Almanac Laws of the Game: the best rule in the book

Imagine being able to look at the rules of a multi-billion dollar game and say, much like Homer Simpson, “that’s there because of me”. Probably, most famously, following the 2008 Grand Final, Brent Guerra and his Hawk teammates can lay claim to Law 15.7:

A Free Kick shall be awarded against a Player from the defending Team who intentionally Kicks, Handballs or forces the football over the attacking Team’s Goal Line or Behind Line or onto one of the attacking Team’s Goal Posts. In assessing whether a Free Kick should be awarded under this Law, the field Umpire shall give the benefit of the doubt to the Defender.

But that’s boring. By far and away the best rule in the book is 15.10.1(c), to wit:

A Free Kick shall be awarded against a Player or a Team where the field Umpire is of the opinion that a Player has lifted a Player or climbed on the shoulders of a Player from the same Team. This Free Kick shall be taken by a Player from the opposing Team where the infringement occurred or where the football is at the time of the infringement, whichever is the greater penalty against the offending Team.


A fabulous rule as you can see. Elegant in its lack of application but it’s there for a reason. Let’s go back some 28 years to Carrara Oval – home of the decidedly unmighty Brisbane Bears. Round 7 to be precise. Late into time on in the final quarter, Brisbane lead Footscray 10.12 to 9.16 (a two point lead for the arithmetically challenged). Footscray desperately send the ball in the direction of full forward, Simon Beasley, deep in a pocket. The siren sounds seconds after the mark, leaving Beasley needing a goal to win. Well, I’ll let the video do the rest of the talking (with thanks to @demondwayne for the link).



Following this bizarre series of events, the powers that be decided the thing that most needed addressing was the impromptu acrobatics by the Bears players (Steve Reynoldson and Michael Richardson?). Where rules like this differ from some of the others is they are designed to completely stop the practice not just regulate the extent to which it occurs (eg. holding the ball). The end result is that the laws of the game are full of rarely enforced rules.

What is the most obscure rule you have seen used by an umpire in a game at any level? Amusing stories please

While we’re on bizarre, for those that missed it, here’s the end of the SANFL Under 18s Grand Final from last weekend. Truly amazing!


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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. When a count to check that the correct number of players are on the ground ( remembering it is only the captain which can request a count which is obscure in itself ) so the umpire stops the game ( at the next break in play eg ball going out of bounds,a ball up ) lines the players up performs the count and there is the correct numbers of players on the ground a free kick and 50 metre penalty occurs against the team who requested the count
    ( I reckon I may end up commenting several times ! )

  2. Nice one D Brown, OBP.
    It must have been sometime after the 1979 GF that the VFL introduced a rule whereupon, if the ball was deemed to have travelled in totality over that line deemed to be the boundary line, then that ball would be deemed as being effectively out of play, until thrown back in by someone known as a boundary umpire.

  3. The People's Elbow says

    A Deakin Uni Shark once conceded a 15m penalty in the last quarter of a game due to exposing his cock and at least one testicle out the side of his shorts while standing the mark. To be fair, it had gone unnoticed by the umpire to that point, although not his opponent, who prior to the 15m penalty had kicked 0.7.

  4. Only at a Uni game Elbow…

  5. The People’s Elbow- if it clearly had been both testicles is the penalty 30m?

  6. PaulQuilty05 says

    1971 VFA Grand Final. Game hasn’t started. Captains haven’t been asked if they are ready. Dandenong full forward Frosty Miller pushes Preston full back Barry Leslie. Leslie returns the favour. Umpire sees Miller being pushed and pays a free. Miller promptly kicks a goal. Preston captain Laurie Hill has a total wtf look on his face. Dandenong win by 6 points. Rule confirmed that a game has to actually start before a free kick can be paid.

  7. Hmmm, seems unnecessary to put off an opponent that has thus far kicked 0.7. Think that’s covered by 18.1(g), although not in such anatomic specificity.

    I’ll find that West Torrens footage and put it above, Rulebook.

    These days the AFL vodcast that reviews the weekend’s umpiring would review every correct decision made that day, ER, and then say ‘see, no problems!’

    Other suggestions from twitter:
    – Peter Carey (umpire not SANFL games record holder or author) marking the ball
    – Two balls in play in a TFL grand final
    – ruckman taking the ball at centre bounce and hitting opposition full forward on the chest
    – prohibition on dogs on the ground… at Whitten Oval

  8. Ah the count. Thebarton 1975 (I was there). For those who are not afficionados of bad haircuts, fluorescent team strips (gulp – thats my Eagles) and fine footballers like Trevor Grimwood, Dexter Kennedy and Ian Anderson/Hanna/Wallace (I’ll get it right soon Swish) – the mayhem starts at 2.45 into the clip. Some fine “Mad Dog” Cassin on display. Ex Essendon and Barrasi then installed some discipline into him at the Kangaroos. Check out the physique on ageing Torrens champ Freddie Bills – barrel chest and barrel thighs. Ex Kanga champ Noel Teasdale coaching my Eagles. Love the two tone camel jumper. Enjoy the mayhem.

  9. Elbow, there’s a kind of dark genius in that. This is why men were first to the moon. They think outside the box.
    I just don’t see this sort of thing happening in the women’s league.

  10. Another “I was there”. Still a Saints man in 99 – my second year in Perth. Umpire Peter Carey marks the ball then calls for a ball (balls?) up.

  11. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Aussie rules is an absurd game at the best of times Dave, rules made only to be stretched and re-made. One that used to flummox me was the rule in the VFL in 1988 where you had to kick the ball if awarded a free kick. Apparently it was designed to limit the amount of handball creeping into the game, but just succeeded in slowing things down. Did this rule reach the rest of Australia?

