I Am a Referee and a Sounders Fan – This is My Say

Photo: Rick Morrison

Photo: Rick Morrison

Following our recent article about respect for referees and our interview with MLSPRO General Manager Peter Walton, an anonymous referee administrator who is also a Sounders season ticket holder felt compelled to put his point of view. He asked that due to his position in the refereeing fraternity, he writes under a pen name. We at Prost can however vouch for his senior position in the community and his season ticket.


By Dave Grantly

The lack of respect and high level of abuse from coaches, spectators and players is the #1 reason why referees quit. Period. Exactly as Dustin Edwards said.

All those people griping about referees need to remember that, just like anything else, you get what you pay for. High turnover creates lower level of experience, which results in referees sent to work matches they are not ready for, which increases the level of abuse, which makes referees quit.

The loudest complainers about referees are also the ones who cause themselves the worst problem – they are creating a lower standard of refereeing. In the short term, they feel high and mighty because they are experienced coaches/players/spectators who hurl so much abuse that they can bring a 15-year-old female referee to tears. But in the long term they are only hurting themselves, limiting their own ability to play top-level soccer, and stunting the growth opportunities for their youth players.

I think that the people who complain the most about referees are the ones who know the least about what it takes to referee. They have absolutely no respect for the position or how hard it is to carry it out effectively. I believe that the rule of thumb should be close to the biblical one, that only “they without sins shall cast the first stone”. In this case, it should be “only they who have done the job should be allowed to criticize.”

And I don’t mean that any referee with an entry-level badge has the right to criticize an MLS ref; I mean that the critic must have worked the same or higher level match to be allowed to criticize a ref’s performance. For example, if (FIFA Match Inspector) Sandy Hunt wants to say something about a referee’s performance, I and everyone else should listen up.

But when some angry guy sitting on the touch line under an umbrella, whose complete soccer resume is to have attended his kids’ U11 matches, wants to give everyone his “expert” opinion from 60 yards away, he needs to be handed a uniform and a whistle and told to show us how well he can do in the referees place.

This is the same person who, after 30 minutes of yelling abuse at the ref, is surprised when a 50-50 call goes against his team. Really? Put yourself in the referee’s shoes – you have a 50-50 call; do you opt in favor of the team that is focused on the game and responding to your calls? Or in favor of the team with the loudmouth bozos on the touchline who have been hurling abuse at you since kickoff?

These fans (and coaches) are actually, if anything, hindering their teams’ cause. I wish they would think about that before starting yet another diatribe against the referee du jour.

I have an interesting way to tackle this.

When it comes to Youth Soccer, all coaches must be required to not only take and pass the entry level course, but also be active referees. No exceptions.

Most youth matches should be refereed under the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” rule. The person making the loudest complaints has to take over and referee until someone else complains louder. Call it the “whiny parent gets the whistle” rule.

Any parents considered to be excessively annoying should be “fined” in terms of matches they owe the club – they need to work a match as a referee for every “ding” on their parental report card. The same should occur for any player who gets a red card, or more than three yellow cards. And double the fines for youth coaches who get out of control.

In adult soccer, each team should be required to supply a full crew to the pool of referees. And they should be required to referee within their own division, so last week’s opponent may be this week’s referee (or vice versa). This can give a whole new meaning to “what goes around, comes around”, and can create an interesting dynamic when roles are reversed.

So much for youth and adult amateur matches.

Now I want to directly address that generic “nincompoop with an attitude” we often encounter in the stands, and I speak mostly as a Sounders fan now.

My Sounders matchday experience is MUCH nicer when that idiotic angry guy in the section next to ours is NOT there.

You know the type; the guy who woke up angry at the planet; the one who starts heaping abuse on the referee crew during warm-ups and who gripes about every single call against Sounders and every single no-call against the opposition as if he was down on the field directing the match himself. And he does it loud enough to make everyone around him uncomfortable.

Yeah, I am talking about “That Guy”. He clearly does not know the rules of the game, but he still manages to blame the referee for whatever frustration he feels about work or family or his lack of sexual prowess.

