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August 2021

Assisting the ref; but does the ref want your assistance?

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By Walter Broeckx

There has been a little argument in the comment section about the fact that Sian Masey didn’t raise her flag for a possible penalty for Arsenal or for Norwich at some moment in the game.

As I am a person who does both things (ref and assistant) I know a bit of how things work so I will try to inform you on why she did like she did.

First of all I must admit that I am a great admirer of her. As we have reached the number of 130 reviews so far this season she has been in the picture for a few times. So I and my other ref reviewers have seen her a few times and she always has left a great impression. She is a very quick sprinter, has an excellent vision on offside, knows to run the line. A big, big talent!

One of the things that happens in the dressing room of the refs before the game is the instructions given by the ref. No matter how experienced you are, no matter how many games you did together the ref should always tell you what he wants you to do and also what he wants you not to do. This might come as a surprise but it is not that they just run on the field and each do what they like to do. It is the ref his responsibility to give the instructions and this is a vital part of the match preparation.

I once had a ref with whom we had a great game once after him giving clear instructions. A few months later I had him again as my ref. And he just said before the game: Oh, we did great last time let us just do it like again like the last time. It was a disaster. Because if you get instructions each week that can be different you don’t remember it correct what that ref specifically wants from you. Since then I never go that road again, how good I know the ref and he knows me, I insist that he gives me the instructions each time again. So the instructions are very important.

Now what are those instructions? It is about different things. Of course it is about a ball going out and who will give the direction. Most of the time the assistant does the calls on his half of the field unless the ref has seen a deflection that the assistant maybe could not see. When you have headsets you can speak with each other but if not then most of the time the ref blows his whistle and gives the direction and then the assistant follows the ref.

Another part is about the offside rule. Most refs say: I trust you. And that is it. They ask to keep on standing with the flag till he sees you but that is not a major issue in the PL as they are wired up and will have the use of vibrator flagging system all the time. I must say it is very helpful if you have to make a call and the ref has his back to you to press the button and then he knows that you are standing there with the flag in the air.

And then comes the most difficult part and the part that is variable from ref to ref: how to deal with fouls, penalties, etc…

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If a ref tells you, you are not allowed to signal anything of those things….then you can either think of it as an easy afternoon or you can go home as he clearly needs no help. Of course you will not go home but I think it is stupid from a ref to act like that. The assistants are there to help him and when he refuses such help he is making life difficult for himself. But there are such refs who tell that you can only raise the flag for an offside or for a throw.

Some refs tell you only to do the big fouls. Some tell you to also take the little fouls he cannot see because his vision is blocked. This is for the shirt pulling on his blind side but that is clear for the assistant to see.

About penalties most refs tell you only to do the things he could not see. A handball that is not clear to see because of the body covering the angle from the ref. But when they tell you that you cannot touch any other foul, you have to stay away from it. Even if you had the better view, if the ref told you not to do it you have to listen. If the ref gets himself in trouble by giving his instructions like that, he is the one to blame. Not the assistant who was not allowed to help him.

So as you can see the way an assistant operates for fouls and penalties is depending on the ref his instructions. Good refs put a lot of trust on the assistants and this is also good for the team building and togetherness before, during and after the game.  So some days you will see an assistant calling some things and the next day you will him not calling the same thing. Then you can be sure that it was because of the instructions of the ref.

About the Arsenal – Norwich game and the fact that Sian Massey did not raise the flag for the handball this could be down to the instructions from the ref. If he had said before the game: you only do the hidden handballs, she could not raise her flag as it was a  handball clear to see.  If he had said: you don’t do fouls in the penalty area again she had to leave it like that.

However incorrect this might seem, and of course it is incorrect to not allow the assistant his help, but this is the way it can go. I’m not claiming to know the instructions the ref gave before the game but this is what could have happened. In the games I have reviewed I have always felt that Sian Masey is not backing away from taking her responsibility when she has to. Or should I say when she is allowed to?

I must say that it is very frustrating to be the assistant of a ref who will not allow you to help him with the obvious things. And when you see him mess things up you get even more frustrated. You hear the abuse and the assistant is mostly seen as just a part of the evil and bad ref so you get abused as well. I’ve had games where I felt the need to just go to the dressing room and leave it up to the ref to sort it out himself. But you just stay over there and try to do your part of the job that is left for you. But believe me you can get very very frustrated with some refs as an assistant.

