A “man in the middle” is a commonly used reference of the official who is in overall control of the soccer game. The official’s proper name is a “Referee”. He is usually helped by two other officials on the field of play called the referee’s assistants (formerly known as linesmen).
With soccer evolving and the rules of the matches changing, the various soccer bodies are using the technology and any other valuable and accepted means to improve the game and make it more competitive. The referee’s main objective is to ensure that the results are fair for both teams, by applying the predetermined and agreed rules and regulations.
We have seen in the past couple of years, the emergence of new rules and innovations to the game, particularly with the UEFA Champions League matches, where the number of referee’s assistants has doubled from 2 to 4, taking the total number of active match officials to 5 including the man in the middle, who is still accountable for all the decisions made on the day.
Now typically the game has 2 normal lines men (typical old name used to define the 2 officials on the opposing side of the lines) and two new ones placed just around each side of the goal lines, where the usual referee’s assistants normally go during the penalty shootouts.
The role of the referee’s is highly important as it also ensures the protection of players from career ending tackles, where the perpetrators are given warnings through yellow cards or are basically instructed or removed from the soccer field by means of a red card for continuous misbehaviour on the field during the match.
The development soccer is no exception when it comes to applying the rules of the game as it usually involves the same setup of officiating, however leniency is always practised at lower levels based on age. The under 6, 7 and 8 are not usually penalised harshly, even though the rules have to be interpreted mainly the same way, there are times where leniency is expected on things such as proper throw-ins, corner kicks etc. The referees are given full responsibilities and accountability during the matches and are therefore entrusted to apply their minds and use their discretion for fairness during the officiating period.
Once the kids graduate to under 9 they are expected to use bigger goal posts, bigger fields and the laws of the game start to bite a little bit. Under 10 requires half of the normal adult soccer field and the rules of off-sides, penalties, proper throw-ins, corner kicks and free kicks apply. Once graduated to under 11, then all the necessary and important rules of the game applies as normal. This implies that the men in the middle should always study and learn the rules of the beautiful game, but also keep abreast with the changes made almost yearly by the International Football Associations Board (IFAB) on the soccer rules.
In this article we have outlined the important roles and major responsibilities that the men in the middle play in ensuring that the games are fully legitimate and that they are seen to be fair. Human errors have caused headaches over the years for players, supporters, fans, teams, associations alike and as such have created major talking points at workplaces, shebeens, schools and at all the other common assembly places.
Whilst many have sworn, despised and threatened them on the field of play, they have also been showered with praise when things go right for either team and that is what makes a beautiful game the most loved and heart-breaking sport in the world. We know it divides families and therefore the continuous development for the men in the middle on the application of the new rules and regulations can only be good for the most played and loved sport in the world.
This feature will be discussed in depth with SAFA as the custodians of soccer development and refereeing profession in South Africa. So for more in-depth analysis of the rules of the game and new innovative ways of improving the sport, please keep reading our up-coming editions. We will be looking at the roles of technology and its effects on the game as witnessed recently in the World Cup in Russia where both the Goal Line Technology and the VAR where used together for the first time.