If you think you could be “That Guy” (and you know who you are), just… stay home, please. Don’t try to make the excuse that you are merely displaying “passion” for your team or for the game. You don’t have “passion” for anything other than being an abusive bully cowardly hidden in a large crowd.

A passionate fan will cheer positively for their team and may express some dismay at a bad call or at an opponent’s good play. But a true passionate fan will never disrespect the game or his team by acting the way “That Guy” does. Don’t fool yourself; by being “That Guy” you are an embarrassment to your friends, your family, your team, your neighbors and the game. Especially your team. Do us all a favor, stay home and yell angry words at your TV.

Two last comments.

First, on Prost’s suggested adoption of the rugby arguing rule. I have played and refereed both rugby and soccer. In soccer, the captain has no official duties, rights or responsibilities other than to represent his/her team at the coin toss. Informally, it is the captain that the referee can turn to when addressing a problem player. It is the captain who is responsible for keeping his/her team under control.

So, in my opinion, heck YES this should be made a more formal role. But as always, that change has to come from FIFA – and you know how long it can take for such changes to occur. Don’t hold your breath.

And second, for those trolls who tried to shut down previous discussion by abusing the author or the website.

Despite your efforts, this type of discussion is EXACTLY what we need to see on the internet and in print. Those of us who love this sport and want it to improve at ALL levels desire intelligent and thoughtful analysis, not scared to tackle controversial subjects by internet bullies. Your negative comments are easily ignored and should be.

Or perhaps you would prefer to pay your class fees, spend 16 hours in an entry-level clinic, pass the written test, pay your registration fees, buy a uniform, cards and whistle, attend the local chapter meetings to get assigned to matches, then go show us how brilliantly you can handle a U11 match.

At least then, you will be a loud expert, and if 300 of my fellow Sounders fans are forced to listen to you, you’ll at least be shouting sense.

All Refereeing Articles


About Author

Steve is the founder and owner of Prost Amerika. He covered the expansion of MLS soccer in Cascadia at first hand. As Editor in Chief of soccerly.com, he was accredited at the 2014 World Cup Final. He is the former President of the North American Soccer Reporters Association/ Originally from Glasgow, he is a supporter of the Great Glasgow Alternative, Partick Thistle.


  1. Restricting criticism to those of the same experience level is absurd. Who then is allowed to criticize the president? Only former presidents?

  2. Great article. I dont really agree with your thoughts about making coaches be active referees, however I do think they should have to have refereed at some point (maybe within five years of coaching?). I referee intramural sports for a fairly big division 1 school, and I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of senseless banter from spectators and players. I have actually been considering looking for a new job simply because of the hate generated towards me. I will be going back to work as a ref next semester, but many of the people I have worked with have quit in the past year because of the crap they had to take (we also get paid very little because we work for the school).

    I was at a few sounders games this year, and it drove me crazy some of the ignorance from the loudest fans. They had no knowledge of what determined even a hand-ball, and some of them could not even explain the rules of off-sides if I were to ask.

    This ignorance mixed with drunken anger does not represent the Sounders organization that we want to represent.

  3. The frustrations of some beleaguered referees seem not unlike the frustrations of some fans.

    If only entertainment sports were fair. Then we wouldn’t need to obsess over them, or use them as a venue to vent our emotions and insecurities.

    We would not need refs at all, as few would care about this silly little game where people run around after a ball, save experts who could asses each moment dispassionately and thoughtfully, like well-adjusted professionals–and each player would voluntarily admit to their infractions.

    That would not be much fun at all.

    Thank you, and happy holidays, to all the referees who give us the gift of the game, who bake in the heat of the kitchen for 90 minutes, and beyond, week after week. He hate you for your imperfection and love you for your dedication to this most unreasonable craft.

  4. Abuse and arguing is what makes refs quit? Anyone have Salazar’s number? I have some words for him. Come on, guys. If we put our mind to it, yes we CAN (make him quit)!

