When teams play their games sometimes spectators, players or management will say that you need assistants, thinking that the lack of assistants is a situation confined to their own league. What isn’t realised is that a lot of grassroots football is played without assistants, for example the boys league, the girls league, also in adult leagues such as theSouth Yorkshire Amateur League, the Wragg League Over-35s and Over-45s and, importantly, Divisions 1and 2 as well as some of the premiership games of the County Senior League which, until recently, was Step 7 of the FA Pyramid System.  So you can see that this situation isn’t limited to any one league. There are, therefore, many situations where referees must work without using club assistants.

When referees turn up for a game they set out to minimise contentious issues during the game and seek to avoid any potential problems that might arise. First of all, they check the field of play including the goal nets, particularly the sides of nets.  All these things have large potential for issues that officials just don’t need. The same decision is made over club assistants. Many referees when they start off certainly attempt to use club assistants, but why do they stop using them?

Choices with club assistants that referees make include such matters as, ‘do they signal offsides or just ball in or out of play?’. This season during a Sheffield United game there was a decision was whether the ball was on or over the line. It was the assistant’s opinion as a neutral. Could you imagine a club assistant making that shout and the issues it would cause for the referee? Neutral assistants at all levels make mistakes, no matter what their experience, but they make them unintentionally as neutral people. Just imagine if the assistant happened to be attached to one of the clubs playing!

Always remember as a player, spectator or manager that offsides are a matter of opinion for the referee.  You will sometimes have substitutes, spectators or parents acting as club assistants, which will mean one from each side. What would happen if an offside is being flagged by the opposing team’s assistant? Lots of referees have been in this exact situation and it causes them no end of trouble. He (or sometimes she) doesn’t just have to referee the game, but also has to cope with parents, spectators and managers causing issues. You could even reverse the situation – the flag doesn’t go up, it is the assistant’s team attacking and they are offside. An equaliser is scored but the opposition think they were offside. Once again the referee is no longer just officiating the game on the pitch, because he has more to contend with off it.

It is hard for referees. They turn up with two-thirds of their team missing each week, because of the shortage of match officials, but they still do a job. In fact, they do a very good job. Oh yes, they make the occasional mistake but they never do so intentionally. Do all referees’ mistakes lead to goals, or could it sometimes be a defending or a goalkeeping error?

Refereeing is hard and it can be a lot harder with club assistants. This comes from many stories told at Sheffield RA meetings, when our referees discuss scenarios that have happened and ask the more experienced officials what they would do.

The girls league and the boys league are also development leagues for match officials. Referees learn on these league and move on exactly the same as players, because they learn and they improve every week. We all make mistakes and we must learn from them. We have numerous officials who turn up at referee meetings and discuss incidents, asking what could they have done better? What could they have done to prevent something happening? The girls league runs mentor days, where officials are watched by more experienced officials and give development points and tips to reduce the number of mistakes.

There are great announcements coming from the leagues, in the Sheffield and Hallamshire area with people working together to improve officials, to improve RESPECT, to educate or get rid of those spectators who think that abuse towards a referee is ‘part of the game’. No matter how young or what gender, these referees are all human. The difference between these young referees and most non-referees in my eyes is their bravery and their love of the game for all the right reasons.

You’ve seen that Lino!

When you talk to some referee’s they will tell you that being an assistant referee, or “lino,” is actually harder than being the referee.

You have to learn to assist the referee and not insist in a job where having numerous eyes in multiple directions would be a major help. The man in the middle, the referee, is in charge and you are there to assist him or her when help is needed and always be credible.

“You’ve seen that lino,” spectators and players will shout at you. As assistant I often think “don’t tell me what I’ve seen, how can you possibly know what I am looking at.”

An assistant referee has so much to take in and, most importantly, (apart from the other two assistant referees and maybe an assessor) no-one knows what the instructions are from the ref.

Usually assistant referees will receive their pre-match instructions an hour-or-so before kick-off; a lot of these instructions are the same but some referees change certain areas. As an assistant you need to know what they want and make sure you don’t give the referee any surprises.

So, what does an assistant referee do?

The senior assistant usually patrols the dug outs and ensures that competition rules are being followed by both sides. Normally, two are allowed to stand, with one person shouting instructions. All substitutions will be made from the half-way line and they will make sure a player leaves the pitch before the substitute enters the field of play. The assistant must also make sure the player wears no jewellery (including bands around their wrist), that under armour garment colour matches the kit colour and, finally, he or she will check boots and studs.

The assistant then needs to get back in position, which is line with the second rear-most defender. People think that awarding a throw-in is just a case of pointing the way you think- but it’s not always that easy.

What if two players from opposing teams go in on the ball at the same? You don’t want the referee to give the throw to the home team and then you, as an assistant referee, give it to the away team.

Both sets of players will see it as their ball and fiercely argue their case – this is why officials are appointed.  If the team of officials are unsure then the decision will go in favour of the defensive team.

