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.

Picture this.


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?

Rough Definition

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.


Noticed something?

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.


9 comments on “Submarining

  1. “Be vigilant when you see this on the pitch.”
    We talking Football or Futsal here? lol

    • larbitre says:

      I’m old-fashioned! I’m using the word pitch in a casual sense referencing grass.
      Submarining would be highly unlikely to occur in a Futsal match and could be lethal given the hard court floor. Given that a flighted ball falls to the ground akin to a sack of bricks, players rarely challenge for headers as there is hardly air-time.

      • Troy says:

        It’s absolutely common in Futsal, but it depends on the venue. An outdoor futsal pitch/court or indoor venue with sufficiently high roofline will definitely make this possible. A futsal ball is near enough to the same mass as a football as to be no different (400-440 grams for futsal, 410-450 grams for foobtall). What’s different is the inner construction, using a bounce resistant double-bladder and inflated pressure, altering the recoil/bounce when kicked, giving the illusion of increased mass.

        In both cases, a flighted ball falling to the ground will only differ in time and distance based on the force transfer from the kick and the height achieved in the apex of the ballistic arc. After that… gravity is doing all the work in the vertical, the kicks initial force determining the horizontal travel distance. For any ball more than a couple of metres off the playing surface, there won’t be any difference between futsal and football for this scenario… players are still going to jump/challenge. The playing surface will make a difference though in terms of landing… and in that capacity, I agree that an indoor surface is more likely to have more damaging injury consequnces.

        • larbitre says:

          Well articulated Troy. I meant in the capacity of typical Futsal play, a ball in the air is usually coming from the direct flight of a goal clearance as opposed to a high lobbed cross or wayward skip most of the time.

    • Synonyms, people, they’re a thing. Nothing will endure you to people more than pointless pedantry. It’s just like the idiots who say we don’t have “rules” we have “laws”. Idiocy. We have rules. They are contained in a book called The Laws of the Game and expressed as a series of laws, but that doesn’t make them any less rules than the soccer “field of play” is pitch. Or a field. Or a match is a game. All synonyms, and pointing out any distinction without a different just makes you look like the officious sticklers who, as referees, bleed the game of its joy.

  2. Ed Marco says:

    There is nothing in the Laws that require a player to jump straight up for anything. That is a myth. Referees are to judge these actions as either no foul, careless, reckless, or using excessive force. Nothing more. Most of these types of actions are actually called the wrong way by most officials thinking that the player who goes down was fouled even though he or she was the one who initiated the contact.

    Also, the example that you use in the clip is actually charging and no a “submarining” as you state. Still a whistle but different reason.

    • larbitre says:

      Thanks for the comments Ed. It’s more than likely that not jumping directly up would result in an unfair challenge (hence the likely myth created) but not always. Jumping into an opponent in C-R-E is a foul and it’s hard to see any jumping fouls occurring (let alone submarining) if the players in question jumped directly up.

      I believe this is much like the shoulder-to-shoulder charge being considered “fair”. Nothing in the Laws even mention the words “shoulder” but it’s an accepted concept because it makes sense and works.

      I’ve also noted at the end that there is no such thing as “submarining” in the Laws and that it is in fact a charge. 🙂 I’m on the prowl for another example to give more context but these aren’t as easy to find. Let me know if you see anything good!

    • There IS, however, something in the Laws that prohibit a player from jumping AT an opponent. 😉

  3. Gordon Baker says:

    I’m a player more than a ref and pretty tall (6’5″). I’ve been submarined loads of times and it’s pretty much been the main source of injuries through my career. Like a hip check in ice hockey, it can be very effective in sending your oppo sprawling and I have been hurt myself many times, usually a wrist sprain or winded but also neck/ whiplash. Invariably the perpetrator says ‘who me? what have I done wrong’ when they know exactly what they are doing. So you have to get cute to it as a player.

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