An interesting question came up the other day about a recent game in Asia and what the referee should do when a substitute, warming up behind his team’s goal, sees that his goalkeeper is down and there are no defenders nearby to stop the ball, which is rolling quickly toward the goal. The substitute enters the field of play without the referee’s permission and prevents a goal from being scored by kicking the ball away.

Any debate as to what the referee should do must center around four issues:

1. What infringements of the Law have occurred?
• The substitute has entered the field without the permission of the referee and then interfered with play by kicking away the ball heading for the goal.

2. Where the infringement involves misconduct, what kind and what card?
• Substitutes entering the field of play without permission have committed unsporting behavior, a cautionable offense. In addition, a substitute can be sent off for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, a sending-off offense.

3. What did the referee actually do?
• He whistled play dead, sent off the substitute, and restarted with an indirect free kick from the place where the substitute kicked the ball. While effective in dealing with the greater offense, the referee’s action was not entirely correct. Nor did the referee caution the substitute for unsporting behavior (entering the field of play without his permission).

4. With play stopped, what actions should the referee have taken, and what should have been the restart and from where?
• According to Law 12, “A player [and this includes substitutes and substituted players] who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, whether directed towards an opponent, a team-mate, the referee, an assistant referee or any other person, is disciplined according to the nature of the offense committed.”
• In this situation, the referee must first caution the substitute for unsporting behavior for entering the field of play without permission; that is the infringement that governs the restart. Second, the referee must send off the substitute for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick; this infringement does not figure in the restart — although it did during the game in question.
• The restart must be an indirect free kick for the initial misconduct, entering the field of play without the referee’s permission. The correct place would have been the position of the ball at the time of the stoppage (see Law 13 – Position of free kick). It would seem that an otherwise well-intentioned referee simply didn’t understand what the Law requires of him.

The place where the ball was when play was stopped would be its location at the moment the referee makes the decision to stop play, not where the ball might have ended up after the whistle was blown.


I was the Center referee for an A division Co-ed match. There was a through ball for the attacking team, the forward run through to dribble into the penalty area. The keeper runs out to stop the ball, and missing it completely, and collided with the attacking player and took him out of play. I was near the top of the 18 yard, and had a clear view of the contact. I signalled a penalty kick, and issued a caution to the keeper. Since, it was his 2nd caution in this match, then I proceeded to show him the red card.

The defending team started screaming and said look at your assistant referee. He is standing firm around the 25 yard line, signalling an offside.

I reversed my call to an indirect free kick for the defending team, and took back the cards.

My reasoning is that I should have looked at my assistant referee first, and blown my whistle for the offside. If I had done that, it would have avoided the contact by the keeper and the forward.

Did I make the right call ?

USSF answer (March 28, 2012):

Your decision to use the information supplied by the AR was correct. Award the indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team. It is possible that the goalkeeper still engaged in certain behavior, whether it was during play against an opponent or during a stoppage resulting from the offside offense, so pleases consider the following:
Misconduct is separate from the foul (unless the foul was for serious foul play or denying a goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick). Accordingly, the second caution which resulted in a red card should not have been withdrawn SOLELY because the referee accepted the advice from the AR and declared that the stoppage was for the offside. The ‘keeper’s act itself might warrant the caution (and red) or a straight red regardless of the change in the decision. If the goalkeeper’s act was purely careless, rather than reckless (caution) or done with excessive force (send-off), then there is no need to caution the ‘keeper.


If a player is sent off (red card), he/she cannot play in their next game.

Question 1: if the referee does not include the send-off in the game report, or does not submit a game report, is the player still required to not play in their next game?

Question 2: It is VERY common for referees NOT to tell a youth player why (unsporting behavior, dissent, serious foul play, etc) a card is being displayed. When asked by the player or coach, the VERY common response is ‘I don’t have to tell you’. How are youth players to learn from a mistake when there is absolutely no reason given by the ‘professional offical’ as to what the mistake was? Are game reports accessible to coaches, players, and/or parents?

USSF answer (February 28, 2012):
1. Referees are expected to submit their match reports as quickly as possible, usually within 2-3 days of the game. If they do not do so, then technically the events described (or NOT described) therein did not occur — but see below.

