Injured Referee

Murray, an adult amateur fan, asks:

If a Referee gets injured and there is no replacement, does the result at the time stand or does it depend on the time the game was stopped?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Yes, if the Referee is the only official assigned to and present at the match.  Yes, if there are other officials but none is qualified to take the Referee position and responsibilities.  No, if there is at least one other member of the assigned officiating team qualified and willing to take the Referee position.

In matches with a full crew assigned (Referee and two Assistant Referees), one of the Assistant Referees is often designated as AR-1 and this is usually for the purpose of identifying that AR as the official who takes over if the Referee is unable to continue (in which case a volunteer linesman could be sought for the AR-1’s position) or is unable to serve as the Referee but deemed able to swap places with the AR for the remainder of the match.  Alternately, the local rules of competition may specify another method.  If no method is specified and no prior designation of one of the ARs as “senior” or first in line to take over, the Referee would usually be expected to designate which AR (assuming that AR is amenable) would take over the Referee’s position.

Are you getting the feeling the assumption is that Referees are not expected to become sufficiently unable to continue to the point of needing a replacement?  You would be correct.  If you are not comfortable with that ambiguity, ask the Assignor or know in advance if there are any rules in place or traditional in your area which govern this sort of problem.

If none of these options is available or acceptable or workable, the match is terminated, after which the resolution of your question is in the hands of the local competition authority (the body under whose authority the particular game is being played).  In any event, full details must be included in the match report.

Rules of Competition

Mike, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

My son’s U12  team recently won a game 4-3 but scored a goal on a PK which was awarded in error when the opposing GK touched the ball outside the penalty area. It should’ve been a free kick, but the ref awarded my son’s team a PK. The PK was converted and we won 4-3. The next day we received an email from the opposing coach who said he was protesting the game as the ref told him AFTER the game he had awarded the PK in error. The game was over-turned and the game is going to be replayed. Is this correct?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Yes, probably, on both counts.  First, the referee clearly “set aside a law of the game” which is the official reason for a protest.  It doesn’t require any admission by the Referee that he or she made a mistake to file a protest, merely a recitation of the facts of the case.

Second, it is entirely up to the rules of competition under which your game was played whether a protest would be considered at all.  Most tournaments don’t but, for regular season games, the local league probably does but usually only for an issue which clearly involves a rule of law.  Usually this means that issues which are based solely on judgment, no matter how wrong they might be, are allowed to be protested.  In this case, for example, deciding if an offense occurred inside or outside the penalty area is a judgment call, but deciding that stopping play for an offense occurring outside the penalty area could be restarted with a PK is governed solely by the Laws of the Game.

Third, once a protest is allowed and decided, again the local rules of competition determine what the person or body of persons who made the decision can do about it.  This could certainly (and often does) include ordering that the game be replayed in its entirety.   The close score could be a factor but often this solution is taken no matter what the score was … on the theory that a wrongfully given PK-which-converted could affect the playing dynamics for the rest of whatever time remained in the match and, literally anything could have happened.  But the decision could also have been to replay the game from the point of the erroneous decision but using the correct restart.

In brief, what you described would not be an unusual decision, but everything depends on the local rules of competition.  This is not something that is determined by some single rule or law that covers the entire country.  We wonder, however, whether either team sought to bring the mistake to the Referee’s attention or whether either of the assistant referees saw the location of the foul and, as would be their duty, sought to prevent the Referee from compounding the error.  Given that a PK is the most ceremonial of all restarts, there certainly would have been time and opportunity to do so.  Just wondering.

Resources on the Laws of the Game

Rob, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Good day
Where can one obtain a copy of the basic interpretations of the new changes to the Laws of the Game, from a layman point of view as we are have conflicting different opinions with regards to these among some of my colleagues. Whilst we are understanding that the interpretation differs from country to country, the principles all still remain the same.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

As you can appreciate (particularly after reading the “dos and don’ts” for this website at the “About” tab), we are concerned almost exclusively with the official Laws of the Game as updated annually by (now) the International Football Association Board (IFAB, or simply the Board) and implemented in matches affiliated with and/or sanctioned by US Soccer and its affiliates.  This is quite a plateful as it is without bringing in games and officiating elsewhere in the world (or even competing soccer organizations in the US).  It is not surprising that there are more countries in FIFA than there are in the United Nations.  It also means that, while we maintain associations and contacts with individuals in different parts of the world, we would be overwhelmed if we needed to know about any of them even a fraction of what we have to keep up with for this website.

So, sadly, we cannot assist you in your laudable quest to find reliable sources of information, interpretation, and good advice wherever you happen to be (our guess at the moment is Australia based on the “g’day” thing or at least a British Commonwealth country based on the “whilst” thing).  Without trying to beat our own drum, however, you and your referee mates are always free to submit any question to us here — much as you have already done and it’s so easy — and know that we will do our best to clarify and possibly resolve any differences of opinion based on our own reading of the materials available to us — not officially approved and not necessarily universally accepted (we have heard in our travels in Europe, for example, many very strange interpretations that the reporters thereof absolutely swear are common knowledge in their country).

