate methods of taking a free kick.
In 1874, the player taking the free kick was forbidden from touching the ball again until it had been played by another player.
When reintroduced in 1872, the free kick did not permit a goal to be scored.
In 1891, the penalty kick was introduced, for certain offences committed within 12 yards (11 m) of the goal-line. The penalty kick permitted a goal to be scored directly (unlike the free kick, which was still exclusively indirect).
In 1903 the direct free-kick was reintroduced, for the same offences penalized by a penalty kick when committed in the penalty area.
In 1927, the laws were amended to prevent an own goal from being scored directly from any free kick (whether direct or indirect).
In 1978, it was specified that a free-kick awarded to a team within its own goal-area could be taken from any point within that half of the goal-area in which the offence occurred. This change was made in order to remove any disadvantage that might come from being forced to take the kick from a "restricted position" near the goal-posts. In 1992, this provision was further widened to permit such a free-kick to be taken from any point within the goal-area. This change, which was proposed "to reduce time-wasting", was made in conjunction with a parallel change to the goal kick law.
In 1984, it was specified that an indirect free kick awarded for an offence within the opposing team's goal area should be taken at the closest point on the six-yard (5.5 m) line. This change was made in order to avoid "crowding" and "jostling".
In 1882, an indirect free kick was awarded to the opposing side if the player taking the free kick touched the ball twice. In 1905, encroachment by the opposition at a free kick was also punished with an indirect free-kick. In 1938, this punishment was eliminated; it was specified instead that, in the event of encroachment, the referee "shall delay the taking of the kick until the Law is complied with". In 1937, it was specified that if a free kick taken from within the kicking side's penalty area did not leave the penalty area, it should be retaken. This requirement was removed in 2019.
In 2019, the laws were modified to state that, if a team-mate of the kicker was closer than one metre to a "wall" formed by the defending team, an indirect free-kick should be awarded.
The laws of football have always permitted an offside offence to be committed from a free kick. The free kick contrasts, in this respect, with other restarts of play such as the goal kick, corner kick, and throw-in.
An unsuccessful proposal to remove the possibility of being offside from a direct free-kick was made in 1929. Similar proposals to prevent offside offences from any free-kick were advanced in 1974 and 1986, each time without success. In 1987, the Football Association (FA) obtained the permission of IFAB to test such a rule in the 1987-88 GM Vauxhall Conference. At the next annual meeting, the FA reported to IFAB that the experiment had, as predicted, "assisted further the non-offending team and also generated more action near goal, resulting in greater excitement for players and spectators"; it nevertheless withdrew the proposal.
As mentioned above, the free kick was revived in 1872 to punish illegal handling (by the goalkeeper or any other player). In 1903, when the direct free kick was reintroduced, it was used to punish handball: technical handling offences by the goalkeeper continued to be punished by an indirect free kick.
In 1874, the use of the free kick was extended to cover offences resulting from foul play. Since 1903, when the direct free kick was reintroduced, most forms of foul play have been punished by a direct free kick. The exceptions, punished by an indirect free kick, are listed below:
Since 1907, an indirect free kick has been awarded whenever play is stopped to send off a player (unless the laws called for a direct free kick or penalty kick). In 1934, this principle was extended to cautions.
From 1967 to 2000, there was a separate offence of timewasting by the goalkeeper, punishable by an indirect free kick.
In 1882, an indirect free-kick was awarded for a double touch at a free kick, throw-in, goal kick, or kick-off. In 1901, this was extended to a double touch at a penalty kick. Encroachment by the opposition has been punished by an indirect free-kick at various times:
The indirect free-kick was also awarded for a foul throw from 1882. In 1931, this remedy was changed to a throw-in to the opposition.
Offside has been punished by an indirect free-kick since 1874.
|Date||Goal may be scored directly||May be kicked from hand||Ball may be touched twice||Minimum distance (opponents)||Taken from kicking team's penalty area||Position when taken from goal area||Remedy for infringement||Date|
|Attacking goal||Own goal||Ball must leave penalty area||Opponents must be
outside penalty area
|Of kicking team||Of opponents||Double-touch||Encroachment|
|1872||No||Not specified||Yes||Not specified||—||—||—||1872|
|1873||No||6 yards (5.5 m)||Not specified||1873|
|1902||No||No||From place of offence||From place of offence||1902|
|1903||Direct free kick only||1903|
|1913||10 yards (9.15 m)||1913|
|1978||From that half of goal area in which offence was committed||1978|
|1984||From the nearest point on the six-yard (5.5 m) line||1984|
|1992||From anywhere within the goal area||1992|
Well, sir, years afterwards some one took those rules, still in force at Cambridge, and with very few alterations they became the Association Rules. A fair catch, free kick (as still played at Harrow) was struck out. [emphasis added]
A player who caught the ball direct from a kick could take a 'hoist' (i.e. drop kick)– via
Whoever catches the Ball is entitled to a free kick if he calls Three yards [2.7 m]– via
Fair Catch is a Catch from any player provided the Ball has not touched the ground and has not been thrown from touch and entitles a free kick– via
Any player catching the ball directly from the foot may call 'mark'. He then has a free kick; no player from the opposite side being allowed to come inside the spot marked– via
A fair catch is a catch direct from the foot, or a knock-on from the hand of one of the opposite side; when the catcher may either run with the ball or make his mark by inserting his heel in the ground on the spot where he catches it; in which case he is entitled to a free kick– via
The simpler "conversion" that survives today in rugby and gridiron football was first used at Marlborough College, before being used in the first laws of the Rugby Football Union (1871).
