Being a soccer referee can be one of the most challenging jobs in sport. Millions of fans regularly scrutinize professional referee’s decisions. Each decision can directly influence the result of an entire soccer season.
But what exactly is a soccer referee?
A soccer referee is an official responsible for the decisions made during a soccer game. A referee observes the players’ actions and the movement of the soccer ball during play and enforces the rules of the game when necessary. A referee also keeps track of time played and any goals scored.
If you’re interested in finding out what is involved in being a soccer referee, you have come to the right place.
First, I’ll explain the roles of a referee from pre-game to post-game. I’ll also explain the role of the assistant referees and the fourth official. Finally, as a bit of a bonus, we will discuss VAR and then how much a referee earns.
So for everything you need to know, keep reading.
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide on becoming a soccer referee, I recommend you check out my article – How to Become a Soccer Referee. It breaks down the process into an easy-to-follow format.
The Role of a Soccer Referee During a Game
The primary role of a soccer referee is to enforce the laws of the game and watch for player safety on the field. The referee also has a responsibility to check the equipment is up to standard, and all the players are eligible to play.
During a game, the referee has three main areas of responsibility:
- Enforce the rules of the game.
- Make sure players are safe.
- Keep time, enforce extra time and keep score.
Let’s take a look at these roles in more detail.
Enforcing the Rules
A referee is in charge of enforcing the laws of the game.
Players on the field and even in the technical area must conduct themselves according to these rules. If the referee determines that someone has broken one of the rules, they will pause the game and select a suitable punishment.
This punishment could be a simple free-kick to the other team, a yellow card, or even a red card for the player who is causing the infringement.
Regardless of where in the world soccer is being played, the players follow similar rules. However, because there are slight differences depending on the specific league and age of the players involved, a referee must stay up-to-date with these laws.
Check out my article – How to be a High School Referee – to see what it takes to be an official at this level.
A referee is also in charge of making sure that players stay safe.
The ref will often caution the players if they are playing recklessly. Playing this way poses a danger not only to the player who is acting recklessly but also to the opponents.
If a player cannot carry on, the referee will allow a substitution, which could take place for many different reasons. For example, if a player is bleeding and the referee determines that it is excessive, they can ask the player to leave the field.
Head injuries have made the spotlight in recent years, and referees now take them more seriously.
They will stop the play when they see that a player has bumped their head. If there is a suspected concussion, the player’s manager should take them off the field. However, if a referee decides that it needs to happen, then the choice is no longer up to the coach.
Being a youth soccer coach is a challenging and rewarding experience. If you want to know if you have what it takes, check out my guide – How to be a Youth Soccer Coach: The Step-by-Step Process.
Keeping time of the game is another area of responsibility for every referee.
Soccer is unusual in that the sport uses a running clock, unlike other mainstream sports.
The fourth official is there to assist the ref with keeping accurate time. Ultimately, however, the referee is the one who decides how much stoppage time should be added to every half and when the game is over.
How Many Referees Does a Soccer Game Have?
The number of referees involved in a soccer game depends on the competitive level of the game.
Amateur soccer games such as Sunday league, youth, or school soccer have one referee and two assistant referees. Professional soccer leagues have a minimum of four referees. The main referee has two assistant referees and a 4th official to help them make decisions.
Having four referees reduces the margin for error and means that the officials can observe every aspect of the game.
At the amateur level of soccer, each team will often provide one assistant referee to help keep the game fair and balanced.
What is the Role of a Soccer Referees Assistant
Assistant referees are a vital part of every soccer referee’s team during a game.
The role of the assistant referee in soccer is to assist the referee with making decisions throughout a game. They will signal when the ball has left the field, check for offsides, and signal when they spot a foul.
The assistants will be on the touchlines, and if they want to raise a problem or bring the referee’s attention to something, they will raise their flags.
When the referee spots the flag, they will blow their whistle and stop the game. Although the referee will always have the final say, it is not often that they go against their assistant’s decision(unless VAR shows something different, but we’ll look at that in a moment).
Check when the ball has left the field
One of the most important jobs for an assistant referee is determining whether or not the ball has gone out of play.
Even with new technologies such as VAR, the assistant referee is responsible for determining if the ball went out for a throw-in, a goal kick, or a corner.
The assistant referee needs to be extra vigilant because their calls can sway the outcome of a game. For example, there are times when the ball may look like it’s gone out for a corner or a throw-in, but it actually hasn’t left the field of play.
Check for Any Offside
Another crucial role for an assistant referee is to check for any offsides. However, with the introduction of VAR in professional leagues, the assistant ref’s call has become more of a guideline rather than a verdict.
In leagues that do not have VAR, the assistant referee still decides whether or not the player was offside. If a player does drift offside, they raise their flag, and the referee will blow their whistle for an offside offense.
If you want to know more about offsides in soccer, check out my article – Offside in Soccer: A Simple Guide to How it Works.
Signal When They Spot a Foul
An assistant referee will also raise their flag to signal when a foul has occurred.
Because there are two assistant referees + a match referee, it is tough for a player to get away with a foul when there are almost always a set of eyes on them.
It is important to remember that the assistant referee can make suggestions during the game.
For example, if they see a foul and deem it a yellow or red card offense, they can advise the referee about their opinion. A referee will rarely go against what the assistant tells them.
The Main Role of the 4th Official
Finally, we have the role of the fourth official.
When you get to professional leagues where a minor decision can significantly impact not just a game but the entire season, it is essential to have as many eyes on the game as possible.