We tell our own referees here that you should start with those who instructed you, or who provide your in-service training and refresher courses, or the local, regional, or national organizing body who pay you or who punish you for mistakes, etc.  And if you don’t understand the explanation at one level, bump it upstairs to the bigwigs.  By the way, we hear through the grapevine that the Board does not look kindly these days at national associations which attempt to produce separate publications purporting to explain the Laws of the Game as they apparently feel that their language has become so clear that there should not be any mysteries.  If that were truly the case, would close up tomorrow.

Roster Problem

Tony, an adult amateur coach, asks:

What happens if a referee allows a substitute to enter the field whose name was unintentionally left off the roster?   After the game, the referee checks the sheet, discovers the substitute was not on the original sheet, and then allows the player who was not originally on the roster to add his own name afterwards, suggesting it was just a clerical error.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

OK, lets count the felonies and misdemeanors that were committed during the scenario.

Seriously, the Laws of the Game are unclear as to the existence of and details about rosters (look it up if you don’t believe us).  In one place (Law 3.1), they talk about whether the competition rules require that all players and substitutes be named before the start of the game  In another place (Law 3.4), they mention that the names of all substitutes must be given to the referee before the start of the match and that any substitutes “not named” by then “may not take part in the match.”   In another place (Law  3.6 and 3.7), they use the term “named substitute” with the inference that “named” applies to a list.  Finally, at several different locations (e.g., definition of “technical staff” on p. 167 of the Glossary), they use the term “official team list” which implies the existence of a document containing the names of, implicitly, both players and substitutes as well as team officials whose inclusion on the list allows them to occupy the technical area.

What we can take from all this is that, while various lists are contemplated and even expected under certain circumstances (see particularly Law 3.6), there is no explicit guidance as to who provides them, when they must be given to the referee, and whether the list can be modified.

Ironically, however, the single most concrete statement in the Laws of the Game pertaining to the issue at the core of this question explicitly makes illegal what the Referee did — allowed a person to enter the field as a substitute who was not named prior to the start of play.   Worse, the Referee was at least a co-conspirator if not in fact an instigator in efforts to falsify a document.

That said, however, we must be ever-mindful of the ability of local competition authorities to create their own version of the Laws of the Game which might have been the case here (though given the degree of sly, stealthy misdirection involved in the scenario presented, we doubt it).  The point is that the Referee must know what these rules are and then follow them if assignment to the game was accepted.  But one thing is sure, the Referee has absolutely no authority to make such rules on his or her own … even with the best of intentions.

Dismissed Coaches

Kristen, an adult pro fan, asks:

Can a coach who has been dismissed from the game watch the remainder of the game from the stands?

Answer (see “Apology” special note posted July 5)

Maybe, maybe not.  First of all, a huge percentage of soccer games governed by the Laws of the Game don’t have “stands.”   Second, many local competition rules include specific restrictions on where a dismissed player or team official can or cannot be (e.g., at tournaments, a dismissed team official or player has to report to the tournament tent for disposition).  Finally, the only general guideline available for dismissals (players or team officials) is that they must be “out of sight, out of sound” — meaning basically that they must be far enough away from the field and its immediate environs that they can take no further part in the match (which includes communicating through any electronic devices with “undismissed” players or team officials).  Violating this guideline, by refusing to leave or by returning or by attempting prohibited contact while the match is in progress, could be the basis for at least suspending play until the situation is corrected or by terminating the match altogether.

Persons Who Are Not Players or Rostered Team Officials

A HS parent asks:

Are fans/volunteer coaches (not on the roster) allowed to be in the bleachers during match play under NFHS rules?

Answer (see “Apology” special note posted July 5)

We have no idea.  Our comments and opinions are limited to the rules established for competitions governed by the Laws of the Game.  That said, two observations are in order.  First, for many competitions involving youth/recreational play, there are no bleachers … which makes any answer to your question even more problematical.  Second, even where there are bleachers, the Laws of the Game are silent regarding any matters involving anyone who is not on a roster as a player, possible player, or team official — except for the admonition that, if anyone not on the roster enters the field, they are considered an “outside agent” and must be dealt with if, upon entering, they interfere with play or a player.

Then there is the “technical” area (often referred to as the “bench area”).  Only persons on the roster are permitted in the technical area quite aside from whether they actually enter the field.

Beyond this, under the Laws of the Game, matters involving where spectators can or cannot be is left to the  local competition authority.

Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?


We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.

