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What is wrong with Prem League Refs? Case study – Manchester Utd

By Walter Broeckx

Next in our series as we cover each and every Premier League team we have Manchester United.

Now before any Manchester United  supporters comes on here and suggest that it is not the averages but the actual decisions that count (as some fans of other clubs have done) may we suggest you take a look at both the introductory articles which you can find here and here.  You may also enjoy our other site: Referee Decisions.   Some supporters of other clubs have been rather critical of our work, pointing out the lack of things which actually do appear elsewhere – and that has made them look a little foolish.

And if you did, you can come back here and have a look at the statistical pointers we have found when we compare the overall results of Manchester United with the results of each ref when he does Manchester United games.

Of course you might have bad experiences with some refs in some games but who, after seeing the statistics, you find are not really that bad in general. You can share your experiences of course. But this article is not really about those games in particular. It is more about the total picture of the referee and this team.

Under the table I will try to give a short explanation on what you see.

And here are the numbers many of you have been waiting for: Manchester United

Total

won

draw

lost

won

draw

lost

% games

MU

797

520

165

112

65,24%

20,70%

14,05%

Atkinson

22

15

2

5

68,18%

9,09%

22,73%

8,06%

Clattenburg

21

12

4

5

57,14%

19,05%

23,81%

7,69%

Dean

39

26

5

8

66,67%

12,82%

20,51%

14,29%

Dowd

28

16

4

8

57,14%

14,29%

28,57%

10,26%

Foy

31

21

5

5

67,74%

16,13%

16,13%

11,36%

Friend

3

3

0

0

100,00%

0,00%

0,00%

1,10%

Jones

10

7

3

0

70,00%

30,00%

0,00%

3,66%

Halsey

32

24

5

3

75,00%

15,63%

9,38%

11,72%

Marriner

17

13

1

3

76,47%

5,88%

17,65%

6,23%

Mason

10

8

1

1

80,00%

10,00%

10,00%

3,66%

Moss

1

1

0

0

100,00%

0,00%

0,00%

0,37%

Oliver

5

3

1

1

60,00%

20,00%

20,00%

1,83%

Probert

8

7

1

0

87,50%

12,50%

0,00%

2,93%

Swarbrick No games
Taylor

4

3

0

1

75,00%

0,00%

25,00%

1,47%

Webb

42

29

5

8

69,05%

11,90%

19,05%

15,38%

The first important number is the one we should use as the stick to measure the results with. And we see that Manchester United has a win percentage of 65% of their games.

First of all we see that up to now 15 refs have officiated at games of United. Ref Swarbrick has done no games until we stopped our gathering of data. And we have ref Moss who has only done one game.  And we have refs Friend and Taylor with only three and four games and usually we only take on a ref in our survey starting from five games.

So we should not take them into account and that leaves us with 12 refs we really have to see how they compare with the overall win % of Manchester United.

So who is the best ref result-wise for Manchester United? No it’s not him. Its Probert. His win percentage goes through the sky.  And he is closely followed by Mason.  And then we have Marriner who is closely followed by Halsey. So all in all we have four refs under whom even Manchester United over perform. Four of the 12 refs we have taken in to account.

If we look at the refs under whom Manchester United performs in the line of their average win percentage we have Atkinson, Clattenburg, Dean, Dowd, Foy, Jones, Oliver and yes we hadn’t lost him Howard Webb. So that is eight refs of the 12 who perform close to the average win % that Manchester United has gotten in the PL era.

And now who are the bad refs for United? Who are the ones that risk the wrath of Ferguson? Are there any brave enough refs out there? Well the answer is…NO.

If I want to be more liberal than I usually am I could say that there are two refs that Sir Alex Ferguson will look at with a suspicious mind. Those refs are Clattenburg and Dowd. They are the two refs under whom Manchester United slightly under perform. Not by much but still. It seems that if you want to have a better chance of winning against United it is best for you to have one of those refs.

Oh well I tried to give the impression that those are the bad boys for United but in fact their win percentage is still very much in line with the average win % of United.

