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-= A B C’s of CONFLICT =-
Conflicts on the field of play
Andrew Castiglione
Founder of Ken Aston Referee Society

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" The harder you train, the harder it is to quit!!! "

Conflicts on the field of play

This page contains a simple structured method of dealing with conflict on the field of play.

A Referee will need to control conflict on the field of play, in a constantly structured and safe manner.

This simple method will ensure that the Referee maximizes safety without having to lessen their control and view of the players. There is much written on the subject of conflict – but I aim to keep this method as simple as possible to allow the Referee an understanding on how to protect themselves, how to position themselves, and how to shepherd all the players involved into positions where the Referee can manage the conflict whilst maximizing the control and visibility of all of the players.

The ABC of Conflict method in the above diagram can be used when the Referee is disciplining a single player, or when he is being confronted by a melee of players. The following advises the procedures to be taken by you (the Referee) when implementing the ABC Conflict method.

Read through the listing below first - and then the diagram above will make more sense!

1. As soon as a conflict materializes, look around for the best position, for you to have the perpetrator(s) in front of you - at the same time as being able to view most of the remaining players on the field of play. This may mean shifting your position to entice troublemakers into a position that suits you and not them. A conflict can be anything from cautioning a player, to dealing with an irate melee of approaching players.

2. Manipulate the perpetrator(s)so that they are between you and one of your Assistant Referee. This allows both the Referee and the Assistant Referee to keep the trouble/conflict area in view and between them at all times - (and for the Assistant Referee to make a note of the perpetrator's number). Do not turn your back on the trouble area whilst you are moving to this position.

3. Try and move into a position where you have your back to one of the boundary lines on the field of play. This allows you to have a panoramic view of the remaining players whilst you deal with the culprit(s). If a boundary line is too far off, move to a position where you have your back to the part of the field of play that has the least players in. This way, you can at keep an eye on most of the other players.

One obvious exception – "Do not have your back towards the technical area".

4. Once you have decided where to position yourself, call the perpetrator(s) over to you. (You will not need to call a melee of players over to you. If the melee consists of players fighting amongst themselves - position you slightly back from the melee, and observe closely. As above - try and get your back to one of the boundary lines, and have the melee between you and you’re nearest Assistant Referee. Try and have an empty safety zone behind you (look at the above diagram).

There are two reasons for this:

- (a) So you don't have to worry about being attacked or abused unseen from behind.

- (b) So that you have a ‘back-off’ and retreat zone should things get out of hand.

5. Calling players to you:

There are several methods of doing this, and you can use any method you like. Some Referees like to make a stand and insist that players do the 'walking'. In other words, the Referee will stand still and beckon the perpetrator towards him. Some Referees like to approach the perpetrators themselves (but do not do this if the culprit is purposefully making his way from you as a gesture of defiance. If this happens - stand your ground and call/whistle for the player to come to you. Do not chase players around the field of play. Some Referees like to use a mixture of the two preceding methods - for example, call the player over, and whilst the player is making his way towards you, meet him halfway. This method is probably the best one to use during a game where the Referee has not had too much trouble to contend. Use whichever method you like - or use all three during a match depending on the circumstances. If a game is beginning to get out of hand - always use the first method, and insist that the players come to you - this gives the players a moment or two to drop down a degree or two in their temper heat level - before they get to you. Give players a few moments to blow off a bit of steam, but don't let them lecture you.

Say to any verbally 'steaming' players:

"I didn't call you over so that you could give ME a lecture".

6. Once you have positioned yourself correctly and the approaching player(s) are making their way towards you - this is when you need to gauge how angry they are. This is not difficult - as the facial expressions, body language and expletives will give the 'game away'.

7. Now this is the most important bit: Make sure you leave a protection zone between yourself and the perpetrator(s). Look at the above diagram. The Referee stands in the middle (WHITE/CLEAR) circle. The perpetrator must NOT come into the 1-meter protection (GREY) circle zone surrounding the Referee. Keep the perpetrator(s) at least at an arm's length away. That way, if a punch is thrown, you will at least have some time to react. Sometimes, very irate players will approach the Referee and stand face to face with the Referee in an intimidating fashion. This is commonly known as 'eyeballing' and can be done by players of all ages. 'Eyeballing' is a threat and can be deemed as an offensive gesture under the auspices of Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct.

When this happens, you have two options:

- (a) Say to the player "If you don't take a step back immediately I have no option but to send you off the field of play for an offensive gesture". That usually does the trick. It can be argued that the 'eyeballing' threat is ‘Violent Conduct’ - I go some way along with this argument. (And have been very close to sending players off for this 'eyeballing' threat on a number of occasions).

- (b) Take a quick step backwards and ask the perpetrator to, "please don't come any closer".

