Fredrick is a freelance sports writer and soccer analyst. He specializes in football news and after-match analysis for sports portals.
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.
1. Raising One Hand
The referee will raise one hand to signal a number of events. The most common ones are as follows:
- Starting or stopping time
- Indirect free kick
- End of the game
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.
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.
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.
5. Crossing Both Hands
This is the signal for disallowing a goal, especially when there is a disagreement on the field.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
17. Showing Their Elbow
When one player hits another player with their elbow (whether accidental or intentional), the referee will show this signal.
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.
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.
20. Placing Their Hands on Their Hips
When the referee stands with their hand on their hips, it means that one player blocked another.
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.
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.
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 JS