A dropped-ball (or drop-ball) is a method of restarting play in a game of association football. It is used when play has been stopped due to reasons other than normal gameplay, fouls, or misconduct. The situations requiring a dropped-ball restart are outlined in Law 8 and Law 9 of the Laws of the Game; Law 8 also contains the dropped-ball procedure.
A drop-ball is used to restart play when the referee has stopped play for any reason not listed for another form of restart. Examples include when play has been stopped due to serious injury to a player, interference by an external party, or a ball becoming defective.
Law 9 provides for a dropped-ball restart if the ball touches a match official, remains on the field of play, and any of the following occur:
- a team starts a promising attack;
- the ball goes directly into the goal; or
- there is a change in possession.
In games which use video assistant referees (VAR), if a VAR review determines that play should not have been stopped, such as when a decision to award a penalty is reversed, play is restarted with a dropped ball at the point of the incorrect call.
Following changes to the Laws of the Game effective from June 2019, the dropped ball is explicitly awarded to a specific player:
- the goalkeeper of the defending team, if the ball was in the penalty area when play was stopped, or the ball was last touched in the penalty area
- a player of the team that last touched the ball, in all other cases.
The ball is dropped by the referee at the point where the ball was last touched by a player, official, or outside agent, unless this is within the penalty area (or the ball was in the penalty area when play was stopped), in which case the ball is dropped within the penalty area.
All players of either side, other than the designated player, must be 4 metres (4.4 yd) away from the ball until it touches the ground.
The ball becomes in play as soon as it touches the ground. No player may touch the ball until it has touched the ground. If the ball leaves the field of play before it has been touched by a player (including if the ball enters either goal), the drop-ball is retaken.
If a player touches the ball before it touches the ground, the drop-ball is retaken. If a player persistently touches the ball before it touches the ground, and the referee believes that the player is deliberately doing so, this may be considered misconduct and the referee may caution the player with a yellow card for delaying the restart of play.
A goal may not be scored from a dropped ball until it has been touched by two different players. If the ball enters either goal without having been touched by two players, the result is a goal-kick or corner-kick.. A dropped ball is the only restart which allows the first player who touches the ball to touch it a second time without penalty. 
In 1888, a new law was added to the rules of association football allowing the referee to restart the game after a temporary suspension of play by "throwing up the ball at the spot where play was suspended". The ball could not be played until it had touched the ground. In 1905, the referee was instructed to "throw the ball down" rather than up, and in 1914, to "drop the ball".
In 1984, a special case was added for a dropped ball within the goal area; instead of being dropped at the point where play was suspended, the ball would be dropped at the closest point on the six-yard line. This change was made in order to avoid "crowding" and "jostling".
In 2012, scoring a goal directly from a dropped ball was forbidden (if the dropped ball was kicked directly into the goal, a goal-kick or corner-kick was awarded instead). The justification given by the Football Association for this change was that "[t]here have been a number of occasions where goals have been scored from 'uncontested' dropped balls ... We then have the unseemly situation where the opposition allows the team to score from the kick-off without any players trying to stop them in order to rebalance the game."
In 2019, the contested dropped ball was abolished. The dropped ball still took place, but was awarded to:
- the goalkeeper of the defending team, if the ball was in the penalty area when play was stopped, of the ball was last touched in the penalty area
- a player of the team that last touched the ball, in all other cases.
All other players, of both teams, were required to be at least 4 metres from the ball.
Before 2019, any number of players from either side were allowed to contest a dropped ball. However, this rarely occurred, as many players sportingly elected to kick the ball out of play when an event requiring the stoppage of play – most often an injury – occurred. Contested drop balls became exceedingly rare in the modern game. After the situation had been resolved, the opposing team typically, but not always, conceded possession to the other team after returning the ball into play via the throw-in, as a gesture of good sportsmanship. when the referee did stop play and a dropped ball occurred, a similar return of possession was almost always made from the restart, with the ball being kicked back to the original possessors' defence.
The 2019 rule change also provided for a dropped ball restart for certain situations involving the ball touching a match official. Previously, the match officials were considered part of the field and play continued if the ball touched an official regardless of the result, unless the ball went out of play for a different reason such as going out of bounds. The rule change allows the referee to stop play and award a dropped ball if either team gains an advantage from the ball touching an official.
|Date||Action of referee||Ball may be played before
touching the ground
|May be played by||Minimum distance required (all other players)||Attacking goal
may be scored
may be scored
|Place of restart|
|1888||Throw the ball up||No||Any player(s) on either side||N/A||Yes||Yes||At the place where play was suspended|
|1905||Throw the ball down|
|1914||Drop the ball|
|1984||At the place where play was suspended, |
but on the six-yard line if within the goal area
|2019||Goalkeeper of defending team (if ball was in penalty area when play stopped, or ball was last touched in penalty area)
One player of last team to touch ball (otherwise)
|4 metres (4.4 yd)||In the penalty area (if ball was in penalty area when play stopped, or ball was last touched in penalty area)
At the place where the ball last touched a player, outside agent, or match official (otherwise)
- "Laws of the Game 2019/20" (PDF). p. 88.
- Floyd, Thomas. "How does VAR work? A guide to video review in MLS". goal.com. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
- "Law 8 – The start and restart of play". FIFA.com. FIFA. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Laws of the Game (1888) – via Wikisource.
In the event of any temporary suspension of play from any cause, the ball not having gone into touch, or behind the goal-line, the game shall be re-started by the referee throwing up the ball at the spot where play was suspended, and the players on either side shall not play the ball until it has touched the ground.
- Laws of the Game (1905) – via Wikisource.
In the event of any temporary suspension of play from any cause, the ball not having gone into touch or behind the goal-line, the Referee shall throw the ball down where it was when play was suspended, and it shall be in play when it has touched the ground. If the ball goes into touch or behind the goal-line before it is played by a player, the Referee shall again throw it down. The players on either side shall not play the ball until it has touched the ground.
- "International Football Association Board: 1914 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- "International Football Association Board: 1984 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 4. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- "FIFA Circular no. 1302: Amendments to the laws of the Game - 2012/2013" (PDF). p. 3. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- Sawdon-Smith, Dick (16 October 2013). "From the middle: When did you last see a contested drop ball after a stoppage for injury?". getreading. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
- "Let's kick the uncontested drop ball into touch". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Taken from FIFA.com – Laws of the Game
- "Soccer Rules Q&A Search AskTheref.com". asktheref.com. Retrieved 28 June 2018.