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October 2016
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Exposed! How Northern bias affects match results, injury tables and the National team.


How Northern bias affects match results, injury tables and the National team.


By Proud Kev

Okay, it’s a sensational headline. The sort of thing you see on a daily basis by those employed to make up stories. Except this isn’t a made up story. This is based on something Untold often refer to as ‘evidence based’ reporting; not something dreamed up by a media click baiter trolling Gooners.

I will support this article with numbers but also with comments made by the former head of PGMOL, former referee Keith Hackett. Hopefully, this may answer some of the questions we have often been concerned about.

So where do we start?

The one event that started me wondering about what was going on with our game was the match at Old Trafford which ended our 49 game unbeaten run. A match refereed by the head of PGMOL, Mike Riley. That match was when I realised something was not right about the game I love.

Having watched reruns of that game, there is not a person alive today that can tell me that match was refereed correctly. Everyone has an off day but the rules of the game are there to be followed. The rules on that day in Manchester seemed to be interpreted in a way that ignored the basic laws of the game and my conclusions are later.  However, I am not claiming referees cheat I am merely suggesting that there are some strange things at large, that can now be explained.

The Premier League select group of referees.

Referees can be promoted to the Premier League based on a list provided to PGMOL by the Football Association. The FA has a team of assessors awarding points at matches, which produces a league table. Those referees at the top of the league become available for selection to PGMOL.  Seems sensible and the perfect way to reward referees who perform well. However, when you look at the geographical make up, you realise something rather odd is happening.

Of the 16 select group referees, 14 come from the Midlands or the North. None are from London, the Home Counties or the South. What is startling is that 1 in 3 of the PGMOL select group are from the North West, the area around Manchester and Liverpool. An area dominated by the two Manchester giants and the team of the 1980’s, Liverpool.

This heavily North West weighted situation poses problems for PGMOL, in particular Mike Riley. He has the responsibility of appointing referees to matches but must do so in balanced way. However, that is not so easy to do with so many North West and Northern referees. It is of course still manageable, all that is needed is an application of common sense. Unfortunately, we are talking Mike Riley here a man with a backbone made of straw.

The recent Arsenal game with Manchester United at the Emirates would make most neutral observers believe a referee from the Midlands would be appointed. Not in the weird world of Mike Riley.  He decided it was a good idea to award the game to one of his North West referees, Anthony Taylor. The problem was that of all the referees he could choose, Anthony Taylor lived the closest to Old Trafford. A strange decision indeed.

Now, this made me uncomfortable. Here we have a referee that lives in Manchester and whose kids go to school in Manchester. He will be subjected to local media and this questions his ability to be impartial. My concern is the subliminal bias, a programmed bias that affects the referee’s ability to judge decisions in the same way. It also puts the referee in a difficult situation. Would he risk the wrath of his neighbours or the kids in the school playground by awarding Arsenal a last minute penalty? Would that be in his mind? We don’t know but it’s possible, isn’t it? I think so.

So incensed was I, that I contacted Keith Hackett and asked him for an impartial opinion on whether or not he thought this was a good idea. Now Keith Hackett is not only a former referee but he is also the former head of PGMOL before Riley replaced him. He has done the job so he is the right man to ask. I have found Keith to be an open, honest man and honourable and this is what he told me:

“Maintaining high levels of integrity in officiating is a vital ingredient to the success of our game. Interestingly there have been a number of cases around the world where referees have been found guilty of corruption.

In my time in office I introduced a new section into the Contract criteria for our match officials that officiate in the professional game. It states; NO GAMBLING ON FOOTBALL WORLDWIDE. It is essential that our reputation for honesty and integrity is maintained. Your observation on the graphical hotspots for the group of our professional referees is well made.

So I shuddered when I first saw the appointment of Anthony Taylor to a game involving a Manchester Club in a Premier League game. If the game had gone wrong then he is put at risk to verbal derision which can also have an effect on his family. I would not take such a high risk and frankly this type of exposure can be avoided. 