There is no “Dean-ref” (as he is known among some Arsenal fans)  for United to be seen. Yes United can lose a game and they can even point at the ref when they do. They usually do point at the ref when they lose. But this is more an accident de parcours as the French expression goes. They surely don’t have a Dean-ref out there under whom they know that they will have to overcome not only the opponent but also the ref.

In fact the only time they do have to fear some refs is when they play some teams. I will be having a closer look at those things later on in this series when we look at each ref and all the teams in our articles and then you might see some things that point at some bias.

I can imagine some Manchester United fans pointing at Atkinson having robbed them. But that is mostly when they play Chelsea and have Atkinson that they should be worried. When playing any other team the result is not that bad. In fact the win percentage is slightly better than average in general.

So apart from the odd mistake we can only come to the conclusion that there are no Dean-refs for United.

The only conclusion we can reach is: there are no bad refs for Manchester United. And that is the first team in our review where we found this. Will it be the only one? Stay tuned to find out.

The referee analysis

33 comments to What is wrong with Prem League Refs? Case study – Manchester Utd

  • I believe Stoke review will give us answer.

    F(erguson’s) A(ssociation) would probably relegate a referee that would dare “to mike-dean” United and issue public apology to both Ferguson and United fans.

  • FletchTM

    Interesting numbers and happy to see them. But in the end a typical school boy error makes them misleading to the extent that they are meaningless.

    I’ll wager that the refs you say “favor” united are the inexperienced refs. ??? Likely, they will not be given really controversial or incendiary games like top of the table clashes or derbys. ??? TRUE. So it is likely that these refs get games with bottom table teams, where you would expect united to have a larger winning percentage then the average. If you don’t take into account the teams performance (which you don’t) then this is just a failed exercise.

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Fletch,

    This is part of a complex matter in fact. And only one way of looking at the numbers.
    We did a review of last season where you can find all the numbers of last season of most teams http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/ref-review-2012

    That is one part of what we did/do. This is just an attempt to bring some maths in to the general outcome of games without looking at the decisions. I know that even when you win (or lose) a game the ref can have a bias against you or in your favour and it will not be seen in the final result of the game.

    So it is in fact an attempt to put all things together. But to put all things together you first need to have all different things on their own.

  • AL

    I’m loving these figures, confirm most of what we know already. Shame on the refs for being spineless against manure utd.

  • Adam

    Fletch TM, actually raises an interesting point albeit unintentionally, and that is institutionalised bias within the PGMOL, He raises the issue of certain refs not getting the bigger games, yet refereeing is not about the teams, its about how the individuals on the pitch behave.

    I have noticed that when a ref gets promoted to the select group it can still take on average two years for a ref to get a Man U game. So its no wonder that refs fear Man U, as it is held up as the pinnacle of the domestic game.

    When in actual fact its just another place for a referee to officiate 22 players and make sure they stay within the laws of the game.

    @Walter, you have to laugh at some people, they want to wager that they are right, yet turn in here with no evidence just opinions.

  • AL

    Most of the refs we have currently are weak, and that’s a fact. Balotelli’s agent rightly accused Webb of being weak after he’d claimed he had not seen the incident between Mario & Scott Parker, leading to the former being banned retrospectively by the equally weak FA. Dean also claimed to have dealt with red nose for his pitch invasion & tirade, meaning the spineless FA couldn’t do anything about it, as if they were anyway.

    The only ref I can remember who refused to be bullied by red nose was Uriah Rennie. Maybe that’s why he didn’t last long(I know he was demoted for a much less offence, a murky offside rule whose interpretation noone clearly understood then, when some of the refs still in their job have been allowed to continue despite making several high profile gaffes – eg Atkinson. Or the officials that missed the Pedro mendez no-goal v utd, or those that missed the horror tackle at wigan last week). The lot we have right now just want to please old bacon-face, and whoever it is that assigns refs to respective games at PGMOL.

