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Question Number: 31519

Law 18 - Common Sense 5/9/2017

RE: Rec Adult

Russell of Sydney, Australia asks...

No question, just an extract of an article provided by the Referee Association where I referee
It expresses the use of 'Law 18 " Common sense' " in a smart way.
(note that it is sourced from - which is mentioned only as a reference, and that I have no connection too). Whether you agree with it not, it is provided with the good faith of best intension.

'Being successful in the Football Refereeing exam is the easy bit. Refereeing is a life-long on-the-job training course, with constantly changing Laws, interpretations and people management to contend with. The perfect referee has yet to be found. Law 18 " Common sense is the framework that holds all of the other Laws together. It allows both the referee and Football, to retain their human characteristics. The unwritten Law 18 is the most important of all the Laws; it overrides, modifies and controls all the others. Referees interpret and apply the Laws to ensure that decisions do not go against the spirit of the game. Law 18 " Common sense, and the spirit of the game are an integral part of the Football, without them Football would not be the game that it is.

The uncertainty of the game-action and interpretation of incidents is a key part of making football the exciting game that it is " long may it remain so. Over the past 10 years, Football authorities have endeavoured to make the game safer for players and more enjoyable for spectators. Referees have a greater responsibility to make every decision a correct one. The commercialism that has inevitably crept into the game, has left the poor referee in an unenviable position " a decision made in a split-second could have a most devastating effect on the finances of a professional football club; or even a Sunday morning team fighting for promotion or fighting against relegation. Common sense used fairly and correctly, is the greatest difference between a good referee and a bad referee. It is a quality, which thankfully most of us naturally have.

Common sense used during refereeing is built up from experience gained within Football, (whether it is by watching or participating), and by experience picked up during actual games refereed. In general, a referee will have the support of colleagues and referees societies during his initial baptism of fire. A great deal of experience will be gleaned from experienced officials, and the new referee will gain a great deal more, as the number of games he officiates increases. It is virtually impossible to provide a definitive guide for Law 18 " Common sense, and you will not find much information covering this subject elsewhere. The advice expressed on these pages are a personal view, that will go some way to help the newcomer understand that an individuals personality, is just as important as knowing the Laws inside out.

The advice is aimed at (what I would call) the normal referee. In other words, the 99% of us who officiate at the lower levels " the ones that do not have the luxury of free hotel rooms and transport etc...... Referees at the very top level have almost been sanitised, by being made to act less controversial. They have been monitored, trained, cajoled, moulded and turned into robotic machines controlled by their mentors. All done to minimise and remove (or lessen) the potential for making wrong decisions. This is obviously driven by the importance of commercialism in Football at the top level. Dont get me wrong, I have full admiration for the top officials, they are under extreme pressure; and they have all been through the treadmill of officiating at the lower levels " but the element of common-sense has been lessened by the demands of business. It is a shame in a way, that most Football Is now played for gain rather than pleasure. Its important that referees apply Law 18 Common sense, conscientiously and consistently, if not always as a group.'


Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Russell
Thanks for your contribution.
As Referee Dawson says one of the issue with common sense is that it is not all that common.
I would also say that it is not only the referee that should exhibit common sense but all the participants and that I am afraid is sadly lacking. As a referee one can think of all the times when common sense is not used by participants. Is berating a referee after the game going to affect the outcome, is dissenting about a stonewall penalty going to mean it gets changed, does continuing with misconduct after a dismissal going to change the outcome or make it any better? Common sense would tell them that the decision is made and we move on.
I also think that the common sense is misunderstood by many. Common sense would tell a referee that when the law has been broken to punish the offence correctly rather than not. I also believe that the over use of common sense by referees can and does send out the wrong message. It can show a weakness. It also can compromise a referees career. In the EPL I can think of 2/3 recent referees that did not make it to FIFA standard because they overused the common sense bit and not enforcing the laws as expected. Yes sometimes when referees make it all the way to the top they can be somewhat generous in the rigour of the law. I watched a top referee in a ECL game not caution a player for gesturing for a caution recently.
As advised by a UEFA to its select group according to the Laws of the Game, players who show dissent to the referee or assistant referee by word or action MUST be cautioned. Players express dissent or undermine the referee’s authority in many ways, such as:
#by gestures or by running towards the referee or assistant referee in protest
# by crowding around the referee (mass protest / mobbing) - in this case it is expected that at least one player is given a yellow card
# by verbally or physically demanding a yellow card for the opponent.
Was it common sense not to show the card to the gesturing player as that is what it will be deemed?
I sent off a player recently for the second caution of removing his shirt at a goal celebration. I could have chosen to use *common sense* and gave him a verbal warning. I chose to implement the law fully

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Russell
thanks for the article,

as in most articles dealing with common sense it failed to mention that it is not at all that common. Plus it is nonsensical to decide to not apply the LOTG just because you feel different! I 100% disagree that common sense is what determines a good referee from a bad referee. Far too broad a brush . I put it to you that common sense as a general policy of reason applies to ALL the participants of a match be he or she a player, coach , staff, parent, fan, & pundit to a greater degree than any official.

It is integrity that makes that distinction, as to what makes a decision palatable to some using the LOTG effectively means understanding when they can be altered to fit a given situation. The greater your understanding of the letter & spirit of the LOTG the easier one can find the escape clause out of a tough situation. I find that using the term LAW 18 and common sense as a backbone of your policies is where the referee simply makes stuff up to suit themselves not the match. It is crucial a referee realize his actions as a NEUTRAL official do not determine outcomes based on application of common sense but on the ability to sell the calls based on experience, knowledge, effort, position, compassion, courage, integrity and the mother of all virtues humility! .

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Russell,
I'm afraid I would have to disagree with the contention that, 'The unwritten Law 18 is the most important of all the Laws; it overrides, modifies and controls all the others.'

I would prefer to think of it as a adjunct to the other Laws, rather than something that overrides them.

Sometimes the Laws are, despite the best efforts of those that framed them, slightly ambiguous, slightly unclear or just not comprehensive enough to cover all the myriad possibilities that can occur. When this is the case, using common sense and the 'spirit of the game' can help a referee to arrive at a just and fair decision that still falls within the framework of the Laws. But it should not (at least in my eyes) be used as an excuse to override or abandon the Laws.

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