Recalcitrant Assistant Referees

John, a senior amateur Referee, asks:

Does an assistant referee have the power to ask a spectator to leave?
When the spectator won’t leave, does the assistant referee have the power to dismiss a coach?
When the coach won’t leave, does he have the power to announce the game is over?
If he then leaves, is the game over? What about if both assistant referees leave?

(Yes, this all happened – I was the center, not agreeing with anything he was doing, but with both ARs leaving, I felt I had no choice but to end the game, thus validating everything he did.)


These are difficult questions but we will try to sort out the options.

First and foremost, under current USSF guidance for referees in this country, neither the referee nor any other official has the power to ask or demand that a spectator leave.  We have no direct control of anyone who is not a player, substitute, etc., or team official.  There is a video prepared a few years back as a companion to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” guidance which is specifically aimed at spectators.  In brief, the referee (and only the referee) engages in a version of Ask/Tell with regard to a spectator but only through the coach.  In other words, if a spectator is causing a problem, we are to ask the coach to control any spectator whose behavior is unacceptable.  If the association of this spectator with one team or the other is unclear or disputed, then we engage both coaches.  The coaches must find ways to control the problem either through their own actions or  with the assistance of other spectators or, if necessary, through recourse to external authorities (e.g., a park or school employee responsible for the grounds on which the competition is being held).  At no time do we interact  directly with the offending spectator.  If one or both coaches and/or “their” spectators or the intervention of field marshals or park police do not resolve the problem, then the only remaining option is to suspend the game or terminate it altogether. Full details in the match report.  Note that at no time is an AR authorized to act on their own – apart from bringing the problem to the referee’s attention, an AR has no separate, independent authority to act here,

Of course, if the referee terminates the match (and he or she is the only one who can), then the officiating team should gather at least briefly before dispersing to make sure that the referee has sufficient information from all members of the team to complete the match report.  An AR leaving on his or own initiative is a serious breach of professional ethics – except perhaps in the case of traumatic injury.  Whether an AR or both ARs leave is not directly material as regards the continuation of the game.  After all, the assignment of ARs to a game is not mandatory – many games start and/or finish with only one or no ARs.  If such a departure occurs without the specific permission of the Referee, that is grounds for the Referee to file a complaint regarding this behavior with the assignor and/or the local referee association.

Your reference to “not agreeing with anything he [an AR] was doing” is peculiar because, at all times, the AR is under the authority of the Referee and is there expressly to assist the Referee in all matters, even if the AR disagrees with the decisions of the Referee.  If the AR’s  disagreement with your decisions is sufficient enough and/or serious enough, the AR is free to file a complaint with the assignor and/or local referee association when the game is over or to simply make it known that he/she would not wish to be assigned to work with that Referee again in the future.

Finally, games at all levels have been held for decades without ARs so there should be no need to terminate a game merely if one or both of the ARs have left.  At the same time, Law 6 specifically provides for either or both ARs to be dismissed by the Referee:

The match officials operate under the direction of the referee. In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve them of their duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.

This “solution” is and should be rare, but it does clearly confirm the Law’s assumption that the Referee carries the ultimate authority … even with regard to the other match officials.

The Officiating Team and Misconduct

Karyn, an adult/pro fan, asks:

If neither the Referee nor either Assistant Referee saw a foul but the fourth official did, can the Referee still give a straight red card?


Yes.  The referee is obliged to take into account any information provided to him or her by a member of the officiating team – including the ARs and the 4th official but not including the reserve assistant referee or a volunteer linesman – and then render a final decision.  The referee is not required to accept the information but is required to listen.  However, the referee’s ability to follow through on the advice and information remains limited by the Laws of the Game.  For example, if at the halftime break, an AR or the 4th official indicates that Blue #14 had used abusive or offensive language in the 20th minute, the only way the referee could issue a red card to Blue #14 is if there had been no stoppages between the 20th minute of the half and the midgame break.  The Law requires that a card to any player, substitute, or substituted player must be given no later than the next stoppage (which includes the end of a period of play).

There are only two exceptions to this mandate.  The first is if the referee realizes or is advised by a member of the officiating team (excluding the reserve assistant referee or a linesman) that the referee had issued a second yellow to a player but had failed to follow through with a red card as prescribed in Law 12.  In this case, the red card can be given whenever the Referee is made aware of the oversight.  The other is a bit more complicated.  The referee can issue a red card to a player, substitute, or substituted player if an assistant referee observes an act of violence (including spitting), raises the flag, and continuously maintains the raised flag until the referee becomes aware of the signal, at which time the red card for violent conduct can be given even if one or more stoppages and restarts have intervened.  Since this particular exception depends entirely on the AR performing in a certain way, it should be covered in the pregame discussion prior to any match in which such behavior might occur.

