Is Shirt Pulling ALWAYS A Foul In Football ? (Explained)

There have been many occasions when a defender can’t seem to catch the opponent and he decides to pull his shirt. 

Or maybe, both players are in a duel and either of them may use shirt pulling in order to win the ball. 

While sometimes going unnoticed, getting a foul from this type of action is the more common outcome.

So, the question of the day is if a shirt pulling is always a foul in football. 

Let’s go through the football laws and get the best answer possible. 

Is shirt pulling a foul in football?

A player will try everything he legally (and sometimes illegally) can when trying to get the ball. 

While it is normal for it to happen accidentally, one of the things most players do is pull the shirt of the opponent on purpose

So, is this a part of a duel, or is it something that should be sanctioned? 

Law 12 of the Laws of the Game states that if a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick. 

It becomes evident that shirt pulling is a foul in football. However, let’s see another rule that talks about sanctions

Here is what it says: 

Where a player commits an offence against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned if the offence was an attempt to play the ball; in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball, etc.) the offending player must be sent off.

As such, the final verdict would be that pulling the shirt is indeed a foul in football. Moreover, it will most likely be sanctioned with a yellow or a red card if it’s done deliberately. 

This would most likely be the case if the foul denies a goal-scoring opportunity (a counter-attack or a foul in the penalty area).

Examples of shirt pulling in football

Here are some examples of how shirt pulling has led to a foul:

#1 Giorgio Chiellini pulls Bakayo Saka 

This is one of the most famous recent examples of shirt pulling in football. Every fan remembers the Euro 2020 Final between Italy and England where Chellini couldn’t keep up with Saka and chose to pull his shirt. 

This resulted in a foul that denied a potential goal-scoring opportunity. Chiellini was sanctioned with a yellow card. 

#2 Pau Morer foul on Thomas Lehne Olsen

This is a funny example of shirt-pulling in football that happened in the Norwegian League in a match between Sandefjord and Tromso. Here, Pau Morer tried to deny a counterattack by fouling Thomas Lehne Olsen by pulling his shirt.

However, Lehne continued running for around 10 meters with Pau sliding behind him. Both were sanctioned with a yellow card, one for fouling and the other for protesting. I think it’s clear who did what!

#3 Dan Burn pulling on the shirt of Gabriel Magalhaes

The last example of shirt pulling in football is a very recent one that will make Arsenal’s fans mad. Unlike the other fouls on this list, this wasn’t sanctioned. 

This controversial decision of the referee happened in the match between Arsenal and Newcastle.

Here, Dan Burn was clearly pulling on Gabriel’s shirt, which would have been a foul that resulted in a penalty kick for the Gunners. 

Even Gabriel himself was furious, so he posted a video of the foul after the game. 


The problem with shirt pulling is that it can be rather subjective, particularly if the victim does not go to the ground.

However, VAR may help to solve this problem, particularly if it could lead to a penalty or a red card!

Subscribe to Telegram and Twitter to get the latest updates!

undraw junior soccer 6sop

Are you passionate about football and want to earn some side income?