8. If you anticipate that the perpetrator(s) is approaching you in a manner that suggests that he will take some stopping as he approaches you. Tell him to "calm down", "slow down", "keep a distance away" or any other verbal warning that you can think of to that effect. Do not put the whistle to your mouth (unless you want to lose more teeth than is necessary under the circumstances). At the same time, use your 'body language' by holding out both of your hands palms forward (like shooing cows back) and gesture at them to slow down and demonstrate this by shooing the cows (sorry players) back. Do not stand still at first when you are doing this, else you are likely to get stampeded. Use a bit of Law 18 Common sense, and gain a few extra moments by moving backwards a few steps whilst making the warning actions just mentioned. Standing still will be 'like a red' rag to Bull'. Do not take too many steps backwards, because there comes a moment when you have to make a stand and show the perpetrator(s) that you are in charge and will not be intimidated. When you reach this moment - 'stick to your guns' - stand firm and erect, and take any necessary action that ensues should players ignore your aforementioned warnings. Another trick (should you be near to one of the boundary lines) is to step off the field of play, and warn approaching players that anyone leaving the field of play will be cautioned (for leaving the field of play without your permission (see Law 12)). If they do step over the boundary, then award them with a yellow card! This method is particularly useful when you have given a penalty that is not to the liking of one team! If players look as though they are about to murder you - just back off over the goal line and give them the same warning - it usually works a treat - and at least then, you only have to worry about a manslaughter charge instead of murder!

9. Look at the DOTTED (2 meter circle) in the diagram above. This is the position that you want the perpetrator to stand whilst you are admonishing him/them within a minimum of between 1 meter and 2 meters away from you. Attempt to get the player to approach you so as you have your nearest Assistant Referee in sight in the background. This cannot always be achieved, but keep this in mind. It is surprisingly easy to maneuver players around to achieve this effect - and they don't even know that you have done this.

10: Now we get to the big striped circle. This is my favorite circle - because this is the exclusion zone circle for ALL other players that are not part of your disciplining equation. In other words, when you caution or send-off a player, whilst you are taking his particulars, shoo away all the other players who want to get involved. Including the Team Captain who (although he has ignored all your previous pleas for help during and before the game) suddenly decides that his responsibility has now peaked and that he is the perpetrator’s Lawyer. In my experience, it is difficult enough dealing with one player - it becomes doubly difficult if another player muscles his way into the dotted (or striped) circle. I have tried many methods of dealing with confrontations - my advice is to strongly wave away players that are not part of your disciplinary action. Tell them in no uncertain terms to "Move away". Keeping them well away creates a large safety zone for you to work in. It also prevents so called 'team-mates' misconstruing your words spoken to the perpetrator(s). If you need to speak to the captain, do so after you have dealt with the perpetrator(s).


11.When confronting irate players give them a few moments to calm down. Ask them to calm down as they approach you. Walk a few more steps backwards as they approach you - this allows a few more gasps of steam to be released.

Most players do appreciate a few moments of 'time out’ to allow their tempers to cool down a degree or two. I use this delaying confrontation method many times during a game to good effect. Always be polite but stern with players when you are disciplining them. Try and remain calm on the outside, even if you are jelly on the inside.

12. To summarize:

- White/clear circle = position yourself here to maximize your control of the match at the same time as dealing with discipline. Keep a clear retreat safety zone behind you if you can. Aim to have your back to one of the boundary lines if you can.

- Grey circle = 1 meter Referees protection zone. Do not let players enter this (eyeballing) zone.

- Dotted circle = this is where the perpetrators should be standing whilst you discipline them, or when you want to give them a "talking to".

- Striped circle (my favorite) = the 'shoo away' zone. Keep clear of all other players - especially the ones with good hearing and the 'so called captains!

- Manipulate the perpetrator so that he approaches you in the direction shown by the big 'PLAYER' arrow.

- Keep your nearest Assistant Referee in the background behind the approaching player as shown in the diagrams.

- Keep calm and always be polite to players (even though you feel like Hell)

The above diagram shows typical positions that can be used on the field of play.


(Position 2 above)

The ABC method of dealing with conflict has been used to good effect by me for many years. There will be times when you will not be able to use this method (for example – when a situation develops very quickly and calls for you (the Referee) to take instant action. Nevertheless, the method is a structured way to approach conflict, and can be used to advise new (and experienced) Referees on a structured way to deal with conflict on the field of play.

The ABC Conflict method is my own opinion and is not sanctioned by or affiliated with any governing body of football/soccer. Reference to the male gender on this page with respect to Referees and Assistant Referees are for simplification only and apply to both males and females.


1. In the business world there are a myriad of courses available to help you develop and improve your man management. Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to attend these through you primary employment then as a Referee you have to be self-motivated to develop these skills. In-service training, the Referees Association and League Official Associations can assist with your development. It was during a recent seminar that I was stimulated to write this article.

2. Serious situations can occur in any game, fortunately they tend to be infrequent but they can be unexpected and will develop even further if you are not properly prepared to deal with them.

