Soccer is a sport where strange events do take place from time to time.
If you speak to fans who frequent the stadiums or watch the games regularly from the comfort of their sofa sets, they are likely to tell you about a peculiar situation that they know about or have personally witnessed.
In fact, a couple of examples like pitch invasions and floodlight outages spring to mind.
But one occurrence that typically draws in a fair amount of media and spectator attention is when two soccer balls are present on the field of play.
Just by thinking about such a scenario in isolation, your first instinct might believe that the spare soccer ball which rolled onto the pitch should be removed with immediate effect, right?
Well, if you’ve had such a thought then you’ll be pleased to hear that you’re not wrong!
However, I wanted to write a complete article on this topic in order to dispel any confusion that may arise out of such a situation happening during a live game.
So, I’ll start with a brief summary that answers the question in the article title.
When there are two soccer balls on the pitch, the rules stipulate that the game should be stopped temporarily to remove the extra ball – but only if it directly interferes with match play. In the event where play is not interrupted by the presence of a second ball, then the referee should rid the field of that soccer ball at the earliest opportunity.
That makes quite a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
Now, let’s explore this topic a bit more…
- What happens when an extra soccer ball interferes with pitch play?
- How does the referee discern play interference caused by the extra soccer ball?
- Which professional matches have had two soccer balls on the field?
What happens when an extra soccer ball interferes with pitch play?
If you’ve been keeping up with the content that I publish on this blog, you’ll already be aware that in one of my recent articles I spoke at length about how many soccer balls are used in professional level games.
For those who aren’t up to speed, a lot of leagues make use of a multi-ball system that keeps the flow of the game smooth, with multiple soccer balls available on the touchlines for quick resumptions in play.
So, with that knowledge you can quite easily put two and two together as to why a second or even a third soccer ball may accidentally find its way onto the field.
With that said, here’s the contingency plan that’s followed once another soccer ball enters the field and gets in the way of normal proceedings…
1. Referee stops the match
The first thing that the match official does is exert control.
By blowing their whistle, they bring a stop to the game by signalling to the other players that the situation must be dealt with before play can continue.
This is made clear on page 62 of the International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game document, which I’ll quote for you to see:
“If an extra ball, other object or animal enters the field of play during the match, the referee must stop play (and restart with a dropped ball) only if it interferes with play”
As clear as day, isn’t it?
It’s quite important for the referee to take charge here by stopping the game, because the presence of an extra ball on the field can have undesired consequences that may affect the final outcome of a fixture.
One great case in point is when Liverpool lost a Premier League fixture because of a beach ball thrown onto the pitch by a fan located in the stands, which altered the flight path of the actual match ball that had been struck sweetly by Darren Bent.
Ultimately, this incident resulted in a goal scored by the opposing team – Sunderland – who went on to win the game by the solitary goal.
2. Second ball is removed from the field
The next step that a referee should take is to have the extra ball removed from the field, so as to avoid any potential interferences which that soccer ball may cause later on in the game.
It’s a pretty obvious move that must be made.
More so, the referee can either perform the action by himself/herself or request a player who is in close proximity to the second ball to kick it out beyond the touchline.
3. Play restarts with a drop ball
Logically, once the interfering soccer ball has been taken away, the game can get back to its usual ebb and flow, as a drop ball procedure is used to get the game moving once again.
I have talked about this action quite a bit within my article on what happens when a soccer ball hits a referee, so you can check that out when you have the time.
The rules on play interference look to be well aligned, partly because the solution that’s outlined when a referee is the cause of play disruption is the same as when a soccer ball impedes the course of a match.
How does the referee discern play interference caused by the extra soccer ball?
Let me tell you, officiating a soccer match is by no means straightforward.
Referees have to keep their concentration levels up for the full duration of games, and they need to be able to think critically to make the correct calls on the field.
So, these guys need to be able to distinguish between instances where the flow of the game has been interrupted or interfered with, and situations where play can simply carry on even when a particular event may have temporarily distracted a few players.
Page 62 of the official rule book is also quite clear on what an outside interference is classified as:
- Inadequately lit floodlights
- Objects thrown by spectators that hit players or the match officials themselves
- Whistles blown by fans that sound like the referee’s own tool for signalling stoppages and restarts in play
- Extra soccer balls, objects or animals that get in the way during matches
Referees generally have their work cut out for them when it comes to officiating.
But the availability of the set of criteria listed above allows for easy reference and simplifies the task of discerning interferences in play caused by a spare soccer ball or something else, as they simply need to identify whether any of the outlined conditions were met.
Which professional matches have had two soccer balls on the field?
There are pretty many cases where two soccer balls have been present on the pitch during a game, but I’m just going to highlight two stand out instances of this happening.
Euro 2020 semi-final – England vs Denmark
England managed to sneak into the Euro 2020 final, courtesy of a last-minute spot kick that was awarded after Raheem Sterling was upended in the Denmark penalty area.
But right before the moment that changed the course of the tie, there were two soccer balls visible on the field as Sterling drove towards the opposition area from the right wing.
Here’s a short clip that illustrates this:
What do you think?
You can actually argue that the Denmark players may have been confused as to which soccer ball was the correct one to challenge for in that split moment, resulting in an interference as the opponent can not clearly decide which ball to go after.
Premier League – Norwich City vs Arsenal
Another interesting case took place during a Premier League game between Norwich and Arsenal.
The Gunners equalised after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was able to nick a goal in at the far post.
Before that event however, a ball had been thrown onto the field by Norwich fans, who had hesitated in returning the ball to Mesut Ozil – who was one of the designated corner takers for Arsenal that day – prior to a set piece.
Take a look:
Do you think that goal should have stood?
So, there you have it!
This piece has looked at precisely what happens when there are two soccer balls on the pitch.
From it, you can take infer that…
The referee must remove the second ball from the pitch, either at the earliest available opportunity after allowing play to continue, or with immediate effect – in the case of actual play interference – by stopping the game, getting rid of the extra ball and then restarting proceedings with a drop ball procedure.
Hopefully by reading this post until the very end, you’ll have picked up some useful bits of information that you weren’t aware of prior.