August 13, 2015

Mobbing The Referee

On the agenda of the last day at this season's UEFA preparatory course for top referees, there is a topic that becomes more and more relevant in modern, but surely also amateur football. While the referee's decisions were mostly accepted without any protest some decades ago - which is hard to imagine considering the behaviour of some players nowadays - this does not count anymore. Good referees are not only accurate decision-takers today, they are, above all, convincing decision-sellers. Nonetheless, players will not give up to attribute their own mistakes to the match officials manifesting itself in a phenomenon UEFA calls "mobbing the referee".

Typically, mobbing the referee implies dissent by word or action, badgering the official from a close distance or even with physical contact, often by forming a circle of several players in front of or around him. Some years ago, Pierluigi Collina brought up instant, direct red cards for mobbing the referee for discussion. That was in 2011. Four years later, we are not that far at all, but at least, UEFA considers a yellow card as the more or less compulsory punishment for players who blatantly mob the referee. Mostly the referee should choose (at least) one player who should go into his book (the one protesting most intensely). However, these situations are still happening in numerous games, so that referees at all levels have to stay alert.

Why is mobbing the referee that dangerous? As indicated, players mostly do it with the purpose to vent their anger, which is kind of natural or maybe human. What they do is self-serving attribution: They attribute a negative event, e.g. being a goal behind, being about to lose the game etc. on an external factor - the referee. Thus, their self-esteem and self-confidence do not suffer as much as it would do when they arrange themselves with a loss easily. Of course, it has the side-effect that supporters find a suitable target for their anger or disappointment as well. In more intense stages of the game with kind of higher atmospherical temperature, referees have to be particularly aware of being mobbed and thus influenced by players. The problem is that as soon as the players are not punished consistently, they visibly undermine the referee's authority and perceived impartiality. And sometimes a yellow card is even too late, that's why prevention is essential here.

The following videos show how situations should be done - or should have been done.

This clip shows a classic example of mobbing. After correctly awarding a free-kick for deliberate handball, several players approach the referee and demand a penalty kick instead of a free-kick.
Red #25 behaves most blatantly: He sprints from a large distance and even makes physical contact with the referee, demanding a yellow card for the opponent. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated. 
Referees must be aware that they must caution at least one of the mobbing players with a yellow card, using forceful body language and demonstrating assertiveness.

This video shows a similar situation. The referee is about to caution a player with a yellow card, it is however unclear whom he is about to caution. Several red-dressed players make pressure on the referee, who unfortunately sends a poor non-verbal message via his body: He moves many steps back, which signals a low level of authority and self-assertation. Translating it into a verbal message, he could have told the players: "I give up, you are stronger, but here is at least my card!". All referees should be reminded on the short but striking words by Henrik Andrén, Peter Fröjdfeldt's assistant referee at EURO 2008 who told his boss while the latter was kind of fleeing from the Turkish goalkeeper he had just sent off: "Don't move backwards!"
The referee in the end cautioned the player who showed the most blatant sort of dissent. However, he could have avoided it by staying firm and standing still, rooted to the turf, sending: "Here I am, I won't move back, accept my decision!".

This video (better quality tomorrow) illustrates that very often referees are mobbed for the purpose of influencing and pressuring them into a certain decision. Once surrounded by seven furious Chelsea players, it is quite complicated to convey an uninfluenced impression on the audience and players when raising the red card. The referee should have cautioned any of the protesting players, not only for mobbing him, but also and specially for demanding a card against an opponent.

These two videos show good examples of how to react to mobbing against any match official. In the first case, the referee correctly picks out any of the protesting players and cautions him. In the second clip, the referee also cautions the player who shows the most blatant form of dissent (despite the justifiable content of his protest). Both referees do not only raise the card, but demonstrate convincing body language including gestures and especially mimic.
In the second video, the referee should have protected his additional assistant referee more than just raising the card and walking away though. At 00:26 in the video, you can see that despite the card, two players continued to protest (less intensely, but they apparently did not get the message). He should have positioned himself between the AAR and the players, should have written down the card into his notebook and then walked away having checked that everything is all right with his teammate.