Let’s take a look at the primary roles of the fourth official:
- Maintain order in the technical area
- Assist with substitutions
- Assist with administrative duties
Maintain Order in the Technical Area
A fourth official will usually be responsible for communicating with the technical area. (The technical area is the area of the field where the managers, coaching staff, substitute players, and medical staff are situated.)
Have you ever heard of a coach or manager getting a yellow card or even being sent off? It usually happens when they argue with the fourth official.
Sometimes the technical area can become a mess. Again, it is up to the 4th official to keep order in this area of the field.
If a manager or coach has a problem with a referee’s decision, they will often speak to the 4th official.
When you watch a soccer game, try and look out for it. You will see the 4th official and managers communicating quite a lot.
If there are any concerns from either party, the 4th official will bring them up with the referee. They can also make suggestions to the ref.
Assist With Substitutions
Making substitutions can seem simple on paper. You simply list who you want to come off and who want to go on, but it isn’t that simple because some teams could use substitutions to take advantage of a situation.
That is why there are rules in place.
It is up to the 4th official to assist with these rules and enforce them. They are responsible for the entire substitution procedure.
If you’ve ever wondered if a team can take off a player they have just brought on, this article – Can a soccer team substitute a substitute? – has the answer!
Assist With Administrative Duties
As we mentioned earlier in the article, a referee’s job does not start when the game begins. It begins long before, and an assistant referee plus the 4th official will always help with their duties.
For example, if the referee is making sure that one team is ready, the 4th official will make sure that the other is ready.
What Does a Soccer Referee do Before the Game
You may think that a referee’s job is primarily to work for 90 minutes, but the truth is that the referee’s job starts long before the game does.
Before the game starts, with the help of their assistant referees, they will conduct all administrative duties. This begins with checking that all the equipment, such as the goalpost, net, and soccer balls, are set up correctly.
The referees will also make sure that every player is eligible to play and each team has submitted all necessary paperwork.
After that, the referee will ensure that all ball boys and girls are eligible and assigned to their positions.
What Do Soccer Referees Do After the Game
Just because the whistle has gone on the 90th minute does not mean that the referee’s job is complete. The post-game process can take longer than the actual game itself, and this is why referees prepare some paperwork beforehand.
After a match, the referee must submit a thorough report of the game. Their review needs to speak about any incidents that happened and justify their reasons for dealing out specific punishments.
For example, if a player got a red card, they need to explain why they got the red card and not a yellow one.
At the same time, the ref needs to justify why he didn’t take more extensive measures when dealing with fouls and why they felt the need to be lenient on certain players. Of course, a professional ref takes pride in their job, but they still need to show that they are impartial.
Finally, a referee will have to deal with any dispute from any of the team’s management.
For example, if one of the teams decides that a referee was unfair, they can appeal to the league’s head. The referee will need to be part of the appeal.
What is The Role of VAR?
With the introduction of VAR into soccer, there are now technically more than four officials in a professional game.
So alongside the four officials on the field, you have one who sits away from the field with an array of monitors in front of them. They are responsible for monitoring the game and checking for any obvious mistakes made by the referee on the field.
VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee. The game officials use this technology to assist them in making correct decisions throughout a game.
There are several calls that a referee could ask for assistance with. The most common are fouls, offsides, and goals. The VAR system also has goal-line technology, which buzzes the referee’s wrist when a ball has crossed the goal line.
Even with four officials on the field, there are still possibilities for errors, particularly with the offside rule, as everything happens exceptionally quickly.
Sometimes, the assistant will get it wrong. So for every goal scored, the VAR will check to ensure there was no offside offense in the lead up to the goal. The VAR official will then determine whether or not it was offside.
You can think of the official in the VAR room as an extra official.
This technology is still reasonably new. Not every league uses it, but it is becoming more prominent. Soccer is getting played in a way that is a lot fairer because of it.
What Is a Soccer Referees Salary?
The median salary for soccer referees is $28,940 per year. A soccer referee’s salary starts at $25 a game and can rise to $50,000 a tournament. Youth and amateur league referees are the lowest paid, while professional referees at the FIFA World Cup have the highest salary of any soccer referee.
As there are so many different levels to soccer and hundreds of leagues, it isn’t easy to be specific about how much a referee gets paid. But I’ll give you some answers based on the competition.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median pay for a referee is $28,940, in non-professional soccer games, a referee receives between $25 to $50 per game. Their local soccer association pays the referee.
This amount may not seem like a lot but remember, in these non-professional leagues, a referee could manage two or three games in a day. This is especially true during school events, such as high school soccer, where the rules may be a little different.
At the FIFA World cup, referees are paid between $35,000 to $50,000 for the tournament, which takes place over two months. The referees also get paid between $500 and $1000 per game.
That may seem like quite a significant amount of money but remember, only the top referees in the world get chosen for this tournament.
Below is a table representing how much soccer referees get paid in each of the top domestic leagues. Of course, these figures can vary, but this will give you a good idea.
|Professional Soccer League||Soccer Referee’s Salary|
|MLS||Approx. $55k per year|
|Premier League||$1800 + Per Game Plus a retainer of $35k to 45k PA|
|La Liga||$6300 + Per Game|
|Bundesliga||$3800 + Per Game|
|Ligue 1||$2900 + Per Game|
|Serie A||$3600 + Per Game|
|Uefa Champions League||$850 to $6700 Per Game|
Remember, the ref has a tough job. So, if you are a player, try and be patient. They are also almost always impartial, and it is rare for a ref to favor a team.
The next step in understanding the roles in soccer is to take a look at the Soccer Positions.