That phrase is heard every weekend at every game. Why didn't the referee blow the whistle?
After reading this we hope you will an understanding of Law about hand and ball contact. This answer is lengthy for something that appears so simple but please take the time to read. Some examples are provided but by no means is this an exhaustive discussion!
The referees hope, after reading this, that the cries from the sidelines will become "the ball touched his arm. Deliberate ref. Deliberate."
Contact between the hand/arm and the ball is not an automatic foul. In fact, most of the handballs that occur during a match are not fouls and must not be called or whistled as a foul.
Furthermore there is no handball foul in the Laws of the Game. The foul is named Deliberate Handling of the Ball (appreviated DHB).
From Laws of the Game - Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct
Handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalie within his own penalty area)
From Laws of the Game - Guidelines for Referees - Law 12
Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee shall take the following into consideration:
- The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
- The distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
There are many points to consider when looking at DHB:
In the Opinion of the Referee. Everything you read below is part of the referees decision process. Yet none of the following points are absolute! A referee will look at ball starting point, trajectory, speed, body positioning, eyes, and arm movements to decide, in the opinion of the referee, if the contact between ball and hand is deliberate and must be called as a foul. The actions of the player can be subtle or outrageous, intentional or accidental.
Deliberate requires knowing. A player must know the ball is approaching. For example: A player begins a run downfield, her arms pumping. Her teammate, from behind, kicks the ball and it hits her in the arm and drops to her feet where she plays it forward. Since the player was looking downfield and the ball came from behind there is no DHB call. The ball landing at her feet is a fortunate happanstance.
Deliberate can be intentional. A player sees the ball, raises his arm and contacts the ball. Or the end player in a wall leans, moves her elbow out as the kick passes and touches the ball.
Deliberate doesn't have to be intentional. A player is trying to chest trap the ball and his arm touches the ball. This is almost always DHB. You may not like this call on the sideline but it is correct.
Proximity must be considered. Two players kick the ball at the same time. The ball goes straight up and hits either player in the arm. In this situation there probably will not be a DHB foul.
Consider another situation. Two opposing players race towards the goal line. The attacker squares up and kicks a crossing pass. The defender, right next to him, stops hard and the ball hits the defenders arm and falls to her feet. DHB? Maybe. Did the defender's arm stay in "natural" soccer position? Or did the defender move her arm just a little bit as the ball approached?
Reflexive protection of head is ok. A hard kick, made at close range, that is blasted towards a player's head. If the player reflexively swats at the ball DHB must not be called. The relex actions to protect other body areas during dynamic play are not given the same absolute consideration.
Deliberate can be passive. If a long kick is made and touches a player's arm and the player made no attempt to avoid the ball then the referee can whistle DHB.
Age level should be considered. At younger ages the players may not understand or recognize the situation as quickly. Therefore they move their hands to protect themselves. One example is a high lofting kick. The player may stand her ground and at the last moment put up her arms and bat at the ball. Many times the ball would not have touched the child at all. Is this reflexive? Yes. Should DHB be whistled? Now we are entering into the question of the age and experience of the referee. Some will whistle, some will not.
Static Protection in a Wall. Players may place their arms to protect their bodies when in a wall. Any ball kicked into the wall when the player has not moved the arm towards the ball as it approaches should not be called for DHB. Reflexive protection of the head is also expected in this situation. However, moving the arm while protecting does require the referee to consider DHB.
Other points know:
Unlike other fouls DHB doesn't require an opponent to be involved. An opponent, teammate, or even the player themselves can kick the ball, then deliberately handle the ball and receive a DHB whistle.
What happens after ball and hand contact is irrelevant. The opinion of the referee only considers the contact of the ball with the hand. What happens afterwards isn't considered. The referee doesn't consider if the handling player "gained an advantage" with the contact.
Denying a goal. Stopping a goal from scoring by DHB is a bad, bad thing to do. The referee has no choice but to send off the player (red card).
Girls may not use their arms to protect their chests during a chest trap.
Goalkeepers can never be called for DHB when in their penalty area. Either they are legally defending the goal or they have commited a foul (picking a ball passed to them from a teammate). Any handling foul on the goalie in her area is an indirect free kick given to the opponents. There is never a penalty kick. Of course, when a goalie has leaves her penalty area the goalie is subject to the usual Laws on DHB. Leaving her penalty area simply means the goalie is a field player wearing a cool shirt.