And then I wondered that this frustrations could lead up to the fact that for once she had a bit of a f*ck you moment to the ref when she kept the flag down when Gervinho was offside and it lead to the foul and the push in the back of Van Persie. It could have just been the fact that she because of the frustration of seeing an inept referee that she just joined him and went down to his level of refereeing. Or was she so aggrieved by some decisions that she decided to try to try to make up a bit for his mistakes?

It was a very untypical Sian Masey moment to be honest and I really do wonder how she felt after the game with such a ref.  But we all can have a bad moment as for the rest I felt for the things she was allowed to do did a great job for most of the time. And even one bad game doesn’t make you a bad ref or assistant. I still think she is one of the best assistants we have in the EPL. Even after our last game.

27 comments to Assisting the ref; but does the ref want your assistance?

  • WalterBroeckx

    After reading it again I also would like to point out that it is also possible that she could not see the offside from Gervinho. Oxlade-chamberlain was just in front of her and it is possible that she just could not see the position from Gervinho.

    Another example on how video evidence can sort such things out.

  • Lewis

    How do you know these were the instructions she was given though? It seems presumptuous but I agree she seems like a top assistant. And being at the emirates on Saturday and hearing some of the sexist abuse being shouted she must be mentally tough

  • SQ17

    Ref official is mere human… Human make mistakes so does manager (Wenger) players (Ramsey)

    Technology need to be introduced
    Look at the other modern sport competitions

    I mean what could be wrong?
    4th official stand by on the footage and explaining foul, goal line, hand ball whatever to the referee via their telecom device/ear piece

    So no more conspiracy theory crazy fans, arm flapping manager, whining players crying for handball at the box

    Modernized the game!

  • WalterBroeckx

    I hope I have made it clear enough that I just offered possible answers to questions that were raised in the comment section of an earlier article where people were amazed that Sian Masey did not raise her flag for handball or for the offside from Gervinho or for any other foul in the penalty area.

    From my own experience I can only guess she was told to not signal it before (or during the game with the headset!)

  • WalterBroeckx


    You are so right. And once they sorted this video assistance out they can show on the big screens the decisions and the angle on which they based the ultimate decision so the fans in the stadium can see it with their own eyes. And accept that the decision is correct.

  • Paul B

    I was sitting in block 11 fourth row, and I too had heard great things about her, but she couldn’t keep up with play, had a perfect vision on the RvP penalty shout, the ref was bloody awful, someone even threw a pair of glasses on to the pitch near the corner flag, it was a shocking inept performance from the ref, didn’t raise her flag when it was a blatant foul, if that is the case that it was the ref’s instructions to her, then I take back all the grief I gave her

  • bob

    Beautiful piece. What we need is transparency as you consistently show. And one day it will be Sian checking the video replay — if, that is, the snare and diversion of goal line technology (with envelopes galore) for the next 5-10 years is rejected by a groundswell of informed public opinion.

  • SQ17

    Yes Walter…
    Exactly what i mean…
    Good point on the big screens
    It’s logical and the easiest way
    Referees this season has been so very poor but i don’t like going to the Liverpool RAWK route and thinking it’s all human error… Error that could be fix like technologies

    Maybe the real conspiracy lies within why this technology is not introduce decades before
    The only way to cheat is using Adobe After Effect

  • Lewis

    Sorry I wasn’t meaning to have a go, I just find it hard to believe that at this level a ref would tell his assistants not to assist him. But watching the shocking display that he put on, nothing is out of the question.
    On a seperate note, has anyone had a look at the Sagna incident, match of the day decided to completely ignore it?!

  • goooner

    Hi Walter,
    thanks for the behind the scenes view. Maybe she was waiting to see if anything would happen, as he was technically not involved (passive), as he missed the ball lol.

    It is amazing that we’ve gone through an entire season without getting a penalty at home!

  • redjessie

    Taylor was dreadful on Saturday. Totally arrogant, totally inconsistent and totally dreadful. I reckon it costs me £100 for each home game. I am getting more and more downbeat about paying that money to see our porr performances and totally inadequate refereeing. I am a referee myself and have officiated at quite a high level. Guys like Taylor are just not good enough.

  • Potter

    Lewis , Sagna was definitely trodden on, the hard bit to prove is whether it was deliberate. I have watched it back a few times and have concluded that by the way he shifted his feet , he probably meant to “”slow him down a bit “” I doubt he meant to create major damage, but he did, and as such in my opinion should have seen red. however the ref unsurprisingly missed it and the injury was not appreciated until he went down a minute later.