Sometimes match officials convey messages “downstairs” – the ref will point one way below his waist and the assistant, if unsure, can look and ensure that they ‘go the same way.’  Alternatively, if the assistant is certain a little shake of the flag in the right direction below the waist will assist the referee.


What other things come into consideration when deciding which way a so-called “simple” throw-in goes?

How far away are you? Your position should be the second rear-most defender. If the defenders are sitting really deep then you can be a good distance from the ball, which is where the teamwork comes in.

You must bear in mind that there are three areas. Firstly, there is ‘your area,’ which is the space immediately around you. Secondly, is the area a bit further down the line, which is where the ref is usually situated if the ball is there, and, finally, the third which is furthest away from you. In this area, as assistant ref, you always look at the referee and go with him, no matter what you think – assisting not insisting.

A simple throw is not so simple all of the time.

So, with that in mind, what would you do in this situation?

Red team are attacking down the wing – running right next to the line – and the blues are defending and trying to tackle.

The assistant is looking down the wing. He or she needs to know if the ball goes out of play for a throw-in and, remember the whole ball has to cross the line to be a throw-in, he or she also needs to be in line with the second rear-most defender.

Apart from looking down the line for the throw-in, the assistant is also checking for offsides at a 90-degree angle to where play is. Try doing it – it’s much harder than it sounds.

The ball is then whipped in and the assistant has a whole new set of tasks. Was it defender or attacker that headed the ball? Was it a goal kick or corner? Or was it hand-ball? Was it in the box? Was there a push? Was the player in an offside position, and, if so, was he interfering with play? Where is the referee positioned? If there was an incident will he need my help? Is the incident outside of my credibility zone (the further away the less credibility an assistant has)?

That is an awful lot of information for the assistant to digest – and it all comes from one cross.

Then you hear the shout, “You must have seen that, Lino?”

Again don’t tell me what I’ve seen. I was looking at the offside, the three heads that went up, the keepers encroaching movement, if the ball’s in-play or over the line, and, and this is a big one, was there a late tackle as the cross came in?

Amazingly match officials get the majority of these decisions spot on. Per game, the percentages of correct decisions made by officials are a lot higher than those of the players. It’s brilliant – considering how hard these decisions are.

Then, with all this happening, the assistant referee still has to keep control of the dugouts when there isn’t a fourth official available.

So, at your next game, please spare a thought for the assistant referee.

This is just a small insight into an assistant referee on match day…….

Good habits for referees

Its everything a referee should do before, during and after match day.

1. Close Dates: Before you get appointments you need to be thinking in advance and make sure you close dates you are not available to officiate. Before the start of the season send to all Referee Secretaries and County FA the dates you know about, Birthdays, anniversaries, same day every year. Weddings you have plenty of notice. You need to be looking 6 weeks in advance.

2. When receiving a fixture, accept the game so the referee secretary for that league knows you have it and its in your diary. Don’t just email back thanks, Copy and paste the game and say that’s the fixture you are excepting .

3. Now you’ve accepted the fixture , back to number 1, now close the date with other leagues.

4. When the team contact you, you must reply ASAP, Something standard, Thank you for match details and direction for the game on XXXX , I will arrive at the ground approximately XXXXX Look forward to meeting you.

5. Plan Your Journey, its basic but know how long it will take and allow for delays.

6. If you are the referee and have assistants contact them, introduce yourself and arrange a meeting point where possible to travel together

7. Do you know what attire you should wear is it smart dress, Suited and booted or is it casual, either way get it right.

8. Kit, is your kit cleaned and looking smart, do you have a warm up top, are your BLACK boots clean, (no other colour boots)

9. Turn up at the game and remember Body language from the second you arrive, look confident and happy to be there

10. Now introduce yourself and your team if you have assistants, if you are on your own (grassroots) please make sure you say hello and introduce yourself to both managers. Don’t be afraid to say hello to the players, wish them good morning or good afternoon.

11. Check the nets and look round and check the FOP, especially the side netting, no surprises. Check for flags and get the match ball.

12. Ready for kick off, do you have everything, watches x 2, Whistle , Cards, Coin , do you look smart and ready SOCKS are pulled up, not around your ankles.

13. Ball under your arm and out you go, Fairplay handshake, if at grassroots gives you a chance to check jewellery.  Get the game started and make sure you referee to the best of your ability, do not belittle the game if you normally officiate at a much higher level, the teams deserve the best you can give. Be polite at all times no matter what’s happening. Please and thank you go along way on the football pitch.

14. Once you blow the final whistle goes, thank everyone, well played, what ever your choice. Be polite, if anything has happened in the game and someone would like to talk be polite “ I will happily talk o you as long as you talk to me in an appropriate manner.

15. If food is put on, have something to eat be polite don’t say anything derogatory about anyone, walls have ears. Remembering your body language and professionalism at all times.

16. Find the managers / secretary and thank them for their hospitality and leave.

17. Leave the ground and  breath. Do not forget to do any misconduct reports.