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23 Football Referee Signals With Images and Meanings

Fredrick is a freelance sports writer and soccer analyst. He specializes in football news and after-match analysis for sports portals.

What does it mean when the ref raises one arm? How about when they touch one of their hands? Learn about referee signals in football or soccer with this illustrated guide.

What does it mean when the ref raises one arm? How about when they touch one of their hands? Learn about referee signals in football or soccer with this illustrated guide.

What Do the Different Referee Signals Mean in Football or Soccer?

If you're a football fan, you're definitely familiar with the work of referees. You've likely noticed the officials making various hand gestures during the match, but do you know what those signals mean?

In this article, I will describe 23 signals commonly performed by soccer referees and their assistants. I will also include photos and diagrams to help you easily recognize the signals, which are usually accompanied by a whistle.

Raising one hand indicates kickoff, starting or stopping time, an indirect free kick, or the end of the game.

Raising one hand indicates kickoff, starting or stopping time, an indirect free kick, or the end of the game.

1. Raising One Hand

The referee will raise one hand to signal a number of events. The most common ones are as follows:

  • Kickoff
  • Starting or stopping time
  • Indirect free kick
  • End of the game
When the ref holds their hand horizontally and points forward, it signals a direct free kick or a new start from the center of the field.

When the ref holds their hand horizontally and points forward, it signals a direct free kick or a new start from the center of the field.

2. Holding One Hand Horizontally and Pointing Forward

This gesture indicates a direct free kick and allows a player (from the fouled team) to kick the ball directly to the goal. It also signals a new start from the center of the field.

When a ref runs with their hands held horizontally, it signifies advantage.

When a ref runs with their hands held horizontally, it signifies advantage.

3. Holding Both Hands Horizontally and Running

Dubbed "advantage" in football, this signals the player with the ball to keep playing after a less serious foul.

The referee raises both hands to signal that a goal has been scored. They might also use this signal to recognize events like PK saves.

The referee raises both hands to signal that a goal has been scored. They might also use this signal to recognize events like PK saves.

4. Raising Both Hands

This is the signal for a goal. Referees may also make this gesture to acknowledge another success on the field, like a goalkeeper saving a penalty.

The referee will cross their hands to disallow a goal.

The referee will cross their hands to disallow a goal.

5. Crossing Both Hands

This is the signal for disallowing a goal, especially when there is a disagreement on the field.

The referee gives out a yellow card as a warning for bad fouls or rulebreaking.

The referee gives out a yellow card as a warning for bad fouls or rulebreaking.

6. Showing a Yellow Card

This is a form of warning given to a player who has committed a foul or broken other football rules. Yellow cards can also be given to coaches.

When the referee gives a player a red card, that player is dismissed from the match immediately. Coaches can also be given red cards.

When the referee gives a player a red card, that player is dismissed from the match immediately. Coaches can also be given red cards.

7. Showing a Red Card

A red card dismisses a player (or even a coach) from the football match. The referee will give out a red card after the player/coach earns their second yellow card of the match. Committing a serious foul will sometimes cause a player to earn a straight red card.

The referee points to the corner to signal a corner kick.

The referee points to the corner to signal a corner kick.

8. Pointing to a Corner

This signals a corner kick, which is given when the ball goes over the goal line (without scoring a goal) after last touching a defending player.

The ref will point downwards toward the goal to signal a PK.

The ref will point downwards toward the goal to signal a PK.

9. Pointing Downwards Towards the Goal Area

The referee points to this area to signal a penalty kick (or goal kick), which is given when an attacking player (or opposing player) is fouled in the area.

The assistant ref raises their flag to indicate an offside.

The assistant ref raises their flag to indicate an offside.

10. Raising the Flag

This signal is made by an assistant referee. It indicates an offside, which is when an attacking player receives the ball in front of the second-to-last opponent (goalkeeper included).

The assistant ref will point with the flag to show which direction to play the ball after it goes out.

The assistant ref will point with the flag to show which direction to play the ball after it goes out.