  5. Good article and I’m glad that a referee’s voice is heard. I especially agree with the proposal that mandating all youth coaches to get training and officiate some games. I hope as an admin in Washington, he’s able to actually propose such rules (I’d be happy to help with that). Along those lines, I chuckle at the idea of MLS players having to officiate youth games as penance for dissent towards referees. Maybe not in Seattle, but I’m sure there’s a hotly competitive game nearby, where neither team would recognize the referee as Ozzie Alonso paying his dues for that red card.

    However, I think the author punts when trying to come up with suggestions on how to improve the attitude of regular fans (though, he can’t be blamed). I would like to think that a large number of MLS fans are new, and thus ignorant of the rules, and that education would reduce said ignorance, and that there’s a whole list of things MLS could do in the realm of fan education, like:
    -More shows like Instant Reply analyzing officiating decisions, explaining difficult decisions and calling them on bad one when justified;
    -Referees should explain their calls more often, like Salazar did at the end of the season (an event I’ve seen only a handful of times) and not be hidden behind an iron veil cause even if fans disagree with the call, it’s nice to hear the referee say “what I saw was…”;
    -Match/Referee assessment reports should be easier to find online; I’ve been told they exist but they could be easier to find.

    Those are some suggestions for improving fan behavior, but I doubt this would make much of a difference.

    Again good article and Merry Christmas!

    • USSoccer had a Week in Review, and it was not done at all in 2012. It is by far my biggest complaint about the ref’s in MLS – the lack of follow up on calls, with the current technology levels, it’s a disgrace. I do not expect perfection for run of play calls, but when a goal is called off due to off-sides (most common stop of play that would have an impact on the outcome for the game), that extra 15 seconds of booth review would be nice.

      Adrian – we want Week in Review back!!


  6. I have met all the necessary requirements to critique a ref. I have never found it necessary to do so at the Youth level but often find a cause to critique the ref at the professional level and as a paid season ticket hold believe it is with in my rights to express my opinion good or bad which is mostly done in the stands and on the blogosphere and not within an earshot of the field..

    • You have a right to express your opinion. We have a right to point out when it is wrong or misguided. The Referees have a right to a safe work environment, and the company that sells you those tickets has the right to ban you from their private function. We have lots of rights, that does not mean we do not respect eachother. I have the right of way when I’m a pedestrian, I still wait for the cars because I don’t want to just walk out and interrupt everything acting like the big bossman.

      • Our rights end when the exercise thereof starts to impinge on the rights of others. The author’s main complaint was about spectators who ruin the enjoyment of the game for their fellow fans.

  7. Just to point to another example of referee abuse from high places not being sanctioned, did anyone see Ferguson’s antics today? If anyone was to do the job of setting an example it would’ve been Mike Dean, he should’ve sent SAF from that match sending a message that no one is above the game.

  8. I take offense to “your say”. Here is my say.

    Youth soccer is relationship of three EQUAL parts. In alphabetical order, Coach-Player-Referee. (Parents are the coach’s/club’s responsibility)

    As a referee, you too sir, are also part of the problem. “Your say” points fingers all around you without any acknowledgement or even the smallest hint of a possibility of any wrong doing on your part or any other referee. We all make mistakes and it’s okay. Own up to them.

    I have 30+ years as a player, 10 years as a coach with various Pierce county clubs and was a referee for some time too. My problem with referees has always been the “fraternity” like mindset and officiating of games without regard or respect of the other two parts.

    I’m talking about that stubborn, 50+ year old guy that hardly leaves the center circle of a U-18 girls game. You know, the guy that is above being the AR on a U-11 mod game? This is also disrectful to the game.

    Luckily, I was born with thick skin and don’t take things personally. I’m thankful that my parents taught me that I am not perfect and should always take responsibilty of my actions.
    People like you are why I didn’t enjoy being a referee. Get over yourself.


    Brad Edwards

    • The reason why that referee is on a U-18 game is because the young fast referees have quit due to abuse. So thanks for proving the point the article has made, try and be a bit more understanding, you rarely get the referees opinion.

