Football is a simple game – there are just 17 laws in the IFAB Laws of the Game. As referees, it’s our job to make sure these laws are followed throughout the match. Some of our obvious disciplinary tools are listed in the book: our whistle and our yellow and red cards, for example. But there’s something much less concrete that we have at our disposal to help keep control of matches.
“Personality” is a term I hear thrown around a lot from many referee mentors and assessors I’ve talked to. “You need to use your personality on the field,” they say. “Talk to the players, don’t be a robot.”
Of course, being able to keep a good dialogue with players is key to gaining their respect. But the problem is that while you can easily watch video clips and analyze game situations to look at fouls and misconduct, videos that allow you to hear how referees actually communicate with players are few and far between.
However, I’ve scoured the web for some examples, just so we can see exactly how referees across the world apply the “personality” principle.
One of the more circulated clips out there, here is Michael Oliver during the 2018 FA Cup Final. A couple things to point out here. First, this is textbook stuff from Oliver’s AR on the play. In shouting, “DOGSO, DOGSO!” through the headset, he’s preparing Oliver for the correct sanction should a foul take place, which it then does. Oliver explains the call to the crowd in front of him by pretty much reciting the Laws of the Game DOGSO section, which really leaves no room for interpretation. Then, you’ll notice Fàbregas going over to the AR to ask him individually what he thinks – and he repeats exactly what Oliver said. Fantastic teamwork and consistent communication to make a big call in a cup final.
In my opinion, Kuipers is the platinum standard in the modern game for body language and personality on the field. His natural authority is second-to-none, and players may not always like the call but they respect him as a referee. This video is in Dutch, unfortunately, and there aren’t any subtitles. Still, the part starting at 10:14 showcases how Kuipers talks to players who are out of line, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand what he’s trying to get across. He’s firm, to-the-point, clear-minded, and leaves no doubt as to what he will do if you continue to overstep the boundary. Absolutely terrific stuff.
This is a long video, and there’s quite a bit to unpack here from Germany’s top ref, Felix Brych. Fortunately, there are English subtitles, and you get a good sense of how Brych likes to manage the game. While a little less authoritative than Kuipers, for example, I’d say the German is far more down-to-earth and is much more willing to dialogue with the players. A couple moments in particular to point out. He handles the foul situation at 3:25 quite well, diffusing a bit of the defending team’s frustration and coming up with a few good quips in the process. Meanwhile, at 8:35, assistant referee Mark Borsch alerts Brych to a yellow card offence on the touchline, and the two demonstrate excellent teamwork to deal with the incident.
This video went viral back in the spring, when Australian Jarred Gillett refereed his final A-League match (he’s since come to England and officiated in the Championship). He adopts a pretty ‘matey’ approach to deal with a few indiscretions, including a player blocking a quick free kick and a yellow card for a late tackle. I’m not a huge fan of the redundant VAR check for a play that was clearly onside and called as such on the field, but it seemed to work for him so you can’t fault it.
And we finish off with a blast from the past. David Elleray wasn’t too popular among players, managers, or fans, but this clip provides a fascinating look at how different things were decades ago. A referee whose go-to response to any complaints being, “Go away!”, Elleray didn’t have anything even remotely resembling an effusive personality on the field, a far cry from the trend of modern-day officials. Quite how he avoided giving Tony Adams a card of any colour is utterly beyond me.