How to Read a Soccer Referee

Paul Gerald · Profile
How to Read a Soccer Referee

There is always a lot going on during a soccer game, and one of the entertaining things to watch for is all the ways a referee communicates with players.

One assumes he uses words, and one would love to hear some of the words he hears in response, but unless you can read lips, you are left only with various gestures. With thanks to my Portland Timbers seat-mate Andrew for his encyclopedic mind, here are some ref gestures to watch for.

  • A flat hand and shaking head: “You don’t get to speak to me.”
  • The wagging finger: “No, you were not fouled!”
  • Both hands out flat, pushed down: “You’re getting a little carried away; take it down a notch.” This is also Warning No. 1.
  • A shrug of the shoulders: “I don’t know why you’re talking to me; you’re the one who fouled him.”
  • Whipping his arms wide apart, like “incomplete” in American football: “Some of you thought there was a foul there, but I saw it, I’m the ref, and NO. Play on!”
  • Two arms held out upwards and forwards is actually an official sign meaning he’s “playing the advantage.” This is when he saw a foul, but the team that would get a free kick has it anyway, so play on. Sometimes they lose it quickly and he “pulls it back” for a free kick.
  • The standard “come over here” signal: somebody is about to get Warning No. 2. Sometimes he makes the captain come over as well.
  • Pointing at the player several times, then a shorter, more compact version of the “no foul” arm-whip, means “You’ve committed a couple of fouls now, the next one is a yellow card, so STOP IT.” This is Warning No. 2.
  • Pointing towards the goal with his hand flat: goal kick.
  • Pointing towards the penalty spot with a finger and usually some level of urgency: penalty kick.
  • Pointing towards the seats: “You’ve been sent off, this conversation is over, go away.” Sometimes you can clearly read his lips saying “Go away.”
  • Pointing at his watch: “Stop wasting time.”
  • Calling a player over, pointing with one hand at three places on the field, while reaching for his pocket with his other hand: “Right, you committed a foul there, there, and there, and I already gave you the STOP IT signal, so now you get your yellow card.” This is the wonderfully named Persistent Infringement violation.

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Written By Paul Gerald
Paul Gerald, Owner and Founder of Groundhopper Soccer Guides · Profile
Paul started Groundhopper Soccer Guides as in 2014. He has been to more than 250 games around the UK and Europe, and he currently lives in Madrid.

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