Most acts on a soccer field are fouls only by degree. Most actions during the run of play are, in large measure, harmless in themselves and become fouls only if done in an unfair manner. Players often bump into each other while running, or push past each while each is trying to avoid a collision. They tussle over the ball, or leap to head a long pass and collide another player who is trying to do the same thing. They may kick at the ball and narrowly miss kicking their opponent’s shin. These actions are considered to be just part of a good game of soccer, where most bodily contact is incidental to the players’ attempts to win the ball, and most of them pass quite uneventfully during the course of the typical game.
A few acts, however, are deemed fouls whenever they take place–regardless of how or why they occur. One such act is the foul of holding.
The dictionary tells us that holding means to restrain. In the context of a soccer game, the foul of holding means means restraining an opponent by use of the hands, arms, or body. This means holding the opponent, though; it does not mean catching hold of the opponent’s shirt, socks, or other apparel–unless it also hinders his freedom of motion, and prevents him from moving where he wants to go. To put it simply, while grabbing a fistful of shirt may be offensive to the player, it does not need to be whistled as a holding foul. But holding onto that same fistful of shirt to slow the player down, win possession of the ball, or gain any other tactical advantage would warrant punishment as a foul.
Ordinarily, holding consists of using the hands or arms. But it can also include the use of other portions of the body. Struggling to remain on top of a fallen player, or using the legs to someone from moving would both be instances of holding even though neither involves use of the arms.