The World of Football Hand Signals

It is often said that the language of football is universal, which is one of the biggest reason cited for its worldwide spread and appeal.  It little matters if a match is being played in Europe, in Asia, the Americas, Africa or Oceania, a common understanding runs through the game.  However, there is a second, less obvious, form of communication at work on the football pitch: the subtle art of hand signals.

Many footballers’ hand signals are similarly universal: the circular depiction of a ball, usually made by a player immediately after he has made a particularly bad tackle; the mime of waving a card––red or yellow, there is little interpretative distinction––typically made by a player who has been the subject of a particularly bad tackle.

Other hand signals are more personal, although none the less understandable for that: Gareth Bale’s ‘heart’ celebration; Dele Ali’s ‘finger’ salute to Kyle Walker.  Whilst some hand signals are so individualistic as to frankly defy interpretation: Antoine Griezmann’s Hotline Bling.

Language is never static; it is forever evolving, and the World Cup Finals 2018 in Russia have witnessed the addition of an entirely new hand signal to join the canon of footballing gestures.  This new signal is the VAR Square.  A classic example of the VAR Square occurred during Portugal’s Group B match with Morocco, where Cristiano Ronaldo performed the VAR Square after a dubious-looking dive in the penalty area.

In performance, The VAR Square is a scarcely altered variation of the traditional charades’ mime for a television programme; a signal made further popular by the old ITV show Give Us a Clue.


At the World Cup 2018, the VAR Square has been most frequently performed within the opposition penalty box; often after a corner; almost always in the hope of a penalty.

The intent behind the VAR Square is only too obvious.  It is a request that a potentially contentious decision by the on-field referee should be referred to the video assistant referee system for clarification.  In the hierarchy of footballing hand signals, the VAR Square is a mildly less aggressive appeal than the blatantly accusative red/yellow card waggle.

Personally, though, I think the VAR Square should be given the Dele Ali ‘finger’.

© Donnie Blake


Donnie Blake likes to make his message plain.

Check out Donnie’s book Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle; the first book in the World Cup Detective series.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s