  • AL

    Maybe I should’ve added Webb was a couple of yards from the incident he later claimed not to have seen. With wimps like that taking charge of the so-called high profile games that involve some of the worst bullies ever seen in football we don’t have a prayer.

  • FletchTM

    WalterBroeckx Agree, it is hard. But I bet you would find similar bias for Arsenal/Chelsea or any top 5 team. They do win most of the games because they are better. They are better because they play better players, have better coaching, etc. I looked at your numbers and most of the refs with more games come in close to the expected overall win percentage. Only 3 didn’t, and they have 10 games or fewer. 1 with 12 games actually has a statistical bias against United. But I bet Dowd will get plenty of United games. So one way of saying it is that under 15 games (not the 3 games you randomly choose) the error is too large to factor. I don’t know because I am not crunching the numbers. But that is what it looks like.

    But don’t let that stop you from using week math to state something that all loosing fans take as the gospel truth. Look up Frances Bacon son, people will use anything to support their beliefs and discount even the best arguments if they counter their biases.

    You sound better than that, but not on this evidence.

  • FletchTM

    Apologies for the typos in the last post.

  • FletchTM

    But let me just add a plug for refs, how I think do a brilliant job on the whole. Cakir being the only true exception to that statement). I actually don’t like Webb. Look at his statistics and the home big 5 team almost always wins. Even giving them goals like Drogba 3m off side which lost us the prem a few back. But these things happen. Not because the ref is bad, its because it is too much of a game for 1 man and a couple of part timers running the sideline.

    I think the errors and the bias people see is not down to bias as much as it is to the true enormity of the job. For my money, goal line tech is a waste of money. If they simply put a lad in a room with access to rewinds of all the live cameras, most fans would improve their attitudes 110%. Everyone watch Thierry Henry’s handball v Ireland knew is seconds what the ref never knew. Same is true with most goals. The replay has enough for most fans. Give the ref that info and the game will sort itself out quick enough.

  • nicky

    The real test will, I’m afraid, have to await the departure of Ferguson and his bullyboy tactics. Only then will much of the disgraceful behind-the-scenes dictatorship be exposed.
    It will be the earnest hope of many that never again will football officialdom be manipulated in such a manner by a single individual.

  • FletchTM

    Case closed I’m afraid. Enjoy your uninformed circle pull.

  • Stuart

    Fletch,
    If this is something that interests you I think you should stick around. There will be many other articles coming covering different data sets. This research has been going on for three seasons now so it’s difficult to present it in one article. It is being released in snippets to allow us to make our own decisions using the data needed.

  • Adam

    Fletch, stick around for Wigan.

  • Adam

    Case re-opened, Im afraid.

  • nicky

    There are some folk who cannot see the wood for the trees.
    To say for “errors and bias” read “the enormity of the job” is naivety in the extreme.

  • Mike

    Fletch clearly doesn’t wany to believe that there could possibly be any bias because that would mean that everyone else apart from Man U fans would actually be right………..and we can’t have that now can we Fletch?!!

    Irrespective of the data that is produced by Walter et Al it pains me that nobody who opposes the findings ever comes up with anything better but just ignores what is in front of them.

    It should also be said that one of the bigger issues for me (and we see it most times when we play Man U……..and every time when Dean refs) is the overall attitude of refs, not just the big decisions. If we go into the tackle firmly it’s a foul (and often a card) if Man U players go in overly hard it’s ok. This impacts on the psyche of our players who know they’re going to get hit hard and risk injury whilst knowing they will not be allowed to tackle hard (but fair) themselves. This regularly sees Man U with a psychological and actual advantage before a ball is kicked………..add to that the big decisions and hey presto……a 10 or 20 point start every season.

  • Florian

    Fletch,

    I think calling referees like Probert, Mason, Marriner and, above all, Halsey inexperienced is a bit… biased (to put it nicely).

    But you made a good start to the path to enlightenment. Keep reading Walter’s articles, from the very beginning, and hopefully you’ll be able to understand.

