For a long time, soccer players defending free kicks used to get away with slowly moving forward as the kicker prepared to strike the ball.
It was such a difficult thing for referees to monitor, because when the match official would look in the direction of the player wall, the defenders would simply pretend to stop moving!
And because the referees never used to have a method of noting the original position of the defensive wall on the field, it was quite easy for players to use that loophole to their advantage.
Scoring goals is a massive part of soccer and if any team could find a way of preventing goals from finding the back of their own net, they would do what it takes to see that through.
This included moving forward as a free kick taker prepared to strike a ball.
But one day, soccer’s world governing body – FIFA – finally said enough is enough.
They equipped referees with a tool that they could use to mark down the position of the defending player wall right before free kicks were taken.
It was a spray that looked just like a shaving cream!
Hence the article title you see above.
So, let’s answer the question of why referees use shaving cream right away!
First of all, soccer referees never used a shaving cream of any sort.
It is a “vanishing spray” – an aerosolized substance which provides a temporary visual aid for match officials. The spray allows referees to mark down the original position of the defenders present in the wall before a free kick is struck, preventing encroachment of the 10-yard separation distance stipulated within the game’s rules.
Makes sense, right?
Let’s answer some additional questions.
- 1. Provides a visual aid for the match official
- 2. Ensures defending players don’t encroach the mandated separation distance
What substance do soccer referees spray?
It’s easy to see why people refer to this tool as a shaving cream.
First of all, it has that signature white look with the thickness to match once it’s released from a canister.
But it’s not at all a shaving cream.
The referees use what is called a vanishing spray.
Here’s a quote from a reputable website that gives more information about it:
“The vanishing spray contains a mixture of butane, isobutane and propane gas; a foaming agent; water; and other chemicals. When it leaves the can, the gas depressurizes and expands, creating small, water-covered droplets on the field. The butane mixture later evaporates, leaving only water and surfactant residue behind.”Source – Live Science
Why do soccer referees use vanishing spray?
If defenders were able to creep forward whenever a free kick was taken, they would be getting an unfair advantage over their opponent.
And soccer should ultimately be a fair sport.
So, here’s why the spray was brought into the game.
1. Provides a visual aid for the match official
A referee can now see where the defenders in the wall are supposed to be stood when a free kick is being taken.
Before the spray was introduced, a referee would have little to no idea where they told the defenders to stand after they’d done their measuring walk to assess how far away they should be from the soccer ball.
It was an added nightmare when a free kick needed to be retaken too.
With the spray in place, referees have been given an easier time as all they need to do is spray the substance where defenders should be stood.
The referees can also make a visual note of where the soccer ball should be placed as well.
Because attackers have also been found guilty in the past of trying to position the ball slightly further forward so that they can take a shot from a closer range.
2. Ensures defending players don’t encroach the mandated separation distance
Defenders had a bad habit of creeping towards the ball as a free kick was about to be struck.
The closer they got to the ball, then the easier it would be to block a shot attempt by getting any legal part of their body in the way of the strike.
But now with the vanishing spray in use, player encroachment in the game has really declined.
If a player tries to edge their feet past the white line that the spray gives out, the referee can easily spot that and decide to give them a yellow card as a disciplinary caution.
When a player is taking a free kick, the opposing defenders have to be at least 10 yards away from the soccer ball.
The spray ultimately stops defenders reducing that gap from the aforementioned distance.
When was vanishing spray first used in soccer?
Vanishing spray made its debut at the 2011 Copa America tournament and has been utilised by match officials in Major League Soccer as well as at other FIFA organised events.
However, it wasn’t until three years later that the spray was widely known.
Developed by an Argentina-based journalist called Pablo Silva, it featured for the first time at the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
Since then its implementation has spread towards other major soccer leagues across the globe.
How long does vanishing spray last?
Just by looking at soccer matches where the spray has been used before, you can see the white markings last on the grass for as long as five minutes.
That’s more than enough time for referees to monitor player behaviour during free kicks.
Do they still use the spray in soccer?
Vanishing spray has become part and parcel of the beautiful game.
It’s used across so many leagues that it’s pretty normal to see referees going to their pocket for it whenever a free kick is set to be taken.
So, yes, it is still in use today and is definitely a piece of refereeing equipment that is here to stay.
Here it is in amusing action:
With all that said, you should now have a much more informed view of why soccer referees use vanishing spray during competitive matches.
You’re not as likely to find them in use in semi-professional and amateur soccer leagues, but at the highest level you can almost virtually guarantee that a referee will pull out a canister before a free kick.
That’s all we have to talk about in this post.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it!
For now, you can check out some of our other related content pieces like:
- How many referees there are in a soccer game;
- Why referees wear two watches during games; and
- The best soccer referee watches to wear for match officiating
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