It’s a little-known fact that football referees were not necessary in the early beginnings of the sport back in 1846. Players and technical directors trusted in the chivalry and honesty of the rival team (looks like things have changed quite a bit, huh?). At the time, all disputes were resolved between the captains as true “gentlemen”.
The football referee figure didn’t always have the authority and impact that he has in the game nowadays. When the teams decided to seek external help to make decisions about any particular play, the figure of the “umpires” emerged. There was one for each team and they functioned more as delegates than referees. They just stood behind each goal and participated only in dubious plays.
When Did the Football Referees Appear?
The first formal appearance of an arbitrator was in the oldest football competition, the FA Cup in the year 1871. For this competition, the soccer referee still did not have the authority that they currently have. These referees were located outside the land and were consulted only on certain plays. They could not intervene at will in the development of the game.
But, anyway, football was evolving and new rules were applied in the field. Back in 1891, one of the most important football rules was introduced and the influence of it on the sport was big: the penalty kicks. With the arrival of penalties (and chivalry rolling downhill) an independent entity to govern the disputes became necessary, to resolve any issue that was generated in the field. And this is how the figure of the soccer referee was born with the authority and power that the fans know today. Over time, the “umpires” became the line judges, and the word of the judge is law.
Off the Record
There are certain references and sources that indicate that an English school in Cheltenham, used to have the figure of the football referee in earlier times, back in 1867. In this particular school, the players decided to play football with the rules of Rugby. This is a debatable, but possible precedent.
Technology to the rescue
The system of ‘Video Assistant Referees’, consists in the arbitral assistance through the use of repetitions of plays in the video; which is provided by the assistants in a booth to the referees of the playing field during the match. This new technological tool has been used in tournaments like the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the FIFA Club World Cup (in 2016 and 2017), or the Libertadores Cup in 2017 and important football leagues such as the German and Italian ones, and other leagues like the league in Brazil, United States, Qatar, Netherlands, and more countries are currently using it in their tournaments.
For the VAR, there are three referees located in a vid
eo room, either inside the stadium or outside it. In this room, the referees have several screens with the signal of the game where they can reproduce the repetition of the plays they need to review. As many times they want, at the speed they need, giving the teams the chance to resolve properly any dispute in the field. But, if after reviewing the VAR, the main referee of the field doesn’t agree with the decision of his assistants, he has the possibility of resorting to a screen in the field where the repetition of the play can be watched, and then, is on the main referee’s shoulders to take the final decision.