  • Mark

    It is amazing how few refs actually do Man U games. It is amazing that this analysis shows they have no negative refs but four that are positive! This is just another way of showing what last years ref reviews showed that Man U is favored in a general way by the refs and by the system of the refs. This is undoubtedly true. While I think Man U does have a good team, this little extra dimension does make a difference over the course of the season. And this has been true for the past decade. So last season they did not win the league but they were in contention to win the league right up to the final whistle because of the favorable system of refs. This makes Man City’s league win even more remarkable. It makes Arsenal’s third place finish almost a miracle.

    Thanks for try to expose this bias and the system that is supporting it!!

  • Florian

    Funny how Webb’s bias is not as obvious as one might have expected. Even funnier is that they seem to lose more games than usual with him officiating! It’s just he’s doing so many matches for them.

  • AL

    Mike,
    Spot on, utd players have psychological advantage over other players for the very reasons you state above. They know the ref will let them get away with a lunge here or there, while the opposition gets punished, they can mob the ref if he’s making ‘questionable’ decisions in their eyes, they can rely on their manager to bully the ref into submission if he’s not calling all decisions in their favor, they can get a penalty for the clumsiest of dives, they’re unlikely to concede a penalty if they make a last ditch tackle from behind.

    All of the above helps their players as it makes them feel almost untouchable, not panic even if they made a mistake, resulting in them playing with more confidence. A good example is rvp who is now making the sort of tackles he was making in his first years at Arsenal, that he later learned would lead to him being sent off if he didn’t cut them out while with the gunners. Now he knows he has the licence to get away with it and we can see the elbows are back, and two footed lunges. Players aren’t idiots, they know when a ref is letting them off the hook and they exploit it. Just like in boxing, if the ref lets one fighter hold constantly, use elbows & headbutts despite complaints from his opponent its going to leave the opponent frustrated & very likely to lose the bout. Contests can, and usually are, decided on such minute details.

    Florian
    I wonder how many of these losses under Webb came in the last few years. I bet most of them came at the start of his career when he wasn’t that established.

  • Gf60

    @Walter. Reading Fletch’s comments reminded me of Machiavelli’s comment:
    It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

  • Malaysian gunner

    We all know the refs when they officiate MU matches. For all dominance in the el,red face has found it hard to do likewise in the cl.
    The cl refs are different and aint going t be intimidated by him. That’s why he will find it tough going.

  • Florian

    AL,

    Here’s the data: In the last 4 years, ManU had 3 defeats with Webb at the whistle: Dec 19th 2009 0-3 away at Fulham, Feb 20th 2010 1-3 away at Everton and Jan 4th 2012 0-3 away at Newcastle. Since the Newcastle defeat, the refs on the occasion were Dowd, Marriner(2), Foy and Taylor. The notorious 1-6 had occurred just a few weeks before. Interestingly enough, they too had a bit of of Atkinson in a blue shirt – 2 defeats in the last 4 years. Nothing like twice in a season though.

  • Gf60

    Talking of Dean-refs, anyone see this? Don’t know if you read the Guardian’s “Knowledge” column but this little gem surfaced:

    “A few years ago in the Premiership, a referee pumped his fist with an exclamation of ‘yes!’ when a player scored a goal in a certain game,” wrote Ian Kerr back in 2006. “The referee later claimed that he was so pumped because he had allowed play to go on instead of blowing for a foul in the build-up, and was chuffed with his own free-flowing refereeing. So who was the ref? What teams were playing, and who scored the goal? And where is our friend the enthusiastic referee now?”
    The nugget in question was Mike Reed, who knocked seven bells out of fresh air when Patrik Berger put Liverpool ahead against Leeds during their 3-1 win on 5 February 2000. Reed did indeed claim he was made-up with his own performance, having waved play on after Vladimir Smicer was fouled in the build-up, but the FA were not particularly enamoured with his public display of self-loving.
    “Having considered the available information, we have issued a reprimand and a warning to Mike Reed,” warbled a spokesman. “While we understand the emotions involved, it is essential that match officials do not make gestures which could lead to misinterpretation. The impartiality of our officials must not be open to question. Mr Reed has been warned to keep his emotions under control in future or face further action.”

