© 1998 jointly in the following individuals: Jim Geissman, David Graham, Jim MacQueen, Connie Matthies, Jim Meinhold, Chris Mohr, Gary Rue, Ken Smith, Dave Teetz, Ron Tremper, who are together known pseudonymously as the SOCCER-COACH-L LOTG COLLECTIVE

Law 6 - The Assistant Referees

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Assistant Referees (ARs), or linesmen, help the referee by drawing to his attention matters that they are better placed to see. The referee may grant them more or less authority, depending on their qualifications and degree of neutrality. Final authority remains with the center referee.


In a team of three qualified referees, the ARs are responsible for making the following calls: when the ball is out of play; what the restart should be (throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, or kick-off); and offside. An AR's primary focus should be on offside, which controls his positioning. On most ball out calls, the referee will also know the restart, and may make the call himself without looking at the AR. The referee team's operations depend on the qualifications of the ARs and the center referee's attitude towards teamwork.

Questions on Law 6

6.01 The ball went out off a Blue player, and the AR pointed his flag for a Red throw in. But the center referee didn't look at the flag and gave the throw to Blue; the AR just changed the direction he was pointing. Why didn't the AR try to correct the center ref to get the proper restart?

A: It doesn't do a referee team any good to have public disagreements. The AR was just doing the right thing by going along with the referee's call. If the AR thinks the center ref gets too many calls wrong, he should tell him privately.

6.02 Some fouls are occurring right in front of the AR, and he isn't calling them.

A: The ARs may have been instructed by the referee not to call any fouls. This isn't good practice, but it happens -- remember, the ARs' duties are "subject to the decision of the referee." It may also be that the AR is quite properly concentrating on who is in offside position, which can require one's full attention at times, and he just doesn't see the fouls.

6.03 I don't think this AR knows the offside law very well. I'm trying to help him by calling out "That's offside!" on subtle cases, and reminding him that offside position is determined when the ball is played not when it's received, but he just glares at me and refuses to raise his flag. I can even point out obvious things like, "That's a handball, ref!" and they still pay no attention.

A: Constructively influencing the referee and ARs is a tricky question. It's especially frustrating in the case of offside and handling the ball, because these seem to be based on simple facts compared to fuzzier fouls like pushing or unfair charging -- one might think the referee would appreciate the information.

Consider the AR-offside case. You might be calling too soon. Even though a player is in offside position, it's not always clear who is "involved in active play" at the moment the ball is played -- the AR can be doing the right thing by waiting a few seconds (see the discussion of Law 11). Even after a short delay, it may still not be clear whether the offside player, or some other players, is involved or merely a spectator. Sometimes, the ball isn't played towards the offside player at all, and his involvement only becomes evident after he's run all the way across the field, which takes time. Experience helps an AR determine involvement more quickly, but there still may be legitimate delay.

Suppose the AR determines an offside infraction exists, but by that time you've shouted "Hey, that's offside!" several times -- and the grandstand is right behind you. Assume the AR doesn't realize it's offside position and therefore maybe an infraction -- he won't call it on the basis of your words. Or assume he does -- he still may be reluctant to call if it's not clear-cut, and his reluctance is reinforced by an unwillingness to let the crowd think he's following your instructions.

Referees and ARs think about about preserving their objective and impartial status, as well as getting the individual calls right. Ideally, a referee who is annoyed by your comments will warn and/or caution you, and ignore you in his calls. The AR is in a more difficult position, because he can't warn or caution a coach directly -- he must get the referee to do it, and he may not want to draw so much attention to himself.

Take the case of the possible handling that's not called. The referee (or AR) maybe (a) was screened or looking elsewhere and didn't see it, (b) saw something but wasn't be sure exactly what, (c) saw it perfectly, and judged it was not deliberate, or (d) saw it perfectly, and the ball and hand never made contact. Occasionally you may persuade a referee who's on the verge of a call, but a shout of "Ref, that's a handball! Don't you see anything?" usually serves merely to irritate and is counter-productive. This is especially true with inexperienced officials who can become rattled, leading to worse calls, not better.

Also remember that officials have to monitor action all over the field and are not always looking at the same things you are. An inexperienced referee is more likely to be watching the ball and miss fouls committed with the hands and body above the waist.

Some officials won't talk with coaches, period. Others are happy to discuss calls, and may be receptive to other viewpoints, but only if it's done quietly and in a manner that doesn't seem to compromise their position. Comments that explicitly acknowledge the referee's situation have a better chance of success -- "I know you want to see if there's any tripping, but I think you're missing some pushing up at shoulder level," or "We rely on the offside trap, so I don't mind if you have to miss some throw in calls because you're concentrating on the offside line instead."

6.04 One of the scheduled linesmen scheduled for our match has not shown up, it's game time, and no other certified referees are available to substitute for the missing linesman. The referee has proposed that we recruit a "club" linesman to substitute for the missing linesman in this match. What effect would this have on the refereeing of the match under the LOTG, and what is the proper way to choose who is to serve as the club linesman in this situation?

A "club" linesman is simply one who is not a certified referee, usually recruited shortly before the match from among the more knowledgeable soccer spectators on hand to serve when a certified (referee) linesman is not available. Properly, under the LOTG a club linesman is more limited with respect to the matters they may call to assist the referee than is a certified linesman. Specifically, they CAN call the ball in or out over the touchline or goal lines and signal the referee with a flag which team is entitled to possession of balls gone out of play over these lines (by indicating direction for throw-ins and goal kick v. corner kick for balls out over the goal line). However, they CANNOT signal for offside, nor signal for fouls committed outside the sight of the referee, unlike official linesmen.

If one of the linesman for a match is a certified (referee) linesman but the other is a club linesman, the proper result called for by the LOTG is to convert *both* of them into club linesman for that match. This obviously impacts the practical ability of the center referee to monitor offside situations, as well as to increase the possibility of being momentarily screened or turned away from offenses on the field, with no official backup assistance.

For this reason, often the referee and both teams will mutually agree before the game, if a suitably knowledgeable and impartial person to serve can be found, to waive these limitations and promote the club linesman to a full linesman. Or, sometimes instead the mutual agreement is to have an official linesman with full duties serving one half of the field and a club linesman with limited duties serving the other, with the idea that the effects of the imbalance will even out and be overall fair since each team will have the official linesman at their respective attacking end for one half of the game and the club linesman for the other half. Although either of these alternatives often turn out satisfactory in practice, be aware that they are technically improper under the LOTG and accordingly, neither can be forced on an unwilling team or an unwilling center referee. While in lesser games than international competition and serious tournament championships the relevant authorities may be perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to this particular irregularity and accept the results of the match, provided everyone willingly agrees to the nonstandard arrangement beforehand, it is doubtful the result of the match can stand against the protest of a losing team who either failed to agree to it, or was kept in the dark about it.

Another important issue is the choice of person(s) to serve as club linesman, which can if done unwisely sour what could otherwise be a mutually acceptable irregularity in expanding their role as linesman. Although parents of players are often pressed into service as regular club linesmen, you should nominate someone who is as knowlegeable and free from the appearance or reality of partisanship as is possible wherever nonstandard variations in the role of linesman are being contemplated, and disclose the nature of their affiliation with your team, if any, to the referee and to the opponent, and make sure they are agreeable to this person.

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Law 6

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Updated February 26, 1998