The Ultimate Guide To Throw-Ins (Football)

Football is a game with many rules. While the game’s basic concept is pretty straightforward, some rules are a little more complicated to understand. The throw-in rule is one such example.

Throw-ins may seem like a simple part of the beautiful game, but they can be much trickier than you think.

I’ve been penalised for foul throw-ins several times in my Sunday league matches!

And not only has it led to cheap turnovers of possession, but I’ve even received cautions for it in the past.

Being penalised for foul throw-ins is avoidable by understanding the rules that the throw-in taker needs to adhere to. Here’s everything you need to know about the throw-in rule.

Is there a time limit on throw-ins?

According to Law 15 of The Laws of the Game, there is no specific allowance of time to take a throw-in. Referees are taught not to call a pause or stop play if an offense may be deemed doubtful or trifling. The goal of the referee is to officiate on what matters.

The question that the referee should ask themselves in this instance is:

Did the time taken to complete the throw-in create an unfair advantage for the team in possession? For example, was the player deliberately delaying the restart of the game to waste time?

If the referee deems that the time taken did create an unfair advantage, then the action should be treated as a foul for misconduct. The resulting sanction is then dictated by Law 12 of The Laws of the Game.

According to Law 12 (fouls and misconduct), a player can be cautioned if guilty of delaying the start of play.

In a recent MLS match, Ashley Cole received a yellow card for time-wasting on a throw-in. He was sent off 15 seconds later for a bad tackle on his opponent. 

Over the years, players, managers, and even ball boys have gotten in on the act. Time-wasting tactics have become more frequent in the modern game than ever before. 

Ryan Bertrand wasting time on a throw-in as his team tries to hold on to a 1-1 draw heading into stoppage time of a crucial Premier League match against Bournemouth FC. 

Referees can caution any person involved in the match if they deem the delay caused to be excessive or leads to gaining an unfair advantage. This includes management staff, coaches, and ball boys. 

How far can you walk during a throw-in?

Law 15 of The Laws of the Game makes clear that opponents of a throw-in are at least 2 meters from the point on the touchline from which the throw-in is taken. However, there is no mention of how far a player can travel before actually dispatching the ball back into play.

Ideally, a player should take a throw-in from the exact spot where the ball crossed the touchline. Despite this, referees do allow minor discrepancies in this regard to benefit the flow of the game.

Players may creep along the touchline to gain extra yardage or waste time. They may even do this to reduce the risk of the opposition intercepting the ball. Referees will need to deem if the spot from which the throw-in is taken creates an unfair advantage for the team.

Throw-ins taken from the wrong spot have caused a stir several times in the past. Usually, players gain advantages, but many referees still overlook this. Here’s an example:

Despite taking 20 seconds until he finally returned the ball to play, the player also travelled several yards before the throw-in! The throw-in was awarded in his own half of the field but was eventually taken a yard into the opponent’s half.

Referees that decide that a player is stealing ground should signal to the player to return to the spot where the ball exited the field of play. 

The throw should be retaken thereafter.

Can you step on the field during a throw-in?

The Laws of the Game states that the person throwing the ball must-have part of each foot on the touchline or the ground outside the touchline

A player can step onto the field as part of their follow-through as long as the ball has left his/her hands and is in play.

If a player violates the rule by grounding their foot inside the field of play, the ball is awarded to the opposing team for a throw-in from the same spot.

Is a throw-in considered a back pass?

A throw-in is viewed in the same way as a back pass. Thus, if the ball is handled by the goalkeeper, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team.

The back pass rule was implemented in 1992 as a way to stop teams from wasting time. By passing the ball back to their goalkeepers, teams were able to eat up several minutes of playing time. 

Is a throw-in considered a set piece?

To answer this question, we’ll look at the definition of a set piece.

A set-piece is an occurrence resulting from a stop in play. The referee will blow their whistle to indicate a dead-ball situation.

Set pieces include:

  • Corner kicks
  • Penalties
  • Free kicks
  • Throw-ins

Unlike other set pieces, you cannot score directly from a throw-in. According to The Laws of the Game:

A goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in:

  • If the ball enters the opponent’s goal – a goal kick is awarded
  • If the ball enters the thrower’s goal – a corner kick is awarded

Set pieces allow a team to use different tactics with less pressure from the opposing team. Many teams have set-piece specialists that maximise the set-piece situations for their teams. Well-planned set pieces can help gain yardage or create goal-scoring opportunities.

An example of a set-piece specialist in throw-ins is Rory Delap.

The former Stoke City footballer was well-known for his lethal long throw-ins. Delap’s set-pieces led to five direct assists in a single season and over 24 goals during his time at Stoke City.

You can find out more about whether you can score goals directly from a throw-in here.

Are flip throws legal in soccer?

Yes. Here is the procedure of taking a throw-in according to The Laws of the Game.

At the moment of delivering the ball, the thrower must:

  • Stand facing the field of play
  • Have each part of their foot on the touchline or the ground behind the touchline
  • Throw the ball with both hands from behind and over the head from the point where it left the field of play

If the ball touches the ground before entering the field of play, the throw-in is retaken by the same team from the same position. If the throw-in is taken incorrectly, resulting in a foul throw, it is retaken by the opposing team.

As long as the thrower is able to execute the flip, plant both feet, and release the ball from behind and over their head, it is completely legal. The flip throw can be very effective as the player’s momentum will likely result in a more powerful throw.

Here are a few examples of flip throws used in matches:

An acrobatic throw-in by Leah led to a memorable goal at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2008.

Meanwhile, here is an example of how not to take a flip throw-in!


Throw-ins are one of the most common set pieces that happen during a game.

It’s important to know the rules, and learn how to take advantage of them too!

You can find out whether you can be offside from a throw-in here.

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