[Y]oung Brooke has touched it right under the School [opposition] goal-posts ... Old Brooke stands with the ball under his arm motioning the School back ... Crab Jones ... stands there in front of old Brooke to catch the ball. If [the opponents] can reach and destroy him before he catches, the danger is over ... Fond hope, it is kicked out and caught beautifully. Crab strikes his heel into the ground, to mark the spot where the ball was caught, beyond which the School line may not advance; but there they stand five deep, ready to rush the moment the ball touches the ground. ... Crab Jones ... has made a small hole with his heel for the ball to lie on, by which he is resting on one knee, with his eye on old Brooke. "Now!" Crab places the ball at the word, old Brooke kicks, and it rises slowly and truly as the School rush forward. Then a moment's pause, while both sides look up at the spinning ball. There it flies straight between the two posts, some five feet above the cross-bar, an unquestioned goal
The most important points of difference between the two games [Rugby School and Marlborough] [...] are [...] the uniform distance of 30 yards [27 m] in front of "touch" for the "place kick" at Marlborough, instead of the kick from an undefined place at Rugby– via
When a player has kicked the ball beyond the opponent's goal line, whoever first touches the ball when it is on the ground with his hand may have a free kick, bringing the ball 25 yards [23 m] straight out from the goal line– via
If a player take a punt when he is not entitled to it, the opposite side may take a punt or drop, without running if the ball has not touched two hands– via
If a player take a punt when he is not entitled to it, the opposite side may take a punt or drop, without running, (after touching the ball on the ground) if the ball has not touched two hands, but such drop may not be a goal– via
If any player kicks off-side, the opposite side may claim a fair kick from the place where it was kicked off-side– via
In case of deliberate infringement of any of the above Rules by either side, the Captain of the opposing side may claim that any one of his party may have a free kick from the place where the breach of the Rules was made; the two Captains in all cases, save where Umpires are appointed, to be the sold judges of infringements– via
A boy of the name of Ellis — William Webb Ellis — a town boy and a foundationer, who at the age of nine entered the school after the midsummer holidays in 1816, who in the second half-year of 1823 was, I believe, a praepostor, whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year, caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rule, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward until he had either punted it or placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground, the opposite side might rush on.
Hay, on the part of Barnes, touched the ball down behind his adversary's goal. Being by the new rules entitled to a free kick from fifteen yards [14 m] outside the goal line, he punted the ball very neatly between the posts [emphasis added]
No player shall hold or carry the ball, or knock or push it on with the hand or arm. The side breaking this role forfeits a free kick to the opposite side– via
No player shall carry or knock on the ball; and handling the ball, under any pretence whatever, shall be prohibited, except in the case of the goal-keeper, who shall be allowed to use his hands for the protection of his goal. In the event of an infringement of this rule, a free kick shall be forfeited to the opposite side from the spot where the infringement took place, but in no case shall a goal be scored from such free kick.– via
11. In the event of any infringement of Rules VI., VIII., or IX., a free kick shall be forfeited to the opposite side from the spot where the infringement took place, but in no case shall a goal be scored from such free kick, nor shall the ball be again played by the kicker until it shall have been kicked by some other player.– via
A goal may be scored from a free kick which is awarded because of any infringement of Law 9, but not from any other free kick.– via
11. In the event of any infringement of Rules 5, 6, 8, or 9, 12, or 14, a free kick shall be forfeited to the opposite side from the spot where the infringement took place.– via
12. In no case shall a goal be scored from any free kick, nor shall the ball be again played by the kicker until it has been played by another player[emphasis added].
[Law 10]: When a free kick has been awarded, the kicker's opponents shall not approach within 6 yards [5.5 m] of the ball unless they are standing on their own goal-line.– via
[Law 17]: In the event of any infringement of Laws 5, 6, 8, 10, or 16, a free kick shall be awarded to the opposite side, [emphasis added]
the following new offence to be punished by an indirect free-kick: (3) When not playing the ball, intentionally obstructing an opponent
CHARGES FAIRLY ... WHEN THE BALL IS NOT WITHIN PLAYING DISTANCE OF THE PLAYERS CONCERNED AND THEY ARE DEFINITELY NOT ATTEMPTING TO PLAY IT
17: In the event of any infringement of Laws 5, 6, 8, 10, or 16, or of a player being sent off the field under Law 13, a free kick shall be awarded to the opposite side [emphasis added]– via
Law 13: Decision of the International Board:— If a game has been stopped in consequence of ungentlemanly behaviour by a player, it must be resumed by a free kick in favour of the opposite side, whether the player has only been cautioned or sent off the field
When playing as goalkeeper [...] indulges in tactics which, in the opinion of the Referee, are designed merely to hold up the game and thus waste time and so give an unfair advantage to his own team [...] shall be penalised by the award of an indirect free kick
In the event of any infringement of rules 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, a free kick shall be forfeited to the opposite side, from the spot where the infringement took place [emphasis added].– via
[Law 2] Decision of International Board:-- If this law is not complied with, the kick-off must be taken over again– via
[Law 10]: When a free kick has been awarded, the kicker's opponents shall not approach within 6 yards of the ball unless they are standing on their own goal-line. The ball must at least be rolled over before it shall be considered played; i.e., it must make a complete circuit or travel the distance of its circumference. The kicker shall not play the ball a second time until it has been played by another player. The kick-off (except as provided by Law 2), corner-kick, and goal-kick, shall be free kicks within the meaning of this Law.– via
[Law 17]: In the event of any infringement of Laws 5, 6, 8, 10, or 16, a free kick shall be awarded to the opposite side, [emphasis added]
Delete the words 'and goal-kick'
For any other infringement the kick shall be retaken
In the event of any infringement of Rules 5, 6, 8, or 9, 12, or 14, a free kick shall be forfeited to the opposite side from the spot where the infringement took place.– via