    Was there any future action after his celebration at Arsenal?

  • nicky

    @AL,
    I wonder how many students of the game had already noticed the “new” Van Persie, now publicised by your enlightening study.
    Yet another nail in the coffin of bullyboy Ferguson and his manipulation of match officials “selected” to turn up at OT.

  • Stuart

    Gf60i thought it was Mike Riley

  • WalterBroeckx

    Dean celebrated on two occasions against Arsenal. One at the final whistle in the League cup final against Birmingham. Dean always blows the final whistle without making any moves or gestures. On that day he made a little jump in the air and raised both his hands in the air like someone does when he wins a game.
    The second celebration was the totts goal at the Emirates last season when he jumped up when he turned and ran towards the middle circle again.

    Not a word from the FA or the PGMOL. Let alone take Dean away from all Arsenal games since then.

  • Norm

    Now we hear that Greg Dyke, ex director and fan of manure, is to be the big cheese at FA. I’m sure David Gill has smoothed the way. Frigginson has all bases covered now: FA, Sky, 4th estate and of course, OM Rileys’ gang.

  • @Walter what about when Colins Kazim-Richards scored he run up to him and said a word don’t worry they wont come back,I’m the ref.
    About Manure, David Gill was the CEO at the same time V c of the FA,so guess what we have Dyke joining Dein hmmmm your guess is as good as mine. Who does not want to please his boss and to keep his job?@Walter why don’t you i mean when you get free time tell us how many yellow-cards,penalty do all the premier teams get and who are the refs who give them out.

  • @Norm that’s what I’m talking about.

  • It's Grim Oop North

    As a City fan, I’d love these stats to truly reflect a bias towards Man U, but I still have reservations that this is definitive evidence statistically.

    Because United have such a large win percentage, then it would be difficult to find a ref with statistically glaring bias against them, purely because they don’t lose many games – although you could argue this is a chicken and egg situation – they don’t lose because the refs try their best to ensure that doesn’t happen!

    All that to one side, I find myself looking closely at the DRAWS those four anti-Dean refs have on their record, and I find that they are all well below the average for Man U of 20,70% (I assume this means 20.7% Walter?)
    Probert – 12.5%, Marriner 5.88%, Halsey 15.63%, Mason 10%.

    So, are these refs a mere goal away from putting their performances into the average in those games which are drawn, or are they turning draws into victories by their own influence? Or sheer chance with no bias? But why are they all below the average for draws when they are above for victories? Surely if they were truly biased, they would ensure losses were turned into draws and so be above average for both draws and losses, thereby ensuring United gain more points under their watch?

    Forgive me if I have not noticed you have taken into account draws in all your studies so far, but if you haven’t Walter, then I think that is a huge gap in the truth of the matter, and admittedly this poses far more questions and scenarios than answers.

    A point is a point, but it becomes crucial when it is turned into three by a biased or incompetent ref, and similarly a point can be turned into nothing at all by the same – I would say you cannot ignore draws, they are in fact more important than losses to the league placings come the end of the season than a loss surely?

    I feel a little dirty now for implying that United don’t get a 20 point head start a season, but I would prefer the truth over a tribal rivalry.

  • It's Grim Oop North

    Walter,

    following on from the logic of my previous post, would it not be more accurate in assessing a referee’s bias for or against a team by totting up their average points per game ratio, rather than the previous format of win or lose, which ignores the vital points which a draw represent over a season?

    A biased referee will be doing his criminal best to help his preferred club by getting a draw from the clutches of defeat, and that is not recognised in these case studies, and perhaps paints a picture of bias where none exists, or covers a bias in error?

    I know this is a lot of work for you Walter, I have spent most of tonight reading articles on Untold and commenting, but isn’t this what we’re all striving for? The Truth, and an absorbing time in it’s pursuit?