Technicalities aside, realistically the game occurred: people were there; witnesses can be subpoenaed; the referee could be reminded of his report; the player who was red carded should, on his own initiative or by direction of his coach, sit out his team’s next regularly-scheduled match. All this should occur even without the actual filing of the referee’s report. An opposing coach could certainly note at the team’s next regularly-scheduled game that Player X should be sitting out and, if this is disputed on any basis (including the lack of a report from the referee), a complaint could be filed which would eventually trigger a demand upon the referee to get the requiredreport in. In real life, there are literally thousands of games that occur with no formal referee report going into a league or association office — of course, in most of these, nothing untoward has occurred, but no one has any problem accepting that there was a game, there was a score, and Team B won.

2. The referee is REQUIRED to tell a player that he or he has been cautioned or sent off for one of the seven reasons for either sort of misconduct.

They cannot refuse to tell this to the player and should be reported to refereeing authorities if they do so refuse. They are NOT required to tell the coach anything. In most states (we cannot speak for all of them) the reports are not available to non-refereeing or competition officials, but appropriate parties can be told of the contents regarding a specific person or incident.


Two quick questions, at the half of a u18 game. AR approaches the center,and states the center is “calling for the other side” Center tells AR the game is being called for both sides. AR argues the point,and is asked by the center to return to their sideline,AR at such time throws down their flag,and quits the game. Is this not a very poor behavior,and an example by the AR,who is also a referee? forget if LAW 5 or 6 covers AR. is this not reportable to the local association. second during a very physical game, team A and Team B are struggling for the ball,play continues. center verbally warns both players about use of elbows. A spectator jumps up out of their seat on the sideline in a aggressive manner,moves to the touch line,ands starts yelling at center about elbows. center approaches partway to sideline, tells spectator both players have been warned,and it’s under control,to sit back down. after game same spectator enters the field,and approaches the center, verbally assaults,and threatens the center. spectator is instructed to leave the field. does the referee retreat,or does he still have the field?

USSF answer (November 2, 2011):
Regarding the assistant referee, Law 6 tells us: “In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve an assistant referee of his duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities,” using the the match report form each referee should fill out after every match. This AR has also failed to live up to the Referee Code of Ethics and could be brought up on charges under U. S. Soccer Federation Policy 531-10 – Misconduct of Game Officials .

Regarding the aggressive spectator, Law 5 tells us that the referee stops, suspends or abandons the match because of outside interference of any kind. Before abandoning the game, however, the referee should ask the home team (tournament/league officials, if present) to have the person removed. If there is no help from these officials, then the match is abandoned and the referee includes full details in the match report.


The game has finished, the players are on the sideline when the ref issues a player without their jersey on with a yellow for decent, the player blows up again so the ref issues another yellow to the same player resulting in a red, what is the outcome if the ref reports the wrong player in the paperwork since he had no jersey on how can he be sure he reports the correct player ? and if he does report the wrong player can the team challenge the result ?

USSF answer (August 11, 2011):
The final whistle has been blown, the game is over! Players may now remove their jerseys if they like, whether they are on the field or off. The referee committed an error in judgment and procedure by not determining the player’s name and number before issuing the caution for dissent and the subsequent caution and dismissal for receiving a second caution in the game. (Yes this period counts as part of the game if the referee has not left the area after the final whistle.)

The referee could have resolved the problem by informing the team captain and or a team official, such as the coach, that this player was being cautioned and then sent off and asking for the player’s name.

In answer to your final question, we cannot know what course the competition’s disciplinary committee will take in this matter, other than to remind the referee that procedure should be followed.


A player on Team A asks the ref repeatedly why a foul was called. He didn’t respond. The same player for Team A was substituted and asked the ref why a foul was called in passing, again the ref ignored his request. The player while exiting the field said “you’re an idiot” not directly to the ref. The ref said “what did you say”. Team A player continued off the field and one of the players from Team B said to the referee he said “You are a ‘Effing’ idiot”.

Player 2 from (the sub) from Team A went on to the field. Referee Red carded the player that said “you’re an idiot”. My question is does Team A have to play a man short?