Recalcitrant Coaches

A HS/College Referee asks:

I was officiating a U15G game. Before the game even started, I and my ARs took our positions on the field. I blew my whistle to get the teams to take the field. The Home team came right out and took their side of the field. The Visiting Team stood on the sideline listening to their coach give last minute instructions. I proceeded to wait another 15-20 seconds (to let him complete his instruction) then I blew my whistle a second time … no response. I then waited another 15-20 seconds and whistled a third time and stated loudly and within 10 yards of the team “Coach, let’s get your team on the field” … still no response. I then stepped closer and said “Coach, let’s go,” but he stuck his head up and stated “What???” I said “Let’s go” … but he proceeded to keep coaching. I said “Coach, you have a warning.  Let’s get them on the field” but again only “What??” I gave him a yellow card for dissent.  Is this the correct procedure, or is this a delay of game?


First off, any answer to this has to depend on a critical issue — namely, who or what was the competition authority?  In other words, (a) what set of rules were you under and (b) did those rules involve any local exceptions?  We ask because, although none of the standard rule sets (IFAB, HFHS, NCAA) has an explicit rule or ruling pertaining to a team failing to take to the field when requested by the referee, each rule set provides different tools the referee can use in such a case.  Moreover, specifically with respect to IFAB’s Laws of the Game as practiced in the US, many local competitions (leagues, tournaments, etc.) have special rules which can and do provide recourse.  Indeed, we are not familiar with a single tournament in this country which does have some sort of unyielding mandate to start and stay on time.

For example, many youth and adult amateur leagues around the US require that a game must start on the scheduled time and that, if a team does not or cannot field at least the minimum number of players at the scheduled time (or within some certain number of minutes thereafter), the referee is authorized either to consider the match as forfeited then and there or to go ahead and start the clock (this would apply to any period of play, not just the starting period) until some point is reached after which the match is considered abandoned by the players.  This can cover not only situations in which a team doesn’t have enough players present to start and either knows no more will appear or is waiting to see if more will appear.  This would also cover the situation you describe where a team refuses to take the field when required (which can also happen at any stoppage — a coach might decide to withdraw his or her team due to disagreement with circumstances or some specific decision with which the coach vehemently disagrees).

So, we cannot answer the core question without knowing the rules applied to the game.  And, if there are such rules, our answer would have to be, first, know what they are ahead of taking the assignment and, second, simply and faithfully follow them.  You might even engage the coach of the team which is ready to play in an effort to advise the visiting team of these rules.  However, if there are no local or competition-specific rules pertaining the scenario, we suggest you look to common sense and what you would do if, at the scheduled time, there was only one team present.  How long would you wait?  What reasonably could you do to ascertain the circumstances for the absence?  If this involved the very beginning of the match, could you adjust the length of the periods of play to accommodate the delay?  Are there following games which would be adversely affected by the delay?  Is it late enough in the day that the delay could result in unsafe lighting?

There is another approach that might be considered.  Even though the opposing team in your scenario is there, technically they are not “there” because “there” is defined as “on the field of play” and, as long as they are not, they are in effect not there at all.  This means that they are subject to any requirement that a game start on time or at least within some specified grace period … and that might become the most potent item of information you could bring to the attention of the recalcitrant coach.  “Coach, the game must begin in [x] minutes.  At exactly that time, I will whistle to start play, note the absence of the minimum number of opposing team players on the field, terminate the match according to Law 3.1, and include full details in my report to [the competition authority].”  Nothing needs to, nor should be, added to this little speech.  Then follow through.  Period.

By the way, don’t even consider formally cautioning the coach in this scenario.  First, it is not permitted under the Laws of the Game.  Second, it will only step on the tail of the dragon.

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?


First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same as the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).



I watched a HS game last night in Wisconsin and Team A won in overtime and a number of the boys celebrated on the field by chasing the goal scorer as he ran towards his fans. A couple of them had removed their jerseys in celebration and the referee singled out one of them and yellow carded him for “unsportsmanlike”. This was his second yellow of the game so he also produced a red card. The ref literally chased him off the field to card him (after the game was over). Does the team have any recourse in terms of an appeal so that this player can play in the next game? What is the rule regarding carding a player after the game is over and the players are no longer on the field of play?

Answer (October 18, 2013):
As I consistently state in my answers (and the “About” section of the site), I do not answer questions regarding high school rules or referees. The rules are from another planet and some high school referees seem to have joined the migration.

Under the Laws of the Game, the rules the world plays by, the referee has no authority to punish players for purely technical offenses such as removing their shirts that occur AFTER the final whistle. (Look at all the international and professional games where this occurs on a regular basis.) Violent behavior or related actions, yes, but not removing the shirt. Please note, however, that if time had not actually run out when the disrobing and chasing occurred, then the referee was correct. On the other hand, if the game was truly over, then you should take this matter to the AD of the school for him or her to resolve.