Commentary

Refs and Our Uniforms

People who know me associate yours truly with soccer refereeing and theme ties. Soccer Americans know about the refereeing so let me briefly explain the theme ties. During the 1990s, I was an art director at Manhattan ad agency Lowe McAdams, on the northern edge of the Times Square area. Nearby was a small tie store that only sold theme ties. I really liked some of their ties and purchased those that fit my interests.

Google changes their logo to match a theme of the day and the Empire State Building changes its lights at night for something significant that day, like when the tower lights were blue, white and red last July after France won the World Cup. So, I wear a tie that has to do with what that day signifies on the calendar. And I’ve had some fun and started choosing the color of my ref shirt to try and do the same, to match what that day is on the calendar.

I can do so because in 1994, when the United States hosted the World Cup, FIFA introduced color referee jerseys. Shortly thereafter, soccer refs in the United States started wearing ugly fuchsia jerseys.

A couple years later, better-looking shirts were introduced. Although refs in some other countries wear shorts and socks today that are not black, I have never officiated a game with color shorts or socks.

With U.S. Soccer, the ref shirt colors are yellow, black, red, sky blue and Grinchy green. It’s very similar colors but a different design for high school games and the orange replaces red for those games. The new college jerseys, introduced last year, are orange, yellow and sky blue.

US Soccer and NISOA, the college referee group, created a two-year window for the new shirts. The new U.S. Soccer shirts became mandatory on January 1 of this year while the new college shirts become mandatory on August 1, 2020.

Let’s say that you are officiating games only under the U.S. Soccer umbrella. That’s five shirts in short-sleeve, five shirts in long-sleeve, one pair of shorts and two different pairs of socks (as there are two different designs) for the ref to purchase, which would come to over $500. So you can understand why starter kits are generally one yellow shirt, one black shirt, one pair of shorts and one pair of socks. If the new ref decides to continue, then the complete uniform can be purchased. And if they start doing high school games, 10 new jerseys must be purchased, plus six new jerseys are needed for college games.

I have 26 different referee shirts, which is crazy as each of these groups utilize different shirts. Something to consider the next time your league is discussing ref fees. Or maybe the powers that be should hold off creating new ref jerseys for the next 25 years so we don’t have to keep buying all these shirts.


The 26 different shirts refs wear should they officiate U.S. Soccer, high school and college games.

Yet through the course of a year, I generally need to buy one new shirt and several pairs of socks because of the wear-and-tear.

When I started refereeing in the 1970s, refs had to have a military precision in wearing their uniforms. Assessors might still demand that but what I see on the field tells a very different story, corresponding to the decline in dress standards throughout society. (I don’t understand how what I call air-conditioned jeans, which are jeans with all the holes in them, are somehow fashionable.)

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Ref uniform no-nos

The biggest mistakes that I see with ref uniforms are what was once black is now very faded, refs wearing shorts that are black but are not referee shorts, socks not pulled up, caps with team logos on them, shirts not tucked into the shorts and no watches as the ref is keeping time with a phone instead.

And don’t get me started on ref wear during very cold weather as I see referees bundled up in layers, which is good, but not looking like refs as the sweatpants and wool hats have logos and writing on them which are not referee-related. Such as seeing Harvard written down the side of a pant leg.

Under FIFA rules, the officials must be wearing a different shirt color than the goalkeeper but college and high school rules do not require this. When doing a few youth games in one day, it can be problematic to wear just one shirt color throughout the day while not having to change your jersey, without having to consider the color shirts of all the teams’ goalkeepers. For youth games, I look at the schedule, think what the teams might be wearing and try and wear one color that will not conflict with the field players for my full schedule that day. I do not change my jersey because of the keeper when I have a full slate of games.

Soccer refereeing continues to be associated with the color black in spite of all these jersey colors because it’s the traditional ref color that’s still worn today. So, when I officiated my milestone 10,000th game two years ago, we had a white team against a light blue team so I was able to wear black, which was great as I wanted to wear the color that I started officiating games with. Just like when I purchased a new car in 2017, I chose a black car as it’s the color still associated with soccer refereeing. But black is not the color to choose on the really hot, sunny days as it soaks up the sun.

College games are played in the fall throughout the U.S. and high school is played in the fall too in New York, so I try and wear the orange ref jersey (on top of my black shorts and black socks) when I’m refereeing near Halloween. Ditto for the red ref jersey on or as we approach Valentine’s Day. I also wear red or green before Christmas, blue during Hanukkah. And the few times that I have refereed on Black Friday, I’ve tried to wear the black jersey.