USSF answer (October 19, 2010):
Because the referee waited until the substitute entered the field and became a player, the former player’s dismissal for using offensive, insulting or abusive language does not result in Team A having to play short. If the referee had acted before allowing the new player to enter, then Team A would have to play short.

The harder question is this: suppose the referee is 100% sure that the second player who provided the answer embellished on the first player’s remark. Should the referee ignore the embellishment (“Effing idiot” vs just “idiot”)? It is probably best to let it go but let the player know that you know.


I was recently officiating a U12 boys match (as an assistant referee) and I encountered a situation that was very conflicting for me as a referee.

An attacking player was making an advancement on goal when he was cut off by a defender and the ball was played in the opposite direction.

As play moved downfield, the attacker stayed behind (about 6 yards from my position) and he was obviously mad about his performance. I then heard him mutter the “s” word under his breath.

From what I could tell, he uttered the word simply because he was upset with his own performance. He was not directing the word towards any opponent, referee, coach or fan, and as I mentioned it was “under his breath” (yet still audible by myself).

Now I am aware that the FIFA Laws of the Game insist that a player is to be shown the red card and sent off for using abusive language. My question is though, if the abusive word is not directed towards anyone and is simply used out of frustration, is the player still to be sent off?

As you can imagine, red carding a player in a U12 game is a fairly big deal. Although as a referee, I did not think I could let this go. So after hearing the abusive word, I signaled the center official over and explained to him what happened. He proceeded to show the yellow card and caution the player in question.

I am very conflicted with what happened. In a way, I think a yellow card was the more appropriate form of punishment (I support my center referee!), but at the same time, I cant help thinking that this situation was not handled as it should have been under FIFA law.

So basically my question is, should a player be red carded and sent off for using any curse word, at any time, under any circumstances, period? And did the center official make the correct decision in giving a caution in ths game?

Thank you for the help.

USSF answer (July 2, 2010):
This excerpt from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” may be helpful:

The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific
words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate
vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In
other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating
language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the
actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary
emotional outburst.

Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when
determining a course of action. The referee’s primary focus must be on the effective management of
the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game. “

Beyond that, one of the first lessons a referee should learn is that he (or she) should hear only what needs to be heard to do one’s job well. In other words, the referee should only “hear” what is vital to good game management. All the rest is simply background noise, to be shut out and not processed.

What possible harm has this player who used the “s” word done? None. He was not cursing another player, a team official, a spectator, the referee, or you,

Could the word be heard by spectators or others? Probably not.

There are too many referees who look for reasons to punish players for totally unimportant and inconsequential events. Let it go.

So your answers are these: No, you should not have brought this matter to the referee’s attention. No, the referee should not have cautioned the player.

Let it go.


What is the right way to continue a game after it was suspended by the referee at minute 22 of the first half? one team was playing with 9 players due to none sufficient players and to one player with red card at minute 15 of play. can the the team complete up to ten players and can the team have subtitute players on the benches if they didn’t have enough players in the first game?

USSF answer (June 17, 2010):
“Suspended” simply means stopped temporarily. If the referee then “terminated” or “abandoned” the game, the following might apply, but it would be up to the rules of the particular competition.

An official USSF question and answer of August 16, 1999, forbids a player sent off in a game that MUST BE REPLAYED to participate in the replay. That ruling is still valid.


“Q. A game has been abandoned because of severe weather conditions. During the game, a player was sent off and received a red card for serious foul play. The rules of the competition specify that the game must be replayed in full on the following day. In other words, it is not to be a continuation of the abandoned game. May the player who was sent off participate in this game? How many players may his team use?

“A. Because the game will be replayed in full at a later date, both teams may start with the maximum allowable number of players, plus the number of substitutes prescribed by the rules of the competition. The player who was sent off in the abandoned game may not participate in the game, nor may he be included in the roster of players and nominated substitutes for the game.”


I am an Assistant Referee, therefore I am not able to center and do not know the answer to this question. Can you card a player even if the center does not actually have his cards with him.

Had a girl playing very dangerously making late tackles, grabbing and got up one time after a late tackle and said “I don’t care if he cards me”. So I went the the center at halftime and said I was very surprised he did not card the player after the 3rd, 4th or 5th foul.

