What you can (and absolutely can’t) say to the ref

By Walter Broeckx

Warning: this article contains insulting and abusive language.

In this article I will try to give an answer on Tony’s question: “can you send a player off for calling the ref a crook and a scoundrel and a shameless bastard?”

This is a very difficult question to answer. There is not a list with allowed and not allowed words.  In short the instructions are…it’s up to you as a ref.  So telling a ref he is a crook can have you sent off by ref A and not by ref B. As you can understand this is deadly for the consistency in refereeing.

We have had this discussion between refs a few times at several meetings. We asked our FA what we can allow and what not. And at the end of the meeting this is what we could conclude on the topic of verbal abuse. So walk with me through the wonderful world of verbal abuse that refs have or can face at times.

Physical threats are not acceptable: red card. If you tell a ref “I’m going to punch you in the face” or ‘I will kick you in your nuts”; you must send him off. There is no doubt about those things.  You don’t touch the ref and you also don’t tell him that you will touch him in a threatening way.

Personal insults about your physical appearance is very much up to the ref. If you are bald and they call you bald you must make up your own mind if it is an insult or not. For some people who feel bad about losing their hair it can be an insult. For people who shave their head bold it will maybe not be an insult.  If they call me grey I don’t think it is an insult because most of my hair that is left is actually grey.

But if a player says : “you fat, ugly, stinking, gray cunt of a ref”;  he would get a red card.

Just saying one word that could be considered abusive is something that can be said in the heat of the moment without really malicious intent. But if the player comes up with a string of personal insults it is something that is not acceptable anymore and is not something that just could be a slip of the tongue.

Insults to your family are totally unacceptable. If a player said to me: “your mother is a whore” or “I fucked your wife and she was as bad in bed as you are as a ref”. RED CARD. You leave the ref his family out of it.

Wishing someone a disease… If someone wishes me a good cold I would sniff it away. But if someone said, ‘I hope you get cancer’ he would go. The boarder line here is which disease they wish you get, is it a minor disease or a bad and possible deadly disease? A disease that is often used in abuse is Aids.

Wishing your family a disease: They mostly wish your wife or children to get cancer if they do so, no arguments send him off. Like I said before leave the family out of it. You can imagine that this also could be very hurting at times. Imagine if your mother or father recently died of cancer and if they would say something like that. So totally unacceptable.

Sexual insults like giving you names that refer to intimate body parts are sometimes a bit more difficult. I think we all have some words we sometimes use in our daily life that could be considered as insulting but also are used to express some kind of frustration without meaning it as an insult.

We have in Dutch a word that was originally given to a very intimate part of the woman’s body but during the last decades  it has become a word that is often used when something goes wrong. So if a player shouts that word I let it go as I don’t have that body part and most of the times it is just to ventilate some frustration.

About sexual preferences from the ref you don’t have to accept anything. I have never been called gay or referred to as a man who is visiting whores but they can leave my sex live out of my refereeing life. A ref’s sex live is private and is not part of the game.

Racist abuse is also not acceptable. But in Belgium you have to be careful when you are a ref and have your origins in Africa.  For as long as I can remember the most used verbal abuse against a ref is “vuile zwarte” or translated in English : “dirty black”. This is a thing that goes back to the days that refs only had black shirts and the days that in Belgium all refs where rather pale skinned.

So if they shout this to me it doesn’t affect me. My skin is white and I know that they point at the old colour of my shirt. But I can imagine that my colleagues who come original from Africa have a different reaction to those words.

These examples are things that have been said to refs on the field. It’s important to take in account the circumstances and the emotions of the game. But the general rule is that from the moment you feel insulted as a ref you have the right to give a red card.

But would I sent a player off when he calls me a crook? No, I don’t think so.

Would I sent a player off when he calls me a scoundrel? No, I don’t think so.

Would I sent a player of when he calls me a shameless bastard? Yes, as this is insulting for my family.

Would I sent a player off that calls me a crook, a scoundrel and a shameless bastard in one sentence: He will see the red card flashing before his eyes, you can be sure of that.

As a player you can be frustrated, you can be angry with a decision you feel is not correct. You can even let of some steam, you can swear, you can even say some names to the ref. But when you pass the line and show you don’t respect the ref as a human being or show no respect to the ref and his family, you must leave the field.