3. So what is a Serious Situation? - A significant confrontation between two or more players involving (handbags), violent pushing, fist fighting or head butting etc. During the Potential Referees Course and in-service training an attempt will be made to provide advice but nothing can prepare you for the very first Serious Situation. Do you have the necessary skills to handle these situations as fighting between players are not a normal part of the game. Consider the following practical pointers if you ever find yourself in this situation.

4. There are 3 areas that can be considered, these are:

- Before the situation
- During the situation
- After the situation

Before the Confrontation

5. Usually a Serious Situation does not occur "out of the blue". Like major thunderstorms there are normally warning signs prior to the actual event. You, therefore, must always be aware of the atmosphere of your game. If the temperature in your game is rising, you must keep your cool and composure. To maintain your control or to get the game back, consider penalizing all offences for the next 5 or 10 minutes, firmly and with confidence. Hopefully, this will have the effect of breaking the chain of events that has put the game into this state. You may certainly take some questioning/dissent for all the sudden change in attitude in that you penalize anything that moves, however, this may be better than letting the players take justice into their own hands.

6. Try to slow the game down and do not apply the advantage clause. Slow down the restarts; take time at substitutions or writing information in your book, etc. Hopefully, this will slow down the frantic pace and allow the players to get back to concentrating on playing the game, rather than getting at opponents. This may go against good advice that you may have been given - getting on with the game because if the players are playing the game they are unlikely to be showing dissent towards you. This advice although good is not relevant in this situation.

During the Confrontation

7. Anticipate the confrontation before it happens. Sprint to the incident and use your voice to prevent the player’s actions from escalating. Your presence and positively taking charge of the situation at this point is critical. Perhaps your anticipation was wrong and you won’t need to act further, however, if you are right, you will be on top of the players in an instant, which is where you need and want to be.

8. So if your anticipation was correct and now you have two players "going at it". Slow down as you approach the players; use your voice and strong, loud, long blasts on your whistle, possibly followed by a series of short, but loud blasts on the whistle. This is intended to have two effects. First of all, it shows all others (players, the benches, the spectators) that you have seen it and are taking action and it may snap the players involved out of their ‘red mist’ confrontation. Try to take the attention away from the players and direct it to yourself by your actions.

9. Take charge and try to separate the players, but be aware that if you raise the level/tone of your voice it may sound to others as though you are angry, so it may be better to use your whistle at this point. Adrenaline, pheromones and all other sorts of chemicals are now driving normally peaceful people into raging tempests and your reactions can also be affected. Hopefully, your actions up to this point will have convinced other players that you are in control of the situation, however, do not let your guard down. Sometimes the third player arriving at the confrontation may sometimes inflame the situation or carry out an act of violent conduct. Keep your head up and position yourself to see if anyone is approaching the incident. You may have to temporarily take your focus off the two combatants to the approaching third player. You must do everything to prevent this individual from getting involved.

10. Expect other players to congregate around the incident. They, however, often arrive on the scene to pull their team mate away and/or calm the altercation down, so use this help if it is available, ensuring excessive force is not used.

11. When dealing with the confrontation there are contrasting options these are:

- a. It may be possible for you to position your body between the players to form a barrier and de-fuse the situation. Always ensure that you avoid direct physical contact by touching or handling a player, the player may take exception to your actions.

- b. This action whilst a positive step is fraught with danger and is not recommended as it does restrict your view masking arriving players. It is strongly suggested that you should never step between players in a confrontational situation as they may strike you accidentally or as a reaction to your ‘push’. Either outcome will lead to a more serious situation with a possible cause to abandon the game.

12. Match control may be regained by Cautioning/Sending off offenders as quickly as possible. You will again be sending the message that you are in charge and in control. If you wait, you risk losing a crucial moment to impact the players on the field, which may lead to more players becoming involved. There is the potential that further Cautions/Sending Offs may be required as a result of consultation with your Assistants.

13. Alternatively, whilst ensuring the players are separated you take the time to allow the situation to cool whilst consulting with your Assistants to confirm your next actions ensuring that all guilty players are punished.

14. When dismissing a player from each team it is essential that you leave sufficient time between the procedures to ensure that the players leave the field separately, there by reducing the risk of an additional confrontation. Some consider that you should always send off the away team player first as the home crowd will cheer and celebrate with joy and may not notice that you have also sent off their player. The other option is to send off the away team player last – leaving the home crowd cheering.

15. Always ensure that players sent off have left the playing area.

After the altercation

16. Ensure all the "little fires" are out before restarting the game. With players from both teams milling around, there is always the potential for other altercations.

Before restarting play, be sure to check with each Assistant Referee, if you haven’t already done so as they may have seen something missed by you.

17. If you have not dealt with the situation correctly or the players consider your action to be inadequate there may be the possibility of retaliation or retribution. Your concentration should be focused on this possibility.

18. Finally, ensure the incident is reported to the appropriate authorities as factually as possible (request that your AR’s submit reports).

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Page updated on... Tuesday, August 26, 2014 @ 02:08:33 -0700 AM-GMT
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