Football corner flag

What Happens If a Football Hits the Corner Flag?

Given that the average football pitch is 105 metres long and 68 metres wide, it is always amazing when the ball hits the corner flag – the stand that supports the flag being barely two inches wide. But it does happen and there can be implications for the action on the pitch – knowing the rules in such a scenario is important.

Thankfully, our guide as to what happens when the ball hits the corner flag in football will help with that.

Ball In Play

As ever when discussing matters pertaining to football’s rulebook, we turn to the big cheeses at the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – the organisation tasked with managing and updating the rules of the beautiful game. And while some of the laws of football can be opaque and open to interpretation, there’s no doubt as to what happens when the ball strikes the corner flag.

“The ball is in play at all other times when it touches a match official and when it rebounds off a goalpost, crossbar or corner flagpost and remains on the field of play,” reads Rule 9.2 of the IFAB handbook. That leaves no grey areas whatsoever. If the ball hits the corner flag and then rebounds back into the playing area, the action continues if nothing happened.

If the ball hits the corner flag and ricochets over the side-line, the assistant referee will award a throw-in to one of the teams (depending on who touched the ball last before it went out of play). If the ball bounces off the flag and over the goal-line, either a goal kick or a corner will be awarded – again, depending upon who the last touch came off.

It all means that if a scenario unfolded that defied physics, with the ball hitting the corner flag before rolling into the back of the net, then the goal would be given!

What Happens in Football if the Ball Hits the Referee?

Referee holding a flag

We know that the ball is considered to be active and live if it hits the corner flag and remains in play. But what if the ball strikes the referee instead? For decades, there was no hard and fast rule for this eventuality – indeed, the referee would often just wave play on, citing the ricochet as just one of those things.

But ahead of the 2019/20 season, IFAB changed their rules on what happens if the ball hits the referee. Play is stopped and then restarted with a drop ball when one of the following is observed:

  • The ball is deflected into the goal
  • Possession of the ball changes from one team to the other
  • The team in possession enjoys an advantage that starts a ‘promising attack’

While the corner flag is treated as an immovable object as far as the rulebook is concerned, play will be halted when the ball strikes the referee and affects the game in one of the ways mentioned above.

What Happens in Football If the Ball Hits the Assistant Referee?

The same rules that are applied to the referee when the ball hits them are also applicable to his or her assistants. So, play will be halted and resumed with a drop ball if one of the teams secures an ‘unfair’ advantage from the deflection.

In theory, this scenario shouldn’t really play out anyway when you consider the position of the assistant referee: they should be behind the touchline, so if the ball strikes them then it would already be considered as out for a throw in.

What Happens in Football if the Ball Hits a Foreign Object?

It was October 2009 when Darren Bent scored one of the most bizarre goals in Premier League history. The Sunderland striker fired a fairly tame effort at the Liverpool goal – one that would not normally cause the goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, any undue concern.

But then ‘it’ happened: the ball struck a beachball that had been thrown onto the pitch by a fan, causing a deflection that would wrongfoot Reina and send the football into the back of his net. There was a brief pause while the match officials tried to figure out what on earth they should do, before referee, Mike Jones, decided the goal should stand – Sunderland winning 1-0 courtesy of it.

The actual rule is that if some sort of foreign object or ‘outside agent’ makes its way onto the field of play, the game should be stopped until it’s removed – therefore, the goal should not have stood.

The same applies if an extra football gets onto the pitch, an animal or some other article – the play should be stopped, the interloper removed from the pitch and the action resumed with a drop ball.