Blog,  case study

Playing in dangerous manner: a low header

Playing in dangerous manner: a low header by a player. Leicester player Albrighton played the ball with his head near the ground while a Newcastle player wanted to kick the ball. Is it a foul? How do you continue/restart? Answers to this for you as referee can be found in the blog post below.

Did you ever whistle for a low header?

Did you ever hear about a low header? I did, because I’ve seen something before. But how often did it happen in your game? It’s quite rare. In the game mentioned, referee Rob Jones blew his whistle for this. Was he correct based on the Laws of the Game?

LOTG on playing in dangerous manner

The Laws of the Game say: “An indirect free kick is awarded if a player plays in a dangerous manner.”

But what is that? “Playing in a dangerous manner is any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury.”

The Dutch FA (KNVB) gives even “low header” as example of endangering your own safety. So the restart of play should be an indirect free kick. As referee you need to be aware if there’s contact between the two players. It might not be on the head, but on a different body part. Due to contact the impact of offences increase, so then the restart is a direct free kick or a penalty kick.

Disciplinary sanctions

The Laws of the Game add to that in a normal challenge disciplinary action is not needed and if there’s risk of an injury, the refere should caution the player.

Low header and DOGSO? 

But what if there’s a low header and the player denies his opponent a goal-scoring opportunity? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are about the clip below. It’s footage from a game between Manchester United and Arsenal from a few years ago. Phil Jones heads the ball away while lying on the ground. Playing in dangerous manner or not?

Firstly, you need to ask yourself: is this playing in dangerous manner? If yes, you have to make a decision on how to restart when you whistle for a foul.

Secondly, your most important question is: would Giroud be in a goal-scoring position if Phil Jones did not touch the ball? It was quite difficult to find an overview of the situation.

There is a defender just entering the penalty box, but in my opinion Giroud was able to shoot before that other defender could prevent him from doing that. Yes, the angle is a little difficult. But I think Giroud would be able to score from the position Phil Jones made the foul.

If you consider this situation with Phil Jones a DOGSO, then the following applies. “A player, substitute or substituted player who commits any of the following offences is sent off: denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick.”

Playing in dangerous manner itself is an indirect free kick offence, as long as there is no contact.

Want more case studies? Check them all out.


  • Peter


    This is a really interesting case. But I think the rule is stupid here, and the FIFA must change it. Phil Jones tried to avoid a dangerous situation that threatened his team with a goal, and therefore he risked his healthy. I think there will never be a player who behave in another way in such situations.

  • Soch

    How messed up would soccer be if every player risked their health to prevent a goal? I bet I wouldn’t want to watch it if that was the case because all of my favorite players would be in the intensive care unit, and may even have to retire earlier from debilitating injuries.
    I am fully for penalizing dangerous low headers. Soccer is meant to be safe and fun; and not a do or die affair.

  • Shem Nyondo

    A good case study that I never thot wud happen in a game. Good lesson learnt.
    Quite weird & unfortunate when a defender is kicked in his head as he was trying to defend ( with low header) which results in DGSO….Then a penalty is awarded, & the defender goes to the hospital.

  • Abe

    What a wonder case full of lots of technical lessons. So a defender endangers him/herself and save his team from conceding a goal without making contact with his/her opponent and then the ref whistles for IDK and send the player off? Wow! This leaves me wondering where is the “spirit of the game” the LOTG talks about? How do you sell such decision to football followers/fans?

  • Al

    In the Jones case, the attacker can CLEARLY see that the defender is about to head the ball. The header will clearly come BEFORE the attacker gets to it. In such a case, the referee MUST give benefit of doubt to the defender.

    IMHO, this one is no different than most bicycle kick goals. In most cases, the kicker is committed way before the defender.

    Although DOGSO PIADM is plausible, it will be a rare event and should only be considered in very clear cases.

  • Ilir Shabaku

    In this clip the case is not so complicated. The low-header makes a hallenge while keeping a sertain distance from the opponent’s feet. I don’t think there is an offence here.
    But, if the defender had headed down close to the opponent’s feet, he would had been guilty for PIADM (endengering hiself).

  • Nigel

    Surely a difference has to be drawn between a low header for a loose ball versus attempting a challenge with a low header? As someone else said, it’s the reverse of a bicycle kick – if the ball is crossed into ‘space’ a bicycle kick is not dangerous, but if the player attempts it with defenders around it is.
    In neither case is the act the offence, it’s more the situation it occurs in.

  • JR Williamson

    Since the defender attempted to play the ball, even if we did interpret this as PIADM, it would not be a red card for DOGSO since that is downgraded to a Yellow Card along with the PK being awarded (DGF).

    With that said, it appears to me that the defender was ahead of the attacking player and played the ball with his head safely before the attacking player arrived (and did not cause the attacking player to change his attempt to play the ball due to any fear of personal injury). I’d love to hear some guidance from IFAB on this specific one as it is hard to imagine that what football wants is a PK in this situation. Is that something you can send to them for comment?

    • Dion Coxe

      It really is an interesting one with so many different laws and factors to consider. I follow your logic, except that it cannot be a PK since the offence we are (potentially) punishing is ‘playing in a dangerous manner’ which results in IDFK. So if we consider it DOGSO can we then downgrade it from RC to YC since it was an attempt to play the ball, or can we not do so since we are not awarding a PK? What do you think??

      I agree that in practical refereeing (especially in a pro game), you can easily sell that this is not PIADM as there is some space between ball and attacker, but yes would love to see some IFAB guidance on this.

      • Jan ter Harmsel

        I can tell you that IFAB agrees on the fact that PIDM with contact – no matter if that’s with the high leg or low head or other parts of the body – results in a DFK. And DFK offences if can be downgraded from RC to YC if an attempt to play the ball.

        IDFK offences can’t be downgraded. The LOTG mention DFK offences for the triple punishment.

  • Chen Yongzi

    Courageous means sacrificing oneself, while ruthless and reckless means hurting others, and the Law of Game is to protect everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.