Equipment check: What refs allow and don't

By Randy Vogt
A soccer player's basic uniform consists of a shirt, shorts, socks, shinguards and footwear. All players should have their shirts tucked into their shorts, including goalkeepers, and shinguards must be completely covered by the socks. A preventive officiating technique is to make sure that the goalies are wearing shirts that contrast with both teams before the match, rather than realizing it at kickoff.
The footwear will generally be cleats, and the referee must check the bottoms to make certain that they are not dangerous, such as having sharp edges. Players may not participate without footwear. However, a goal counts if scored by a player who temporarily lost a cleat.
According to the rules, shinguards must “provide a reasonable degree of protection.” Players cannot use shinguards that have been cut in half.
For improper equipment, such as earrings, the referee hopefully spotted any jewelry before the game while checking the teams and no player is wearing it on the field. But if a player wears jewelry on the field, play does not need to be stopped. Instead, the ref waits until the next stoppage in play, then tells the player to leave the field to correct equipment. A substitute can replace the player wearing jewelry. The player with jewelry is allowed to reenter the field when the ball is out of play and the ref has checked that the equipment has been corrected.
Medical alert jewelry or clothing required by a player’s religion may be worn only if the referee does not consider it dangerous and it does not give the player an unfair advantage while playing. Medical alert jewelry can often be made safe by wrapping it with tape with the necessary information still showing.
Regarding uniforms, should a player remove his jersey when celebrating a goal, that player is cautioned for unsporting behavior. For the caution to be given, the shirt need not be completely taken off; all that is needed is that the bottom of the shirt to be raised to the bottom of the chin. Players who raise jerseys to display slogans, advertising or messages are cautioned as well.
Regarding arm and/or hand casts, they must be properly covered in sponge and not be dangerous to others for that player to participate.
For complete knee braces, manufacturer’s padding comes with each brace and should be worn over it so that there are no sharp edges, which can be dangerous. Some players do not like to wear the padding as they believe it  limits their mobility. Have them wear the manufacturer’s padding over the brace so they can play.
Some leagues, especially youth ones, prohibit players with casts or knee braces from participating. Ask about this before going to the field.

Instructions to Teams?
When checking the teams, many referees, particularly new ones, make the mistake of telling them how the game will be called.
Saying things such as “When the goalkeeper has the ball, you leave her alone, otherwise I’m going to call a foul” or “Gentlemen, I heard that you don’t get along with the other team so I’m going to call a tight match” or any other such instructions is a bad idea and can open a can of worms.
After all, as soon as the ball is legally in play near the keeper and you don’t call a foul, the keeper’s team will complain that you contradicted yourself. Or as soon as you don’t call a perceived foul in a game that you said that you were calling tight, players will complain. Besides, who told you that those teams do not get along?

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at

8 comments about "Equipment check: What refs allow and don't".
  1. Eric Williamson, February 28, 2012 at 9:15 a.m.

    A question came up this week at my club about the color of team socks during a game. If both teams come to the field wearing the same color socks, should one team be required to change socks?

  2. Mark N, February 28, 2012 at 10:48 a.m.

    Typically it's only the shirt that is required to be changed by the home team. In 30 years of playing, watching, and coaching club soccer, I've never seen shorts or socks changed at a ref's request. Maybe your league has a special rule though?

  3. Randy Vogt, February 28, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.

    I agree with Mark to Eric's question above. The Laws of the Game state that the two teams must wear colors that distinguish them from each other and also the referee and the assistant referees. On the youth level, it's expected that the shirts must contrast. NCAA soccer rules go a step further and state that both the shirts and socks must be a different color. I have found that teams arriving at the field, if the other team is already there and wearing the same color shirt, switch to their alternate jersey. An even nicer example was an indoor league that I just completed officiating. There were 10 teams––one team wore lime green shirts, one wore yellow, one wore red and two wore black. No team wore blue shirts, the only USSF referee jersey color not worn by a team with a similar color shirt. The team named the Hauppauge Blue Crew, however, wore white uniforms with blue trim and their other shirts are blue. So that the refs did not have to keep changing shirts between games, we asked the coach if his team would wear white shirts the entire season and he was very nice and agreed.

  4. Kent James, February 28, 2012 at 1:50 p.m.

    I once had a college men's game in which both teams showed up at the field with the same colored socks. While technically I could have made one team change their socks (though I think the team that was supposed to change did not have an alternate color), the locker rooms were far from the fields and I didn't want to start the game with one team pissed off. I just told them that given the difficulty of distinguishing the opposing teams on quick out of bounds, they should give me the benefit of the doubt on those close calls. I didn't have any trouble.

  5. Barry Ulrich, February 28, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.

    Interesting take on casts… I’ve had club players and coaches insist that the ref “at the last game” let them play with a cast wrapped in bubble wrap or foam. I tell them the child is not playing with the cast, no matter how it is wrapped. Essentially, the cast is a club on the field! Nor can I recall ever seeing a FIFA or MLS or other professional game with a player wearing a cast. I've seen a bandage-wrapped hand/wrist, but no cast.

  6. Eric Williamson, February 28, 2012 at 5:13 p.m.

    Great feedback, thanks guys. One more - what about eye glasses? Do players need to wear sport glasses or is that up to referee discretion?

  7. Randy Vogt, February 28, 2012 at 8:30 p.m.

    As this article was being put on the Internet today, I e-mailed SA's Mike Woitalla saying that I think readers' comments will be about eyeglasses. This is partly what I wrote: A decade ago, US Soccer, in its wisdom, banned most eyeglasses as dangerous. High school rules, strangely, are more lenient. Yet coaches and parents would certainly not want their kids to wear reading glasses on the field. Unfortunately, the information has not filtered down to all levels such as munchkins and Special Children. Unlike info on shinguards, which were made mandatory two decades ago. So a new ref, perhaps a young teen, could be officiating a very little kid with glasses and it should be up to the league in that case to have informed the coach and player’s family through communication before the season that a substitute such as sports goggles are necessary. It's a point that I have raised in the past that unfortunately the info has not gone to all levels of play. We need all leagues to be more knowledgeable and communicative on this issue. I certainly do not allow reading glasses in any of my games. During a futsal game that I refereed last Saturday, a BU13 player, changing on the fly, came on the field with glasses. I told him to take them off. He did and I could see that he had problems seeing. The ball popped up and hit him in the face a couple of minutes later. Good thing he took off his glasses! As an aside, my 9-year-old godson likes the sport goggles that he wears to soccer so much that he wears them to school now too.

  8. Thom Meredith, February 29, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.

    Randy: Love what you do and what you write about to further the general soccer public re: Referees.

    One comment concerning your second sentence above re: shirts tucked into uniforms...I see this all the time on the college and pro level where the unknowing 4th official asks a player to tuck in their shirts before entering the field of play and the player CAN'T because their modern uniform shirt is made to not be tucked in but worn slightly over the it modern fshion meets old fashion !!

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