The soccer referee is the person who is in charge of leading the soccer game, making sure the players obey the rules of the game and in case of violation of the rules hands out the suited 'punishment'. Cop, judge and executioner in one...
In soccer the referee is supported by two assistant-referees located at the side of the field and at official matches a fourth official. Sometimes there is also a fifth official, for example at the world tournament of 2006.
The age of starting referee can differ a bit per country, but in general at the age of 12 you can take the course for junior matches referee and around the age of 16 the course to become a referee for adult soccer. In most countries the beginning referee will be accompanied the first matches by a more experienced referee or a special assigned coach.
Judging the judge
Once the referee is officially allowed to conduct the soccer matches he will be judged himself by an officially assigned representative of the soccer federation. This person has had a special training to evaluate the referee's performance. In some countries the referee will be informed on forehand that there is a representative present, in other countries this is done absolutely anonymous. The representative and referee are not to have any personal contact.
The evaluations determine if a referee may progress to higher qualified matches and as such move up in the ranks. Once you are high enough you might be invited to a new referee course for the professional soccer matches. If your evaluations are negative you may go down in the ranks and be forced to lower matches.
Besides this judgment the referee must take a yearly physical test and an exam to test the knowledge of the rules of the referee. You need to pass both test to qualify for advancement.
Global division under the FIFA
Globally the FIFA has set the rules for soccer and there is a subdivision for each country handling the rules of the FIFA and as such the rules can differ a bit per country. For example the FIFA states the goal nets are obliged whereas the subdivision in Belgium states this is obliged. As such the country divisions have the freedom to complement the rules for their country.
Social Referee Associations
Each country knows one or more Referee Associations that make sure the referees are informed about the latest formal announcements and support referees in different matters. They usually also hold gatherings with different activities to keep the referee's knowledge of the rules fresh and in proper condition. These gatherings are a great opportunity to talk to other referees, have a great time and exchange experiences.
Soccer Referee Equipment [http://www.soccerrefereeequipment.org/]
Originally the referee was dressed in black, but nowadays you'll find the equipment in lots of different colors. However what is important is that the referee is easily identified as being the referee and as such his clothing can't resemble the colors of either soccer team. The clothing is available in lot's of different brands such as nike, adidas, umbro, etc. In professional european matches the referees wear adidas referee clothing. The complete referee gear consist of the referee shirt with official referee badge, referee shorts, referee socks, referee shoes, referee watch, referee tossing coin, referee cards, referee notebook, referee whistle and all of this gear can be of lot's of different brands.