Fouls and Restart Locations

Gary, an Adult/Pro Coach, asks:

If there’s a foul off the ball, despite the ball being in the center circle, can the Referee award a penalty ?


Not only “can the Referee,” the Referee must.  With rare exceptions (and fouls are not one of them), the Law sets the location of the restart to be where the foul occurred, not where the ball was.  In this case, if it was a direct free kick foul and it was committed by a defender inside his or her own penalty area while the ball was in play, the restart is a penalty kick even if the ball was at the far other end of the field at the time.

For example, Red is attacking the Blue goal with play occurring just above the Blue team’s penalty area.  At the Red end of the field, however, the Red goalkeeper and a Blue opponent are having an intense debate inside the Red penalty area over something that happened several minutes earlier, during which the Red goalkeeper shoves the opponent.  The trail AR sees this and signals for the foul, the lead AR (down where play is currently occurring) mirrors the signal, and then directs the referee’s attention to what is happening behind the Referee’s back.  Trusting the judgment of the experienced ARs, the Referee stops play immediately (no advantage is applied), deals with the misconduct (if any), and orders the ball brought back to the other end of the field for a penalty kick by Blue.

The consequences would be much different if, instead of striking by the Red goalkeeper, it was the Blue opponent who committed the shoving.  Here, advantage might be applied depending on the seriousness of the offense (it is not recommended if violence is involved).  If the Red team’s advantage is maintained, then play should be allowed to continue and, at the next stoppage, the Blue player might be cautioned if the shove was deemed reckless.  If advantage was not maintained or if the shove was violent, play should be stopped and then restarted with a direct free kick by Red where the shove occurred after any misconduct with dealt with.  If the shove did not require an immediate stoppage, the trail AR would simply wait for the next stoppage, signal for the Referee’s attention, explain what happened, and let the Referee decide what action to take.

In situations like this, it is imperative that the AR observing this behavior understands the implications of signaling for a stoppage.  The AR’s decision must be based on believing — based on experience, the pre-game conference where the Referee made clear his or her preferences, and the AR’s observation of the Referee’s decisions in the match so far — that the referee would have stopped play (i.e., not considered the event doubtful or trifling and not have applied advantage) if he or she had seen the event.  The other AR must be aware of the trail AR’s signal and have the presence of mind to mirror it.  Finally, the Referee must trust the trail AR’s judgment that, under the circumstances and based on standard mechanics, play must be stopped.  The system works … when everyone understands their respective roles and acts accordingly.

Communications within the Officiating Team

Dave, a Referee of younger players, asks:

Red 1 is guilty of dangerous play. The assistant referee makes the call but the Referee does not see the raised flag and allows play to continue and a goal is scored by Blue 10. The Referee then sees the AR with his flag still raised and goes over to discuss the situation with him. The Referee disallows the goal and restarts play with an IFK for Red at the spot of the foul. Is this the correct decision? I have been instructed that, as soon as the flag goes up and is not waved down, subsequent play basically hadn’t happened.


Either you have not been instructed correctly or you have misunderstood the Instructor’s point.   Law 5 provides that the AR’s input (information, advice, etc.) should be listened to and may be accepted, but it remains the Referee’s decision.  Let’s look at an example of this in a very practical situation (which may, in fact, be what you heard the Instructor say but, through miscommunication, failed to catch the context).

Red #9 is dribbling the ball downfield near the touchline.  In the process, the ball temporarily leaves the field but is played back onto the field and Red #9 continues to attack downfield.  The AR raises the flag upon seeing that the ball did indeed fully leave the field but the Referee doesn’t see the signal … until, after dribbling the ball another 4-5 yard, Red #9 is pushed by Blue #25.  This does draw the referee’s attention and, at the same time, causes him to see the AR’s flag straight up, followed by the AR pointing the flag at a 45 degree angle upward from the horizontal for a throw-in by the other team (The AR’s mechanics are correct because the ball was still being played as though it had not left the field — the AR initially holds the flag straight up to get the Referee’s attention but the actual throw-in signal is not given until the AR and Referee make mutual eye contact).

