HomeUK RulesSportsSoccer › Officials in Football
Roles of a Referee in Football

Besides enforcing the 17 Laws of the Game, what exactly does a referee do in a football game? Read on for the roles and responsibilities of officials in 11 vs. 11 association football. In fact, some of the functions in this long list of duties and tasks for a referee to fulfill when officiating a soccer game, may surprise you.

Officials in Football UK

A referee’s primary role is enforcing the laws of soccer with full authority and leadership throughout the course of a match.

Therefore, a football referee rules the competition and keeps a check of the time (ninety minutes of normal time plus stoppages).

Depending on the level of the competition, up to four (4) officials will take charge of a game. The referee is the person on the pitch carrying a whistle and is most often dressed in black clothing.

But wait – there’s more:

Other key roles of a referee include positioning themselves close to the action. The regulations of football do not allow any foul play – so the ref must officiate all 17 laws in the game. They will award free-kicks for certain types of rules’ infringements.

Two assistant referees help to rule on certain decisions and officiate the game. Thus, each assistant referee will run their own touchline to help the referee with decision making.

The role of linesman in football is an important one. They often get a clearer view from the side on incidents like the offside rule and throw-ins.

Football Referee Health and Safety

The referee has a duty and responsibility towards health and safety in football. They can stop the game, suspend it, or postpone it.

In fact, they can call off the match altogether, such as if there are serious issues with the crowd or the weather conditions.

A fourth official is also involved from the touchline in professional matches and tournaments. The primary role of a 4th official is assisting with player substitutions and monitoring the equipment (e.g. checking the weight of football balls).

Note: The roles and responsibilities of a referee in football often involve overseeing any ‘unruly’ team managers as well.

FIFA LAW 5 The Referee in Football

  1. Enforces the Laws of the Game.
  2. Controls the competition in cooperation with the other list of officials in soccer matches.
  3. Acts as timekeeper, keeps a record of the match, and provides the appropriate authorities with a match report.
  4. Records information on disciplinary action and any other incidents that occurred before, during, or after the match.
  5. Supervises or indicates the restart of play.

Soccer Referee Sayings: The football officials dressed in black are having a good game when the fans don’t notice their activities.

Football Referee Responsibilities

Referee’s Authority

A football referee rules and controls with full authority. Referees enforce FIFA Laws of the Game in connection with each match.

Referee’s Decision Making

The referee makes and calls decisions to the best of his or her ability. They do so according to the Laws of the Game and the spirit of the game.

Football referee decision making centers on the opinion of the referee. Their discretion results in appropriate action within the framework of football rules.

All decisions made by the match referee in football are final. This includes whether a goal is legal as well as the end result of the match.

Football Officials and their Roles

Referee Rules in Football: Advantage

The referee in football allows play to continue when an infringement or offence occurs:

  • If the non-offending team will gain from the advantage played.
  • And then penalises the infringement or offence if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time or within a few seconds.

Note: The news section explains how association football introduced twelve new football rules (including a change for drop ball situations).

Football Referee Rules: Disciplinary Action

  • Punishes the more serious offence, in terms of sanction, restart, physical severity and tactical impact, when more than one offence occurs at the same time.
  • Takes disciplinary action against players guilty of cautionable and sending-off offences.
  • Has the authority to take disciplinary action from the time of entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including kicks from the penalty mark). If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player taking part in the match; the referee will also report any other incidents of misconduct.
  • Has the power to show yellow or red cards from the time of entering the field of play at the start of the match until after the match has ended, including during the half-time interval, extra time, and for kicks taken from the penalty mark.
  • Takes action against team officials who fail to act in a responsible manner and may expel them from the field of play and its immediate surroundings.
  • Acts on the advice of other match officials in football regarding incidents that the referee has not seen.

Referee Rules in Football: Injuries

  • Allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is only slightly injured.
  • Stops play if a player is seriously injured and ensures that the player gets removed from the field of play. An injured player may not get treatment on the field of play and may only re-enter after play has restarted; if the ball is in play, re-entry must be from the touchline. But, if the ball is out of play, it may be from any boundary line.
  • Exceptions to the requirement to leave the field of play are only when a:
    • Goalkeeper gets injured.
    • Goalkeeper and an outfield player have collided and need attention.
    • Players from the same team have collided and need attention.
    • Severe injury has occurred.
    • Player gets injured as a result of a physical offence for which the opponent is cautioned or sent off (e.g. reckless or serious foul challenge), if the assessment or treatment gets completed quickly.
  • Ensures that any player bleeding leaves the field of play. The player may only re-enter on receiving a signal from the referee, who must be satisfied that the bleeding has stopped and there is no blood on the player’s equipment.
  • If the referee has authorised the doctors or stretcher bearers to enter the field of play, the player must leave on a stretcher or on foot. A player who does not comply, must receive a caution for unsporting behaviour.
  • If the referee has decided to caution or send off a player who gets injured and has to leave the field of play for treatment, the card must be shown before the player leaves.
  • If play did not get stopped for another reason, or if an injury suffered by a player is not the result of an infringement of the Laws of the Game, play is restarted with a dropped ball.

Football Referee Rules: Outside Interference

A football referee can stop, suspend, or abandon the match for any infringements of the laws. They have the same powers to rule over an outside interference such as if:

  • The floodlights prove to be inadequate.
  • An object thrown by a spectator hits one of the soccer officials, a player or team official, the referee may allow the match to continue, or stop, suspend, or abandon it (depending on the severity of the incident).
  • A spectator blows a whistle which interferes with play – play is stopped and restarted with a dropped ball.
  • An extra ball, other object, or animal enters the field of play during the match, the referee must:
    • Stop play (and restart with a drop ball) only if it interferes with play unless the ball is going into the goal and the interference does not prevent a defending player playing the ball, the goal would be awarded if the ball enters the goal (even if contact was made with the ball) unless the ball enters the opponents’ goal.
    • Allow play to continue if it does not interfere with play and have it removed at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • Unauthorised persons enter the field of play (e.g. a streaker).

Can a Referee Change His Decision During a Football Match?

The simple answer is yes! But, the referee rules in football only allow a change of decision during certain circumstances.

The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or on the advice of another match official, provided play has not restarted or the referee has signalled the end of the first or second half (including extra time) and left the field of play or terminated the match.

The referee cannot change his mind during the half time interval or after blowing the final whistle.

Note: What happens if a referee becomes incapacitated? Play may continue under the supervision of the other match officials until the ball goes out of play.

Compulsory Equipment for Soccer Referees

Other equipment that football referees may use, includes:

  • Electronic Performance and Tracking System (EPTS) or other fitness monitoring equipment.
  • Equipment for communicating with other soccer officials and their duties (e.g. touchline buzzer/bleep flags, headsets).

Note: Football referees rules prohibit match officials from wearing jewellery or electronic equipment.

Football Referee Signals

Besides the current ‘two armed’ referee signals used to ‘play an advantage’, a similar ‘one arm’ signal is now permitted in the game.

FIFA introduced the new ruling because it is not always easy for referees to run with both arms extended.

Note: The overview section contains more information about FIFA rules and regulations updated for the current soccer season in the United Kingdom.

Liability of Match Officials

A referee (or any other match official) will not be held liable for any:

  • Kind of injury suffered by a player, official, or spectator.
  • Damage to property of any kind.
  • Other loss suffered by any individual, club, company, association, or other body, which is due or which may be due to any decision taken under the terms of the Laws of the Game or in respect of the normal procedures required to hold, play, and control a match.

Roles and Responsibilities of Officials in Football (UK Soccer)