I’ve officiated college games at Gaelic Park in the Bronx, so named because the Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling have been played there too. At one match, we had a team wearing all-green uniforms vs. an all-white team and we refs wore the orange jersey so that the colors on the field completed the tricolor of the Irish flag: green, white and orange.

Strangely, two other countries beginning with the letter “I,” India and the Ivory Coast (also known as Côte d'Ivoire), have green, white and orange tricolor flags as well but that’s another discussion for another time. In preparing this article, I tracked which jersey I wore the most during 2018 and found out that I wore yellow the most (35% of the time), followed by green (23%), black (18%), blue (12%) and orange and red (both at 6%).

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games.)

14 comments about "Refs and Our Uniforms".
  1. James Madison, March 4, 2019 at 5:59 p.m.

    Bravo, Randy!!!  Even if the powers that govern college and high school soccer can justify different givoerning rules, there is no justification for different shirts.

  2. uffe gustafsson, March 4, 2019 at 7:02 p.m.

    Kind of remind me of youth soccer.
    every 2 years uniform companies change their style of shirts so you are forced to buy new shirts.
    its expensive to buy the uniforms and not everyone can afford to buy new ones. As well you can’t hand me down shirts that’s perfectly fine to the younger teams.

  3. Craig Cummings, March 4, 2019 at 8:38 p.m.

    Randy your picture looks like my closet. Where are all the socks? I have one  of those  huge OSI duffle bags full of just socks. Most faded now because of the sunny days here.

  4. Paul Cox, March 5, 2019 at 7:21 a.m.

    The jersey situation in the US is utterly mad.

    USSF (and the other governing organizations) need to pick a single color, decree that no teams may wear that color, and make it the default referee jersey color. Black is what they use in England for this purpose, but I don't care if it's black, yellow, or day-glo pink. 

    Just pick one color and make it so refs can buy two jerseys (long sleeve and short sleeve) in that color and be done with it. 

  5. Candy Marx replied, March 5, 2019 at 9:22 a.m.

    I may be somewhat uninformed, but do we not have a "referee association" (union would be an oldtimer's word) that could help stem the continual referee uniform changes? As long as we referees don't take a stand, we can expect to have to continue to buy new versions every few years. MM

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, March 5, 2019 at 11:15 p.m.

    I think that for practical purposes officials need at least 3 colors to ensure a contrast with team uniforms.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, March 5, 2019 at 11:19 p.m.

    Did you know that perephial vision lacks color vision? You just see grays. I regreat to say I have passed to an official on more than one occassion when referees always wore black.

  8. R2 Dad, March 5, 2019 at 11:07 a.m.

    Randy, in that massive pile of shirts, did you ever get one of those waterproof referee jerseys? Some of the old-timers around here still have one but they're faded yellow now. I keep hoping to see one on OSI but the best I can do at the moment is a clear jacket to wear over standard yellow during rainy days...

  9. Randy Vogt replied, March 5, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.

    R2, no, unfortunately, the few times that I have seen a water-proof jersey, I did not purchase it. I actually have waterproof black shorts and purchased them many years ago but have not found a newer pair to buy either.

  10. Adam Cohen, March 5, 2019 at 12:04 p.m.

    The pro teams do the same thing, change the kit every two years. why?  i’ll give you one guess. ok, no guessing. it’s MONEY. 

    Randy didn’t mention OSI. 

    What is the nature of the relationship between US Soccer and OSI?

  11. Candy Marx replied, March 5, 2019 at 12:32 p.m.

    I wanted to day that, but thought it might be tooooo cynical.  Thanks for doing it for me.

  12. Fajkus Rules, March 5, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Sky blue normally refers to light, pale blue.  The only time I have seen a real pale or sky blue was the year, maybe 2012 or 2014 when Adidas came out with the group of jerseys that had the purple accent design in the side panel of the jerseys.  USSF jerseys, and in fact, all blue uniforms made by OSI are closer to the traditional "royal blue" or the traditional primary color shade of blue.

  13. Ben Myers, March 5, 2019 at 4:42 p.m.

    Yes, completely insane.  This would another place where USSF could take the lead, convince college and high school sports associations to standardize together, allow a year or two grace period for transition and move on with the world of soccer.  But mine is a completely bizarre idea, because it might be logical.

  14. Bob Ashpole, March 5, 2019 at 11:13 p.m.

    I knew that there were rule differences in scholastic soccer, but I didn't realize that the uniform colors were different. What an unnecessary burden on officials. 

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