Soccer Shoulder Charge

The Long Lost Art of the Soccer Shoulder Charge

While Soccer and NFL ‘American Football’ are very different sports, there once was a time when the sight of soccer players using their shoulders to barge opponents out of their way ‘NFL style’ was commonplace. The soccer shoulder charge is something of a lost art in the modern game having disappeared as soccer seeks to give its most skillful and attacking players more protection to practice their art and entertain crowds with their skills.

​Fair Charging and the Rules of the Shoulder Barge

The laws of soccer allows that a player can gain possession of the ball by keeping their arms down and charging an opponent out of the way with the flat of the shoulder. Although it is rarely seen, this is fair shoulder charging and still deemed a legal maneuver.

To stop riots breaking out all over the field though, you are only allowed to do this if you are within playing distance of the ball in the first place! This is where soccer definitely does differ from NFL!

R​eferees will consider the following things when judging a soccer shoulder charge to be legal or not:

  1. Is the ball within playing distance? A player can only be legally charged when the ball is within play distance.
  2. Is the contact shoulder to shoulder or is the contact on the player back or chest. If it is the latter then it is illegal and a foul.

Is this a Legal Shoulder Barge?

As you can see from this clip, players can be quite strong in the challenge and get away with it, but it's a really fine line to tread, especially when you're last man in defense!​

The Funniest Shoulder Barge

When done properly it leads to some highly entertaining moments. Who can honestly say they don’t enjoy seeing their soccer team’s defenders putting their opponents in their place with a move like this?

Although it’s never been officially removed from the rules, the modern approach of referees and soccer’s governing bodies is to ensure that players are protected from physical damage and so it is often punished with a free kick.

There are many soccer fans that would say the game has lost something with its demise too.  Soccer crowds usually love to see their team being physical and a good, solid shoulder charge can really get a crowd excited.

In modern soccer where referees are under pressure to protect most skillful players it means that this maneuver has largely been lost to history. It is much more difficult to get away with nowadays!

Watch this beauty of a shoulder charge, but also watch how quick the referee is to award a free-kick!

Soccer teams are also much less prepared to concede free kicks in the final third due these days due to the number of high quality technicians who can score directly from them.

Shoulder charging opponents is high risk and modern referees would usually award free kicks each time which is perhaps the biggest reason it has fallen out of fashion. Modern defending is much more reliant on excellent positional sense, speed for recovery and the ability to defend on your feet.

The best defenders are able to take players away from goal with their body position as well as anticipating and intercepting. However we shouldn’t forget that it is still possible to shoulder charge within the rules of soccer. If a player keeps their arms down they can shoulder charge side by side by making contact with the flat of their shoulder to maneuver an opponent out of the way of the ball.


Upper body strength has developed enormously in soccer players and many modern players are much more physically adept at protecting the ball. A cynical observer would also point out how much cleverer modern players are at going down when feeling contact and inviting referees to award them a free kick too!

There are any number of soccer drills you can use to support your players being more physical and stronger in the shoulder charge.

This is a very simple one where players use their shoulders to compete to be first to arrive at a static ball and then look to use their bodies to protect the ball.

Shoulder Charge Technique

The technique for good shoulder charging is very similar to the principles of protecting the ball.

It helps if you are slightly low and crouched to give you a solid base and use the strength from your whole body to come through and charge your opponent.

Video Archives

The Most Famous Shoulder Charge

Arguably the most famous shoulder charge in the history of soccer came in the 1958 FA Cup Final when Bolton Wanderers center forward Nat Lofthouse won the cup for his team by scoring two goals to beat Manchester United.

Watch here how Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg catches the ball but is then barged into the back of the net by Lofthouse who celebrates as though he’s just lashed a scorching shot into the top corner of the goal!

The irony is that it’s debatable whether Lofthouse even touches the ball! Although there can be no debate that he certainly ‘touches’ a good bit of Harry Gregg!


It’s unlikely that goal would be allowed today.In the modern era of soccer where we rightly celebrate the dazzling skills of the top players and lightning fast attacking play of the best teams, we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of physical players and those who can use their strength and power to get the upper hand.

Many of the best players in the world remain as respectful of physical play as they do skillful play, hopefully soccer audiences around the world will continue to do the same as it remains a key element of the fabric of the sport.

Let us know what you think in the comments below:

  • Is the modern game of soccer too soft?​
  • Are players stronger in the modern game?
  • Do players go down too easily?
  • Should shoulder barging be banned completely?
  • Have we seen the end of the football shoulder charge?

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