Managing Goalkeeper Substitutions

Sooner or later, we are going to look up in a game and realize that there is another player in the goalkeeper position than when we started the match. What do we do? It helps to know the relevant Law and Advice.

English: Diving save

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LAW 3:

Changing the goalkeeper: Any of the other players may change places with the goalkeeper, provided that

  • the referee is notified before the change is made
  • the change is made during a stoppage in the match

If a player changes places with a goalkeeper without the referee’s permission before the change is made:

  • the referee allows play to continue
  • the referee cautions the players concerned when the ball is next out of play


Under the Laws of the Game, and unless the rules of the competition specify otherwise, teams may substitute at any stoppage of play. This is reinforced for youth play by USYSA Rule 302.2, which provides for substitution at any stoppage with the permission of the referee. The referee must be familiar with the rules of every competition he or she works in. (See Advice 19.6.) An exchange of a field player for the goalkeeper is not a substitution and is permitted at any stoppage. The referee must be informed of the change.

Because the exchanging of a Goalkeeper is discussed in Law 3, and because the Laws start with the concept of limited substitutions, many referees mistakenly believe that Law 3 (and Advice 3.15) are the only guidance, and that this is where the need to Caution a new goal keeper at the start of the second half is described.

Wrong! Law 3 talks about the specific case of a field player (not a substitute) changing roles with the goalkeeper without permission. This is the Cautionable offense (depending on age and competition level). Substitutes are not players, and are covered by other parts of the Laws, and by the Rules of Competition. For example, in Advice 8.3:


Before starting a period of play, the assistant referees should indicate to the referee (by unfurling or unclipping their flags) that the requirements for starting play are met at their respective ends of the field: the correct number of players, a properly uniformed goalkeeper, and the absence of any outside agent. Calling out to captains or goalkeepers to see if they are “ready” is never necessary or recommended even if the referee is acting alone or with only club linesman.

The referee’s whistle to start the second half is a tacit acknowledgment that the persons on the field are players and the persons wearing a goalkeeper jersey are the goalkeepers-so long as the persons themselves are not illegal and the team is fielding the proper number of players. If a substitution has occurred and/or a goalkeeper has been swapped during the halftime interval without the referee being properly notified, the penalties specified in Law 3 must be applied. However, in youth play where the substitution or goalkeeper switching process is less formal, the intelligent referee will recognize that the offense is usually trifling and will allow play to continue with perhaps only a word of warning to the players involved.

Where a player and the goalkeeper have changed places illegally and the player is now in possession of the distinctive goalkeeper jersey, that player has become the goalkeeper for the purpose of exercising the unique power of the goalkeeper to handle the ball within his own penalty area.

The Advice describes that in the liberal substitution conditions typical of youth soccer, failure to notify of a goalkeeper substitution (not an exchange) will usually be trifling.

We also need to work in the most important advice from Section 18 of the Advice to Referees:

“Law 18” – Common Sense
Law 18, still unwritten but frequently quoted as the ultimate goal of refereeing: ‘Intelligence in the perception of the game, the attitude of the players, the place and the moment of the offense.’ (Michel Vautrot, FIFA Referee Committee, FIFA Magazine, June 1997)

Where not governed by limited substitution rules (i.e. most youth and amateur matches), common sense would indicate that:

  • If you look out at each goal at the beginning of the second half and there is a player dressed like a goalkeeper in front of each (and only one), and you blow the whistle to start, you have acknowledged whatever goalkeeper change may have taken place at halftime
  • If you allow a substitute dressed like a goalkeeper to come onto the field in place of the current goalkeeper who comes off, you have been “notified” of a goalkeeper change.
  • If you follow the guidance of Advice 8.3 in either of these situations in a youth match, the “warning” should be to the coach and players that at higher levels of competition, it could be a Caution – NOT that the next time YOU will issue a Caution.
  • If two players exchange roles on the field without permission, determine why it happened, and depending on age and competition level, Caution as necessary. Remember that the player in possession of the funny shirt is allowed to handle in the PA and can never be guilty of a penalty kick foul or misconduct for handling the ball within the PA.

If you have had a calm, fair match in the first half, why antagonize anyone over a goalkeeper substitution? If you have had problems in the first half, address those problems, don’t create more.


About Dan Paolini

Soccer & Futsal Referee Assignor

Posted on April 22, 2013, in Advice Posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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