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The Other Match Officials – Law 6



In soccer, “The Other Match Officials” identified in Law 6 of the Laws of the Game  may include two assistant referees, a fourth official, two additional assistant referees and a reserve assistant referee.  In addition, there may be a video assistant referee and an assistant video assistant referee.  These other match officials serve to assist and advise the referee during a match.  All final decisions rest with the referee in accordance with Law 5, “The Referee.”


The other match officials operate under the direction of the referee.  They can assist the referee with inspecting the field of play for conformance with Law 1, “The Field of Play,” ensuring that the balls meet the requirements of Law 2, “The Ball,” and that the players’ equipment meets the requirements of Law 4, “The Players’ Equipment,” including initial inspection prior to the match, inspection of substitutes prior to entry into the field, and the re-inspection of players who may have initially been found to be out of compliance.   In addition, they can maintain records of player rosters, player passes, the time, goals scored, and report any misconduct.  (If any serious misconduct or other incident has occurred outside the view of the referee and the other match officials, a report must be submitted “to the appropriate authorities.” The referee and the other match officials must be informed of any report being made.)

Assistant Referees

There are usually two assistant referees (ARs, AR1, AR2), appointed as part of the officiating team, who act as advisors to the referee.  They generally run along opposite sidelines from the halfway line to the corner (in a lane just outside the field of play), usually staying in line with the next-to-last defender in order to be properly positioned to call offside.  (There is an option for additional assistant referees – see below.)  The assistant referees are expected to:

  • Assist the referee with the identification of offenses when they have a clearer view than the referee.
  • In accordance with Law 9, “The Ball In and Out of Play,” indicate when the whole of the ball leaves the field of play and which team is entitled to a corner kick, goal kick or throw-in.
  • Indicate when a player who is in an offside position may be penalized in accordance with Law 11, “Offside.”
  • Indicate when a substitution has been requested (if a fourth official is not present) and monitoring that the substitution procedure is properly followed.
  • On penalty kicks, indicate if the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and if the ball crosses the goal line. (Unless additional assistant referees have been appointed, the assistant referee is to take a position in line with the penalty mark.)
  • Assist the referee with the implementation of “Local Rules.”

The assistant referees generally do not enter the field of play.   They may enter, however, to help control the 10-yard distance requirement from a free kick.

The more senior of the two assistant referees will normally run the sideline containing the technical areas, to help oversee substitutions and to maintain decorum.

During a penalty kick, the assistant referee will be positioned along the end line to help determine if a goal has been scored.  When an additional assistant referee is used, the assistant referee takes a position in line with the ball on the penalty mark to determine if offside occurs after a rebound.

Fourth Official

The fourth official (reserve referee, replacement referee, RR, 4th), assists both the referee and the assistant referees.  The fourth official’s assistance includes:

  • Checking players’ equipment at initial inspection.
  • Supervising the substitution procedure, including use of a sign board that indicates the jersey numbers of the players entering and exiting.
  • Checking a substitute player’s equipment.
  • Supervising the re-entry of a player following approval and a signal from the referee.
  • Supervising the acceptability of replacement balls.
  • Indicating the minimum amount of additional time the referee intends to play at the end of each half, including extra time, by use of a sign board that indicates full minutes.
  • Informing the referee of irresponsible behavior by any technical area occupant.
  • Enforcing temporary dismissals, if “sin bins” are used.
  • Managing the technical areas.
  • Keeping a backup record of the score, cautions and ejections.
  • Acting as the contact point between the match officiating crew and any non-participants (such as stadium managers, security personnel, broadcast crews, and ball retrievers).
  • Ensuring that the referee has given yellow or red cards to the correct players and that a player who has received two yellow cards is properly ejected.

The fourth official serves as a replacement official in the event that one of the other officials becomes incapacitated and cannot continue.  In cases where an assistant referee cannot continue, the fourth official replaces that assistant referee.  In cases where the referee cannot continue, the fourth official replaces the referee directly, or, the more senior assistant referee replaces the referee and the fourth official takes the junior assistant referee’s position. Which of these options is used is supposed to be contained in the competition rules.  If for some reason it is not stated, then typically the official with the most refereeing experience, either the fourth official or the more senior assistant referee, should replace the referee.

Additional Assistant Referees

The additional assistant referees (AARs, AAR1, AAR2) are usually two officials who assist the referee behind each goal line by observing any incident that may occur near the penalty area.  On either end of the field, they generally move in a lane from one corner to the nearest intersection of the goal-area line with the goal line.

The additional assistant referees may indicate:

  • When the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, including when a goal is scored.
  • Which team is entitled to a corner kick or goal kick.
  • Whether, at penalty kicks, the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and if the ball crosses the line.
  • Incidents of any kind that the referee may otherwise have missed, by use of a wireless communication system.

The positioning of the additional assistant referees on the goal line is specifically intended to provide the best view possible to assist the referee in ensuring that no goal is awarded which did not actually meet the full requirements of Law 10, “Determining the Outcome of a Match (Goal Scored),” otherwise known as a “ghost goal.”

Reserve Assistant Referee

If appointed, the only duty of a reserve assistant referee (RAR), also known as the “fifth official,” is to replace an assistant referee or fourth official who may become incapacitated and is unable to perform their duties.