I sometimes tell a player when he really is annoyed and doesn’t agree with  my decision, that football is a sport where the ref has the final decision on the field. And that if he cannot accept this he should go and find himself a sport where there is no ref to make the final decision or tell him that he can always become a ref himself and make the right decisions.


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12 Replies to “What you can (and absolutely can’t) say to the ref”

  1. I have to admit – I once had a Didier Drogba moment (when he lost the plot at the ref during the CL semis against Barca) during a hotly contested playoff baseball game. Of course I was only 15 at the time and it wasn’t really “proper” for players to yell at umpires at that age. Not being one to swear at people, I shouted at the ump “Your feet stink and Jesus doesn’t love you!”. It was enough for the ump to tell me to grab some pine – as in I’d been ejected from the game – and after the game the ump told me he was Jewish. haha So, not entirely sure if was the feet comment or the Jesus comment that got me tossed. Still makes me laugh after all these years.

    Good stuff, Walter. 🙂

  2. I think that’s only a yellow Jonny. 😉 Funny we don’t have such an expression in Dutch as far as I know.

    Skagooner, loved your story. I sometimes see some baseball on that American sports channel we have and I have somewhere developed a soft spot for the Bolton Red sox. I always am a bit amazed that there is never much argument against the calls from the umpires. Well not that I have seen (and must say as it is mostly late at night that these games are on so I don’t look that often). Is this part of the rules or so? Or is it just part of some kind of gentlemans agreement that they don’t dispute the ref’s calls?

    Must say that I do remember coaches being sent off when they come over to the ref and dispute a call but this was a call on one of the bases and if a player was in or out.

  3. Can you actually get sent off during the half time break? A mate of mine was when we were younger. The ref came into our dressing room to try to clear a dispute. It didn’t go as planned I suppose and ended with a second yellow for said player 🙂

  4. That is possible Martin. From the moment the teams go out till the teams have left the field at the end of the game the ref can give any card he wants. And even after that they still can make a report of some situations.

    Must say I never would go in the dressing room of the teams. In a very special occasion you can call someone over to your own dressing room to tell him something and then still only with a responsable person of that team to be sure that there are witnesses.

  5. Walter – Oh, there’s PLENTY of arguing with umpires in baseball! haha But, because the players are frequently positioned close to an umpire, and there are many breaks in the game (like between pitches or between innings when teams change from fielding to batting), it’s just more common to “have a chat” on some play you think the ump got wrong.

    For really big blow ups at umpires, it will usually occur at home plate. Maybe over a called strike/ball or if a runner is called safe or out when trying to score from 3rd base on a play at home. You can see players, coaches and everyone yelling and trying to make the umpire change his mind. It rarely works. haha The other time you might see a big challenge to an umpire is on a steal play at 2nd base. If the runner is called out, you will often see his manager come out to have a shouting match with the umpire.

    So, mainly I think it’s due to how baseball is structured between the players and umpires and opportunities for interaction. There’s A LOT of complaining to the umps, but it’s done throughout a game because the players and umps have many opportunities in close proximity to each other.

  6. The story that did the rounds many years back was Rodney Marsh of QPR asking a ref “Hypothetically, if I called you a c**t, what would you do?” The ref…”I’d send you off.”

    “And,hypothetically again, if I thought you were a c**t, what would you do?” The ref…”I can’t do anything about what you think.”

    Marsh, walking away…”Well I think you’re a c**t.”

  7. Tony,Walter, i think i need some help wit football rule regarding offsides. I saw a good goal scored by vela that was disallowed. I meant the one against southafrica in the opening game of the world cup. Pls, what was wrong wit the goal?

  8. Well despite game quality of the France-Uruguay game, to my mind the first two games were well reffed. Thoughts?

  9. @lanre

    there must be 2 players between the attacker and the goal when the ball is played to him.. In this case the keeper had come off his line and was in front of Vela meaning only the player on the line was between him and the goal. Hence offside. It was the correct decision. Hope that clears things up.

  10. weell said jonny, fuck off walter and your sainted aunt too. sodding scoundrel.

  11. Very well explained Shard. Not much more than I can add.
    Except that as a person who has been standing on the touchline in numerous occasions I can tell you that those calls are the most difficult to make because as a linesman you have to follow the keeper in this case and that is really very difficult. Whole he game you concentrate on the defenders last shirt (yellow) and suddenly you have to change it and follow a red shirt. And make the decision in an instant. I must say a world class decision from the linesman in this case.
    But I must say I was dissapointed with the outcome as I liked it if Vela would have scored.

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