    Elbow – Visions of the psyche-outs from ‘BASEKETBALL’ emanating after your example. Poor Screech:

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Has this ever been invoked?

    15.12.1 Payment of Free Kick
    Where a Player intentionally or carelessly Kicks or causes the football
    to hit any part of a stadium roof’s structure which is above the Playing
    Surface, the field Umpire shall award a Free Kick to the nearest Player
    on the opposing Team at the position on the Playing Surface nearest to
    where the football hit the roof’s structure.

    15.12.2 Accidental Contact
    If a Player accidentally Kicks or causes the football to hit any part of a
    stadium roof’s structure, including attachments, the football shall be
    out of play and the following shall apply:
    (a) if the football hits any roof beams which run the length of the
    Playing Surface along a wing, the boundary Umpire shall upon
    instruction by a field Umpire, throw the football back into play
    from a position on the Boundary Line nearest to where the
    football hit the roof beam; or
    (b) if the football hits any other part of the stadium roof’s structure
    which is above the Playing Surface, the field Umpire shall bounce
    the football at the position on the Playing Surface nearest to
    where the football hit the stadium roof’s structure.

  13. Once a umpire commences there movement to bounce the ball or throw it up in the centre square no player can enter the square it does not matter if no one from that side is in the square
    ( Kane Johnson cost the crows a game in 98 against Carlton not knowing the rule )
    Paul Quilty above incorrect a umpire can pay a free kick before the commencement of the game
    ( yep I have done so )

  14. In reply to PaulQuilty05 – , a free kick can be awarded before the start of any Qtr:-
    11.2.2 Commencing Play
    (b) Unless Law 11.2.2 (c) applies, the field Umpire shall commence
    play in each quarter by holding the football above their head,
    blowing a whistle and bouncing or throwing the football in the
    Centre Circle.
    (c) Where the field Umpire awards a Free Kick to a Player before
    bouncing the football, the field Umpire shall signal time on, blow
    their whistle and give the football to the Player. The Timekeepers
    shall acknowledge commencement of play.

    Also with regard to Rulebooks comments, the reason a request for a count has to be made by the captain is because the captain is the only person who can talk to the umpire during a game (makes it all official). That’s why when the free kick is awarded it must be taken by the captain!

    My odd rule is when a point is scored and play continues ie it is pushed back into play and nobody is aware…. the goal umpire runs out to notify the field ump….. if a free kick is awarded during this period then it has to be cancelled. This seems to go against all other rules.

  15. Thanks for further comments.

    Yep, I suspect the rule may have changed in the intervening years, Paul. 15.1.2 allows for free kicks to paid paid irrespective of whether the football is in play. While 15.1.3(a) allows for free kicks to be paid before the commencement of a quarter providing the infringement occurs on the playing surface.

    Nice ones, PB. Probably just as well the free kick and 50 against the captain that called for the count didn’t exist then. The Peter Carey one is interesting. I can’t find anything in the laws of the game specific. There is only if the ball hits the umpire it is play on. Perhaps Carey should’ve dropped the ball, ran away and called play on?

    Men probably also first to moon (on the mark), AJC

    Yeah, that’s a weird one, Swish. I have no idea why they decided to have essentially three different rules about Docklands’ roof. I suppose it also theoretically applies to the Riverbank Stand at Adelaide Oval as the top of the roof is directly above the goal square.

    The one that blew me away about players not knowing the rules, Malcolm, was Essendon players after the siren a couple of years back allowing a ball kicked from a mile out to run through for a point because they did not know it would count. But, then again, Essendon players not knowing the rules not new for this vintage.

  16. Paddy Grindlay says

    In an under 12’s game I umpired the ball went over the fence into a nearby little creek. The umpire is not supposed to go over the fence so about 6 kids went splashing into the creek to retrieve the footy. The said creek was about two degrees and the poor kids were freezing. The play stopped for about two minutes.

  17. My personal gripe, expressed many times, is the rule that allows a player to be fully outside the boundary line but because he’s holding the ball as if it is inside the imagined boundary line, therefore the ball is adjudicated, in play. Problems I have with this rule:

    1. It looks stupid and contrived

    2. Unless the umpires is standing directly on the boundary line they cannot possibly accurately visualise the boundary line to demarcate whether the ball is in or out of play, therefore putting an unrealistic responsibility on the umpire to adjudicate.

    3. There is a reason for the boundary line being marked out and that would seem as clear and simple a way of saying whether the ball is in or out of play. If the player holding the ball is outside the boundary line then ipso facto …

    4. See point 1

  18. Mick Jeffrey says

    There’s actually a clause in the laws of the game stating a player can be reported and a game forfeited for failing to leave the playing surface when directed (20.6.2). Didn’t know of this rule at the time but I had one particular FEMALE player have trouble leaving when directed a couple of years ago which caused me to re-evaluate whether it’s actually worth the trouble of umpiring women’s footy. Yes they are just as if not more lippy than male counterparts!

  19. Yes, Sam, that is inconsistent/odd.

    Seems fair and reasonable to me Paddy. Got to be some privileges to being the ump.

    The thing that has always annoyed me about that scenario, Rick, is the ball technically being in play while not actually in play. Particularly where a player runs in a straight line not in the direction of the mark and the umpire calls play on. It offends my delicate sensibilities. What would be your preferred solution? Mark is set 5m within boundary or something? Would be significant advantage for players inside forward 50.

    My particular favourite along those lines, Mick, is where a player is injured but not sufficiently so for the stretcher and does not obey the umpire’s direction to leave the centre square, then forfeit can be the end result. I suppose these things are more of a potential issue where there’s no time on.

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