By Tony Attwood
Seeing that headline what do you think?
Here are some possible answers that one might come up with:
1. Tell me your evidence, I would like to consider it and make my own judgement.
2. The writer is an idiot, of course it is not fixed
3. Typical Arsenal supporter coming up with such stuff – Arsenal are crap, you’ve just lost your one and only decent player, you’ll be midtable next season.. (etc etc)
4. You’ve probably missed out the incident in which … (fill in your details) which shows that the real bias is not as you say but in favour or against someone else.
5. Unless you review all the matches you can’t reach any conclusions. How do you not know that the matches you selected were the only ones that were biased?
6. It all balances out in the end.
But supposing the reader does take a good look at the evidence rather than firing off a reply straight away,, that reader might say…
1. Your evidence is not strong enough because you don’t have recordings of people arranging to fix matches .
2. What a waste of time you are clearly a sad person gathering together such data. Go and get a life.
3. The data is interesting. There might be points in the methodology that I disagree with, but I see where you are going.
4. There is a methodological fault and here it is…
Of course there are many other possible replies that can be made to our referee analyses, but those 10 categories above more or less cover about 98% of the comments we get each and every time we publish another one of our ref reviews, or summary of our findings.
Now obviously I admit that if I saw a review of match fixing by refs which was published on a Tottenham site and which suggested that Arsenal were the beneficiaries of the match fixing that was going on, I might be suspicious. But I would like to think I would at least take a good look at what was going on, and try and raise any doubts about the methodology that I had. A serious debate requires a serious answer, I feel.
My point is, that if I pose the point put in the headline: “Some matches in the Premier League are fixed” there are in general four possible responses
a) I don’t believe you
b) I believe you
c) Show me your evidence
d) Your evidence is not good enough to warrant your conclusions because…
Believing or not believing that matches in English football are fixed is a point of view we may start with, based on how we have experienced football. If you watch several games in which the ref’s decisions are bizarre in the extreme you might incline to believing matches are fixed. If not, you perhaps don’t.
But I find it hard to understand why people get stuck at this point. If you said to me “voting in the general election is rigged” or “lots of athletes in the Olympic Games are bribed to lose events” I’d say, “Really? What is the evidence?” I’d look at the sample, at the methodology and draw conclusions. If I had done the research and someone questioned whether I was competent to do the research I’d quote my London University research degree. I don’t want to boast, but it is a decent starting point.
What’s disappointing among some of the responses we get is that the desire to get at Arsenal supporters in general, or the desire to suggest our research is no good, swamps the desire to have a debate. It is a bit like the church in 1616 when Galileo was told that he couldn’t state that the earth went round the sun. Indeed one might call those who state that we can’t do this research or can’t draw conclusions on our level of data to be followers of Simplicio – the character Galileo invented.
The other point that seems to come up over and over again is the notion that the evidence is not strong enough, either because the amount of data collected is not great enough, or because the proof level is inadequate. Such correspondents then go on to demand a level of proof or evidence collection which is far above that which would be required in any scientific enquiry. For them Galileo would have needed to visit the moon’s of Jupiter before being able to pronounce on the fact that they went round the planet, and presumably occasionally leap out of 10th story windows on the basis that there is no proof that gravity really exists.
The fact is that what we are saying here is that the figures we get from analysing referees look very odd indeed in some cases, and they are impossible to explain away by chance or by poor data gathering (given the level of data gathering we do). When we combine this with the odd way in which the refereeing system in the Premier League is operating, we can see that clearly PGMOL ought to have an open investigation – if nothing else but to prove us wrong.
We’ve debated these point here so many times that I’m getting to the stage that further comments made by people who have clearly not bothered to read up on what we are doing, but which are primarily focussed on calling those of us working on this project idiots, should not be published – on the grounds that publishing such comments is pointless and gets in the way of real debate.
I take as my reference point one writer, who seeing our analysis of one game said something to the effect that “I bet you didn’t bother to analyse the match in which…” I wrote back at once saying “yes we did cover that game, it is still on the site, and yes, we agreed with you. The goal against your team was indeed very offside.”
He of course did not write back and withdraw his wild accusations and abuse.
So, if you are reading this, and you want to comment on our ref review series, please do, but comments sent in which are abusive, or which simply express disbelief without any logical or coherent argument without clear details as to why, won’t be published, because they get in the way of the debate we are having with people who understand what a serious study of the way refereeing is working in the Premier League, is all about.
Publication on July 20th: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.
The book that re-writes the Arsenal story.