Soccer referees, from their point of view

By Ben Mikell

The high school soccer season just got underway this past Tuesday for both Lafayette and Oxford.

The Commodores played North Pontotoc while the Chargers played the Vikings’ cross-county rival South Pontotoc. Some people may not know this, but I was also one of the assistant referees for both games at William L. Buford stadium Tuesday night.

Soccer referees, like many other referees in other sports, have their own team on the playing surface. They do not give one care in the world who wins the game. They must look out for each other and back each other up. Sometimes they have to make a call in the game where half of the players, coaches, and fans don’t like.

The team of referees on the field win when they walk off the field and nobody else talks about them. They are forgotten two minutes after the last buzzer or whistle sounds. That usually means the referee didn’t make many, if any, of the wrong calls in the game or did not have a major call that helped decide the game that one team did not like.

This is my ninth year to officiate soccer games and my second year to officiate high school. What I have learned in the high school ranks is that some soccer rules from high school are not the same as in the FIFA Laws of the Game.

An example is that on a throw-in, according to FIFA, if the throw is taken correctly but does not enter play the throw is retaken. However, in high school, if the same thing happens the ball is given to the other team. That can lead to some confusion in the stands and by some coaches. Most of the fans that have watched their kids play in competitive soccer tournaments argue almost immediately because the rule is slightly different between high school and FIFA.

Some rules that are the same routinely get broken, such as nobody is allowed to stand behind the net. Nobody, including parents and coaches, is allowed to enter the field unless the referee beckons them to. Even in an injury situation, parents and certified doctors aren’t allowed on the field unless the referee allows it.

Some people do not realize that some calls aren’t made by the center referee. The most common misconception is that while the center referee blows his whistle for an offside call, the assistant referee is the one making that call. The center referee never has the proper angle for offside.

A lot of people, especially players and coaches, don’t know what makes a foul a direct or indirect free kick. To put it in simple terms, if a foul is a physical infraction such as tripping or pushing, the free kick will be direct meaning it does not have to touch anybody before it can enter the goal.

The only non-physical foul that results in a direct kick is when a non-goalkeeper player handles the ball. If a defender commits a direct free kick foul in their own penalty area, that results in a penalty kick.

If the infraction is non-physical such as offside, dangerous play (often mistakenly called as a “high kick”), impeding, or a non-physical infraction by the goalkeeper inside his own penalty area, the free kick will be indirect meaning it has to touch somebody after the ball is put into play before the ball enters the net. That somebody can be from the opposing team; it does not always have to be from the team benefiting from the call. These infractions do not result in a penalty kick regardless of where the foul happened.

I cannot tell you how often a referee gets criticized for a supposed missed call everyone but the referee saw or a call that only the referee saw but nobody else. More often than not, that usually depends on the angle the referee has at the time the infraction occurs. No one can really understand that concept until one referees a game in any sport.

There is a no better example than what happened in a World Cup match in the 1990s. The center referee in the match issued a penalty kick for a foul in the penalty area against the defending team that eventually decided the game. Every camera angle at the time, where there was very few of, appeared to show no foul. The key word: Appeared.

The referee was put to shame for the apparent missed call. It was not until months later that a picture from a photographer in an England newspaper showed the exact angle the referee had and showed that there was a foul, blinded from the camera angles. It cleared his name from controversy. It was one of the biggest stories ever in soccer.

If I have learned anything from refereeing, it is this: Referees are human. To understand a call, see the game from their eyes, they could’ve been body blocked. My hope is that I shed some light about refereeing from our side of things. If you find yourself being one of those “arm chair” referees, perhaps you can help us out refereeing some of these games instead of trying to do so from the sidelines.

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About John Davis

Eighteen years in the business. Dedicated to providing the best local content for sports. Oxford, Lafayette, Ole Miss, youth sports, outdoors and the things nobody else wants to cover.