Video Assistant Referee and Assistant Video Assistant Referee

Not included in the actual Laws of the Game, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) has authorized the trial use of live action and video replay electronically observed by a Video Assistant Referee (VAR), who does not have to be physically present at the game site, with the help of an assistant video assistant referee (AVAR).  The VAR may review decisions made by the referee using a video display and communication with the referee via wireless headset.  The AVAR should continue to watch the live action while the VAR is conducting a review.  Both the VAR and the AVAR are expected to be current or former on-field referees.

Currently, there are four types of calls that can be reviewed:

  • Goals, and whether or not a violation occurred prior to the score.
  • Penalty kick decisions.
  • Red card ecisions (second yellow cards are not reviewable).
  • Mistaken identity in the issuance of a red or yellow card.

Per Wikipedia, “The standard for overturning the referee’s original decision is that there has been a ‘clear error,’ sometimes expanded to ‘clear and obvious error.’

“The process begins with the video assistant referee and the assistant video assistant referee reviewing the play in question on a bank of monitors in the video operation room (VOR) with the assistance of a replay operator (RO).  This can be triggered by the referee requesting the review or by the VAR conducting a ‘check’ to see if he or she should recommend a review to the referee.  If the VAR finds nothing during the check, then communication with the referee is unnecessary, which is called a ‘silent check.’   If the VAR believes there has been a potential clear error, he or she will contact the referee with that judgment. The referee can then either (a) change the call on the advice of the VAR or (b) conduct an on-field review (OFR) by going to a designated spot on the sideline, called the referee review area (RRA), to review the video with the help of a review assistant (RA) or (c) decide that he or she is confident in the original call and not conduct an OFR. The referee is allowed to stop play to reverse a call or conduct an OFR, but is not supposed to do so when either team is engaged in a good attacking possibility.

“The official signal for a video review is by the referee making the outline of a rectangle with his index fingers (indicating a video screen). This precedes both any OFR as well as any change in the original call.  Players who demand a video review by making the rectangle motion are to be cautioned with a yellow card.  Players who enter the area where the referee conducts an OFR are also to be cautioned with a yellow card, and team officials who do so are to be dismissed.

“There are guidelines the referee and the VAR should follow in conducting a video review.  For example, slow motion should only be used for ‘point of contact’ offenses, such as physical offenses and handballs.  Regular speed should be used to determine the intensity of an offense and whether a handball was deliberate.  Reviews for goals, penalty kick decisions, and red cards for denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity cover the period back to the beginning of the ‘attacking possession phase’ (APP), when the attacking team first gained possession of the ball or restarted play.  Other reviews only cover the incident itself.”


Assistant referees and additional assistant referees wear a uniform identical to that of the referee.

The fourth official, reserve assistant referee, and the assistant video assistant referee should wear the same uniform as the referee, but the jersey is to be covered at all times with a different color so that they will not be confused with the match officials actively officiating the game.


Assistant referees and additional assistant referees carry brightly-colored flags used to indicate their decisions to the referee, players, and spectators.  At higher levels of play, these flags may be equipped with buttons that, when pressed, send an audible signal to the referee to ensure that the referee is aware of a possible offense observed by the assistant referee.

The entire officiating crew may be equipped with wireless headsets, containing microphones and earpieces, that facilitate oral communication.

Flag Signals

The assistant referees are expected to use the following flag signals to indicate decisions:

  • Substitution – flag held horizontally overhead with both hands.
  • Free Kicks – flag waved overhead and then pointed in the proper direction.
  • Throw-Ins – flag raised to a 45-degree angle above horizontal, held in the hand closest to the attacking goal of the team which is to throw the ball and pointed along the sideline.
  • Corner Kick – flag pointed down to the corner arc.
  • Goal Kick – flag pointed into the field of play toward the goal area.
  • Offiside – flag first pointed directly overhead; the flag is then pointed into the field of play: down for the player having been near the assistant referee, horizontally for the player having been in the middle of the field, or at 45-degree angle above horizontal for the player having been at the far side of the field.

The additional assistant referees are expected to use the following flag signal to indicate that a goal has been scored:

  • While standing at the intersection of the goal-area line with the goal line, the flag is pointed to the center mark.

Until the flag is used to make a signal, it is to be carried beside the leg, pointed down toward the ground.


In the event of undue interference or improper conduct by any other match official, the referee has the authority to relieve them of their duties and must make a report to the appropriate authorities.

Competition rules must state clearly who is to replace a match official who is unable to start or to continue, in addition to any subsequent changes.  Specifically, if the referee is to be replaced, it must be clear if it is the fourth official, the senior assistant referee, or the senior additional assistant referee who takes over.

Soccer Coaching Tips

–       Keep players and staff at least two yards away from the sidelines in order to allow the Assistant Referees space to run in their lanes unimpeded on the shoulders of the field.  This applies to spectators, as well.

–       Check with the Assistant Referees on how they might prefer you to get their attention in order to make a substitution.

–       Do not engage with the Assistant Referees in any way in the performance of their duties or to contest a call by the referee or themselves.

–      Just because the Assistant Referee may raise the flag for offside, players must not assume that offside will be called.  They must continue to play until the Referee blows the whistle.


NOTICE:  This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB).  As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in part or in whole.  Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected.  Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game.  If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at TheIFAB.com.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.


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John C. Harves


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