Historical Transition of Football Officials in Modern Britain

Shota FUJII (Kyoto University, Graduate School of Letters)


 There seem to be little doubt that referees are indispensable to control games in contem-
porary football world. On the other hand, with a general survey of the history of football
functions of referees have not necessarily been firm, having been revised repeatedly. The
meaning of these reforms, however, has not been given enough consideration by research-
ers. This article, thus, explores the historical transition of football officials, especially focus-
ing on the pattern of decision-making, and the concept of fairness reflected in change to the
  Before the codification of football rules, the existence of officials had rarely been con-
firmed, especially in historical documents. In addition, evidence also indicates that officials
were rather indifferent observers than decision-makers. This principle did not vary mark-
edly after the formation of football laws at modern public schools, which means that players
could take initiative on decision-makings as interested parties. Meanwhile, a main role of of-
ficials had been the arbitration of players' discussion even in the 1860s, when the Football
Association advanced a unification of local rules. This custom, however, was gradually al-
tered in the 1880s. An increase in spectators and the development of players' skills, follow-
ing the professionalisation of football, required the reform of the existing umpire system. As
a result the Football Association revised the regulations and established the referee system
in 1891, which has been the basis of present system ever since. From that time, referees
could become adjudicators on pitches.
  The reinforcement of referees' power, nevertheless, might not definitely demonstrate that
the norm of fairness had progressed. The absence of officials or the limited power of refe-
rees may not automatically signify lack of discipline. For, particularly at public schools, ne-
gotiations and judgments of players (students) were regarded as crucially significant form-
ing the basis of the ideal of self-discipline, which led to the umpire system. In the mean-
time, referees' strict control could be a subject of severe criticism. Although the emergence
of vast audiences encouraged the introduction of objective decisions of neutral referees,
amateur had expressed fierce opposition to reformation of the system. Accordingly, the
Football Association had to confront a wide range of difficulties in relation to the new refe-
ree regime and these have continued even to present.
  It can be generally concluded that the history of football officials is the transition of the
referee's role from arbitrator to adjudicator. This alteration, however, does not simply des-
ignate the straight progress of fairness in the football world. Even after the establishment
of the referee system, traditional concepts of self-discipline have had considerable influence
and prevented further reforms. In brief, it can be claimed that such a conflict between 'ne-
gotiation/arbitration' and 'adjudication' is of critical importance in history of football officials.