A Reading FC supporter asked me recently about what he thought was a peculiar action by the referee at one of Reading’s games.

This concerned the use of the magic spray, which referees at that level use, when attacking teams have a free kick near to their opponent’s goal.

This spray developed in South America has spread throughout the football world, but there is no mention of it in the Laws of the Game.

In fact, the Laws say that only those lines indicated in Law 1, can be marked on the field of play. These lines however are tolerated because after a few minutes they disappear.

Referees use the spray in two places.

First, spraying a small semi-circle around the area of the offence and therefore where the kick must be taken.

 Before the spray, assistant referees in the higher regions of the game had to watch this area carefully, so they could inform the referee by their radio system, if the ball was moved forward while his back was turned. A common players’ trick, which now can’t happen.

The referee paces out 10 yards, the minimum distance that opposing players can stand and draws a line with the spray.

This is what this particular referee didn’t do, having paced out the 10 yards, he left the spray in the tin. ‘Why did he do that?’ my questioner wanted to know. I’ve no idea.

Despite its lack of legal status, the spray is extremely powerful. Referees are told that if any defender steps over the line before the kick is taken, they should be shown a yellow card. Whereas players would often shuffle or step forward, they now stay behind the line.

I saw an innovative use of the spray recently. The referee was going over to speak to his assistant referee followed, as usual, by players

 He stopped and drew a semi-circle with his spray and told them to stay behind it – and they did. Why the referee at the Madejski Stadium chose to ignore the spray’s benefit, we shall never know