The Referee’s Personality

Two reasons why referees haven’t been replaced with robots is their personality and common sense.

After all, imagine how incredibly boring it would be to turn to a computer screen or the stadium monitor to look at every decision like a goal kick, corner kick and to perhaps hear a horn sound when the computer identifies a foul/misconduct. Sure it’s right but it just wouldn’t be the same and terribly boring I would imagine. What about Advantage? A recorded voice booming around the stadium saying “Advantage. Play on!”? Hahahaha… That’s why we have humans!

With humans come mistakes. That’s also what makes the world of football so exciting. We all want to watch good football of course but what is the talking point if no controversy. Now, of course, I wouldn’t want a mistake to befall any of my colleagues at any level but they happen and they are always interesting talking points. Also this is by no means implicates that any referee intentionally makes a mistake for this purpose. It’s a very different thing to watch the game from the outside than it is to be on the field following play watching the same thing.

My personal favourite personality is Mark Clattenburg (ENG) pictured above. I enjoy his calm, no-nonsense style, attitude and use of sarcastic looks.

I know Rafal’s favourite (from is Phil Dowd¬†with his funny antics¬†all over the field. Most referees do have their favourites that are a pleasure to watch when they are in action.

Phil Dowd (ENG)

Referees require their own personality and it’s important to mould one that works well on the field of play. Every referee has a different personality and there is no secret formula that always works so don’t hop to copying a FIFA Referee’s personality just yet. Players can recognise a fake personality. Something that just isn’t you. That doesn’t look like you. Personalities develop over time as new techniques are learnt and observed. One of the best ways of adding a new element to the personality is practice. Practice how you say? In front of the mirror! Yes the mirror! Isn’t always on the field. Enough practice that makes the sequence of actions so natural that it is part of your personality. Body language is a big part of personality but more on that later.


Another great part of a referee’s personality is one-liners. There are always moments when a player may confront your decision and with sharp wit, a skillful referee can manage the player, lighten the mood and calm the atmosphere as well as sell his decision with a few words. Quite simply it requires leadership, charisma, professionalism and no doubt personality! A good example I read in Pierluigi Collina‘s Rules of the Game is

“Knowledge can also help you get out of difficult situations, or situations that might put players and the referee into conflict. It might be by making a funny comment when you know there’s no danger of being misunderstood. For example, during Argentina-England I remember that we were going back onto the pitch after half-time Gabriel Batistuta was complaining about having been booked after just twelve minutes. Clearly it wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to go into the reasons for my decision, but, knowing Batistuta well, I opted for a joke that might calm him down. The booking had been called for by my Canadian assistant and I said to the Argentinian forward: ‘Of course you know the real reason why the assistant had you booked?’ He looked at me and I added, ‘He is Canadian, but he’s originally from Chile!’ joking on the rivalry between Chileans and Argentineans. Batistuta replied, ‘Ah, so that’s why!’ He understood the joke, accepted the rules of the game, and the discussion ended there.”

It’s a great read by the way, I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the game.

Do you have any favourite one-liner moments? If so, share!

5 comments on “The Referee’s Personality

  1. Thank you for enlightening me on a whole new way to look at referees. I have never thought about the mistakes making the game more fun. I have always looked at refs as game ruiners and sometimes game deciders. Thanks for posting!

    • larbitre says:

      Glad you liked it! I don’t think any sport brings the excitement quite like football does. The perfect example was the UCL clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United. The match atmosphere and post-match can only be described by one word – passion.

  2. referee says:

    It is OK to show some personality as long as the referee does not take away from the game. The referee is there to ensure fair play but the players are the show. It’s a fine line.

    • larbitre says:

      Agreed! The primary role of the referee is to ensure fun, fair and safety. Personality is the sugar in the drink. It’s also a reason why a different referee is appointed to each game.

  3. larbitre says:

    My favourite recent entertainment (one-liner).
    My Futsal match had reached half-time and the teams were ready to go in 30 seconds! The crowd was waiting expectantly and my co-referee had ducked out of the gym right after the whistle and said that he would be back quickly. Everyone was looking at me hoping for the game to restart so I addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen”. Now I definitely had everyone’s attention including the players’ and coaches’. “I apologise for the delay. We are waiting for the commercial break to end” [while indicating the camera set-up near the entrance recording the game manned by a parent “before we are back on air and kick-off”. The crowd roared with laughter and the tension was broken. That kept them merry for the rest of the break with enough time to cover for the other referee to return.

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