Identify and deal with…
Founder of Ken Aston Referee Society
The aim of this page is to show how
Can identify and deal with
Gamesmanship in the world of Football/Soccer.
|"Albeit that most Referees know the Laws of the Game inside
Players are just as adept at knowing how far to bend them."
Laws Covering Gamesmanship
Gamesmanship within the Game Itself
Gamesmanship After The Game Has Finished
Dealing with Gamesmanship
What exactly is Gamesmanship?
Gamesmanship occurs when a player attempts to profit from an unfair
advantage, or when he disguises an unjust act done on purpose; or when
he commits any unsporting act executed in a sly way contrary to 'the
spirit of the game'; or when he resorts to psychological intimidation
against his opponent - these are just a few flavors of the sour forms of
The ethos of sport should embody a simple way for people to keep
themselves amused and healthy - sadly, modern sport is becoming
increasingly reliant on business and financial survival, and less and
less a 'sport' in the true sense of the word. Sportsmanship has less and
less importance in the world of professionalism; it is about winning at
all costs. Winning has become almost as important as life - sometimes
more so. Footballers (and managers and coaches) have no qualms about
introducing deceiving (or even fair) tactics that deviate from the rules
and the spirit in which the game is supposed to be played in. It is more
about succeeding in today's society and not so much about whether such
acts are right or wrong. To succeed in any profession today, inevitably
means bending the rules from time to time.
The attitude of "I'll do anything to help my team win," can be seen in
every game of senior football.
Players who resort to gamesmanship, and are penalized by the Referee,
should never bemoan that they have taken their chance, but have been
caught out by an astute Referee.
Players have become very adept at psyching up opponents by holding,
shoving them, taunting them, tripping them, pulling shirts - and all
done whilst the Referee is otherwise occupied. And how about the
favorite goalkeepers' trick of raising a boot and one knee high when
rushing out and jumping up to catch the ball. This gives a clear message
to any attackers, to not to come anywhere near the goalkeeper when he is
attempting this maneuver. Is this gamesmanship? Or is it cheating, and
can Referee do anything about it? (Only if it is deemed to be dangerous
play.) This is just one subtle gamesmanship ploy in the players' armory
of a thousand quivers.
"Albeit that most Referees know the Laws of the Game inside out
Players are just as adept at knowing how far to bend them."
Laws Covering Gamesmanship.
Law 5: The Authority of the Referee and his Powers and Duties, allows
Referee discretion for any infringements of the Law. Gamesmanship is a
subtle ploy only punishable by the authority of the Referee - and nobody
else. Identifying what is gamesmanship, and what is not gamesmanship,
and what is cheating - is a difficult skill to administer. Gamesmanship
first reared its head in the sporting world of tennis, where it was
quickly perceived that a lesser skilled opponent was able to defeat a
more skilled player by applying constant distraction, complaining about
line calls, delaying serve, tying up their laces, inciting the crowd,
making strange body movements and many other 'ungentlemanly' dupable
acts intended to break the flow and concentration of the more skilful
and focused opponent - without actually resorting to cheating or
breaking the rules.
The USA World Cup is where the ‘seed of shirt pulling’ emanated from.
Law 12 lists the punishments for fouls and misconduct. The modern game
has been infiltrated by several novel ways to deceive the Referee. Shirt
pulling incidents peaked during the 1998 World Cup in France to such a
degree, that it now appears in all levels of the game. Players have
become adept at pulling shirts on the 'blind side' of the Referee. These
are subtle ploys committed in the hope of gaining an advantage without
having to resort to a full-blown illegal method. Simulating fouls,
commonly known as 'diving' (especially by an attacker in the penalty
area) are so realistic, that swimming judges could not fail to award
full marks: Feigning injury to waste time or to stop the flow of the
opposing team: Substitutions, in the last seconds of a game:
Inflammatory (and sometimes racist) remarks between players: Players
constantly haranguing the Referee: These are just a few of our modern
gamesmanship warts. How can the Referee decide what is unsporting
behavior (gamesmanship), and what is not?
Law 13 - Free Kicks. The array of gamesmanship here is limitless:
Delaying the taking of a free kick by many methods: Questioning the
Referee thus delaying restarts even further: Questioning the position of
the ball: Jostling for position in the 'wall': Subtly moving the ball to
a more advantageous position: Asking for a substitution to be made at a
crucial stage of the game; and many more untold methods, some of which
can be punished by the Referee by Law, and some which can't! For
example: (the score is Red Team 1, Yellow team 0, last minute of the Cup
Final) - just before the taking of a Yellow team free kick towards the
Red team's goal, a Red team player prevents the quick taking of the free
kick by walking slowly up towards the referee and says; "Ref., I'm
injured, can I be substituted please?"
