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Tips to determine shirt colours of football teams

How do you determine shirt colours of the teams you referee? That’s easier said than done. The Laws of the Game are clear: “The two teams must wear colours that distinguish them from each other and also the referee and the assistant referees. Each goalkeeper must wear colours that distinguish him from the other players, the referee and the assistant referees.”

But that’s the theory. During games I see lot’s of strange colour combinations which are allowed by referees. It’s not only the referee shirt colour that causes problems. I posted some examples in this blog post about referee shirt colours.

This week I saw a nice chart on Twitter posted by referee Bas Nijhuis. They Eredivisie referees get a nice overview of all shirt colours in their inbox. Easy for them. But how do you pick your shirt colour? Check out the tips below the chart.

Chart with referee outfits based on player outfits.

On the chart above the Ajax goalie has a blue shirt, but earlier this season I saw an Ajax goalie wearing a red shirt and that while Ajax’ main colours are white and red. Yes, there are different sorts of reds, but referees should make it easy for themselves. The same with the Arsenal goalie in their match against Stoke. A lime goalkeeper shirt and a yellow player’s kit is not a good combination.

Ajax goalieAjax shirt.Arsenal goalie wearing lime and Arsenal green.

Tips to determine shirt colours

There are a few things you can do as referee to be sure colours of the players’ shirts are different – that would make it a lot easier for you on the pitch.

    colour wheel

  • Do your homework and check both teams online. Pictures of the club’s shirts are often on their website.
  • Try to find a picture of the specific team you’ll be refereeing. The goalie is pictured then as well.
  • Be aware of the colour wheel on the right. Colours in the same category definately go not well together and categories next to eachother are at least doubtful.
  • So if you are still not sure, ask the teams to bring a player + goalkeeper shirt to your dressing room.
  • Also check the sock colours of both teams. It’s quite difficult to determine which team is allowed to throw-in if both wear red socks. Just ask the teams if they have another colour available
  • And remember: doing refereeing homework is not enough. Ask team managers the moment you arrive which colours they’ll be playing in. It is my experience that some clubs will wear away kits despite both home kits go quite will together.

I must say I actually made a big mistake with that. I have a white Champions League referee shirt. Don’t wear it often, but found a weekend where it would be perfect. The home team has a yellow-black shirt and the visitors normally play in a red shirt and white short. I forgot to ask about the colours and when I walked to the pitch and only then I realised the problem. The away team played in away kits (white shirt and red short) – which is uncommon for youth teams in The Netherlands. The man who had the key of my dressing room left the building to smoke and I couldn’t get in my room to get another shirt. I never forget to ask it before matches since that moment.

And what if one team has only one striped kit in yellow and blue and the other team has a home kit in yellow and away kit in blue? Use the shirts in plain colours so one team plays in a shirt from the other club. Makes it a lot easier for you as referee. That’s what Barnsley did in their game against Chrystal Palace.


  • S.

    What I do is, roughly, following UEFA guidelines even on regional leagues: appart of using the wheel, I try to avoid in my possibilities both teams wearing stripped shirts or sharing the shorts’s colour. I never allow a coincidence in socks (ie. their colours are confusing or they are both stripped and sharing a colour) neither a stripped shirt which primary colour is the colour of the opponent team’s shirt.

    I always get to matches with enough time for the teams to reach a solution if they don’t have the second kit available, so I never have this kind of trouble. Finally, this makes matches easier.

    • jan (administrator)

      Good point! But I think international referees will be there hours before the game. They should definately have the time to pick the right shirts, but I see things going wrong many times.

      The idea of not using striped shirts where the primary colour is the one of the opponent’s shirt is a good addition to the list.

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