  • MikeSA

    Last season Gallas was offside and right in front of the keeper when he missed an attempt by millimeters which was taken by another player who came from an onside position.

    According to all the reviews at the time, because Gallas did not touch the ball, he was deemed to have been “not interfering with play”, even though he was clearly distacting the keeper at the time, and the goal was given.

    Gervinho was not anywhere near being in the same position as Gallas with respect to distracting the keeper, and also did not touch the ball.

  • WalterBroeckx

    MikeSA, a perfect example on how pundits explain the rules…wrong

    I think you refer to the Fulham-Tottenham game where Dean gave the goal to Tottenham and Arry. (oh what a surprise)

    So darling Arry and dancing Dean were to be given the decision and thus they twisted and turned.

    When a player tries to make contact he should be deemed offside. When a player is standing right in front of the goalkeeper in offside he is offside.
    Only a player who makes no move towards the ball can be deemed onside

  • RedGooner

    There seems to be a huge issue here Walter.
    Under no circumstances should a referee be allowed to make up what he wants and doesn’t want reported to him.

    There should be crystal clear guidelines as to what the roll of a linesman/woman’s job is and the Ref before a game should have NO say when it comes to influence on how another member of the team performs.

    When a foul is committed or a wrong decision occurs the flag should go up and then the referee after brief consultation should make a decision based on the information he has just been given.

    I can’t accept that any professional organization allows no consistency in how a match is officiated, that any Ref can decide what situations he will allow the team be involved in 5 mins before a match based on what side of the bed he got out of or how he feels that day.

    Surely that can’t be allowed?

    PS I wasn’t saying the other day that in general Sian Massey is poor in fact she usually is a breath of fresh air compared to some.
    But when in fact the ref let play go on without acknowledging the hand ball she could have raised the flag and asked did he see it? same with the push on Rvp.
    If he didnt want to give it then afterwards fair enough.

  • Good article Walter, as a referee and assistant I agree, some referees don’t want anything given part from offside and ball in/out of play.

    Very frustrating, and fans/players don’t understand why you don’t put your flag up.

  • Tram

    Walter, many thanks for this insight. I am an armchair fan, with no referee training. It seems to me though that to somebody with experience of refs’ briefings, it would be possible to see the ‘footprint’ of that briefing in other contributions by the assistant during the match. Did she signal any other incidents to him? Did the other assistant?
    And one other thing that may become critically important this weekend. What is the role of the 4th official in all of this? Ought he too be advising of contraventions? Can he change ( or inhibit) a ref’s decisions? Does it depend on their relative seniority in the ref-mafia?

  • bjtgooner

    Interesting article Walter, I had not realised that the ref would decide the limits of the assistants’ role – from what you have described this could change from match to match – should the roles not be the same every time, so that everyone knows fully what is expected of them?

  • yassin

    NOT on of the best assistance, but i have to admit she is the best.
    It is one moment not one game.
    thank you for the explanation that was really beneficial.

  • Adam

    Walter you whistle blower, What other insider gems of knowledge are you withholding, All this time we have been trying to get you to open up a bit more, about what actually goes on with the officials. then this, Refs telling their assistants to ignore the rules. Truly shocking. No wonder frustration is writhe across the football pitch and stands, dugouts and TV. Work creation for the pundits I suppose.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Adam, I don’t know how long you have been here around but in my early days I wrote a few articles about the things I have heard when talking with other refs. But alas this is all about my own country and so not of any use to what we do here.
    But the things ex-refs, club presidents, and current refs have told me I can tell you that there are very dark sides at times with some refs and presidents.

    But those are about things in the past and some persons are dead now and some things are about local teams. Some people talked to me about the Ye-era in my country (Chines gambling Mafia that threatened players with guns and threatened to do harm to their children if they didn’t act like they wished they would act).

    And these are things about a league were not even 1/10th of the money goes round compared to the EPL.

    So maybe one can understand why I am a person who believes that there happen and can happen some suspicious things in football and with refs.

  • Gord


    (are there a universe of Gooners, with more and more o’s?).

    Marcus had been asking, so this morning I did some calculating. Marcus has us at 21 home games without getting a penalty, so that was what I was looking for. Marcus had suggested an average rate of 1.0 penalties to the home team per game. The problem phrased in that way looks like a Poisson problem, sort of like the average rate of soldiers getting kicked by horses in battle.