What can the Referee do? Is it gamesmanship that can be punished, or is
it a genuine request?
Law 14 - The Penalty Kick. How many times have we seen the goalkeeper
distract the penalty taker (and then go unpunished) by walking out of
his goal to query the exact positioning of the ball on the penalty spot?
Many times. This is an act of defiant gamesmanship that should always be
punished with an instant yellow card for unsporting behavior.
Instead of penalty takers 'getting on' with the task, they resort to
distracting the goalkeeper by throwing a few words, by way of beguiling
advice: By running up to the ball in strange ways: By delaying their run
up, or by stopping half way and restarting: Are these legal moves? Or is
it gamesmanship? Only the Referee can decide.
Recent Law changes (have in a strange way) encouraged the growth of
gamesmanship. The mandatory Red card punishment for 'tackling from
behind', brought in during the USA World Cup in 1994, resulted in
players discovering other ways to 'cheat'. In the 'old days', the
unpunished tackle from behind was used as a typical method of
gamesmanship, whereby defenders unable to cope with a particular
attacker's skill and speed, would very often 'clatter' the attacker from
behind early in the game - thus giving that attacker a clear message
about the outcome of future tackles and 'putting the fear of God' into
the attacker for the rest of the game. Thankfully this type of tackle is
now properly punished.
The six-second-possession rule for goalkeepers' holding the ball has
resulted in many forms of semi-parrying the ball during a shot on goal,
thus confusing the less wary Referees (did the goalkeeper have it under
control or not)? When the 'back-pass' Law appeared in the 1998/199
season, it resulted in players attempting to circumvent the ruling - for
example, by purposefully flicking the ball up onto their heads before
heading it back to the goalkeeper. This is against the 'spirit' of the
back-pass ruling, and is now punished the same as a normal 'back-pass
would be (with the award of an indirect free kick.)
The 1998/1999 Law change, stipulating that the waiting goalkeeper stands
outside the penalty area on the goal line where it meets the penalty
area, during the taking of kicks from the penalty mark, has lessened the
gamesmanship antics used by goalkeepers in former times.
Gamesmanship is not easy to define. In some countries, such acts in
sport are seen as a legal bending of the Laws, in other countries,
similar acts of devious play, gesturing and comments on and off the
fields of play are seen as bad behavior. There are many sly techniques
that can be used to counteract superior skill.
Ideally, players' conduct on the field of play should adhere to the
'spirit of the game', but human nature being what it is, ensures that
there will always be some form of gamesmanship - the Referees' task is
to firstly identify possible gamesmanship, and then decide whether it is
‘legal’ Gamesmanship or whether it is Cheating?
Gamesmanship outside of the game action itself is a powerful tool. In
the late 1990's the successful manager of Manchester United (Alex
Ferguson) had a number of public spats with opposing English Premier
League managers. One typical encounter resulted in the team-manager of a
rival successful team Newcastle United (Mr. Kevin Keegan) - normally a
well-behaved manger - sparring in public outbursts against Ferguson on
television. The result being that everyone became aware of the
war-of-words between the rival managers; and all done to create some
sort of advantage to enable one team or the other to have an edge over
the other team, as the championship race for number one spot in the
league was drawing to a close. This example shows that gamesmanship is
rife in all areas of the game. The Referee certainly has his work cut
out in trying to distance himself from the influences of such
On arriving at the ground, the Referee has to accept any offers of
hospitality at face value. If the Referee is treated like a 'King' by
the Home team when he arrives - is this part-gamesmanship on the Home
team's part, or is it just good manners? If the following week a
different Home team treats the Referee like a 'pauper' - will this
effect the way he treats the Home team players on the field of play? One
would hope that players from both teams will be treated the same,
regardless of the level of treatment received when arriving at the
ground. But human nature being what it is must have some say in this -
albeit that it may be subconsciously beyond the control of the Referee.
This emphasizes the subtleties that the Referee must be aware of, to
enable him to officiate within what can best be described as an
"invisible impenetrable shield of outside influences". The good ship
'Star Trek Enterprise' may have been able to provide such a thing, but
the 'everyday' Referee has no access to such futuristic technology, and
has to rely on his own integrity.
How many times on arrival at grounds, have Referees been welcomed with
open arms, only to be snubbed and ridiculed after the game by the very
same people because their team has lost - and it is the Referee's fault?
The answer to that question is MANY TIMES! And MANY MORE TO COME!
"The measure of true hospitality can only be measured in the face of
In other words - thankfully there still remain one or two teams that
will fulfill their offers of hospitality even if "the Referee had a
Parents! The bane of many Referees! How should the Referee perform when
one youth team's parents make a point of shaking his hand and being
'jolly' before the game and the opposing team parents can only offer
open abuse? Will this influence decision-making by the Referee on the
field of play? How can it not affect him? How many Referees can honestly
say that they have never made a decision influenced by the abuse being
received by parents?