His response was don’t tell anyone but I left my cards in my bag. He did end up carding her in the second half which really should have been a second yellow by that time. Basically can a ref raise his hand over a play and say Yellow or Red or do they actually have to have a card to show? I can see a game really getting out of control if a ref can’t issue a yellow or red just because they don’t have a piece of plastic in their pocket.

USSF answer (May 18, 2010):
While normal and fully correct procedure would be to show the card to a player after telling him or her why he or she was being disciplined, we can state quite definitely that a player may be cautioned or sent off without showing the card. Any referee who fails to enforce the Laws correctly simply because of having forgotten the cards does the game a major disservice — and can give him- or herself major problems with discipline and game management.

And, wonder of wonders, the referee can always stop the game and go back to his bag and fetch the cards to put them to use. And don’t forget the pen or pencil, or the notebook or note card on which to write what has happened for the game report. In addition, each AR should have had cards with him
which the referee could have borrowed.


Could you provide some examples of irresponsible coaching at the youth level (U8-U12) of soccer. I recently had a game that had 3 coaches for one team and two coaches for the other team. (Our league allows 4 coaches per team). Constantly throughout the game ALL six coaches would be hollering at the players providing DIRECTIONS on positioning and passing and anything else. The majority of the coaching rarely had any tactical instructions – mostly were the type of “pass now, why did you kick it with your left foot, what are you doing” type of directions. I stopped the game (after listening to them shouting for the majority of the game)and demanded that the coaches let the players play the last 4 minutes with silence from the coaches area. The coaches complied (what a relief!) and the game was ended 4 minutes later. After the game, one coach complained about my demand for silence and said “Where is it written down that I can’t shout instructions to my players?” I did not have a ready response to his question other than I don’t believe the coaching was positive, informative, or in the spirit of the game. I may have come on too strong for the situation, but I was so tired of their screaming at their players, that I felt something needed to be done. Maybe I was right and maybe I was wrong, but for 4 minutes the players played their own game and it was peaceful for the first time that game and everyone on the field had a good time. So, what constitutes irresponsible or inappropriate coaching?

USSF answer (January 18, 2010):
According to Law 5, the referee “takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.” By no stretch of the imagination do most, and certainly not many, coaches or other team officials behave irresponsibly.

Here are some examples of irresponsible behavior, based on questions received and answered here or taken from the USSF position paper of March 22, 2006, on Management of Behavior in the Technical Area. These examples were directed by coaches or other team officials at referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, players of the opposing or their own team, and opposing coaches.

1. Screaming at or verbally or physically abusing the officials or any players or other participants for any reason.
• a youth coach “who begins to scream at his players when the game begins and does not stop until long after the game is over. With every touch of the ball by his team he gives (screams) instructions to the players off the ball as well as the player with the ball. With every touch of the ball by the other team he is giving (screaming) specific instructions to each player on his team as fast as he can get them out of his mouth. Much of what he says is negative and all mistakes are pointed out and players are taken to task. He is a physically intimidating person who loves to argue about anything and most area referees just stay as far away from him as they can.”
• ordering a player who has made a mistake to “drop and give me ten” (pushups) right there on the field.
• Speaking insulting words or making offensive gestures
• making unwanted contact with opponents

There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. The referee is certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.

2. Interfering with the game in any way, such as:
• yelling out instructions to do something illegal or giving deceptive instructions.
• when coaches become actively involved in helping their team deceive the opponents, such as saying that player “x” should do this or that and clearly intending something else to occur (as discovered after the restart).
• clearly instructing the players to line up within the required distance and “have the referee move you.”
• instructing his/her team, both on the field and on the bench, to jump up and down, waving their arms, and scream at the top of their lungs.
• giving tactical instructions to other players when invited to enter the field to see to the injury of a player.
• presuming to give the officials instructions on how to make or signal their calls.
• insisting that an opposing player be cautioned or sent off.
• throwing objects in protest
• kicking chairs
• striking advertising boards
• persistently and flagrantly protesting decisions by an official
• interfering with the performance of assistant referee or fourth official duties
• refusing to return to the technical area
• entering the field of play without the permission of the referee


Under the Law, only one person at a time is authorized to convey tactical instructions from the technical area. The coach and other officials must remain within its confines except in special circumstances, for example, a physiotherapist or doctor entering the field of play, with the referee’s permission, to assess an injured player. The coach and other occupants of the technical area must behave in a
responsible manner.

