Note: This essay has been floating around the referee community for a number of years. The old and wise referee who wrote it takes no credit and therefore, we can neither seek permission to post it nor credit the author. If the author sees it and wants us to remove it, we will. But it remains one of the best descriptions of using common sense as one of your referee tools.
LEAVE THE SHOVEL AT HOME
By An Old Referee
Early in my refereeing career, somebody once told me, “Leave the shovel at home.” It’s a lesson we all need to learn and remember. Being a soccer referee is tough enough without doing things that make it worse. And yet, how many referees do you see who insist on bringing a shovel with them and digging a big hole for themselves on the soccer field. How? By doing stupid things that get us in trouble with players, coaches, and parents. Consider the following as friendly advice to stay out of trouble.
1. The referee shows up before the game and proceeds to have a long conversation with one of the coaches or with one set of parents. No harm, right? After all, the referee knows the coach and knows the parents. Wrong! The referee has just dug a hole for himself or herself. Should any controversial call go against the other team (and what game doesn’t have one or more calls that are considered controversial by somebody?), immediately the referee is seen as biased. “After all, didn’t you see how the referee was friendly with the other team before the game?” I attended my son’s State Cup game last fall and talked with the referee before the game. They had run out of water and had no money so I loaned them $10 to buy enough water to get through the game. Innocent and humanitarian action on my part. Help a fellow referee. No harm, right? Wrong! Stupid me and stupid referee. Just suppose one of the parents on the other team saw a referee accepting money from a parent of the other team before the game. How do you think that might look, especially when a close call goes for my son’s team. Advice: Avoid chatting with parents and coaches before the game. Introduce yourself to both coaches (together if possible) and address them each as “coach” even if they know you.
2. Players are warming up before the game and the referee lines them up to lecture them on what will or will not be “tolerated” during the game. No harm, right? Just trying to be helpful? Wrong! The players don’t want to listen to the referee. They want to warm up and get ready to play. Worse, the referee has just put himself or herself in a hole. By defining what will or will not be called the referee has given away the flexibility he or she needs to read the game and adjust the line between “flow” and “control.” Nothing in the Laws of the Game, Advice to Referees, or Procedures for Referees and Assistant Referees tells the referee he has to say anything other than “Call heads or tails.” Advice: Don’t talk to the players before the game. Talk to your referee team. Let the players get ready for their game. You get ready for your own game. The less said to the players, the better!
3. The ball goes into touch and a player from the Red team gets the ball and starts to throw it in. All the players on the Blue team retreat and prepare to defend against the throw. The referee, however, thinks that Red touched it last and stops play to demand that Blue take the throw. Good action on the part of the referee in properly enforcing the Laws of the Game. Right? Wrong! The referee has just dug another hole and invited unnecessary dissent. If all the players think it is fair for Red to take the throw-in, why should the referee insist on Blue? Advice: If you are not sure who should take the throw, don’t signal. Wait. The teams may tell you. If they are happy, you are happy. Go with them.
4. One team shoots on goal but before the ball enters the net, the referee signals the end of the half. No goal. Excellent job on the part of the referee for timing the half so precisely that he or she knew the time expired before the ball entered the net. Right? Wrong! The referee has just dug himself or herself a BIG hole. Law 7 clearly protects us from doing something stupid. In the new law book it says “Allowance is made in either period for all time lost…. The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.” It is quite clear. The referee must add time for time lost but how much time the referee adds is his or her discretion. Every half has some time lost due to the ball going down the hill or in the bushes, substitutions, injuries, etc. So the referee always has to add time. How much is his or her discretion. Therefore, should the referee ever decide to add an amount of time that ends the game just as the ball is about to enter the net? No, never! Advice: Do not end the game when a shot is on its way to the goal. In fact, do not end the game when one team, particularly the team that is losing, is about to take a shot. End the game with the ball out of play, at midfield, or in control of the defenders. A FIFA referee once said that the time always seemed to expire in his games when the winning team had the ball!
5. The ball simultaneously goes off two players and into touch right in front of one team’s bench. You decide to restart with a drop ball. Good call, right? It’s fair. And it shows the players and coaches that you know the laws. Wrong on a couple of counts. It is the wrong restart – it needs to be a throw-in. The new Advice to Referees says to pick one team. So OK, you give it to the other team just to show the coach you’re in front of that you won’t let him influence you. You’re in charge. Right? Still wrong! You’ve just dug a hole by setting up an unnecessary confrontation. Advice: When a simultaneously touched ball goes out of play in front of a team’s bench, give the ball to that team. Why? 90% of the time it doesn’t matter who takes a throw-in near the middle of the field. It is fair because you will award the ball to the other team when a disputed ball goes out in front of their bench. And you avoid unnecessary conflict.
The next two happened to me during the last year. On one I forgot the admonition, took the shovel to the field, and dug myself a big hole. On the other, I avoided the hole when my Assistant Referee was trying to dig a BIG one for both of us.
6. The ball was rolling along the touchline about to go out in front of the player’s bench. In her eagerness to take the throw-in, a player picked up the ball before it completely crossed the touchline. Seeing a foul (many fans probably believed it was the first I had seen all night!), I immediately called a foul and awarded a DFK to the other team. Good call, right? Well, I thought so at the time. After all, she did touch the ball and this will teach her to wait. Of course, the coach, standing two feet away, went ballistic and earned a Yellow Card. Now I had the coach, plus the players and all their fans on my case. I dug myself a big hole just to prove that I knew a “handball” when I saw one. Could I have done something different? How about going up to the player before she takes the throw-in and calmly saying something like, “I’m not sure the ball was completely out. This time I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but next time you’d better wait a little longer.” She undoubtedly will say something like, “Gee, sorry ref. I’ll be more careful next time.” Then you turn to this coach, wink, and say to yourself, “You owe me one, coach.” He’ll know. No hollering. No caution. Probably just as fair an outcome. And rather than digging a big hole for myself I now have both a player and a coach "owing” me the benefit of doubt on the next call they don’t like. Advice: Leave the shovel at home!
7. And finally, during a State Cup game last fall, the game is tied. Intense match. We are now in overtime. One team shoots on goal, the ball comes off the goalpost to a charging attacker who makes a professional diving header for the goal. Twenty-one other players, two coaches, and all the parents believe they have just seen a spectacular goal. The team that scored runs up field. The defenders retrieve the ball and are moving up for the kick-off. Up goes my AR’s flag. I jog over and he tells me the player who scored was offside. As I am standing next to him, not one player, parent, nor coach says anything about, “Ya ref, the AR saw him. He was offside!” Every player on both teams, both coaches, and all the parents think it was a good and spectacular goal. I say, “Thanks, Mr. AR,” point to the center circle, and run up the field for the kick-off. One, and only one, player asked me what the AR wanted. “Just checking time,” I said. “OK,” he responded. Advice: If every player, coach, and parent is happy, why not be happy with them? Why dig a hole and bring their wrath down on top of you just to prove that you saw something none of them did?
If you have read this far and are thinking, “This old referee is saying we shouldn’t have the courage to make the right call,” then please ignore everything I have said. Continue refereeing the way you always have, and believe that everything that goes wrong with your game is the fault of the stupid players, coaches, and parents! If, however, you are thinking, “Gee, I wonder if I sometimes do things that get me in trouble” then give the advice some thought. Don’t apply it blindly. Think about things you might be doing that get you in unnecessary trouble on the field. Law 5 is quite clear. Every referee needs two whistles, two pencils, coin, score pad, and cards. Nowhere does it say we need to take a shovel to the field with us.