      • How did I prove the point? In my experience, most young referees quit to play or go to college.

        Why not make referees become a coach?

      • Demolition Man on

        Actually, I call foul on this. As a high school coach for over 17 years, I have had both older and younger officials work my games. Maybe I am an exception, but I generally have better things to say about younger referees than the “more experienced ones”. I know from many of my players ( all of whom I encourage to become officials and give back to the game ) that they are stymied from working as centers because older refs get the better games. Are there problems with attitudes from the sidelines? yes. But there are also problems with attitudes from the center of the field. We used to have discussions with officials at pre-season rules meetings, but those no longer take place. they were an arena for all of us to understand rules, and how the state interpreted them. Those are now gone. Meetings like that help diffuse situations before they ever occur. It is then the responsibility of the coaches to educate their players and fans. Just as it is the responsibility of officials to instruct players, listen to legitimate complaints, and accept criticism where it is due.

    • Brad,

      You are correct. There are the lazy referees who will never move nor have the commitment to get any better than their Entry Level Class taught them. When ever you see them, make contact with the Assignor or Referee Director of that your youth league. And I don’t mean just send an email but call or get a face to face with the appropriate person in your league. Don’t yell or confront the Referee. He probably doesn’t care or it will lessen his focus on the game evenmore. At the youth level there are new Referees who are being worked up the ladder and will make mistakes. Again let the league know if you see a gross mis-interpretation of the Laws or a Referee putting player safety in question.

      At nearly all MLS matches, there is a Match Inspector who is a senior Referee. They watch the match and give immediate feedback to the Referee team after the post match reports are finished. The match films are reviewed and the Referee gets direction where needed. As an experienced Referee, do I agree with every call made at the professional level? No. Sometimes in replays I am proven right. As a Referee I know with cameras at nearly every angle these days replays will sometimes have a better view than even the best Referee in the world. So I respect the Referee and not say anything in a public manner.

      I believe the author was directing the article at those fans who believe their passion for their team or the sport gives them clearance to be obnoxious and even profane. Many MLS stadiums now have family sections that a person can be kicked out of the stadium if profanity or abusive language is used and no alcohol is permitted. The latter seems to grease the former. An extreme point of stupidity is the one MLS club that has two “supporter groups” that often have mass brawls at the team’s matches because each believes they are the more passionate supporters.

      So be passionate about the sport and your team. PLEASE, get involved where you can to improve the quality of the players, coaches and referees. Particularly at the youth level. But there is no need to become that loud abusive fan that makes everyone in your section glad when you can’t make the match.

  9. So since you are a sounders fan, I can see that you guys also invented the way you are supposed to act at a soccer match by keeping your mouth shut when a ref makes a horrible call. No matter how bad it is, and there has been a great deal of blatantly horrific calls in the MLS over the years.

  10. Not sure about making coaches referee other games in the division due to possible collusion opportunities, but I like the idea of them gaining rudimentary officiating training.

    My nephew played soccer up until eighth grade, and I never heard anything nasty from the parents and families toward the refs beyond “What was that call?”. (Granted, this was a Catholic school league, which included prayers before the game.) I even refereed a fifth-grade game, and other than a mom mocking my “That’s OK” call on a shoulder-to-shoulder charge, and a discussion with my brother the coach over a goal kick encroachment call I admit in retrospect I missed, I got no abuse. In fact, the other coach invited his players to shake hands with me post-game, and that was nice.

    Youth sports should be about the kids playing for enjoyment, health and character development. Parents, W-L or officiating calls should not become an issue until the collegiate level or equivalent.

  11. Another suggestion I heard from a friend and fellow coach is going to a team type of approach for soccer refs similar to basketball and football. If basketball has three refs with much smaller court and fewer players and football has 7 officials with similar size field and same number of players on the field, FIFA should at least consider teams of referees for soccer, maybe two ARs and three centers, who converse about calls and how they see them from different angles.

