Watching football games and highlights I often notice the referee saying something to a player who has just scored a goal.

I can imagine if the player has celebrated too much it would be related to that, but I even see this happening if the player's celebration is very moderate.

Is there something set down in referee's rule book about confirming goals or do ever congratulate a player on a well taken shot or... what is this?


Based on my experience, there are three reasons I move towards the goalscorer and their entourage after a goal is scored:

  • to confirm the number of the goalscorer (not required by the Laws, but may be required by the competition rules); and
  • to use presence and body language, and if necessary voice and whistle to direct the player to promptly return to their own half and prevent excessive celebration (as required in Law 12, Section 4, Celebration of a Goal); and
  • if either of the above are required, and the temperature or level of the match allows for it, to quietly congratulate the player to build rapport[1].

If the number of the goalscorer is obvious, and the scorer and friends are promptly returning to their own half, there isn't really any reason to go near them.

1 - I reject the suggestion in other answers that quietly congratulating a player is improper or casts doubt on referee neutrality. While celebrating a goal would be highly inappropriate, telling a player "well done" after scoring a goal is no different to showing genuine concern when a player is injured, or trying to persuade a player to change their behaviour rather than just cautioning them straight away. When used appropriately and sparingly, it may help to build a working relationship between players and referees. This in itself may make player management easier later in the match, or even later in the season if the same team is seen again. This technique may be less appropriate as the level of football increases e.g. elite players may see it as patronising.

  • 1
    As a player, I agree studro. Yes, refs should be "above" the game, even if they have an interest in the game or a connection to a team playing. But as long as the ref shows impartiality, particularly no negative bias toward one team, and there is no undue tension between the teams, a ref could congratulate good play or goals, as opposing players do at times. This is doubly so in junior matches where showing respect for the other team and reinforcing good play is important.
    – garth
    Sep 25 '18 at 1:25
  • 1
    @garth Yeah, this is a good point. I might edit into my answer that it may be more appropriate at lower levels of football. I certainly didn't congratulate players as much when I was refereeing elite football (I only cover recreational games these days). Sep 25 '18 at 1:38
  • For junior matches I agree, but in senior games the refs should watch their (body) language. Even a silent well done (thumb up) can be misinterpreted. You can congratulate them after the game. There are plenty of other situations to talk, to communicate and build rapport as you say... but that may as well vary in different competition levels.
    – dly
    Sep 25 '18 at 6:42
  • @dly Misinterpreted by whom? If a player wants to draw an unreasonable inference and attempt to communicate that to other participants (e.g. "the ref is on their side"), they can go for an early shower, as far as I'm concerned. Sep 25 '18 at 8:03
  • Now that would add some fuel to the fire... it probably depends on the level of competition, because if a referee would do it like you in ours the game would probably not end with 22 players on the pitch.
    – dly
    Sep 25 '18 at 8:50

Based on personal experience the referees tell the players to hurry up. This doesn't have to be the scorer... the goal keeper or any other player can as well be asked to hurry up. Depending on the score and time left it occasionally happens that the referees also point at their watch indicating to hurry up or the time spent will be added to the stoppage time.

It is very unusual that a referee congratulates a player, even when it was a great goal. A referee has to stay neutral at all times and congratulating someone is counter-productive.

And when the referee is unsure about the goal being good they will interrupt the game (usually signaled by blowing the whistle 3-4 times) and talk to the assistant first (or signal for the VAR, if applicable).


Sometimes, it's necessary to confirm who made a goal; this is important for statistics like the top scorers list. There are some rules for when a goal counts as an own goal or not, especially if a ball changes direction because a defender is in the way, it's not always clear who counts as the scorer of the goal.

Congratulating a player on scoring a goal would be a rather strange move from a referee, almost implying he favours one team over another.

  • 2
    While who scored a goal is important for statistics, it's not important for the result of the match, and can (and is) changed by organising bodies after the match based on video evidence etc.
    – Philip Kendall
    Sep 24 '18 at 11:25

By regulation, referees are not obliged to tell anything to a goal scorer. All they have to do is whistle and prepare the kick-off. It would be highly unprofessional to congratulate a player. The only thing I can imagine is to tell him to hurry up and make the game go on. In rare cases, the referee might be unsure on whether there was infringement, e.g. the goal was scored by help of the arm. In such cases, he might ask the scorer (or any other player).

  • Te referee does not have to whistle in case of a goal. The only reason I see to whistle is to stop play if it continues after a goal has been scored (because one or more players have not noticed the goal or think it was not a goal). Sep 24 '18 at 14:59
  • "highly unprofessional to congratulate a player" ?? It may be unwise if there is ill-feeling between the teams but that's a ridiculous statement. Coaching a team, or being biased toward a team is another thing entirely.
    – garth
    Sep 25 '18 at 1:22
  • Don't you think that saying to a scorer "wow, that was a hell of a shot" could create ill-feelings on the pitch? It would certainly give the impression of being biased and is not something the referee is supposed to do.
    – E. Sommer
    Sep 25 '18 at 13:02

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