    I got up to generating 16 million football games, and with an average penalty rate of 1.0, the largest number of consecutive games without a penalty (a run) was about 16. If I reduce the penalty rate to 0.8, I can start to see runs as long as 21 games. So, that matches the run length we are seeing at the moment. But, another consequence of this simulation, is that we should also be seeing games where the home team gets more than 5 penalties. The maximum seen in the simulation was actually 10 penalties, over a simulated 38 million games.

    Have you heard of an EPL game with really large numbers of penalties?

    The reason 38 crops up, is that the EPL is 20 years old, and hence a team that had been in the EPL from the beginning, should have played 380 home games by now. So I did everything in terms of groups of 380 games.

  • Adam

    @Walter do you have any links to those early articles, I would be very interested in digesting them.
    Also have you read up on the latest from Turkish football.

  • MikeBassett

    On what planet are there 1.0 penalties per game for the home team?! In the Premier League, over the last 5 seasons, there is an average of under 100 penalties per season (83,86,111,103,100(currently 98 but I’ll guess 2 are given next Sunday). Now this includes away sides as well. I will suggest (generously) that 2/3 of pens are awarded to the home team. That gives 64 home team pens per season. There are 380 games per season. The ratio you should have been using is in the range 0.1-0.2. I think you will thus find that while your run of 21 games is improbable, it’s a long way from impossible.
    Which brings me onto a few other points. I am a Norwich fan who has frankly been stunned by this website. I’ve done a bit of reading around and I am genuinely shocked at the way your site looks at Arsenal FC and the premier league.
    Firstly, I have been on this site before and read a ref report on a Norwich game earlier in the season. On first glance I trusted the ref report as gospel truth (like a lot of posters on here seem to do). So I was curious to read it after our game at the weekend. Your claims that the ref report is totally objective is completely voided by the fact this is an ARSENAL SUPPORTERS’ website. Parading the fact a qualified ref has compiled the report is frankly a nonsense. A professional ref from Norwich or Daventry or even Ipswich would call it very differently. The only way to analyse this fairly would be to blank out all the faces of the players and their respective kits!!
    Another point I don’t agree with is your shear stubbornness to stick to the “laws of the game”. The trouble is you use this when you want to. Deciding Benayoun warranted a yellow for a kick out at Lappin is laughable when you suggest further in the piece that Wilbraham deserves not one, but two red cards. They were clumsy yes, but the arm was straight in both cases and there was absolutely no intent. Furthermore, anyone suggesting Johnson deliberately injured Sagna is making a bold and unfair claim. I really hope Sagna is back soon as he is a quality player but his accusation was made in the heat of the moment, it really seems innocuous on the replays. Finally, a red for Jackson for the tackle on LK? Never, never… never. It was a yellow all day! He simply slides in to halt the Arsenal player. It’s a textbook “tactical foul”. I realise my only qualification for making these judgements is having played for over a dozen years and watched football for 20 years. Not being a referee, doesn’t drastically hamper my view of the game. The laws are open to interpretation, to an extent, and so the way you are analysing these games annoys me. There are many cases you cannot give a concrete yes or no on a decision.
    What we can agree on is that the standard of refereeing was poor. But, it had little baring on the result as he was fairly equally bad to both teams.
    This whole conspiracy theory is indescribably arrogant. Arsenal are in decline. Face the facts. I moan about refs frequently and sometimes it feels like these things don’t even themselves out; it’s tough but invariably they do. Blame the tactics, blame the players and occasionally blame the refs. They are all to blame. I’m sure Arsenal have had it rough this year but try and enjoy supporting your club rather than moaning all the time and producing biased ref reviews!!
    Finally I apologise for writing a short novel and realise my views probably won’t change yours. But I feel it is necessary for me to point out that you have altered my perception of Arsenal FC, and it certainly hasn’t been for the best. Quit whining, appreciate the fantastic football you view regularly and enjoy supporting a successful club. Having witnessed League 1 football recently, you are the lucky ones, trust me. Get off your high horse! Cheers.

  • bob

    “This whole conspiracy theory is indescribably arrogant.”
    Sorry, but it’s been the arrogance of unaccountable refshite served up by the PGMOL that’s been described hereabouts. It’s your preferred COINCIDENCE theory that rides the high horse you slate. Your say-so and everything here is so earnestly trashed. Well, thanks for the novella but up thine.

  • jake

    I’m shocked and surprised i always thought the assistants were there to assist with everything . it explains a lot perhaps i owe a lot of retractions to linesmen over the years .