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By Tony Attwood
If you have been paying attention you will have seen a couple of extremely insightful pieces on this site over the Christmas period from Walter Broeckx. I’ve put a link to them at the end of this note.
As mentioned before, suggesting that a ref is not doing his fulsome duty is a dangerous business because immediately it brings sniggers from every other quarter. Indeed on the day when it looked to many of us that the ref at the Birmingham game was behaving in a most bizarre and eccentric manner, a Birmingham fan wrote in the Observer that “the ref wasn’t doing us any favours”.
Since then we have heard that Bowyer has been arrested and charged with manslaughter – no sorry I exaggerate a bit – but it seems the FA will give him a three match ban for his assault on Sagna.
Which looks like a little move forward, except it ignores the other incidents that the ref missed and which were also fairly clearly sending off offences. A six match ban from the FA for two sending off offences missed? Probably not. The fact that Paul Davis once got a nine match ban isn’t being taken into account.
But back to the broader issue: my thought is, how do we take this debate forward?
Untold is extremely fortunate in having two expert commentators looking at the refs before and after each game, with the analysis of previous activity by the ref written up by “Dogface”, and then Walter’s analysis after the game.
Since no newspaper, TV station, club or other blog gets within a zillion lightyears of this type of analysis, we are very much out on our own here, breaking new ground. And that means that we are more than likely to be laughed at by those not going into this much detail.
Indeed I think it is worth looking at why there will be such reactions.
First, as noted above, all fans complain about the ref. It is part of being a fan. So saying, “yes I know everyone complains, but in this case, the ref really is hopeless” just seems like special pleading. That’s why the analysis before and after each game is so vital.
Second, the media and the clubs have a vested interest in there being nothing wrong with football. The moment there is a real concern that betting syndicates have fixed matches, or that following the Italian model (The Calciopoli) the clubs have their favourite refs who they “see all right” in return for favours given then interest in football commercially declines.
This is bad news for Sky Sports who spend millions, EPSN (the laughing stock of broadcast sport), BBC, ITV, the EPL with its overseas rights sales, the clubs who make so much of their money from broadcasting, and even the papers who fill up pages at the back of the paper at no expense at all by making up each day’s unattributed rumours.
In short, even the clubs that don’t benefit from the English version of “calciopoli” might think twice about pushing for prosecution of the clubs that do benefit because of the losses that would result.
Take a team like Everton, and imagine a scenario in which there is match fixing but Everton are not part of it. Everton lose millions upon millions each year as it is. If TV interest at home and abroad in the EPL declined, Everton’s income would drop so much they might well go out of business.
All very well being squeaky clean, but probably from their point of view, better to play in a bent league than be wiped out by debts.
Likewise, because the media has a vested interest in everything being ok (having paid for rights and through using it as a free way to fill up space) then the media is certainly not going to report any suspicion that something is wrong. Much more likely that they would either ignore it, or laugh at it.
Indeed when something is obviously wrong (as with Carlos Vela being done for diving in Portugal when he was so clearly fouled in the area, and with the ref, two linesmen and a fifth official a few yards away) they laugh at these funny foreigners who are bent. “No English ref would give that decision”.
But – and this is where it gets interesting – just look at the different standards in the English league from the Champions League. Fouls that are commonplace in England are not allowed in the Champs League. Why is that? As Mr Blatter preaches all the time, it is the same game where ever it is played, at whatever level.
In fact the current state of referee activity in England provides us with a strong suggestion (not proof, just a suggestion) that something is wrong. The lack of action on rotational fouling and timewasting, the acceptance of appalling fouls that would not be accepted in many other countries – this all suggests something nasty is going on.
Now when Walter wrote his first article about this, one or two correspondents replied by saying it was not scientific enough, that there were not enough examples, that good science needs 30 examples not 15 etc.
I am not sure where these examples come from, but this is not how I understand science (and there was a lot of science in my psychology degree, so I feel able to offer a comment here). To be scientific one makes predictions based on a theory, then examines the evidence to see if the predictions turn out to be valid. The theory of gravity says that if I drop two balls of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa they will hit the ground together. I do it, it works – another point in favour of the completeness of the theory. (I also get arrested for endangering the public, but that’s a different issue).
So, here’s the science. My observations lead me to develop the theory that says that there is something akin to the Italian system of looking after the ref going on in the EPL, and that there is also some interference in Champs League games going on across Europe – probably at the behest of betting syndicates (given that it seems to relate to individual matches). Using Walter’s observations I develop the view that the interference in the EPL is to do with who wins the league – which explains why things seem to be getting worse the more we force our way into contention.
I also develop the theory that the media and many clubs (including those not benefiting) will deride such views, because they have far too much to lose if they were to turn out to be true.
Because my theory says that the match fixing is of the Italian type then nothing particularly overt will be seen, but rather odd decisions will go the way of certain clubs. One might look for the penalty given at the end of the game, the player sent off or not sent off, the number of perfectly good goals given or not given (and remember Walter has already shown us that 10% of EPL goals are wrongly given or not given).
And we should expect these “odd” decisions constantly to favour one team rather than another.
It doesn’t mean that a team not involved in the fixing doesn’t ever get the benefit of wrong decisions – of course not. Refs make mistakes – that is not being disputed. It is the level and consistency of mistakes that we need to look at. The fact that Van Persie didn’t give away a penalty when he might have been so penalised against Birmingham isn’t here or there in this debate. Some things will be given wrongly, and in a truly balanced league they will work out equally over time.
No, what we should look at are the clubs that ceaselessly get the benefit of odd decisions.
There is of course some interest in this from little clubs like Birmingham City – their manager is complaining that while his club gets punished for the fouls by Bowyer, big teams don’t. And that’s a point worth considering it is another statistic.
We’ve got a long, long way to go before we can be sure that match fixing is rife in the EPL, but thanks to our two regular reporters we have made a major step forwards which no one else has been able or willing to take on. We have started to gather the data, and so far that data is suggesting that there is something to investigate.
As I have said, no one else is going to take this on, so its up to Untold. Give us time, and I think we’ll be able to say exactly what is going on.
The articles that started this series off…
Referees: conspiracy theory or practice – Part 2 of the special investigation.