Why Did/Didn’t the Referee
Call That?

Provided by the State Referee Committee

I was provided a recent letter written by a local Association Board member for their parents, players, and coaches, for my thoughts. The message was aimed at explaining why the role of the referee differs in soccer from many other sports; and, why referees aren’t consistently enforcing the “rules” of soccer.

The most obvious answer is that there are no “rules” in soccer. There are 17 Laws which require the referee to interpret the events witnessed and make the decision that the action fell within the spirit of the Law itself. The basic Laws governing what is needed to play and the “how” to play the game are pretty straightforward and don’t require much interpretation. Other Laws clearly state that the decisions are solely “In the Opinion of the Referee.”

Fouls and Misconduct, Law 12, is the area of the Law most subject to “interpretation” by the referee. So, while the objection can be phrased in many ways, what we most often hear expressed is, “You’ve got to call that, ref!“ or, “Call it both ways.” Each phrase is an excited utterance by a spectator or coach with a vested interest in the outcome of the match, who may not feel that the Laws are being applied consistently.

Definition: Consistency – “Marked by harmony, regulatory or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction.”

Can a soccer referee achieve consistency within a game? How about from one match to the next? While we always attempt to perform in a manner that allows us to make the correct call, the dynamics of soccer make it unlikely that a situation ever presents itself exactly the same.

“Why Did/Didn’t the Referee Call That?”

1. He didn’t see it. It can’t be any surprise that a referee will totally miss something you saw and considered a foul. He is one. You are many. Distance from play and angle of view are constant battles for the referee, so that he may be in the best position and have the best view of play. It is rarely possible for the referee to see similar plays the same way. Even less consistency can occur when more than one official is calling fouls.

2. He saw it, but for this match and this level of skill and expectation of the players, it was a “doubtful or trifling” act which had no impact on the play or players involved.

3. He saw it. However, the conditions were just such that the team who was fouled might have a better option by allowing play to continue. This is still a foul and the referee signals as much by sweeping both arms forward and up to shoulder level while calling “Play On!” or “Advantage!” By the way, if this advantage does not materialize in a few seconds the referee may blow the whistle and signal for the original foul.

4. He saw it, and even though a similar foul may not have been called earlier, there has been an increase in the competitive intensity of the game and the foul is now whistled to maintain control of the match.

5. He saw it, whistled it, pointed the direction and awarded a yellow card/caution or red card/send-off because it was not only a foul, but was committed in a reckless manner or used excessive force.

It is a balancing act between control and flow and it’s the referee’s job to conduct the match in a manner that ensures both the safety of the players and the fairness demanded by the Laws of the Game.

The letter goes on with some very good advice: “So, as a parent, grab your chair, sit on the sidelines and cheer on your player. Watch them learn the valuable lessons of teamwork and hard work. Remember to cheer for both teams. If you see a great play, give it praise, regardless of which team made it happen. Kids grow up quickly. This is the good stuff you will remember as you are packing them up and sending them off to college, in what will seem like the blink of an eye.“