11. Pointing With the Flag

This signal is also performed by an assistant referee, and it shows the direction to play the ball after it goes out of the field.

When the assistant referee raises their flag with both hands, it signals an impending substitution.

When the assistant referee raises their flag with both hands, it signals an impending substitution.

12. Raising Both Hands With the Flag

The assistant referee will raise their flag with both hands to let the main referee know about an upcoming substitution, which is when one player is replaced by another.

When the ref crosses their hands above their head, it signals a time-out.

When the ref crosses their hands above their head, it signals a time-out.

13. Raising Both Hands and Crossing Them

This gesture indicates a time-out. It signals the players to take a break or lets the other officials know they can make a substitution.

The referee will place their hands on their chest to signal an obstruction in play.

The referee will place their hands on their chest to signal an obstruction in play.

14. Placing Both Hands on Their Chest

When a referee gives this signal, it means that there was an obstruction. For example, one player may have stood in the way of another player or otherwise gotten in their way.

When the referee touches one of their hands, it typically signals a handball.

When the referee touches one of their hands, it typically signals a handball.

15. Touching One Hand

This signals a handball, which happens when the ball comes into contact with a player’s hand (other than the goalkeeper, who is allowed to touch the ball with their hands). The referee may also use this gesture to tell the other match officials to start or stop their clocks.

The ref will hold both hands in front of their chest to indicate that one player has committed a foul by pushing another player.

The ref will hold both hands in front of their chest to indicate that one player has committed a foul by pushing another player.

16. Holding Both Hands in Front of Their Chest

When the referee gives this signal, it means they saw one player pushing another player, therefore committing a foul.

The referee will gesture to their elbow when one player elbows another.

The referee will gesture to their elbow when one player elbows another.

17. Showing Their Elbow

When one player hits another player with their elbow (whether accidental or intentional), the referee will show this signal.

The referee will raise their leg (and may also point to their leg) to indicate things like kicking, clipping, or tripping.

The referee will raise their leg (and may also point to their leg) to indicate things like kicking, clipping, or tripping.

18. Raising One Leg

This signal may indicate a number of things, but the most common include kicking, tripping, and clipping as offenses. Sometimes, the referee may point to their raised leg to indicate that such an offense has been committed.

When a ref holds one palm up and one down, it indicates illegal dribbling.

When a ref holds one palm up and one down, it indicates illegal dribbling.

19. Holding One Palm Facing Up and the Other Facing Down

This gesture signifies illegal dribbling, which is a soccer play that threatens the opposing players.

The referee places their hands on their hips to signal a block.

The referee places their hands on their hips to signal a block.

20. Placing Their Hands on Their Hips

When the referee stands with their hand on their hips, it means that one player blocked another.

The referee may point at a player while talking with them as a warning, especially if the player is arguing.

The referee may point at a player while talking with them as a warning, especially if the player is arguing.

21. Pointing at a Player While Talking

This is usually a warning after a less serious foul or when some players are disagreeing with the referee’s decision.

The ref will touch their headset to listen to the other officials. If they also draw a square in the air, it means they're signaling for VAR.

The ref will touch their headset to listen to the other officials. If they also draw a square in the air, it means they're signaling for VAR.

22. Touching Their Headset and Drawing a Square in the Air

The referee touches their headset to listen carefully to the other match officials. If they draw a square in the air, it shows that they want to consult the virtual assistant referee (VAR) or even to disallow a goal.

The match official will raise a board that shows the numbers of the players being substituted. At the end of each half, they'll use this board to show the added time.

The match official will raise a board that shows the numbers of the players being substituted. At the end of each half, they'll use this board to show the added time.

23. Raising the Referee Board

This is done by a match official (not the match’s referees), and it shows the numbers of the players to be substituted or the minutes of added time.

Look for These Signals the Next Time You Watch a Match

Watching a football match is always enjoyable, but it's even more enjoyable when you understand everything that happens on the field, including the referee signals. If you wish to expand your knowledge further, you can check out this article on common football abbreviations and what they mean.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Fredrick aka JS

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