Under these circumstances, the AR’s signal does indeed mark when the ball went out of play and therefore when play stopped (even though the physical motions of play continued).  And this, in turn, means that the push by Blue 25 was not a foul (because it happened when play was stopped) so Blue #25 gets at least a verbal dressing down or, depending on the force of the push, a caution for unsporting behavior or at worst a red card for violent conduct.  In other words, when the referee accepted the AR’s signal, play was considered to have stopped at the moment of the AR’s signal.  Theoretically, the Referee could have refused to accept the AR’s signal, in which case the push happened during play, there will be a DFK restart, and maybe a card.  Why the Referee might do this is largely immaterial to the immediate consequences.

Now, let’s deconstruct your scenario.  First, it is stated that Red was “guilty of dangerous play” — technically, this is only a supposition, it may be the AR’s interpretation of what he saw but a player isn’t “guilty” of anything until and unless it is declared so by a decision of the Referee.  Second, the AR does not ever make “a call” as that term is used and understood in soccer — the AR provides information and advice.  Third, it does not become “a call” until accepted by the Referee but, if this happens, then the Law provides that the “effective time” of the call is when the AR signaled whatever it was that the Referee accepted.  Fourth, the Referee could decide not to accept the AR’s flag (the delayed equivalent of having waved it down when the signal was made)  There could be any one of several reasons for this.  Fifth, the Referee could accept the AR’s advice as to what happened but disagree as to the consequences.  In other words, the Referee could agree that there had been a dangerous play offense but either the action was trifling because it had no negative effect or (more likely given what followed) advantage should be applied (after all, Red may have committed an offense but the offended team scored the goal!).

As we read what went on, the Blue goal should stand and the restart would therefore be a kick-off.   While we do not see a correct decision path leading to what the Referee ended up doing, the AR is not without fault.  The AR should not signal for what he determined in his mind was a dangerous play until he has a chance to see what happens as a result.  It is not his job to signal a foul just because he thinks it is a foul but, rather, to decide what the Referee would have done if the Referee had seen what the AR saw.   In short, the AR has to decide that the Referee would have decided to stop play, i.e., that this Referee so far in this game would not have considered the action to be doubtful or trifling and that advantage would not have been applied.  Perhaps, seeing that Blue kept or gained control of the ball despite Red’s actions and even scored a goal would have led to the AR not even raising the flag.

By the way, it passes all understanding why the Referee would punish Red for Red‘s dangerous play offense by giving the ball to Red for the IFK restart.  We are assuming (hoping would probably be a better word) that this was simply a misprint in your question and that the Referee actually gave the ball to Blue (that, at least would have been a mistake in judgment whereas giving it to Red would be a mistake in Law).


Reffing a High School match a few weeks ago I was the CR with my assigning secretary one of my AR’s. Our state has adopted FIFA Laws as our Laws of competition this season. During the game I blew my whistle signaling a direct free kick to a team. The foul occurred near the touchline where this player set up to take the free kick. As he backed up to make his approach to put the ball in play he stepped outside the field of play for maybe a couple of seconds. My AR (assigning secretary) began to viciously wave his flag signaling me over because this player needed a yellow card for leaving the field of play without the permission of the referee.

While I know this is a cautionable offense I don’t believe it violates any of the global thumb rules for assessing a caution. I also think it is more the fault of the referee if he ever gives a card for this offense. The player didn’t cheat, didn’t endanger anyone and didn’t take away from the fun of the game. I also told this AR that this player inherently has my permission when making his approach to approach from outside the field of play given the location where the foul occurred. Approaches take place from outside the field of play all the time i.e. a corner kick. Is my interpretation correct?

In hindsight I maybe should have just given the caution because I was chewed out after the game by my assigning secretary and it has cost me future assignments to officiate. I just want to know if I made the right call pertaining to the match so I can be at peace. Thanks for your help.

Answer (November 13, 2013):
Players are normally expected to remain on the field while the ball is in play, leaving only to retrieve a ball and take a restart, or when ordered off by the referee. If a player accidentally passes over one of the boundary lines of the field of play or if a player in possession of or contesting for the ball passes over the touch line or the goal line without the ball to beat an opponent (or any other obstacle), he or she is not considered to have left the field of play without the permission of the referee. This player does not need the referee’s permission to return to the field. Repeat: No referee permission is required for this temporary departure to play the ball, avoid an obstacle, or take a restart.

