Restarting the game from a drop ball in soccer is rare, but theoretically it can be contested as fiercely as a face-off in hockey. What almost invariably happens, though, is that a drop ball will be used only for restarting play after a player has been injured. The player was lying on the field, the other team had the ball, and the ref finally blew the whistle instead of waiting for it to go out of bounds. (It now occurs to me that this is the way to restart the game after a spectator or a dog or a cat goes onto the field.) As a courtesy to the other team, the team whose player was injured will play the dropped ball, but only as a lob into the opposition’s end of the field, so that the opposition can retain possession.
In today’s game between Swansea City and Middlesbrough, a drop ball was called after the ball got tangled up in the feet of a Swansea City player who had fallen to the ground. The Swansea City players, assuming that this was like all other dropped balls, expected to get a courtesy lob from the Middlesbrough players, but one of them, figuring that no one had been injured and that therefore this wasn’t a courtesy restart, simply darted in and started dribbling the ball. The ref, of course, has no power over what is done after he has dropped the ball, for courtesy lobs are not a requirement of the rules. It’s up to the players to settle that for themselves. The incident seemed to energize the Swansea City fans, though, who were no doubt angry at what they perceived as the lack of courtesy by the Middlesbrough players. I’m siding with Middlesbrough. The Swansea City player hadn’t been injured.
Thinking back, I can’t remember having ever seen a drop ball that was anything but a courtesy drop ball, and if I ever saw one, it was way back in the 1980s or earlier. They’re quite rare.