Ref friendlies as if they count in the standings

By Randy Vogt

Friendly games can take many forms. It could be a preseason game, a match played for charity or the alumni game of a college or high school. College soccer has many friendly games on its schedule, such as the spring games as well as preseason games played before the regular season in the fall. It’s no surprise that these college games are generally not as intense as the games played during the regular season.

Assignors give me more than my share of friendly games as they know that I take every match seriously. That’s the trap some refs fall into when officiating friendly games as they believe there is very little to do and they will not have to make any major decisions that day. On the contrary as the ref is there to enforce the rules no matter what type of game it is.

Seemingly every year, Soccer America will report on a friendly game gone bad between a professional team and either a minor-league team or a college squad. Words were said, a player might have been hurt and maybe even a team left the field early, not wanting to continue the game.

So the ref approaches a friendly game as he or she would approach every other game. Don’t do this and even a friendly can go south very quickly.

I was officiating a spring college game between two Division 1 men’s college teams. We three officials said before the game that we would see how much the teams wanted to play and would officiate it accordingly. Which is good advice no matter if it’s a friendly game or a cup final.

The first five minutes of the game was very intense with several fouls that needed to be whistled. Nothing malicious but the players came onto the field in a very competitive mood to show coach that they deserve a starting position in the fall. The fouls were called, the players going at 95 miles per hour became fatigued and, midway through the first half, fewer fouls started to be committed.

The home team, dressed in white, had the better of play throughout the game. But they surrendered a bad goal 12 minutes into the game when the right defender passed to the central defender, who dummied the ball back to the keeper, not seeing a maroon attacker nearby. The attacker got the ball before the keeper and scored on a breakaway.

White scored on a header a few minutes later, then on a 35-yard golazo in the 58th minute.

With five minutes left, a maroon attacker was dribbling in the corner of the penalty area when a white defender tried a sliding tackle but wound up taking out the attacker and not touching the ball. A penalty kick, which maroon scored on. It was a silly challenge from the white defender as maroon was not dangerous since white had two other defenders by the ball.

So we were faced with white having the better of play but surrendering two bad goals to lead to a 2-2 scoreline, which was the final score. Yet this was and remained a friendly game as the refs were officiating it as if it counted in the standings.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 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 his book 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

7 comments about "Ref friendlies as if they count in the standings".
  1. R2 Dad, January 27, 2017 at 10:46 p.m.

    Good advice, Randy. The main problem I've run into re friendlies is that neither team wants to pay for a regular 3 man crew. "It's just a friendly, why do we need to pay $100?" Of course, when it's my kid's team I volunteer to solo but can't easily see those balls around the end lines at a night match and that leads to bickering players and parents. I was actually shocked that the opponent's team were under stress and desperately wanted to win the game. Our parents were not wound up but the opponent's parents had really stressed out their kids, which didn't seem conducive to achieving the benefits of playing a match that didn't matter in the standings. My understanding is that playing a friendly allows the kids to take more chances, try new things, work on what the coach stresses at the half. Why is winning so important to these parents? None of these kids is going to play professionally.

  2. MA Soccer, January 28, 2017 at 9:53 a.m.

    Sorry I do not get the point of this article or relevance to youth soccer refereeing, maybe relevant for U18+ referees.

  3. Bob Ashpole, January 28, 2017 at noon

    The point is to respect the game regardless of who is playing and at what level. This may seem shocking, but per USSF all U10 and below games are supposed to be friendlies. At U12 there are not supposed to be any tournaments or state cup competitions. Last I checked no state was following those practices.

  4. Randy Vogt replied, January 28, 2017 at 1:43 p.m.

    Regarding Bob's comments above, I live in New York and the weather is not conducive to outdoor soccer so I ref futsal in the winter. Many futsal leagues use a scoreboard. One league I have refereed did not pay for the use of the scoreboard so official time was kept by the ref but the goals were noted on a small manual scoreboard. The league no longer uses that manual scoreboard for all to see and the games are a little calmer. After all, it can be challenging for players, coaches and spectators to know exactly what the score is with 15 or so goals scored during futsal games if you are not recording them, like I am. I get asked on occasion what the score is but not posting it has made the games a bit calmer, a bit gentler. After all, youth games are supposed to be about fun, fundamentals and not simply winning or losing.

  5. R v Mcgrath, January 28, 2017 at 1:19 p.m.

    I fully agree with Randy here. In 25 years of refereeing I've seen a lot of "frendlies" turn unfriendly. All it takes is one dumb foul not called. Respect the game; call the fouls.

  6. Ginger Peeler, January 29, 2017 at 12:35 a.m.

    All games need to be taken seriously by the referees. The young kids haven't taken the referees' course and there's no way the coach can teach them all the LOTG, so they're learning as they play. And parents are learning, too, as they watch. It is vital for the integrity of the game that friendlies be called like any other game and vice-versa...follow the LOTG.

  7. Leia Ambra, January 31, 2017 at 3:33 a.m.

    So many good points, so true! I refereed a 'friendly' college game between UC B and Stanford, and, being less focussed then I normally would be (it was a 'friendly', right?) called an offsite when the ball was passed backward to the scorer. Oops! The other official also did not call a pretty strong foul, and, boy, uproar again!
    Such good points Randy! Referee 'friendlies' like every other game!

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