The Referee must distance himself from these types of very strong
influences - it would almost be better if he could turn off his hearing,
or restrict its limits to the field of play area (and that is abuse
enough the Referee to contend with)!
In top-level games, any interested parties utilize the media hype
surrounding important games to the full. Matches between countries
result in gamesmanship headlines being emblazoned across the front pages
and the back pages of each respective country's media circus. How about
the Cup Final team manger who 'leaks' a story that his top striker is
injured, in the hope that the opposing team manager will field a weaker
defense, and concentrate on a stronger attack. And then the (so-called)
injured player makes a miraculous recovery and is put on the team sheet
only hours before the kick-off. All of these are blatant acts of
gamesmanship outside the game action itself. But what can the Referee do
about these? Can he 'red card' a player because of the antics of the
manager before the game has even started. No, of course he cannot.
Nevertheless, these are accepted acts of gamesmanship that MUST have
some influence on the way the game is perceived and played - but
hopefully has no effect in the way the game is officiated by the
"The Saint of Referees is the Referee himself".
Gamesmanship within the Game
The greatest gamesmanship enemy that the Referee confronts in nearly
every game - is the gamesmanship of society's influence. Continuing
lowering standards have increased the ways, in which the Referee can be
targeted, abused and influenced. Verbal accosting, and the so called
'factory language' (the acceptance of impolite language) have crept in
to everyday society to such an extent, that the Referee must ignore most
of the bad things that are said to him during most games. (And before
any 'Angels of Society' shoot me down in flames, I am fully aware that
action must be taken in certain circumstances). Players have become very
adept at trying to "get their opponents' into trouble" by haranguing the
Referee and asking for opponents to be cautioned. Referees should
consider cautioning such acts as unsporting behavior - but how many
times has this happened?
"The football fraternity is no place for Angels. The game sits more
comfortably in Hell!"
Players will take every possible opportunity to undermine the authority
of the Referee during the game. Many instances are seen of players
claiming to the Referee that opponents have broken the Law. The Referee
is the decider in all cases of Law, and should not be influenced by
opinions from lesser knowledgeable bodies! Moaning players should be
asked to refrain from such outbursts. In other words, they should be
told (not figuratively) "to get back inside their box".
Deliberate handball is another trait that players have become 'canny' at
disguising. Players who score goals by deliberately handling the ball
have no qualms in refuting any suggestions that they cheated. And are
happy for the Referee to allow the goal, when they know perfectly well
that they have deceived the Referee. This is the sad mentality that the
Referee 'is up against'. Match officials can no longer rely on the
integrity of players when match incidents are concerned. On the
contrary, as far as cheating and gamesmanship is concerned - Referees
now expect players to try and 'get away’ with what they can. It has been
going on for years in every sport - and will continue for years more.
Diving is another modern curse. Attackers over-emphasizing and
exaggerating tackles made on them by defenders in the defenders' penalty
area, in the hope that the Referee will award them a penalty - is
another facet to look out for. Conversely, during the award of nearly
every penalty, the perpetrator always vents his innocence to the Referee
in some degree or another (no matter how blatant the penalty was).
Players’ exaggerating the effect of physical contact is another wart.
Players deliberately running into opponents, in the hope that an
indirect free kick for impedance will be awarded to them are yet another
"The sweet facial expression of innocent children, are nothing compared
to the "What me?"
facial expressions seen in every game on players'
faces when they are punished by
the Referee for committing a
"Surely not me Ref.? (Finger pointing to their own chest). "I never
touched him, honestly".
This look of innocence cannot be bettered anywhere else - and is pure
subtle gamesmanship used to try and influence the Referee. But we are
not quite that daft - are we?????? I cannot help smiling at such
Gamesmanship After The Game
Gamesmanship does not limit itself to
the match itself.
Referees should be aware of the following:
- (a) Players (and sometimes Team Officials) have been know to
approach the Referee after the match has finished, requesting that any
cautions or sending-offs issued in the game against them, are not
reported. Players usually adopt an 'over-friendly' attitude that goes
something like this:
"You're not going to sent those reports in are you Ref.? It's hardly
worth it for that."
The Referee can consider including details of such requests in his
report - or writing a separate report if the level of persistence
A Referee who does not send in discipline reports is creating a very
difficult scenario for the colleague who officiates the same team the
following week. Referees MUST send in reports if they have disciplined
players during a game. The Football Association will deal strongly with
any Referees who do not complete and send in reports properly.
- (b) Referees very often receive a host of unpleasant comments
after games. Most of the comments should just be ignored. But do not
ignore all the comments at your peril. Any indiscipline that exceeds the
bounds of normality should be reported accordingly.