I believe that the situation that you have highlighted is a reflection on the current failure of The Football Association and Football League to address this issue. 

  • Recruitment and retention
  • Mentoring
  • Career Pathway etc. 

Sadly I think that things might just get worse”

So according to Keith, Mike Riley made a decision that not only put the referee into a difficult situation but it was one that could affect the integrity of the game. This is serious stuff. More from Keith later.

Now I wanted to look further at the geographical make up and how that is reflected in the Championship and Football League. As recent promotions were to Northern referees, I wanted to understand this anomaly:

The National Group referees.

The region with the most referees is yet again the North West. Of the 62 referees, one in five is from the North West. In fact, the North accounts for 76% of all referees, which compares with the 87% in the Premier League select group in PGMOL.

It appears that this is a known problem that was identified years ago. Keith Hackett claims we have a serious problem that could get worse because the FA and PGMOL have decided to do nothing about it. Keith is adamant this is a training issue and that Southern referees need more training to catch up.

Hold on a minute. Southern referees are not as good as Northern ones? I don’t buy it but here is what Keith had to say when I asked him:

“You make an excellent observation and one that certainly was a worry for me when I held the office of General Manager at the PGMOL. At one stage there was neither a referee or assistant referee in Cornwall and I ran a series of Training meetings to aid this problem.  One official did come through to the Football League.

I note the list that you produced and can add to your concern. Lee Probert and Phil Dowd have not officiated this season due to injury. New boy 47 year old G Scott officiated at Burnley his first game of the season. They are therefore operating with 15 referees using new boys Tierney, Attwell and Stroud on an experimental basis. Michael Oliver is not available due to his appointment overseas to the FIFA U17 World Cup”. 

He went on:

“I do not attach any blame onto Mike Riley at the PGMOL; he can only promote referees that are at the top of the merit tables. Geography cannot play a part in the selection process. Therefore who takes the rap, sadly the Head of Senior Referees at The Football Association, who has failed to focus on this problem, in my time there were many officials from London and the South of England. The Football Association needs to act”.

Damning words. It’s a problem the FA has been concerned about for years. I guess you could say the FA has done FA. I guess none of us will be too surprised to hear that.

Research tells me that Neale Barry (Head of referees at the FA) is from the North and we all know Mike Riley is another from the North.

So there you have it. It seems Southern referees need training.

But hold on a minute. Surely a referee officiates a game based on the laws of the game? What training does he need; how to iron his kit or blow his whistle?

What he is really saying is that Southern referees need training to know how they should ‘interpret’ the rules to meet the style of the assessors. Therefore, we clearly have a different interpretation of the rules of the game dictated to us from the North of the Country.

So what is this ‘different style’ or ‘different interpretation’ of the rules? Well, now it gets interesting because we are into the subject a lot of us Arsenal fans have discussed endlessly:

They don’t like it up ‘em

Let’s go full circle and look at that game at Old Trafford, which Mike Riley refereed so poorly. A match where there is no question: physical assaults were allowed and the targeting of Reyes ignored. A game Gary Neville admits they had pre-planned to ‘kick’ Arsenal because that was the only way they could win. Indeed Neville himself and his brother were clearly allowed to get away with a couple of shockers on Reyes, without any penalty. The Nistelrooy over the top, shin rake that left Ashley Cole in a heap was right in front of Riley yet was ignored. So too Rio Ferdinand’s last man shove on Freddie Ljungberg, a clear red card.

It was as if a different set of rules to the norm were being applied in that game. So a tactic used by the Northern team was endorsed by the Northern referee. If you don’t believe me, have a look on YouTube.

Ask yourself how many times Northern pundits and click baiting journos tell us that Arsenal doesn’t like it physical and the way to beat us is to get ‘stuck in’? It is a repeated narrative that leads to dangerous challenges, of which we are all familiar. Referees are football fans, they watch Match of the Day and they listen to what the pundits say.