This video shows that, in some cases, referees can solve light cases of mobbing with their personality and calmness. In the clip, the referee is approached by several players, but most of them are behaving in a still acceptable fashion and at least two players even try to calm down their own teammates and position themselves between them and the referee. 
However, this does not change that the official took some steps back, was confronted by a mob of 6 players and therefore risked that his perceived authority on and specially off the pitch might suffer. In particular, the referee should not have tolerated the behaviour of #8, who touched him at his chest and pressed him in a not acceptable way. He should have cautioned him with a yellow card and should have used this situation as an opportunity to send a clear signal to all players.

The last video deserves an ambivalent consideration or assessment. First of all, the referee stayed mentally stable and firm despite three relevant decisions in a row which went against (or in other words, not in favour of) the home team. He correctly did not tolerate the dissenting behaviour of red #35 while the ball was still in play and specially when it had just crossed the sideline. This quick yellow card maybe prevented further dissent and more intense mobbing. The behaviour of the two other red-dressed players wais surely borderline, but the referee was able to diffuse their protests with the aid of showing firmness.
However, there is no reason to wait that long with raising the card. He referee should have better shown it immediately - this would have avoided that #35 went away without showing interest for the yellow card. The referee tried to order the player to come to him, but in the end, it was the referee himself who had to go to the player. Unfortunately, the official failed to ensure eye-contact to the player, who had turned his back to him while the card was shown. The referee's words never reached him and thus were inefficient. His authority has suffered significantly at this point. Moreover, #35 continued to show blatant dissent by action - the three waving gestures are definitely one too much. The referee should have cautioned the player twice resulting in a sending-off - easier said than done, as the Estádio da Luz would have very likely turned into a lion's den.

In conclusion, mobbing the referee is a vitally important topic. No wonder that UEFA put it on the agenda for tomorrow.
The main message should be: Be assertive, don't risk your authority, rely on and make use of forceful body language but also caution at least one player in such situations.


  1. Anonymous13/8/15 23:53

    Apparently the English Premier League have changed one of their competition rules that state that no more than 2 players are allowed to approach a referee at the one time, previously it had been 3. Madness, just encourages mobbing from players.

  2. Anonymous14/8/15 02:22

    OT: Offside or not?

  3. Anonymous14/8/15 05:23

    Apparently, FIFA updated their guidelines for match officials:
    Does anyone have a link to the actual guidelines?

    1. Anonymous14/8/15 10:13

      Just view the 2015-2016 LOTG

    2. Anonymous15/8/15 14:48

      It is not about the instructions in the second part of the LOTG booklet; it is about the updated edition of the match officials guidelines for competitions. The previous version was published in 2003:
      Does anyone have the 2015 version of these guidelines?

  4. Anonymous14/8/15 10:50

    In the first situation, the penalty kick was demanded, not YC.

    From the fifth video is not so clear that the content of the protests was so justifiable. My impression is that the hand went out of the body after the strong impact by ball, not before. (It is difficult to say without the sight from another angle.) But if it was penalty both officials would have been responsible, not only Oliver.

    I know that this is another topic and these remarks are only marginal.


    1. Ah thanks for that, you are right.

      About Oliver, you can check this video:
      See the screenshot for the moment of the goalkeeper-like-handball and the video minute:

  5. Thank you Niclas, for your very interesting post. Well done by Eriksson offcourse. Don't you think that in the case of Clattenburg, he should have stayed with his AAR instead of showing yellow and walking away, to prevent that he later on has to make clear that they should live him again?

    1. Good point, I have added it.

  6. Anonymous16/8/15 02:41

    Did Atkinson deal well with mobbing here? Does it matter who you caution? In my opinion I don't think the player he cautioned should have been the right actor but at least he cautioned someone.

  7. Vidal started the whole thing, and demanded a card for his opponent; the caution is perfectly justified.

  8. Great post Niclas:
    1. Mobbing is not to change decision referee just made. Players know that will not happen. Mobbing is "gamesmanship" to change FUTURE decisions.
    2. Love the points of stand firm, pull card, show it quickly.
    3. One of my tricks (sometimes) is to hold the card in air (sometimes for a longer number of seconds) until all the protests dwindle. Sends message that if it comes down and we get more, a second card will be shown.
    4. Be sure you know who is already on Caution (avoid him). WHO is biggest pain prior to this point (always a good choice). Who will likely learn from the Caution (another good choice since he will likely not do something stupid to earn a second one).

  9. what is minimum age for referee and AR to become fifa referee


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