    This would also give more eyes off the ball for the crap that offenders do to the poor defenders, who of course are just trying to win the ball…all right, sarcasm.

    The best argument is that it would take some the ego of some refs out of the game that can have a major affect on how a single Ref calls the game.

    This wouldn’t work at all levels, but at the highest levels it would. Finally, more junior refs working in a team with more experienced refs gives more opportunities for learning and experience.

    Good article offer all, with one critique, if your serious about adult leagues riffing within their own, their would cease to be adult leagues in the sense that many of the adults playing in the league may know the rules, but can’t keep their emotions in check as it is and teams would be better off calling their own fouls without refs in many cases.

    • People who suggest things like this usually have no knowledge of the history or even current officiating of the game. In America the 3 center referees with two ARs is used sometimes…it’s terrible and completely inconsistent. Things are sometimes inconsistent with 1 referee why would people think it would become more consistent with 3.

      Also Italy’s top league experimented with two center officials with two ARs. That was a spectacular failure as well for much the same reasons. 3 referees seem to bring about the most desirable result as the game is currently. The future might have to be some sort of replay or two more ARs at the goal lines.

  12. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a soccer ref. I simply do not have a thick enough skin, and I would spend most of my time between matches mourning whatever bad calls I made, and probably second guessing the close ones. I believe that I would be totally fair and objective, but that would not prevent any mistakes. And I am certain that I wouldn’t last a season.

    Am I part of the problem? I hope not. I have in the past, and I’m sure will continue in the future sung songs to the refs asking them to please pas the bong etc… But I do so mostly with good humor, and have generally forgotten 99.9% of perceived sleights by the end of the match.

  13. ALL teams have fans that ridicule and boo refs when calls dont go their way. Seattle in no exception but we are the ones constantly picked out by sports “writers” for being whiners. Why? I have no idea. All teams have fans who do this. From nfl to epl to little league. Get over it this article has been written more times than I can count. And whats the point of calling yourself a sounder fan. Is it to give you more credibility with other sounder fans? Just so tired of this poor horse who has constantly seen its fair shares of beatings after its death. I hope this idea that seattle sounder fans are abnormally abusive to refs put to rest in the new year because is just plain dumb that sounder fans are singled out for a sports wide attitude for calls that dont go their way. One example is greenbay fans after the seattle game. They huffed and puffed and look what happened. Change. So thats why its done. Just not all fans are able to spur change when its out of their hands. Who knows maybe with this wonderfully written article you too will spur change

    • I don’t think Seattle fans do it any worse than other teams. Having been at pitch level and in an owner’s box during the game, the fact as fans you do it in unison so well it sounds HUGE! Writer’s don’t mention the noise level inside the stadium as much for soccer matches as its written for football games. Its definitely a home field advantage 🙂 I only get into town to watch a couple matches a year but the fan base is impressive and the traveling supporter group is a lot more respectful than my local team’s group of road idiots.

      Also, Sigi is not the press’s favorite coach. He is respected for his knowledge but not known as a friend to the beat reporters. Thus the press will crucify him and the team whenever they can. Fair? Absolutely not. These days there is so few reporters who actually report the facts without applying editorial agenda.

  14. I have seen referees remove players, coaches, spectators, and abandon games because of hostile environments. I think they have ultimate power over what is said to them. It is also sad that referees have been killed because they have made a call someone didn’t agree with. I admit I am a hypocrite and yell at the refs at Sounders games when I feel the calls are one-sided or I have had a few beers and think “what the hell, everyone’s doing it”. Other than the Sounders …I have never yelled at a ref while watching, playing, or coaching a soccer game. I do believe, even at the Sounders games, people who yell threatening remarks at players/refs should be removed. As a society, we should show some restraint, but I don’t see what is happening at Sounders games spiraling out of control. Like profanity, parents need to pass on their own beliefs to their kids even though everyone around them is doing something they see wrong. I don’t see C-link outlawing drinking, and other tom-foolery, unless something terrible happens to a ref and/or playor because of the crowd.