Why Soccer Players Argue With Refs: Does It Make Any Difference?

Many times, when you watch a soccer game, you see players gathering around the referee and arguing with him or her about a decision they have just made.

But when you’re watching on TV or even at the game, it’s usually impossible to hear what the players are arguing about, and because of that, it can feel like there’s no way of knowing why the players and ref are arguing.

I’ve been on the soccer field many times and heard many arguments between players and refs, so let me explain to you why it’s happening.

Soccer players argue with referees when they disagree with the decision the referee has made. They believe that arguing with the referee may persuade them to change the decision that has been made to one that is more beneficial to the team of the players who are arguing.

When a decision has gone against your team it is completely normal to feel as though you want to defend yourself and explain to the referee why they have made the wrong decision.

However, in all my time involved with soccer over the years, I can recall very few times when a referee changed their mind about anything!

Why do soccer players argue with refs? - header image

High Emotions Convince Players It’s Worth Arguing

Soccer players are, by nature, very competitive.

In any game they are playing in, they want to win. In fact, this is the entire reason for playing soccer in the first place! To win the game and beat your opponent.

So when a referee makes a decision that goes against their team, the first reaction to that decision can be to disagree with it and want to challenge it.

Soccer players are no different from you or me regarding emotions. We all feel them, and they are especially strong in situations with significant consequences, such as a Cup Final game for a soccer player.

In a game, a player’s emotions are running high, and this can affect their own decision-making process.

This strong feeling of emotions can make players make decisions that don’t always seem logical.

Some of the best players are the ones who can keep their emotions in check.

Managing emotions and staying calm are some of the qualities that make a great player. Click here to go to an article I wrote about the qualities of great defensive midfielders.

At times, soccer players may also feel a strong sense of injustice.

If a player genuinely believes a referee has made a decision that is unfair or wrong, the player may feel an immediate desire to dispute the decision.

Regardless of whether the player is right or wrong, and often before the player has fully thought it through, the heightened emotions they are feeling can provoke them to run over to the ref and start arguing about it.

Does Arguing with a Referee Change Anything?

As I’m sure most of us know from personal experience, arguing with someone does not always mean they will change their minds, and it’s no different in a soccer game.

Once a decision has been made, it can be very hard to change a referee’s opinion.

An article published a few years ago explained why arguing is actually pointless.

They showed that arguing with someone not only has a very limited chance of changing their decision but, more often than not, arguing actually solidifies the other person’s stance!

This suggests that arguing with someone is not only a waste of time but will often achieve the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

The article goes on to suggest that taking the time to listen to the viewpoint of the other person is a much more constructive idea.

Maybe there are a few soccer players around who could do with taking that on board!

So, if arguing with the referee has very little chance of affecting their decision, then why do it?

Ultimately, players argue with referees because they are upset with the referee’s decision, want their opinion to be heard, and hope the referee will change their mind.

How Should a Referee Respond to Arguments

Throughout a game of soccer, the referee is expected to be neutral. They should not be seen or perceived to favor one side above the other.

Because of this, the only people who should be able to influence a referee’s decision are the other game officials. They may be closer to an incident or be able to see or hear something the referee can’t.

In fact, a good referee will be continually communicating with the other officials during the game to aid their decision-making and do their best to make the best and most accurate decisions they can.

If a referee allows the players from either team to influence the decisions they are making, then they would have lost their impartiality and would most likely be stopped from refereeing any more games until they could demonstrate their impartiality again.

They would also find that from then on; the players would constantly harass them about every decision they made as they knew they had an influence.

Punishment for Arguing With the Ref

Arguing with the referee can have negative consequences for the player.

When a player decides they are going to go over and argue with the referee about a decision that has been made, they need to be very careful.

This is because Law 12 of the official Laws of the Game of soccer clearly shows that a player can be cautioned for showing dissent in word or action towards the referee.

For a better understanding of how and when players are cautioned in a soccer game, check out my guide for everything to do with the yellow card in soccer.

If a player decides they are going to challenge a decision that has been made they need to keep their emotions in check and not let them get their emotions get the better of them at that moment.

When emotions are running high, it can be too easy for a player to say something offensive and be cautioned because of it.

Examples of Referee Changing Mind After an Argument

So, at this point, you may be thinking that although you understand that emotions may be running high during a game if a referee shouldn’t be influenced by the players arguing with them, why do I still see this so often?

This may be because no referee is perfect, and there have been a few occasions where it seems a referee has changed their mind after pressure from the players.

One example of this was in a game in Tokyo, Japan, between Saitama Jets FC and Crescendo. During the game, Saitama Jets player Matt Chunk was shown a red card by the referee for fouling another player.

The Saitama Jets immediately approached the ref and argued with him about his decision believing that the player who had been fouled was being overly dramatic about his injury.

It seems the Saitama Jets player’s argument was convincing enough to the referee as he went over and changed the red card for a yellow card, and Matt Chunk was allowed to continue playing in the game.

Another example of a soccer referee changing their mind was a UEFA Cup match between Liverpool and Roma.

With only 10 minutes of the game left, the referee signaled for a penalty kick for Roma, who at that point were losing 2-1. This penalty would give them the opportunity to level the score.

Understandably the Liverpool players were disappointed with this decision and immediately surrounded the ref to make their views clear.

What was then surprising was that after hearing the Liverpool player’s arguments, the referee signaled for the game to continue without a penalty kick and later claimed that he had never suggested it was a penalty in the first place!


A player’s heightened emotions, combined with the belief that they may be able to change a referee’s decision, can often lead a player to argue with a referee.

The reality is, though, that apart from a few isolated incidents, this doesn’t and shouldn’t influence a referee’s s decision.

*If you’ve found this article helpful or worthwhile, check out my previous article about how a referee ends a soccer game.*

Or maybe you’re interested in becoming a referee? In that case, check out one of my guides that takes you through the process step-by-step:

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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