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The Referee


It's a sad fact of live that a defeated team never acknowledges the skills of the better team on the day. 'We was robbed' is the cry as the blame is laid firmly at the feet of the 'abysmal ref' who was either 'incompetent' or 'biased'. This attitude is not helped by those pundits on the telly who simply do not understand the laws of the game, the role of the ref or the responsibility of players to play fairly. When you take into consideration the fact that many of these pundits are ex-players, the situation is very sad indeed.

In short, the attitude of many teams and supporters has served to undermine the position of the ref. This has progressed to such an extent that many young players taking the pitch for the first time will instantly backchat the ref as soon as any kind of decision goes against them. This is not in the best interests of the player or our game. I'm not trying to say that the ref is always right and teams should 'put-up and shut-up'. However, there is some middle ground and here's how we can all make the most of it;

The referee is a central part of the game, although ideally you should hardly notice him. As well as making matter-of-fact decisions, most refs use what they observe to develop and refine a mental model of how the game is, and how it should be, going. This is not unfair or unreasonable but an accepted means of adjudication. However, if you give the ref suitable positive feedback, you will find that sometimes it is possible to influence his mental model, possibly to the benefit of your team or both teams.

Remember, what you think are mistakes or missed calls might just be legitimate differences of interpretation. For example, the law is clear that handling must be deliberate to be called even though many observers think it's a foul every time the ball and an arm come in contact. Also, when can a player be judged to be `interfering with play during an offside incident? On the other hand, if the referee isn't calling shirt-pulling, or heel-clipping, it might be that he doesn't realise they are occurring. Even the very best of Referees cannot see everything that goes on on the pitch.

If you think the referee is missing certain calls, you may be able to constructively assist him. Having your captain or players politely tell the ref that specific players on the other team are (eg) using bad language or pulling shirts, may cause the ref to pay more attention to those particular matters. If you would rather tell him yourself, then be at your most charming and do not phrase it as a criticism.

If you are unclear about a Referees decision, you might ask politely for clarification: "Sorry, ref, I wasn't watching; what was the call, please?". Once you have the facts as the Referee has seen them, do not enter into any further discussion as this may lead to an argument. In general, adopt an approach of providing information the referee seems to be unaware of, rather than giving opinions about his judgements.

Most Referees will develop a mental image of match-day Coaches and Managers. If you are seen to act fairly by commending opposition players for good play and reminding your own players of the laws should they break them, the ref will develop a respect for your judgement. Equally, if you behave in an unsporting manor, the ref will almost certainly take any appeal you may make with a pitch of salt.

You have limited options if you believe the referee is really dreadful. You should never argue with him or take issue with his decisions. Regardless of the initial decision, showing dissent is a crime in itself and one which will expose you to the real chance of exclusion from the match. Even if you get away with arguing, you will probably set the Referee against you for the remainder of the match.

Application of the Laws 

If the referee is making systematic errors, such as not knowing this year's law changes, you can factor that in to your team's tactics. If the referee seems to interpret the offside law differently to what you have taught your team, you should avoid playing the offside trap, and tell your players to play to the whistle.

Some apparent inconsistency can arise when special rules are adopted during specific tournaments and competitions. If in doubt about any rule or law, you should clarify these with the referee and the Manager of the opposition before kick-off.

Even if the referee is totally up to date on new and recent changes to the laws, he may be reluctant to enforce them strictly at your age level. Provided he treats both sides equally and fairly, there should be no reason to complain.

