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How To Become A Soccer Referee? In England and US

How To Become A Soccer Referee? In England and US

Referees play an important role in soccer games and are well-known sports figures. Referees are responsible for making soccer games as fair as possible. They achieve this by enforcing instructions and penalizing defaulters.

Even when their decisions sometimes do not sit well with soccer enthusiasts, referees help make the sport more enjoyable. Their decision is final, regardless of how it is perceived.

There isn’t just one referee in soccer games, especially professional ones. Instead, assistant referees, also known as linesmen and video assistant referees, are tasked with checking events that aren’t obvious to the center referee in most professional competitions.

Although their task on the field appears simple, it necessitates training and ongoing supervision. Therefore, to become a soccer referee, all prospective referees must go through a sequence of processes.

The various processes and steps for becoming a soccer referee are thoroughly discussed in this article.

Is being a soccer referee hard?

Becoming a soccer referee and reaching the profession’s pinnacle necessitates the exhibition of talent, commitment, experience, and endurance. To navigate the system’s dynamics, you must first go through specific training and excel at them.

A soccer referee must also have confidence and a calm head. If you have these qualities, you can easily become one.

Aside from that, your desire to work as a referee will significantly determine how easy or difficult it will be to become one. However, if you put in the effort, climbing through the ranks to the top of your national association’s refereeing ranks is achievable.

a soccer referee raises a yellow card in a soccer match

Soccer referees are frequently screamed at due to their decision on the game. So, if you cannot relate with people or control your emotions, especially when it comes to players talking behind your back, you may have difficulty becoming a professional soccer referee.

To sum it up, becoming a soccer referee would be difficult for someone who is not well-versed in the Laws of the Game.

While being well-versed in the Laws of the Game helps you play by the books, critical decision-making often comes down to commonsense and emotional control. It’s easy to overlook the immense pressure soccer referees are put under, especially in important games.

No matter how skilled the referee might be, he or she is expected to use initiative and commonsense in situations that fall within the grey areas of the game’s laws. More often than not, this doesn’t sit well with all interested parties.

In all fairness, soccer referees have not been known to always make the right calls and decisions. It is part of this reason that, in recent times, the Video Assistant Referee was introduced.

It became a valuable help in assisting referees in verifying a subjective decision. Ultimately, the final decision still rests on the referee.

Although highly frowned at by the sport’s governing bodies, soccer referees have been at the receiving end of violent attacks from disgruntled players and fans.

Soccer referees being mobbed by players and fans may seldom occur in top-rated leagues/competitions, but they are often commonplace in lower/obscure leagues.

A prominent example of such altercations between players and a referee in an elite competition occurred in the second leg of the 2009 UEFA Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona.

Considered one of the sport’s most infamous matches, Ivorian international Didier Drogba and English international Michael Ballack had a massive fall-out with the referee because of his decisions.

It started with the referee refusing to award three consecutive penalties to Chelsea for reasons best known to him. However, when Michael Ballack was denied another penalty opportunity, all hell broke loose.

The referee’s decision caused the Chelsea team to be knocked out of the competition. Referees have a huge responsibility to keep the game fair and without bias.

Although no physical harm was done against the referee, not all referees have walked away from the pitch without injuries. Such attacks towards match officials are not only frowned out, but sanctions are also taken on the player, fan, or team in general.

There are example of when match referees make decisions that are deemed not favorable and get physically attacked or when referees let their emotions get the best of them.

It’s not all beds of roses when referees officiate matches. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot advance to a professional level in your dream to become a soccer referee.

How to become a soccer referee?

To become a soccer referee, you must first complete the relevant training eventually leading to certification. This certification is provided by the soccer body for which you wish to work.

An excellent example of these soccer bodies is the Football Association of England or the US Soccer Federation (USSF) in the United States.

These soccer associations have specific requirements to ensure that referees are adequately trained to oversee and regulate games unique to the association, and advance into international competitions.

Referees at the local level must also be certified to be called upon to officiate local games. The state soccer association is responsible for certification, not the national soccer body.

a soccer referee is running

Like those of the regional and national bodies, prospective referees’ backgrounds are checked to ensure they can officiate youth and adult games. Consequently, these referees can advance through the ranks to become professionals at the national and even international levels with good performances and experience.