Please note the phrase: “take a restart.”

So to sum it up: (1) Your assigning secretary was wrong and should be ashamed of him-/herself. (2) The job of the assistant referee, no matter what his/her other duties, is to ASSIST, not INSIST.


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.


In a U-19 game today, a fight broke after the game was over. It was at least 8 players from each team. Is it ok for an AR to grab a kid in a head lock and drag him away from the fight?

USSF answer (March 5, 2012):
Under normal circumstances match officials should not touch any player for any reason other than to shake hands before the coin toss or after the game is over. Breaking up fights should normally be left to the teams themselves. In most cases the only justification for an official to “step in” (particularly if that term is meant to include touching or holding a player) is for self-protection … and only to the extent needed for self-protection and only for as long as self-protection is needed.


what do we talk about in our per game? is it just like the signals for calls.

USSF answer (February 23, 2012):
We are not aware of any formal checklist of pregame instructions, although our sponsor Official Sports and some other vendors do carry them. The referee should review the guidance given in the USSF publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials,” pointing out any additional tasks that need to be done. In turn, the ARs should ask questions to clarify what it is the referee expects in given situations.

As leader of the officiating team, the referee must establish during the pregame conference how the team will work and cooperate. The referee (depending on his or her own level of experience) should tailor the pregame to fit the composition of the refereeing crew, including their likely varying levels of knowledge and fitness; the age, competition, and skill levels of the players; and the particular requirements of the competition itself. It is often useful for the referee to develop a checklist for topics to be covered in the pregame conference. The amount of detail would be tailored to the needs (see above) of the referee, the assistant referees (ARs), and the fourth official. First and foremost, the referee must ensure that the ARs (and a fourth official) are familiar with the guidelines and mechanics laid out in the USSF publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials.”

For starters, when working with unfamiliar crew members, the very first task (after introductions) is to ask questions which (gently) elicit information about these issues — e.g., How long officiating? Grade level? Most frequent level of assignment? Club/league/association? Entry class instructor (if within first or second year of experience)? This will help the referee tailor the pregame to the needs of the team.

Ideal topics for the checklist would include the duties of the AR, signals of the AR (including NOT signalling when the referee can clearly see the incident), what to do when AR signals are missed by the referee (such as when and how long to maintain the flag); duties of the fourth official (if one is assigned); differences between the rules of the competition and the Laws of the Game, if any; what the ARs should do in situations that are not covered by the Laws of the Game, such as unofficial signals or when the AR may/should enter the field; duties at a penalty kick; a reminder to communicate at all possible moments (such as a quick look exchanged between the referee and the lead AR on all through balls or at stoppages in play. Likely the most important item is a reminder to the ARs and the fourth to immediately alert the referee to any mistakes in procedure, such as having cautioned a player a second time but failed to send that player off.

Finally, the referee should encourage the ARs (and a possible fourth official) to ask questions during the pregame conference, just to ensure that they have understood what has been discussed and what they are to do.


What is the correct procedure for the lead AR who has called a foul in the penalty area on the defending team? We have hours of discussion on this subject and cannot find anything in the procedures book that gives us the details.

One position is this. The AR calls the foul with his flag in his right hand waves and then after making eye contact with the center runs to the corner area, to get ready for the PK.

Another is: The AR calls the foul with the flag is is Right hand, makes eye contact, then points in the direction of the foul and then makes a run to the corner area to indicate a PK.

Another is: the above but instead of running the corner, the AR runs directly to the area between the 6 and the 18? Not necessary for him to point direction.

What is USSF position on this subject?

USSF answer (January 27, 2012):

We are not certain where the problem lies. The procedure outlined in the Guide to Procedures, p. 37 (p. 38 in the PDF version), should work fine:

Assistant Referee
• Determines that the direct free kick foul by a defender inside the penalty area was not seen by the referee and that, per the pregame conference, the referee would likely have stopped play for the foul if it had been seen
• Signals with a flag straight up
• Upon making eye contact with the referee, gives the flag a slight wave
• If referee stops game, assistant referee first indicates penalty kick by holding flag across the lower body and then begins walking toward the corner flag
• Takes the appropriate position either for the penalty kick if confirmed by the referee or for the next phase of play if the referee orders a different restart

In addition, the AR should always signal with the flag in the hand that indicates direction (if necessary) or, in cases not involving direction, in the hand that gives the referee and the AR a good line of visual communication.


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.