By Walter Broeckx
I must say that I read the article by Tim published earlier with great interest.
I admit that he touched on some very interesting points. And I find it welcome that someone who has a different view on our referee work has the chance to give his thoughts on this subject.
When I arrived at the Untold scene some… my God is it already 6 years ago… I was the one that have started first writing articles about refereeing in general. Writing about a specific incident in a match and then explained the correct decision. People asked for more and more and more. I obliged because refereeing is my thing and I like doing it. First and all because I know I can use the examples and incidents for my own benefit on the field. But one of my ideas was to educate the readers of Untold about the laws of the game.
I must say that I sometimes fall of my chair when I hear pundits “explain the laws”. They mostly show that they have hardly any real idea about the laws and the interpretation of those laws. So I thought that the least I could do was to educate the Untold readers. And when I look at the reactions I seem to have done more for educating Untold readers than the PGMO has done for the rest of England. And that is one of their jobs!
Now I know that people can be sceptical about our referee reviews. In fact I have always asked people to be sceptical and critical. Right from the start. When the referee work grew and grew I got the help of a few other people. Some more referees. Arsenal supporting referees. So again we were in danger for being pro-Arsenal biased. I can assure you (but of course is just our word of honour) that the 3 of us did all we could to not be biased. We even at times consulted each other and made decisions that were against the common perception on this website. Our numbers then showed a rather big bias against Arsenal. As nothing in this world is perfect we were said to be too biased again.
So the only thing we could do was to go further. You can still find the results of us going further on the website refereedecisions. In that season we attracted referees from all over the world, with all different favourite teams. The Arsenal supporting referees were in the big minority during that season. We managed to do a lot of matches. An enormous amount of matches. Not all…alas. Because reviewing matches is time consuming.
But the result was that after having all the matches reviewed by all kinds of referees who supported all kinds of teams was that we found that the bias against Arsenal had even grown in that season.
I do admit that this outcome was even for me a big surprise. Well not really to be honest as I was seeing what was happening on the field and thought to myself that this was pretty bad stuff going against Arsenal. But I never expected that the bias score would be bigger when non-Arsenal supporting referees did the reviews compared to when Arsenal supporting referees did the reviews.
After that season we had a sabbatical year and last season we started again with just me doing the reviews. Because of personal circumstances I had to stop doing them for a while, just in the time when the bias seemed to drop a bit. I still wonder if this wasn’t just down to the fact that for a while we seemed the only team that could make the PL a bit exciting when it came to the title race and so the big bias dropped to a more normal level.
The fact that most readers on Untold had that feeling also showed that they rather had a good eye for how the referees were doing.
I also want to point out that our reviews are done in the silence of our living room. We know the outcome of the match. No nerves just looking at the decisions of the ref. So our reviews are not influenced by the home or away bias. In fact I review matches with the sound off. So for the reviews home or away bias is irrelevant.
The Arsenal-bias is something different. We openly let the world know we love Arsenal. I do try to be professional when reviewing matches. But even in the case if we were biased the great thing about our reviewing is that each decision can be disputed by everyone. We give our view in the open and then count the numbers and add them up and reach our conclusion.
Of course we do get people writing in saying that we are wrong with the reviews. But unlike Tim they don’t give us anything else but words in the style of : “you are rubbish mate” [or occasionally considerably more abusive, but still without any justification. I remove these and they are not published – as per our guidelines – Tony].
Indeed, we might be rubbish, but just saying that without saying where we are rubbish doesn’t bring anything to the debate and doesn’t allow us to even try to learn from our own mistakes. If they happened.
The fact is that I know referees in my own country from the lowest to the highest level. I have done matches with FIFA referees, done matches with top division referees. Have talked with them, have had some drinks with them, trained with them. I have some of their personal numbers. And the fact is that most of them are indeed biased. They do have a team they supported as a kid. And believe me (I have written about it) doing matches of your own favourite team is difficult. But I know who some refs support and then you really wonder if they really can put their bias aside when doing their matches or doing matches of rival teams.
And why would it be different in England? We know that there is a ref who supporters Newcastle. So he cannot do matches involving them. But as a real Newcastle supporter he will probably dislike Sunderland a lot. So how can he be unbiased when he has to do matches involving Sunderland or matches that can influence the league table of Sunderland or… Newcastle?
Tim has every right to believe that most mistakes are down to honest human error. I would love to agree with him. But if that really was the case then I think our numbers would have shown that it evens out in the end. But alas in no season have we found that it evens out in the end for a team. And certainly not for Arsenal. It never did.
If only I had some more times on my hand but I have to pack my bags and go on a holiday to the south of France for some 10 days so I have to stop it here. If the subject is still ‘hot’ when I come back I will try to give my thoughts on this after my holidays. But then again the debate about the referees is always a hot topic in the world of football.
The anniversaries – two signings on this day
- 4 September 1986: Perry Groves signed from Colchester whom he had joined in 1981. He played 142 league games for them and scored 26 goals before moving for £50,000: the first Arsenal signing of George Graham.
- 4 September 2000: Igors Stepanovs signed from Skonto Riga for £1.35m as cover for the injured Tony Adams. He had played 129 times for the Latvian team. He retired in 2011 having played 100 times for Latvia and became manager of the national under 17 squad.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal