This scenario is not all that common in a football match. It was a while before I truly appreciated the mechanics behind it and it requires a closer look to understand what was really going on.
Ball kicked high into the air. Two players jostling for position where it’s about to land.
The player behind is typically in a better position in the ball’s drop zone. As the ball is arriving, the player behind jumps directly up to challenge for it. Realising that his opponent is about to win the ball and that it’s too late to jump, he leans ever so slightly into his opponent. His opponent loses balance and falls over forwards.
Straightforward? Was the scenario simple?
Submarining: The process of a player standing on the ground challenging another player, who has jumped in the air to challenge for the ball, in a careless or reckless manner or with excessive force.
The problem here lies with the subtlety of the leaning. It doesn’t take much contact to the lower half of an opponent’s body to cause them to completely topple over.
The player behind jumps to challenge for the ball. The opponent leaning back causes the jumping player’s feet to move out from underneath them and results in their centre of gravity having no direct support. What happens when the centre of gravity has no support underneath? You fall.
Stability & Balance
A player in the air during a jump is often quite vulnerable.
Submarining is often very dangerous to the victim as they can land on their head/back/neck. It’s easy for the novice to see this as an incidental collision. This frequently happens on a high lofted ball. The jumping player only has eyes for the ball as they are looking straight up and unaware of their opponent’s move.
Note in this video here, the white attacker (Arturo Vidal – JUV) backs into the defender (Raphaël Varane – RMA) who has already jumped to challenge for the ball. The contact may be accidental in nature however, it doesn’t waive the foul committed by the attacker.
In this video, the blue attacker (Ross Barkley – EVE) attempts to upset the white defender’s balance unfairly and reduce the chance of him playing the ball in a critical area by putting contact on his back (Ashley Williams – SWA). Note the movement of the defender’s feet with stability before the jump but without almost immediately after contact is made. This is a milder form of submarining.
From a competitive college game, check out 1:54:18 for a stronger form of contact causing a submarining.
This video demonstrates the seriousness of an injury that this type of foul can cause. Reacting swiftly to this is required to manage the situation (injured player & offender). Submarining happens everywhere. Grassroots to the professional level.
Not much to be said for the above video. Becoming clearer at this point?
What about to a world-class player?
Last but not least, a CONCACAF example from the MLS.
The majority of videos involve the jumping player challenging for a ball coming almost directly from above them. This cuts their field of vision while they are focusing on the ball and so are unable to expect the incoming submarine.
Word of warning
It’s important to note that:
- the player jumping jumps straight up and not into his opponent (fair)
- the jumping player makes contact with his opponent’s upper body in a careless, reckless manner or with excessive force. Direct free kick (foul) is awarded to the standing player.
- the player jumping does not submarine himself by moving towards his opponent after jumping up (initiator)
- the jumping player causes injury and harm to themselves. Not the fault of the attacker. No foul. Play on but be aware of the player possibly being injured.
- the player jumping isn’t already fouling his opponent in an attempt to gain leverage e.g. preventing him from jumping by pushing him down (premature foul)
- a foul has already occurred before the submarining occurred. Direct free kick (foul) is awarded to the standing player.
- only minimal contact is needed to upset a player’s balance and cause them to fall while they are in the air (apparent “soft” foul)
- a slight nudge from the standing player can be the difference. Direct free kick (foul) is awarded to the jumping player. This is the most common occurrence.
The player in front, psychologically, will feel the need to duck when he feels/senses his opponent is jumping behind him. The need is usually to protect their head from possible strong contact. Be sure to distinguish between this ducking and both ducking and leaning.
Foul or no foul? Have you seen this before?
Unusual turn of events
DeAndre Yedlin gets a save from José Rondón in what appears to be an accidental submarining. This is considered a charge and a foul however since the player was not hurt and the ball remained in the team’s possession, it can be considered trifling and play allowed to continue.
The Story Behind
I had a tough assessment game in the local city a couple of years ago. I knew it would be difficult because I had managed the home team once before and it hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.
Sometime in the second half, play was 10 yards outside the penalty area on a defensive movement out. The majority of players were clustered in and around the penalty area. The ball was floating in the air fairly high and about to fall to two players just between the outside of the penalty area and the touchline. A defender jumped up to challenge. Short story? A submarining happened and the defender landed awkwardly on his upper back. Play was soon stopped and he received attention and play was restarted with a dropped ball (stoppage in play for an injury).
In the assessment debrief, the assessor indicated that the defending player was submarined by his opponent so a foul should have been whistled. Meanwhile, I remember AR2 and myself both believing that the player submarined himself. I don’t remember enough now to re-account the specifics but the word stuck.
The meaning of “submarining” was somewhat apparent at first. However, it was a while before I was truly appreciative of the mechanics and its finer details.
Full disclosure: Submarining is a concept entirely made up in this post and is not wording used in the Laws of the Game. It would be classified as charging an opponent, which is a direct free kick offence.
Submarining is also referred to as undercutting or bridge foul colloquially.
In a very large number of cases, the victim is the one who gets submarined and lands awkwardly; an easy sell. The person ducking or backing into the jumping player is often the fouler but not always. Take all the considerations from the Word of Warning section above into account when making your decision.
The typical player reaction is the ducking player claiming to have done very little and the submarined player nursing their injury from the fall.
Be vigilant when you see this on the pitch because it can have lethal consequences.