The art of reffing solo

With the dire referee shortage increasing the chances of finding yourself without assistant referees presents an opportune time to republish this article on how to handle games solo.

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The referee's position is called a "diagonal," which he or she runs goes from corner flag to corner flag.

Actually, a referee who strictly adheres to this diagonal will miss seeing a number of fouls. I like to think that the referee’s positioning isn’t a diagonal as much as it is a modified version of a half-open scissor -- corner flag to corner flag and penalty arc to penalty arc. The referee is not a slave to this positioning, but it is a rough guide to follow, especially for the newer referee.

I remember refereeing a good youth tournament played at the Stadio Olimpico in Torino. On a rest day for me, I was able to watch the games from high in the almost empty stadium and saw a young ref, with potential, make the mistake of literally running from corner flag to corner flag, even if the ball was 50 yards away. He missed some fouls that would have been obvious to whistle if only he was closer to the play. You need not understand Italian to know that the coaches were unhappy with him.

Whether you are refereeing a game by yourself or with the use of assistant referees (ARs), use the half-open scissor as a rough guide for positioning.

Many youth referees start out officiating good games without the help of ARs. The great majority of my first 1,000 games were matches in which I was the only official assigned.

A coach once said to me, “Referees seem much more confident when they have assistant referees.” Well, of course! Just as the players on his team would be much more confident if they had a full team rather than a depleted squad.

When you are the only official, should many offside decisions need to be made (such as when one or two teams are playing an offside trap or high defensive line), you should stay a bit closer to the touchline than usual, thinking about how the ARs, standing just outside the touchline, signal for offside. The side of the field is the best position for calling offside. Yet if you stay too close to the touchline, you will be in a poor position to call fouls.

Club ARs, usually the relative or friend of a player, will help you determine when the ball goes over the touchline. Tell them before the game, “Raise the flag only when the entire ball goes over the entire line. Do not give me the direction of the throw as I will determine it.”

They are not to signal direction as this can create a perception that they are cheating for the team they want to win. Make sure that you thank them both before and after the game as they are volunteering their time to help you.

No matter if the club ARs say that they want to help you even more, even they say they're an international referee, the only responsibility of the club AR is to signal when the ball went over the touchline -- not to raise the flag for fouls or for offside or when the ball went over the goal line.

(Randy Vogt has officiated more than 11,000 games in six different decades.)

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Refereeing Around the Net

Police investigate alleged assault of youth soccer referee (Fox29 Philadelphia) by Chris O'Connell

Lucila Venegas reflects on Concacaf refereeing career (

Ex-Premier League referee wants major VAR change on the cards (Football Insider) by Keith Hackett

VAR still a work in progress so expect more controversy and occasional fury (The Guardian) by Barry Glendenning

James Adcock: Referee shares his story on National Coming Out Day (BBC) by Jack Murley
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Download the 2021-22 FIFA rulebook (available English, Spanish and other languages) in PDF form HERE, or app.

Download U.S. Soccer's Pocket Guide HERE.

5 comments about "The art of reffing solo".
  1. R2 Dad, October 14, 2021 at 3:08 p.m.

    These days, even on matches that are supposed to have a crew of 3 the assignors pull them away to fill holes and we are often solo and scrounging for club linesmen.  TBH, I don't like to solo as the whining on offside calls has just become too much and takes any enjoyment away for me.

  2. Fajkus Rules replied, October 19, 2021 at 12:15 p.m.

    I find that when reffing solo that offside decisions almost require 1 bad call in each direction and then the players understand that you are watching for it and they don't assume that you are just watching play and paying no attention to offside.  You also get pretty good at keeping a wide view when a team is moving into the attack.  Toughest is when teams are launching long balls from the defensive third when you are still running towards them.  Then you have to alter your positioning so that you are off to near one of the touchlines at the time long balls are played in order to have a decent chance to turn and see the offside positions.

  3. Mark Landefeld replied, December 2, 2021 at 1:12 p.m.

    Clubs with whining on solo CR offside calls should have to employ "silent soccer days".  Even with with the current shortage, people still don't appreciate the refs that are out there and they need to contemplate the alternative. Would they want to see self-managed games?  Would they want sideline volunteers to handle matches?  Too many games are a sick or injured ref away from these decisions.

  4. James Madison, October 20, 2021 at 2:44 p.m.

    Randy calls it the open scissors patten.  Way out here in the west, we call it a lazy-S, which fits nicely within the open scissors.---wide when you need to be, but in a position to judge which is going on within the penalty area when you need to be.

  5. Randy Vogt replied, October 20, 2021 at 4:19 p.m.

    James, whether a referee's positioning is a lazy S or a half-open scissor, either of those terms fit better than a diagonal. Thank you.

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