In sports, a professional foul is a deliberate act of foul play, usually to prevent an opponent scoring.
The concept was introduced in football after an infamous incident in the 1980 FA Cup Final when Willie Young of Arsenal committed a deliberate foul on Paul Allen of West Ham, when Allen had a clear run at goal. As the laws of the game stood, the referee (George Courtney) could only award West Ham a free kick, which he did. This provoked a national debate on deliberate fouls that denied opponents the chance to score a goal. At the time, the English game was suffering a downturn in attendances and the chairmen of the Football League clubs decided to consider ways in which the game could be made exciting. A subcommittee was appointed to produce some suggestions, chaired by Jimmy Hill and including Sir Matt Busby and Sir Bobby Charlton.
The sub-committee produced several suggestions, including making the professional foul a mandatory red card offence, which they submitted to the IFAB for consideration. All the suggestions were defeated. However, the Football League was determined to have their way, and instructed its referees that professional fouls (including deliberate handball to stop a goal being scored) should be deemed serious foul play, which was and is a mandatory red card offence. The new interpretation was first issued to referees prior to the 1982-83 season, and the first player (probably) to be sent off for a professional foul was Lawrie Sanchez in the Football League Trophy.
FIFA first instructed its referees to send off for a professional foul prior to the 1990 World Cup, and in 1991 the provision that a professional foul should be considered serious foul play was incorporated into the Laws as a Decision of the IFAB. The professional foul was made a red card offence in its own right in 1998.
Subsequently, the wording of Law 12 was changed and the term professional foul was replaced by denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to remove the implication that in order for a red card to be issued, such a foul had to be deliberate. Currently, if a player denies a player an obvious goalscoring opportunity by foul means, whether deliberate or not, he is sent off.
The majority of professional fouls are either holding down the tackled player after a break has been made in order to allow his teammates to reform in defence, interfering in the play when making little or no attempt to return to an onside position, or tackling or impeding the progress of a player not in possession when a try may possibly be scored. The latter situation may result in a penalty try
See also: Playing rugby league