Do Northern referees interpret the rules differently according to who is playing? Or are Northern referees more lenient towards the physical game?

Arsenal and injuries

It is no coincidence that Arsenal football club has seen several of their players lying on the pitch after tackles that have broken their legs.  It is no coincidence that all of those tackles were committed by British players and not foreign ones.

Abou Diaby, Eduardo, Aaaron Ramsey; three high profile assaults that virtually ended the career of two of our players. In fact, we all remember the gut wrenching, outpouring of sympathy the North West player, Ryan Shawcross, received from former players and the media. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey was facing operations and lying in a hospital bed.

But for the grace of god Alexis Sanchez dodged the Gary Cahill over the top leg breaker at Stamford Bridge last season. Jack wasn’t so lucky with the Paddy McNair tackle that shattered his ankle and which Northern referee, Mike Dean (him again), decided was not even a foul…!

Can the injuries to our players be directly related to the way teams approach our games and referees interpret the rules? I certainly believe so.  Would Arsenal have so many injuries if we had foreign referees? Southern referees? If we played in La Liga? I don’t think so.

I believe there is a direct correlation between the way our games are refereed and the interpretation of the rules by Northern based referees.

The English National team is average

How many times does our National team have to embarrass us? Substandard players who run around a lot and make robust tackles, winning more than 50 National Caps. Skilful players shunned because they don’t work hard enough. The English national team has been an embarrassment for far too many years and we never seem to move on.  Our attitude to making tackles, getting into the faces of the opposition and ‘run around a lot’ football has held us back, along with the sneering attitude towards technical football. It’s just not English to be 5’ 6” and pass and move; you need to fly into tackles.

All this is reflected in our referees and the training they receive.


And here it is. Having taken into consideration all the evidence available and having spoken to Keith Hackett, I am convinced that English football is run by Northern dinosaurs who manipulate the rules of football.

The rules of our game have been interpreted to allow a more physical and robust method of play and that seems to be in our heritage. Certainly, there has been no attempt to adapt to meet the interpretation on the continent. The fact that Southern referees are seen as requiring more training is completely bizarre but proves to me that I am right. How can referees interpret rules according to their geographic location?

There is a sneering attitude towards Arsenal and I believe that is reflected in the way our games are refereed, our injuries and in results. The horrible injuries we have witnessed to Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey by British thugs is no coincidence but a direct result of the way our referees are being told to interpret the rules and our media encourage this attitude.

The North dictates how the rules of football should be interpreted and that relies on a mind-set and attitude that favours the so called English trait of physical effort over skill.  There are social and demographic  issues involved but that’s for someone else to look into. Southern referees are ignored for promotion and the FA cannot be asked to train them. Poor.

In a nutshell, it is clear what is currently wrong:

  1. The rules of the game are there to be applied, but they have been adapted according to a regional interpretation.
  1. The rules of the game are there to be applied, but they are being adapted according to which type of team is playing.
  1. Referees from the South do not have the same opportunities as the Northern referees.
  1. PGMOL is appointing referees to their home town club.
  1. English football is still in the dark ages, obsessed with physical contact over skill.
  1. Football is dominated and run from the North with a regional bias.
  1. The FA have ignored the warnings and their complacency has led to a regional in-balance in our referees that does not reflect the regional nature of the Premier League.

Neale Barry of the FA has to answer a lot of questions because he has not done his job. He is responsible for the regional issue and has chosen to ignore it.

My views on Mike Riley are not complimentary, based on that infamous shambles of a performance and his belief that appointing the most Manchester of referees to an Arsenal v Manchester United game was a good idea. If he was a turkey, I have no doubt he would vote for Christmas.

It’s a scandal that needs addressing. It proves to me that Arsenal Football Club have been the victims of regional bias for years and that referees have been encouraged to adapt the rules of the game when we are playing.