Referees are awarded FIFA referee certifications at the international level, which allows them to officiate international matches.

FIFA has a general grading process that must be followed to achieve international referee status—though each soccer association may apply it differently.

The age of the level 9 local referees who handle “small-sided” local matches is not clearly defined. Local referees in levels 8 and 7 handle youth games, while state referees in level 5 and 6 handle amateur and youth games and must be at least 19 years of age.

All games through the third division are handled by level 4 referees, while level 3 national referees can handle all games organized by a national soccer association.

Level 2 referees are international assistant referees, whereas level 1 referees have been certified to officiate international matches as head referees. Both the level 1 and 2 referees must be at least 25 years old.

Although the FIFA recognized grades listed above are relevant, the methods and processes for becoming a professional soccer referee and progressing through those grades vary by soccer association.

The steps for becoming a referee in England are similar to those in other parts of Europe. We will also discuss the steps to becoming a professional soccer referee in the United States.

How to become a professional soccer referee in England?

Becoming a premier league referee isn’t difficult if the proper procedures are followed. Referees who undergo training are certified based on their experience and other factors determined by the FA. Levels are also assigned based on the experience and progression of the referees in their task.

Level 9 referees, also known as Trainees, are the lowest-ranking officials who officiate local matches. Following that are level 8 referees, who are youth referees under the age of 16.

Level 7 referees work in amateur leagues and may officiate in local competitions. The county referee officiates county leagues, whereas level 5 referees officiate the same league as senior umpires.

The level 4 referees who officiate supply leagues are higher up the ladder. Level 3 referees work as assistants in the National League and Football League or as select group assistants in the Premier League.

Level 2 is subdivided into two categories namely 2a and 2b. Level 2b referees work as referees in the National League North and South, assistant referees in the National and Football Leagues, and select group assistant referees in the Premier League.

Similarly, Level 2a referees work as panelist referees in the National League, assistant referees in the Football League, and select group assistant referees in the Premier League.

Level 1 referees officiate in the EFL 1 and 2 leagues, while Select Group 2 referees officiate in the EFL Championship.

The country’s top soccer league, the Premier League, is officiated by professional referees from the Select Group. The ranks are arranged from lowest to highest ranks for easy understanding.

  • Level 9 – Trainees
  • Level 8 – Youth Referees
  • Level 7 – Officiates local amateur leagues as junior referees
  • Level 6 – County referees
  • Level 5 – Still officiates County leagues but as senior county referees
  • Level 4 – Supply referees
  • Level 3 – Contributory referee officiating as an assistant or select group assistant
  • Level 2b – Officiate as assistant referees (National and Football Leagues), select group assistant (Premier League), and main referee (National League North and South)
  • Level 2a – Officiates as assistant referees (Football Leagues), select group assistant referee (Premier League), and referee (National League)
  • Level 1 – EFL 1 & 2 referees
  • Select Group 2 – EFL Championship professional referee
  • Select Group – Premier League professional referee

The step-by-step instructions for achieving those refereeing ranks are provided below.

Step 1: Learn the Laws of the Game

The first step toward becoming a professional soccer referee in England, or anywhere else in the world, is to learn the game’s rules.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) and all its member bodies make the game’s rules. The Laws of the Game are the official rules that govern the game of soccer—treat it as a Holy Book.

On the practical side of things, set aside time to watch live soccer or replays on television. While watching games, pay attention to events such as offsides and when certain rules are used on the field.

You should also read about current events in the world of soccer to stay updated on the game’s evolution. Again, online videos and resources can help, especially the most recent updates.

Laws of the Game

Step 2: Undertake an FA Referees Course

The next step is to contact your local County FA and request a refereeing course. The FA referee department has representatives in each county in the UK who work with referee development officers to ensure referees’ mobilization, progression, and training.

To begin, go to the website of your county football association. It should be noted that you must be 14 years old or older to be inducted.

FA Referees Course

Step 3: Demonstrate excellence to advance to grade 4

After being approved as a trainee referee, you can apply for promotion and fight your way up to grade 4. Success in Laws of Game exams, training, and observation leads to promotion.

