The Importance of Being an Assistant Referee

I started refereeing in New York in 1978. One of the things that was interesting about refereeing is it was very much an individual pursuit for me as nearly all games in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, with the exception of semifinal and final games, plus a few other notable games, were officiated by one referee with the help of two club linesmen, who simply raised the flag when the ball was over the touchline. And the individualism of this was attractive to me, perhaps because I'm an only child.

In that same year of 1978, the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) kicked off its inaugural season, starting play with just one referee on the field. I was a spectator at the inaugural game on December 22, 1978, and Joe Machnik had the very challenging role of being the only official on the field.

How was it possible that games were adequately officiated with just one ref? Impossible, because they were not.

I can tell you that in the youth and adult games that I refereed, I certainly missed my share of calls, especially close offside decisions, which team should be receiving the throw-in, or not whistling a foul when I was concentrating on offside instead.

When I briefly lived in Florida in the late 1980s, I officiated in Orlando and Tallahassee and all games U-13 on up had one referee and two assistant refs, which were still called linesmen back then. And I thought how after I return to New York, refereeing is going to again become more challenging as I will be going solo again. Well, in New York we kept at it with all these certification courses and retainer programs and we now have enough officials so today, it’s the same situation as when I lived in the Sunshine State, one ref with two colleagues, now called assistant referees, for U-13 on up.

(L-to-R): AR Peter Shank, ref Bob Baldwin and AR Randy Vogt at the 2016 Exceptional Senior Games on Long Island.

But there are officials who do not want to be an assistant and will often say, “I’m just an AR.” That is the worst attitude you can have and I would much rather go back to reffing solo than have two ARs with that view as I am counting on them to make important decisions, such as applying the subtleties of the offside rule or signaling a foul near them. Conversely, ARs who are passionate about what they are doing in assisting me as the ref make my job so much easier.

As the years have gone on and I’ve become older, I find myself on the line more and more although most of my games remain in the middle. And I sometimes have as much or even more influence on the game as an AR as I do as the ref. Take a recent boys U-16 game as an example. Green won the game over white, 4-2, but green had two other goals, one in each half, nullified by offside as the goalscorer was just offside (less than a yard) at the time the ball was passed to him.

There was not a caution, send-off or PK in the match. Of the two free kicks whistled just outside the penalty area, I signaled one of them outside the corner of the penalty area when a defender charged an attacker who was on the ball and with his back to the goal.

Law 6: The Other Match Officials

There are so many more examples to write about here when, as AR, I’ve made very important decisions. Yet the attitude of “just an AR” does not just apply to officials as it’s often the attitude of many players, coaches and spectators as well. I can understand some of the rationale behind this view as the title is “assistant,” the AR is not actually on the field and is generally paid half the fee of the ref in games under the U.S. Soccer umbrella.

In the thousands of games I have refereed, I’ve heard many opinions of my refereeing, both good and bad, after the match with people giving an example of a decision or two made during the game. I never had this happen to me as an AR in my 1,000-plus games as an assistant.

Worse, I’ve been asked time and time again by people used to seeing me as a ref but in the role as AR instead for their game, “Randy, did you get a demotion?”

So I’m asking Soccer Americans to notice the ARs and see how they can make the ref’s job easier or more difficult by their attitude and how they do that game. And if they notice the AR did very well, go out of your way to say to him or her after the game, “Great job, AR!”

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games. Go HERE for the archive of Vogt's referee Soccer America referee articles.

5 comments about "The Importance of Being an Assistant Referee".
  1. Thom Meredith, January 6, 2018 at 5:17 a.m.

    Randy: You continue to be THE most articulate and effective advocate/spokesperson for this equally important pillar of the Beautiful Game--refereeing. Players/Coaching/Referees--the game needs ALL three in order to function effectively for the benefit of each of its  branches. VERY INCISIVE. Keep blowing the whistle BUT keep writing as well.. Thom Meredith

  2. Wooden Ships, January 6, 2018 at 7:11 a.m.

    Good stuff Thom and I agree with you on Randy. I’ve done all 3 (mostly player and later coach) and by far the most difficult was refereeing. Thanks to all that choose to serve as sports officials. 

  3. Bill Riviere, January 6, 2018 at 8:42 a.m.

    Randy, As a referee for the last 20 years, I concur with your astute comments in the article and also with Thom and Wooden Ship about your writing.  I read all your articles with interest. Keep up the great work!

    An AR's effect on the appropriate outcome of a game can be significant, with  game-changing AR calls happening nearly every game.  The importance of utilizing AR's and the value of the three referee system (vs two) is increasingly recognized here in CT high school soccer as more and more teams are electing to have AR's instead of the one extra whistle--despite the extra cost. 

  4. Bob Ashpole, January 6, 2018 at 6:43 p.m.

    Randy, great article. My coaching practice was to greet the officials before every match and after every half thank the officials for keeping us safe. My goal was to make matches an enjoyable experience for everyone including the officials.

    I think your point simply put is that "assistant" is just an assignment, not a grade. 


  5. John Gordon, January 18, 2018 at 2:01 p.m.

    Dear Mike,

    I will show you my 1982 patch AND it cost me a more for both regular and futsal registration in 2018 - with no book for either.

    A major point that is forgotten - Referees are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the game that everyone sees.

    We are separate from clubs, leagues, administrators, fans, players.

    We are the ones responsible for protecting the environment of the game on the field of play so that its fairness, beauty and skill can be enjoyed by all - players & fans.

    That independance should be respesented by at least a 10% influence in the vote for US Soccer leadership.

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