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23 Football Referee Signals With Images and What They Mean

Fredrick is a freelance sports writer and soccer analyst. He specializes in football news and after-match analysis for sports portals.

Signaling Referee

Signaling Referee

If you are a football fan, you definitely know the work of a referee in a match. If you are usually keen on the match official, you will agree with me that their work entails numerous signals that make you wonder what they mean.

In this article, I will describe 23 signals performed by a soccer referee and their assistants. I will also include images to help you easily understand the signals which are usually accompanied by a whistle.

1. Raising One Hand

There are a number of incidents that a referee raises one hand. The most popular ones are to signal a kick-off, end of the game, start/stop time, and indirect free kick.

Raising One Hand–Indirect Free Kick, Start/Stop Time

Raising One Hand–Indirect Free Kick, Start/Stop Time

2. Hand Horizontal and Pointing Forward

This means 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.

Hand Horizontal and Pointing Forward–Direct Free Kick/New Start

Hand Horizontal and Pointing Forward–Direct Free Kick/New Start

3. Both Hands Horizontal and Running

Dubbed "advantage" in football, this signals the player with the ball to keep playing after a less serious foul.

Both Hands Horizontal While Running–Play On

Both Hands Horizontal While Running–Play On

4. Raising Both Hands

This is a signal for a goal or for some kind of another success in the field.

Raising Both Hands–Goal/Success

Raising Both Hands–Goal/Success

5. Crossing Hands

This is a signal for disallowing a goal, especially when there is a disagreement in the field.

Crossing Hands–Disallow Goal

Crossing Hands–Disallow Goal

6. Showing Yellow Card

This is a form of warning to a player who has committed a foul or has broken other football rules. It can also be given to a coach.

Showing Yellow Card–Warning

Showing Yellow Card–Warning

7. Showing Red Card

Given after a second yellow card or sometimes handed straight (if it is a serious foul), a red card dismisses a player or even a coach from a football match.

Showing Red Card–Player Dismissal

Showing Red Card–Player Dismissal

8. Pointing to a Corner

This is for a corner kick which is given when an opposing player kicks the ball out of the field especially in the direction of the goal.

Pointing to a Corner–Corner Kick

Pointing to a Corner–Corner Kick

9. Pointing Downwards Towards Goal Area

The referee points at 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.

Pointing Downwards Towards Goal Area–Penalty Kick/Goal Kick

Pointing Downwards Towards Goal Area–Penalty Kick/Goal Kick

10. Raising a Flag

Done by an assistant referee, this shows an offside which is when an attacking player receives the ball in front of the second-last opponent (goalkeeper included).

Raising Flag–Offside

Raising Flag–Offside

11. Pointing Using a Flag

This is also performed by an assistant referee and shows the direction to play the ball after it goes out of the field.

Pointing Using Flag–Direction to Play

Pointing Using Flag–Direction to Play

12. Raising Both Hands With a Flag

The assistant referee does this to tell the main referee about a substitution which is when a player is replaced by another.

Raising Both Hands With Flag–Substitution

Raising Both Hands With Flag–Substitution

13. Raising Both Hands and Crossing Them

This shows time-out and it signals the players to take a break or other officials to make a substitution.

Raising Both Hands and Crossing Them–Time-out

Raising Both Hands and Crossing Them–Time-out

14. Both Hands on the Chest

When a referee does this, it means that there was an obstruction. One player stood or came in the way of another in a wrong way.

Both Hands on the Chest–Obstruction

Both Hands on the Chest–Obstruction

15. Touching One Hand

This signals a handball which happens when the ball comes into contact with a player’s hand, except that of a goalkeeper. It can also be a way to show other match officials to start or stop their clocks.

Touching One Hand–Handball/Officials to Start/Stop Clocks

Touching One Hand–Handball/Officials to Start/Stop Clocks

16. Both Hands In Front of the Chest

When you see this signal, you should know that there is a player who pushed another, and therefore, committed a foul.

Both Hands In Front of the Chest–Player Pushed

Both Hands In Front of the Chest–Player Pushed

17. Showing the Elbow

When a player hits another with the elbow (whether accidental or intentional), the referee shows this signal.

Showing Elbow–Player Hit With Elbow

Showing Elbow–Player Hit With Elbow

18. Raising One Leg

There are a number of things that this signal shows but the most common include kicking, tripping, and clipping as offenses. Sometimes the referee may point at the raised leg also to show these offenses have been committed.

Raising One Leg–Kicking/Tripping/Clipping

Raising One Leg–Kicking/Tripping/Clipping

19. One Palm Facing Up and the Other Down

This is a signal for an illegal dribbling which is a soccer play that threatens the opposing players.

One Palm Facing Up and the Other Down–Illegal Dribbling

One Palm Facing Up and the Other Down–Illegal Dribbling

20. Hands on the Hips

When you see a referee with their hand on the hips, you should know that one player blocked another.

Hands on the Hips–Player Blocked

Hands on the Hips–Player Blocked

21. Pointing at a Player While Talking

This is usually some warning after a less serious foul or when some players are disagreeing with the referee’s decision.

Pointing at a Player While Talking–Warning With Words

Pointing at a Player While Talking–Warning With Words

22. Touching Headset and Drawing Square in the Air

The referee touches their headset to listen carefully to other match officials. On the other hand, they draw a square in the air to show that they want to consult the virtual assistant referee (VAR).

Touching the Headset–Listen to Officials/Consult VAR

Touching the Headset–Listen to Officials/Consult VAR

23. Raising the Referee Board

This is done by a match official (not the match’s referees), and it shows the players to be substituted or the added time.

Raising the Referee Board–Player Substitution/Added Time

Raising the Referee Board–Player Substitution/Added Time

Now you have it. Watching a football match is enjoyable but it is more enjoyable when you know everything that happens in the field including the referee signals. If you wish to expand your knowledge more on football, 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 aka JS

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