Extreme Danger 

If things are so bad that your players are in risk of injury or the conditions are extremely dangerous you might have to do more. This is a very difficult issue. First, it helps if you haven't been whining all along to the ref about every instance of your players being charged or tackled, soccer is a contact sport. Second, it will help if the opposing coach feels the same way; send an emissary (unless perhaps the rough stuff by the other team appears a deliberate strategy encouraged by their coach). Third, this is one time you may have a duty to speak up to the referee that you are concerned for the safety of the players on both teams -- he may be a competent ref who is simply applying an inappropriate standard of physical play, and will understand your position. Fourth, you can try having your team deliberately kick the ball out of play very often to slow the game down for a while. Fifth, send someone to get the referee assignor or a league official over to observe what's going on, if possible. Sixth, if all else fails, you have a tough decision: is this bad enough that in good conscience, you really must pull your team off the field for their safety? If so, quickly poll your players' parents about what they want to do (get them on record as behind you), and know that this is a major decision, falling on your sword for the good of everyone involved. NOTE: You will most probably forfeit the game and incur a personal fine or even suspension. So, be aware that pulling your team off the field may have serious consequences for you personally.

Appealing Referee Decisions 

You may be able to appeal to league or tournament authorities after the game about a referee who appears to be in over their head. However, the referee is the final judge of facts so don't expect to win any arguments about factual interpretations.

In many leagues and tournaments appeals are not permitted even if there has been an error in the application of the laws. This may be because the level of refereeing may be just a fact of life, especially if the refs are unpaid volunteers or parents. Remember, the referee's decisions on matters of fact are not subject to any form of appeal. If he says it was or wasn't a foul or a goal, then it was or wasn't.

However, some leagues may have avenues of appeal for rare cases where a clear misapplication of the laws determines a game's outcome. Here are some examples (assume a tie score with seconds remaining): Awarding the attacking team a direct free kick at the spot of a foul within the opponents' penalty area. It must be either a penalty kick or an indirect free kick from the spot of the foul. Awarding a penalty kick when the goalkeeper handles a throw-in or back-pass within the penalty area. A goalkeeper can never commit the handling offence within their own penalty area; this is a technical infraction for which the proper restart is an indirect free kick; Allowing a goal when a penalty kicker misses initially but gets the rebound off the goal post and scores. He may not play the ball a second time until another player touches it.

Most cases like these involve a judgement of fact that is final (eg that a foul occurred at a certain location). This fact cannot be disputed. However, this is followed by a decision to restart play in an incorrect manner. Should the authority agree with your summary you're still not out of the woods. You will need to prove that the outcome would have been different following a different restart. At best all you will get is a replay with a new referee. Results cannot be awarded by an appeal board. In short, there is little point in appealing a single error in a lopsided game.

If all the conditions are met and you still feel you must appeal, then be sure to make notes while the event is still fresh in your mind. You should then be prepared to, put down a non-refundable fee, complete some forms, write a factual report on exactly what happened in the game (and who said what and in what sequence, if applicable), and attend a meeting.

Referees that cheat 

Dealing with referees successfully is a black art. The very best coaches manage to get their point across while radiating little, if any sense of anger and outrage and with a minimalism that is a skilled art unto itself. They can often, with very little said, none of it harsh, as much subtle gestures as words, get a conscientious referee to be alert for potential hints of unfairness in the way the game is being called for their team. However, this 'respectful' approach has one limitation: it requires that the referee is the kind of person who is conscientious, considerate, and at least minimally competent.

No official Referee worth his salt will intentionally cheat. The authorities that regulate officiating Referees take great pains to assess their refs by secret visits to matches and vetting of appeals. Any ref who does not come up to the mark will find himself without a whistle!

If none of the things listed work, the only way to deal with what you perceive as wanton unfairness is to shut up and shudder. You should accept the result with dignity, and request that the league do not appoint that Referee again.

Points System 

Most leagues operate a points system for assessing referees performances. At the end of the match, both Coaches give a score for the referee. There will be strict guidelines applied which you must follow. For example, points may be awarded out of 10 and the ref may get 3 points for turning up on time and correctly kitted out. Therefore, you cannot give him zero should he meet this basic requirement. Please remember that you may have to submit a written report should you give a low score and you may be fined should you not observe the correct marking criteria. Referees, who continue to score low are noted by the league as are Coaches who give all refs a low mark.