Why Can’t Soccer Fans Keep Balls Kicked into the Stands?

There are occasions in football where a player takes a speculative shot attempt from a considerable distance that sees the ball fly into the crowd sat behind the goal.

In most cases, the ball will be quickly thrown back towards the field – more specifically to a goalkeeper, ball boy or match official – and play will subsequently resume.

But hasn’t it crossed your mind why soccer fans don’t instead keep the ball when it’s kicked to them in the stands?

After all, the footballs used by professional players could be sold on for a fair price as memorabilia at a later date, right?

Well, here’s your answer as to why a large portion of fans don’t keep the match balls for themselves…

Soccer spectators throw back balls kicked towards them in the stands as basic common courtesy towards ball owners who would want their property returned to them, and also because retaining them delays the resumption of play and creates unnecessary time wastage that interrupts the general flow of the sport.

Additionally, fans aren’t permitted to keep the balls unless they have been intentionally kicked at them by a participating player.

Otherwise, it is considered rude at the least and theft at the most to hold onto something that they haven’t been given express permission to keep.

I’m now going to expound on this topic further.


Reasons why spectators don’t keep the balls

There are three main rationales for why fans throw balls back onto the field of play.

I’ll look at each reason in turn.


1. Maximizing playing time

why soccer fans cant keep the ball - playing time

Many years ago, the supply of match balls used during a game was quite limited.

This led to situations where balls needed to be fetched by stadium officials before play could resume.

And unsurprisingly, a viable football tactic emerged where fans of home teams would delay the return of balls as a way of wasting up valuable time for opposing away teams who were trailing.

However, the introduction of ball boys and girls expedited the process of making football a much faster and free-flowing sporting event.

Because these guys are located around the entirety of the stadium ground, fans now have little to no choice but to comply with the ball boys by returning footballs to them as soon as possible, so that the flow of the game isn’t interrupted significantly.


2. Common courtesy

As I alluded to earlier in the introduction, fans can’t just decide to keep something that doesn’t legally belong to them.

Whilst other sports like baseball sometimes allow for spectators to keep balls hit towards them as souvenirs, association football operates with a different set of rules.

First of all, referees are given full discretion to decide whether a replacement ball can be used during a match.

This is because the Laws of the Game state that match balls may not be changed without a centre official’s express permission to do so.

Therefore, if the referee determines that the current ball in use is fit for purpose, then a fan will have no choice but to simply return it to the field, as its use is still required so that the match can resume and eventually conclude.

It’s a case of common courtesy, as retaining the ball in such a situation would largely be seen as an uncivil act.


3. Game equality and consistency

why soccer fans cant keep the ball - game equality

The last point relates to competition-wide consistency.

In the spirit of ensuring team equality, ball manufacturers typically tie up lucrative sponsorship contracts with league associations so that teams can rely on using the same balls that that they are used to.

Players are able to build up better match rhythm when it comes to aspects like shooting and passing if they develop a better understanding of a particular ball’s over time.

So ultimately when a ball is kicked out of play, the resulting replacement offered by a ball boy is an untampered and equal alternative that allows for the game to go on without players having to adapt to a different ball’s ground movements and aerodynamics.


How many footballs are used in a match?

After researching thoroughly on this, I’ve come to the verdict that there is no specific minimum or maximum number of footballs that can and should be used during a game.

According to Law 2 of the International Football Association Board Laws of the Game, additional balls are allowed and can be placed around the field of play for use when the referee deems it necessary.

So, depending on how specific events unfold, the number of footballs will vary on a game-by-game basis.

In a match where 1 ball gets punctured and 2 others fly over the stadium terraces, a possible total of 3 substitute balls could be called upon.

But in a different scenario, the aforementioned outcomes may never even take place which may reduce the number of footballs used entirely.


What happens to soccer balls after games?

The evidence here indicates that balls used at the World Cup are handed out as souvenirs to the:

  • Teams
  • Referees
  • Host cities
  • FIFA partners
  • FIFA museum

It’s likely that they are dished out in this way so as to commemorate the collective effort of all these groups in making the tournament a success from a competition and entertainment standpoint.

However, I’d wager that for domestic competitions like the Premier League and La Liga, the footballs are handed out as donations to local charities.

Although again, in the event that a player participating in a domestic fixture registers a hat trick, they are allowed to walk away with the match ball as a collector’s item at the end of the game.


Concluding thoughts

Soccer fans do not keep balls kicked at them in order to preserve the smooth flow of games, as returning them promptly allows for quick play resumption after match stoppages and avoids excessive time wastage as a whole.

I’ll also leave you with a short video on the topic as well:

Samuel Waihenya
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