  • 7 December 2002: Man U 2 Arsenal 0.  After scoring in 47 consecutive games Arsenal failed to score.
  • 7 December 2004: Arsenal 5 Rosenburg 0.  Arsenal had already qualified for next phase of the competition, but saw no need to take it easy.  The goals came from Reyes, Henry, Fabregas, Pires and Van Persie.

The campaigns

58 comments to Exposed! How Northern bias affects match results, injury tables and the National team.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal


    I have been saying it since long that the dominance of Fergies Mancs during 2006 to 2013 was clearly blessed by Refs biasness. Fergus got all the support frm the refs which brought him so called success. The famous 12th man Horward webb at OT is laughable and known to every Harry Tom and Dick.
    I am of the opinion that the shameless Fergus should be stripped off the knighthood for his shameful deeds he had done with the help of Riley & co.

  • Usana Zaka

    Fantastic work Kev, and credit to Keith Hackett for talking about the Riley situation. I think where you mention that “physical effort is encouraged in England” is an understatement, its more like “bully your opponent till the refs stops you which they don’t”. Anyways, keep it up Kev.

  • Chris

    Proud Kev,

    Sure a great piece of work, and I don’t event hink of the time necessary to find and structure the information.

    Thinking about it, I was wondering then how other London clubs have fared compared to Arsenal ? Or are they coached in a Northern ‘attitude’.
    What about the Chavs ? Southhampton ? Other London area clubs ?

    Can this bias be seen in other southern clubs ? If it is a geographical issue, then it need be visible ther too. Otherwise it is an anti Arsenal bias….

    Keep up the very interesting work



  • gbenga

    A little girl confronted Howard Webb when he came to officiate during the 2009 U-17 World Championship in Nigeria. She told the bald headed referee that he favors Manchester United whenever he holds the whistle particularly against Arsenal. A certain Chelsea v Man United match where the blues were leading 3-0 and United were awarded two questionable penalties which made the match to end 3-3 easily comes to mind. How about the title decider between Man United v Arsenal where Owen Heragreaves scored from a dubiously awarded free kick and a very questionable penalty. How about 3 or 4 goals scored by Tevez for United at 3 or 4 different matches after the expiration of extra time. Let’s not forget Fergie time. The sins of that club is scarlet in color.

  • proudkev

    Evening Chris.

    I don’t thnk its anti-Arsenal per se, that isnt what I was saying. I think its another example of us living in the past, the dinosaurs in the FA doing what they always do.

    A mentality, a mind set. English football is stuck in the dark ages and we seem to have this ridiculous notion that the English way of blood and thunder is best. We seem obsessed with aggression anhd as I have said, all we have ever heard is the narratiave ‘Arsenal dont like it up em’. You listen in the TV studios or read the printed media, it;s all repeated. Arsenal dont like it physical, Arsenal don’t like cold games up North etc. They try to paint us as a bunch of pansies trying to show the English how to play football.

    We tend to celebrate teams like Bolton, Stoke and the like who kick anything that moves, as they used to against us. Perhaps it comes down to snobbery but whatever it is, it exists. I beleive that it has become ‘okay’ to be physical against Arsenal (or teams like them) because its seen as an English ‘thing’- and our games are refereed in that way.

    The horrific injuries our players have suffered is a direct result of players being told that they have to go in hard on us and not give us time on the ball because of how we play the game. Instead of people supporting flair football, they sneer at Arsenal.

    I think it was Gary Neville who said you know certain referees will allow a more physical game. My assertion is that those are the Northern referees.

    Its weird. Why are Southern referees not refeering as the FA and PGMOL would like? Why is it a training issue? I have heard it said that London based refs tend to be more technical and therefore referee more like the continental referees. On the continent, teams tend to have more time with the ball and it is less physical, probably because all teams play that way. Unlike in England.

