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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 34373

Law 1- The Field 10/7/2021

RE: Adult

Jack of Portsmouth, England asks...

What is the significance of the Goal Area

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Jack
The goal area has a long history and the reason from the outset was to mark an area from which goal kicks would be taken.
This is what the relevant 1891 'Laws' of football said:
"...the ball...shall be kicked off...within six yards of the goal-post nearest the point where the ball left the field of play."

The area then developed another reason which no longer exists which was to do with charging. In the early days of the game the game was significantly more physical with rough charging being allowed. This could be used against players even if they did not have the ball. If a goalkeeper caught the ball, he could be barged over the line. As a result, goalkeepers tended to punch the ball a great deal. In 1894 the Football Association introduced a new law which stated that a goalkeeper could only be charged when playing the ball or obstructing an opponent.

In September, 1898, the South Essex Gazette reported that in a game against Brentford, two West Ham United players, George Gresham and Sam Hay, "bundled the goalkeeper into the net whilst he had the ball in his hands". The goal stood because this action was within the rules at the time.

This rough action against goalkeepers continued and it became so serious that a number of goalkeepers were badly injured and some lost their lives through injuries.
During the 1935–36 English football season, a young Sunderland AFC goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe, died as a result of a kick in the head and chest after he had picked up the ball following a back pass in a game against Chelsea at Roker Park. He continued to take part until the match finished, but collapsed at home afterwards and died in hospital four days later from diabetes mellitus and heart failure 'accelerated by the rough usage of the opposing team.' The tragic end to Thorpe's career led to a change in the rules, where players were no longer allowed to raise their foot to a goalkeeper when he had control of the ball in his arms. The Laws were further amended to indicate that a goalkeeper could not be charged inside the goal area. Once outside the goal area the goalkeepers could be legally charged.
Over the years further protection were introduced to give added protection to goalkeepers to the point where charging goalkeepers in possession of the ball is no longer allowed anywhere inside the penalty area.

In addition the goal area line is used as the location for attacking IDFKs for any offence committed inside the goal area by the defending team. Defending team free kicks can be taken anywhere inside the goal area.

So the main reason is an area for goal kicks to be taken from which still is the case today.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Jack well you got the history lesson from my colleague Ref McHugh, alrthough today the goal area is still the 6 yrd box that encompses the goal itself within the 18 yd penalty area. It has special circumstances that permit any free kick in favour of the defence to be taken at any point within the 6 yard goal area no matter the location of the foul or infraction that caused it . If there is an INDFK offence in favour of the attackers that 0ccurs within its confines the restart can ONLY take place on the 6 yard parallel goal area line to the actual goal line by moving the ball straight back so no attacking free kick occurs closer than 6 yards to the goal. While it is true you can shoulder charge the keeper within the goal area only if the ball was NOT in his hands as the ball is not available to be challenged once the keeper has ball possession with his hands.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Jack,
As the early law wording given by ref McHugh indicates, the original, primary purpose of the goal area (and which remains to this day) is to provide a location for goal kicks to be taken. Nowadays it only has one other significance, which is as described by ref Dawson, in relation to indirect free kicks taken by the attacking team for offences occurring inside the goal area.

A couple of other historical notes:

1. There wasn't an actual goal area to start with, just a line. In 1891, the wording simply said that, "a line defining six yards from the goal posts ... shall also be marked out."

2. Later on, in 1897 the marking changed to two semi-circles with a six-yard radius as measured from each goal post, drawn out onto the field. You can still see these semicircular markings on some old pictures and videos of turn-of-the-century games.

3. The current style of rectangular goal area was adopted in 1902.

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