Each level should take you a year, although if you are exceptional, you may be able to skip grade 5.

Contact local soccer authorities for opportunities to officiate matches to gain experience and a quick promotion.

advance to grade 4

Step 4: Advance to the pinnacle of your career

The criteria for promotion change as you progress through the levels. A merit table based on club and observer marks determines promotion from level 4 to levels 3, 2B, and 2A.

Promotion from level 2A and up would require an interview. To obtain FIFA referee certification, you must be nominated by the FA.

Promotion from level 2A and up


Becoming a professional soccer referee in the United Kingdom is simple, though it does necessitate some effort from prospective officials.


Despite the clear statement of the processes involved in becoming a referee in the UK, not everyone is given the opportunity to referee matches to gain the necessary experience.

How to Become a Referee in the U.S?

To officiate professional soccer matches in the United States, you must be certified by the Professional Referee Organization, PRO—although you must first connect with your state’s soccer association.

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) supervises and manages referees and assistant referees for professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada.

They collaborate with the MLS, the USSF, the United Soccer League (USL), and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), among others, to develop an appropriate officiating framework.

PRO2, a division of the PRO, oversees referees and officials for the USL Championship, NWSL, and USL League One.

Every year, PRO2 referees who meet certain criteria are promoted to PRO. The detailed steps to becoming a soccer referee in the United States are listed below.

Step 1: Learn the fundamentals of the game

Those aspiring to be referees in the United States, like those in the United Kingdom, must first learn the rules of the game. There is no better way to understand this than by reading the official Laws of the Game.

You can also attend high school, college, or local games to watch how match officials officiate the games. Reading about soccer events and rules, especially recent updates, can help you to gain in-depth knowledge of the game.

Learn the rules of the game

Step 2: Request a training course from your state’s referee association

After you have mastered the fundamentals of soccer, make contact with the soccer referee association in your state.

Courses vary from state to state, and the best place to look for available courses in your state is on the state’s soccer association website. In-person training is typically required for courses.

Step 3: Sign up for referee training

You must first complete a grade 8 referee training course to become an entry-level referee. When you enroll in the course, you are expected to pay a referee registration fee and a clinic fee.

After completing the training and becoming certified as a grade 8 referee, you will be able to referee youth soccer games.

However, you will most likely begin your refereeing career at a lower level. As you gain experience, you will be assigned to officiate competitive games.

Sign up for referee training

Step 4: Get scouted by a PRO2 scout

Refereeing local games increases your chances of being scouted by a PRO2 scout. Although there is no guarantee, they are more common in organized soccer events than in random games.

Contacting representatives can also help you move forward in your refereeing career. They assist by throwing local referees forward to officiate more important games, where PRO2 scouts can watch the games.

Scouts may invite you to PRO2 tier D. Tier D is the starting point for scouted refereeing talent in the PRO system.

Tier D referees can advance to Tier C, where they will be given training and guidance to help them advance in their careers as referees. Then, if they have excellent prospects, they are advanced to Tier B and then to Tier A, the pinnacle of the PRO2 refereeing system.

Step 5: Advance to the PRO level

PRO2 Tier A referees judged excellent are assigned to officiate an MLS match as a trial, and their performance in this trial is taken into account. Alternatively, excellent PRO2 Tier A referees are promoted to the PRO level without being assigned to a trial match.

At this point, they are certified and registered as official MLS referees, and they are given badges and drafted to officiate MLS matches.

After that, excellent PRO-level referees may be nominated to officiate international matches. This is the pinnacle of their careers.

Advance to the PRO level


One advantage of becoming a referee in the United States is that there are more opportunities for certification. This is due to the availability of local soccer authorities and PRO2 scouts who ensure that excellent talents are cultivated.


In general, a candidate’s ability to understand the game’s laws determines his or her readiness to become a professional soccer referee.

Consequently, the prospective referee will require training from his local and national soccer referees’ associations, as previously discussed.

A strong relationship with fellow referees and field officials expedites promotion from a lower level to a higher level. Good fitness exercises and dedicated learning of new soccer rules can also help you advance your career.