As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. Whether at the level of the least experienced players (and coaches) or at the highest levels, any case in which the coach behaves irresponsibly will result in the coach being dismissed. (Two examples from among many: ranting at the referee, overt participation in deception of the opposing team.)

A coach has no “right” to anything in the game of soccer, other than the right to conduct him-/herself responsibly during the game — from within the technical or bench area — while offering advice to his/her team’s players. A referee who allows coaches or other team officials to parade around the field or shout abuse at players in the guise of instruction, in contravention of the requirements in Law 5 that coaches behave responsibly and that referees not permit anyone other than players to enter the field, should be ashamed.


Coaches and other team officials are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned.) The intelligent referee will generally disregard coaching comments, unless they become openly disrespectful of the game and of the referee. The referee’s first line of defense (unless the behavior is REALLY egregious) is to warn the coach who is behaving irresponsibly. This is the equivalent of a caution, but no card is shown. Then, when the behavior persists (as it usually does, because most coaches who behave this way fail to understand that they must change their errant ways), the coach is expelled from the field for failing to behave in a responsible manner. Please note that under the Laws of the Game, no card may be shown; however, showing the card may be a requirement of the rules of the competition.

Unless the matter is particularly grave, the referee would usually wait until the next stoppage. However, if the situation is indeed grave — as any case of abuse would be — then stopping the game and drawing attention to the matter is an excellent tool in and of itself. Proactive steps such as the admonition of the coach will usually prevent players who become disgusted with their coach’s behavior from acting out and thus becoming subject to punishment themselves. It sends a clear message that the referee is serious about the matter. In such cases, the referee would stop play with the ball in the possession of the abusive coach’s team (if possible), advise the coach or other team official that this behavior is irresponsible and must stop if the coach or other team official wishes to remain in the vicinity of the field. If this warning is not effective, then another stoppage and the expulsion of the coach must follow. No cards, please, unless the rules of the competition require them. Also, do not engage in extended discussions when doing this in any circumstances: State the message and leave.

In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.

[In the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” we find:

Coaches or other team officials, one at a time, may provide tactical advice to their players, including positive remarks and encouragement.  The referee should only take action against coaches or other team officials for irresponsible behavior or for actions that bring the game into disrepute. A coach or other team official may not be cautioned or sent off nor shown any card; however, at the discretion of the referee, such persons may be warned regarding their behavior or expelled from the field of play and its immediate area. When a coach or other team official is expelled, the referee must include detailed information about such incidents in the match report.

The maximum numbers of substitutes and substitutions are set by the competition authority and with the agreement of the two teams within the requirements of Law 3. Additional people in the technical area, such as team members who are not named as players or substitutes (for the current game) on the roster or parents or other persons involved with the team, are permitted to be seated with the team in the technical area (or other designated team area) only if this is allowed by the competition authority. Such persons will be considered team officials and are therefore held to the same standards of conduct specified in Law 5 as other team officials. Although team officials cannot commit misconduct or be shown a card, they may be ordered from the field for irresponsible behavior. Full details must be included in the match report.

The “Ask, Tell, Remove” process is recommended for all officials to follow relative to conduct within the technical area:
* Ask
If a situation arises where there is irresponsible behavior, the official (referee, assistant referee, or fourth official) should ASK the person(s) to stop.
* Tell
If there is another occurrence of irresponsible behavior, the official should inform that person that the behavior is not permissible and TELL them (insist) to stop.
* Remove
If the non-accepted actions continue, the referee must REMOVE that person immediately.

These are the recommended steps, but they are not necessary if the behavior and conduct of personnel within the technical area requires immediate dismissal. Remember, where circumstances permit, match officials should use a “gentle escalate” approach so that referee team responses match the nature of the bench behavior. Try to use the least intrusive response that will solve the problem.