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Why do football referees wear black or yellow?

The less you notice him, the more likely it is that he did his job well - let's throw some light on the understated world of refereeing.

Feature 20 Apr 2017, 09:30 IST
How well do we know our referees?

The 23rd man running around on the football pitch, joining attacks and counterattacks; his job description demanding that he be in the thick of the action at every instant, and yet exert no undue influence on the game whatsoever. Welcome to the frenzying world of Football Refereeing, where you can never do the right thing – either one half of 11 players think you are wrong or the other 11 do.

Controversy over referees is at an all time high – with each second of action being scrutinised by the media and social media, every decision is picked apart; every foul debated, every penalty condemned. But how well do we know our referees? For instance, how was the term 'referee' coined? What colour jerseys do they wear, and why?

Early on, two teams would simply nominate captains who would consult with each other if a dispute arose. Eventually, they began to bring along a separate person called an umpire to oversee the games, so that the captains could concentrate on playing.

It became clear, however, in the course of time that a third neutral official was needed to oversee games. This official would be "referred to" if the teams' umpires couldn't come to an agreement, hence the name "referee". The umpires eventually became what we call today linesmen or assistant referees.

In March 1893, The FA formed the first referees’ society at a meeting in Anderton’s Hotel, London. The society’s prime purpose was to examine the qualification of referees orally and appoint them to matches. With the growth in popularity of football, more people became referees and started to form associations, branches and societies.

By 1899, with 27 societies and 773 members, the responsibility became too great and was transferred to the FA. However, the need for a Referees Union was still keenly felt. On 9 May 1908, the Referees Union was founded, to serve the interests of the referees and promote the good of the game. 

In the early days, it was more common for a referee to wear a blazer than a jersey

Traditionally, football referees have always worn black uniforms, unless one of the teams involved don a very dark kit. In fact, in the early days, it was more common for a referee to wear a blazer than a jersey. These stipulations in outfit ensured the referee was clearly visible and distinguishable across the length of the pitch.

In the 1990s, with the ever increasing viewership of football, referees started wearing colours like yellow and green, mainly motivated by television considerations.

Nowadays, most referees wear yellow or black, yet there is a variation among the colours and styles opted by different football associations. FIFA regulations stipulate that referees wear black shorts, black socks and black shoes; while the jersey can be black, red, yellow, green or blue (on paper).

FIFA regulations stipulate that referees wear black shorts, black socks and black shoes

The idea, chiefly, is to ensure the referee on the field is as distinguishable as possible from the rest of the players, to avoid confusion. Wearing either solid black or bright colours ensures that players of both teams are easily able to distinguish the referee from the other players on the pitch. 

Since an all black strip has usually been reserved for the officiating team, not many football teams use black jerseys. Of course, the trends are changing in recent years with more weight being given to marketing considerations, but no team in Europe’s top 5 leagues uses an all black home kit as of yet. However, few teams use it as an away or third kit. 

Of course, it’s not a rule set in stone that all referees wear black or yellow. For instance, in 2015-16, long term Serie A shirt supplier Diadora introduced a blue referee shirt for the season. It was a striking design, with the main colour blue complemented by fluorescent yellow applications on the sleeves and the shoulder area. (Diadora also released a yellow/black as well as a black/yellow Serie A 2015-16 referee kit to complete the collection).

So the next time your friend reacts indignantly to a referee’s decision, you can either join him or oppose him depending on where your loyalties lie; but afterwards, you have an interesting anecdote to share with him! 

Also Read: La Liga names controversial referee for El Clasico in April

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