Refereeing Game Flow – A First Hand Account

Game Flow and Offsides

Owen Fitzgerald

One of the most interesting aspects about soccer is the refereeing. Referees have much more power and leeway than in other sports and, without video replay in soccer, their word is final. Even more interesting is that, as a referee, we are thought the idea of game flow. Game flow is the idea that the pace or flow of the game should be considered when making calls, and stopping the game to punish a foul would actually do more harm to the game than good. Central to this is the unique idea of advantage, where if the fouled team maintains possession of the ball and therefor an advantageous play, then the referee can choose to overlook the foul call and allow play to continue. Also central to game flow is the idea of stopping play to discuss a call with another referee, in a situation where ensuring the right call is made.

One play from my experience refereeing, where this unfolded quite prominently, happened last year. An offensive player received the ball in what I perceived to be an offside position, so I looked over to my assistant referee on the sideline for confirmation. He did not signal for an offsides call, so I let play continue and the offensive player was then able to score a goal. This situation happens quite often with offsides calls, as referees we have to consider game flow in this situation the most. Often times an assistant referee will choose not to signal if the offensive player never gains an advantage from being offsides, therefor preserving game flow. However, in this situation, the offensive player was able to score a goal, therefor after the play I went over to consult my assistant. Since he was adamant that the player was on sides, the goal stood. This situation exposes one of the integral emotions that soccer produces.

This idea that referees see the game differently than players and even among themselves, and that there is no reviewing referee or video assistant, means that much of what referee’s call is based on opinion. The opinion of the referee regarding how the game should be played, and how the flow is being maintained. This can lead to incredibly passionate and visceral reactions from fans and players alike, creating a uniqueness within soccer that many other sports don’t have.