In a tournament game this summer, I awarded a penalty kick for Team A against Team B. After the goalkeeper and Team A’s player were set to begin, I blew the whistle to signal for the penalty kick to be taken, at which point, I heard a “HOLD ON!!” from behind my back, and instinctively, I blew the whistle for the kick to stop. By this point though, Team A’s player had already taken the shot and scored. Let me be clear, my second whistle occurred BEFORE the kick was taken.

Upon realizing it was a parent from Team B (parents on both sides) who had yelled, not my AR or a Coach, with an urgent problem (player having an asthma attack, seizure, whatever!), I immediately ran to my AR1 and because we both could not definitely point out which parent caused the distraction, I caused the entire sideline that the next outburst would elicit an immediate ejection.

Back to the game, I had Team A retake the penalty kick, at which point they did NOT score.

My crew and I were unsure if I was correct in blowing the whistle again after I initially signaled for the start of the penalty kick. We thought it could be argued both ways: because the keeper was scored upon, he could have said he was distracted by the obscenely loud outburst, but if the keeper would have made the save, Team A’s kicker could make the same argument. My initial instinct was that I was wrong to have blown the whistle the second time, and should have allowed the kick to proceed and then see what the commotion was about, but the request sounded so urgent, I didn’t hesitate in blowing the second whistle. So was I right to stop the penalty kick because of the yell? Also, what should I have done about the parents, not knowing who specifically yelled. Thanks in advance.

USSF answer (November 5, 2008):
A whistle blown means that the play has stopped and the kick, if not already taken before the whistle was blown, is negated. The Law requires that the kick be retaken. It may seem unfair in this particular circumstance, but it is the Law and must be followed.

It is unfortunate that you could not identify the particular parent, but it would have made no difference in the restart. You can ask the team to police its own spectators and keep them quiet, but unless the parent or other spectators break a civil law, there is little you can do other than terminating the game.…


I actually have two questions-

1- We just recently had a game where the line ref raised his flag for off side on our player and rightfully so; the middle ref did not see it until after the person who was off side had an accidental collision with a player from the other team, no call was made. Once the ref saw that the line ref was holding his flag up for off sides; he blue the whistle.  As the ref was giving the other team a kick for the off sides, there coach ran onto the field and started arguing in the ref face for a reason I do not know.  At that time the Ref tossed the Coach, who walked of the field.  Once the Coach was off the field, a parent of that team came onto the field and did the same thing.

The ref was going to give there team a kick because of off sides, but instead gave our team a kick because of the parent being on the field.  Was this the correct decision?

2- If any member of a team physically harms a player of the opposite team; by clawing them in the arms or scratching whenever they had a chance.  Is a player aloud to let the ref know this is going on; especially if it is leaving visible marks on the player?

USSF answer (October 23, 2008):
1. More inventive refereeing. Once the referee has stopped play for an infringement (in this case the offside), the restart may not be changed, no matter what happens. The coach was expelled for behaving irresponsibly and so was the parent who took his place. While that is behavior that must be included in the referee’s match report, it in no way changes the restart. Correct restart is an indirect free kick against your team for the offside.

2. Well, the player can certainly complain, but the referee cannot act solely on the basis of whatever a player says without corroboration from the referee’s own observation or observation by an assistant referee (or fourth official). But if the referee and assistant referees were actually watching the game there would be no need for it, would there?  In any event, the player should not retaliate, as that might lead to his or her dismissal (red card).…


As a USSF Assignor, I frequently observe and mentor new referees especially at the younger ages (U9/U10). On those instances when I am among the spectators, what recommendations do you have for my interaction with gravely disruptive spectators. Would it be reasonable for me to attempt to talk with these spectators or even request that they leave? Does it also matter what I am wearing (usually I wear a USSF Referee logo shirt or jacket)? We did have a situation where an Assessor present actually removed a spectator during a game.

USSF answer (October 15, 2008):
Unless there is a recognized competition (league or tournament) policy on the matter, off-duty referees and any assignors, assessors, instructors, and referee administrators should stay well away from all disruptive spectators at a game. The spectators are the problem of the refereeing crew on the game, the competition authority, and the officials of the two teams, not outsiders. Interference by such outsiders, unless specifically requested by the referee or someone from the competition authority, is unwarranted and unnecessary.…


I just started out reffing and I told a girl she was not allowed to play with earrings. Her mother came out onto the field and started fighting me about it, delaying the game. I stuck to the rule and she called the athletic director and she said it was ok. Is the athletic director above the rules?

USSF answer (September 23, 2008):
We do not deal with high school or junior high school rules, but with the Laws of the Game, so we cannot speak directly to the authority of an athletic director. However, if this game was played under the Laws of the Game, the athletic director (or any other person) would be wrong to tell the referee to allow an infringement of Law 4, which specifically forbids the wearing of any jewelry — and the referee should tell her so.…


Scenario: A spectator with a camera, during the course of the game, stood directly behind one of the goal’s net. He only took a few pictures and watched the rest of the first half of the game from that vantage point. It was not known which team he was associated with and his mouth moved although his voice was not heard by the AR.

Ruling? There was no photographer’s line marked.

Answer (October 30, 2007):
Lots of people talk to themselves, even aloud, without directing their words toward anyone else. There would appear to have been no real problem here. Under the Laws of the Game (the rules the world plays by) there is no prohibition on spectators contributing their “wisdom” to the players. However, there may be such a rule in one or more of the competitions (leagues or cups or tournaments, etc.) in which the team participates. Check the rules of the competition.

In addition, unless the rules of the competition specify otherwise, the referee has no authority to take action against parents or other spectators unless they enter the field of play.

However, the referee does possess a powerful tool with which to control spectators. The referee may stop, suspend or terminate the match because of outside interference of any kind, up to and including “grave disorder,” which would not seem to apply here. If no other recourse remains, the referee may inform the team that the match is suspended and may be terminated unless “that person over there” is removed from the area of field. Again, not the case in this situation.

Unless the spectator causes some sort of problem or the rules of the competition forbid spectators behind the goals, there is no reason for any action here.…


First of all, I really appreciate your “Ask a Referee” Forum. I read it often to reinforce my understanding in regards to handling both rare and common issues that arise during a match.

I referee a lot of youth matches and I have seen a fair share of poor sportsmanship displayed by fans (mostly parents)-who loudly protest every call made against their team and scream about fair challenges that result in little Johnny or little Suzie hitting the turf. I have witnessed fans inciting aggressive and dangerous behavior on the pitch resulting in cautions and send-offs. This behavior permeates from U10 on up.

I know that as a center I have the power to terminate a match if any unsafe condition(s) exists-I have never gone to this extreme, but I have ejected spectators from the area who consistently exhibit bad behavior.

My question to you is what is the recommended way to handle a situation where the fans are affecting play on the pitch in a negative way? Should I as the referee eject the fan, or should I instruct the team or tournament officials to do that? Is there a USSF position paper that addresses this issue?

Answer (June 20, 2007):
The referee may have team officials removed from the area of the field of play, but, unless the rules of the competition in which you referee permit it, you have no direct authority to remove spectators. Without something in the rules of the competition, the only option open to you is to speak with the coach or other team official and let them know that they must do something to curb the offending behavior by the spectator. Tell them that if this behavior does not cease, you will be forced to suspend the game for “grave disorder,” and if the person is not removed within a reasonable time (set by the referee), the match will be terminated with a full report to the competition authorities to follow.…