- (c) Although Referees should accept any apologies from
players' who have committed offences in the game - they must be accepted
in the manner in which they should be offered. Beware the hypocritical
player who was a monster on the field of play, but who after the game
transforms into a 'groveling toad' by trying to 'suck up' and lessen the
impact of his sending-off in the eyes of the Referee. A sending off is a
sending off and nothing less - and the report should not be influenced
by duplicity propositions made after the game has finished.
- (d) Snubbing of Referees in the 'bar' after the game, is a
negative form of gamesmanship that can do football clubs no favors at
all. Football is just a game. It is a sad state of affairs when players
and Referees cannot mix together in the 'bar' for a social drink after
the game has finished. A Referee who sticks to his principles will
particularly wish to make an appearance in the 'bar' after the game - if
only for a quick drink.
(A Favorite Personal Theorem.)
"The worse a game that the Referee thinks he has had
The more effort he should expend in making an appearance in the 'bar'
after the game."
In other words, hold your head up high and accept that you officiated to
the best of your ability in that particular game. And be brave enough to
stand up to your critics.
- (e) Conversely, a Referee who has had a good game (as far as
one team is concerned) may be approached by fawning players and Team
Officials whose only aim is to 'get the Referee on their side,
especially if the same Referee is officiating against them in a few
"In a game, it only takes a second for a fawn to change into a frenzy!"
Dealing with Gamesmanship.
It is no easy task for the Referee to positively identify and deal with
gamesmanship. Nevertheless, it must be dealt with in a firm and
effective manner - thereby deterring further attempts. The greater the
Law knowledge and experience that a Referee has, the easier it will be
for him to identify and deal properly with gamesmanship.
OK - let's not 'beat about the bush'. It takes bravery for a Referee not
to award a penalty because a player dived in the penalty box. Was it a
dive or was it a genuine foul? It takes bravery for a Referee to caution
a player for a simulated act or for feigning injury. Is he really in so
much pain, or is he feigning?
Having decided that an incident was
an act of gamesmanship, the Referee can:
1. Apply a simple gesture such as a shake of the head
towards the perpetrator.
2. Ignore the fact completely and allow play to
continue as normal.
3. Stand upright with hands behind the back thus
showing by using body language that play is being allowed to continue.
4. Have a quiet word with the offending player.
5. Stop play and publicly rebuke the player.
6. Caution the player for unsporting behavior.
Blatant (obvious) acts of gamesmanship are easy for the Referee to
identify and deal with - and need no advice here. It is those acts that
border between a real foul and an act of gamesmanship that are the most
difficult to distinguish and punish. Being in close proximity, and
having a clear view will help of course. The Referee is advised not to
ponder about the decision. It is either gamesmanship - or it is not.
Referees are only human, and when deciding difficult decisions, Referees
will normally give the benefit of the doubt to the perpetrator. In other
words, humans are generally expected to behave in a civilized way - so
the automatic reactions of the (human) Referee in a dubious situation,
is to err on the safe side. For example, a player who may be feigning
injury will be more likely to be seen as genuine by the Referee than
otherwise. But the Referee should also be aware of those incidents where
a player has claimed that he has been elbowed in the face, when in
reality nothing of the sort has happened. Many incidents of this nature
are now 'picked up' on the numerous cameras surrounding top-level games.
It does make you wonder why top players attempt this ultimate act of
gamesmanship, when there are so many revealing cameras surrounding the
ground as silent witnesses.
The greatest danger is when the Referee is unsure of what decision to
make during gamesmanship scenarios. Players will hone in on any
weaknesses displayed by the Referee. The Referee must not falter when
deciding gamesmanship issues. You
either give it or you don't. Do not waiver in the middle. Make
your decision quickly and stick to it, and deal with the incident as you
see fit. Once you have made your decision, do not dwell for a moment on
whether it was the right decision or not, and do not be influenced by
the reaction of others. When deciding gamesmanship issues, one side or
the other will invariably accost the Referee. Gamesmanship acts (or
supposed gamesmanship acts) and how the Referee deals them with, can
only ever favor one team. The other team will naturally feel aggrieved.
So the Referee is on a 'loser' whichever way he goes. With this in mind,
I will repeat that a positive decision needs to be made. (Note - a
positive decision can include letting play continue to the advantage of
opposing team.) You either penalize the perpetrator for gamesmanship, or
you decide that no gamesmanship had occurred. Be prepared for an
onslaught from one team or the other - and deal with any further
misconduct, as you would do in the normal course of the game. For
example, you can caution any dissenting players. The greatest cure for
not penalizing a 'supposed' incident of gamesmanship is to keep the play
going - or restart the game as soon as you can. Players will soon stop
their moaning if play continues.
"You either give it or you don't. Do not waiver in the middle."