    So I’m not sure its anti-Arsenal but more anti-technical football; a dislike for johnny foreigner trying to teach us how to play our ‘own’ game. I have never been a beleiver of coincidences Chris and I think Keith Hackett has backed up what I have identified – so I’m not a paranoid delusionist!

  • musa

    reverse is the case in nigeria where everything conerning sport is control by south

  • Andy L

    To understand the Referees interpretation of the laws here perhaps it would be interesting to analyse the performance of our Referees when they referee games in Europe. Does Riley have influence over them when abroad?

  • nicky

    The 2004 Night of Infamy indicted Riley, the Neville brothers and Ferguson as the evil faces of professional football, which has still to be put right.
    But this year’s Arsenal v Man Utd game showed that evil CAN be overcome, in spite of biased or inept referees.

  • syd

    Hilarious funniest thing I have read in year’s can we now have a Northerners view on the Southern shandy drinkers please. I live in the north and have many Arsenal friends here and making excuses for Arsenal’s failures over the year’s on “northerners” is quite pathetic and one that I find insulting and it’s not the first time you have implied this. For your information most Man Utd fan’s come from the south. The only bit that made sense was appointing impartial referee’s and yes there should be more regional appointments but I have news for you corruption occurs in London as well

  • Steve Vallins

    Hi Kev always enjoy reading your comments and articles
    How do you think all the Arsenal players must feel every time they go on the pitch to play a game which they know is going to be refereed in two different ways
    Arsene Wenger did complain to the PGMOL about how he seemed to think how Arsenal were refereed the result was Newcastle away 4 up at half time , a very strange Mr Dowd second half followed Diaby sent off and two of the softest penalties given against us
    It was presented in the press as a great fight back by Newcastle nothing mentioned how the game was referred
    Arsene hasn’t complained about how referees handle Arsenal games since that game with only one exception Chelsea away this season when we were stuffed again

  • Steve Vallins

    Where’s my comment gone ? it was there now disappeared

  • Mick

    FA cup draw…
    Arsenal v Sunderland

  • syd

    3 dislikes already must be more small minded people than I realised who read this site. No doubt you are the one’s who were singing anti-semetic song’s on the train from Norwich to Liverpool St. In my opinion you are just as bad as people who blame Wenger for the demise of English talent….no foundation or proof only speculation (a bit like the post) but full of racist undertones. There are many way’s of disguising it but when you start accusing a section of people because of the way they talk or where they live of being corrupt you fall into the category of a bigot. What’s next no Irish referee’s because everyone knows they all support Man Utd or no black referee’s at Chelsea because all their fan’s are racist pathetic

  • Mandy Dodd

    Great article Kev, so much research has clearly gone into this. Have long wondered about this northern bias, but you seem to have put a lot of issues together in a very convincing way for this.
    And words from Keith Hackett….amazing stuff.
    It is worrying it is going to get worse, but our game is run by the self interested and the moronic.
    But I really think you are onto something here,think other teams might have picked up on it as well, notice the overtly physical nature of southern teams like Spurs and Chelsea these days.

  • WalterBroeckx

    did you read that Hackett in fact agrees with the author?

  • Gord


    Port Vale is up for sale.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Now, it seems the physical nature of our league may also be adversely affecting the likes of Utd and City with their injuriy list. In time, may even cost us a place in the ECL if our coefficient changes for the worst.
    There is clearly no appetite to change the British way of playing…..unless of course hitting the more influential clubs up north.

  • Pat

    I watched some of a championship match yesterday. A skilful player (with a foreign sounding name) kept getting the better of a clogging defender. So finally the defender raised his foot and caught the other player right above the ankle.

    No doubt that the intention was to stop the player by injuring him. This is what I think goes on very widely. The attacker should have been red carded but he wasn’t. Luckily the other player was able to get up and continue but who knows whether he will be affected in the long run.

    I don’t know whether it’s a North v south thing but I am sure it is an attitude to football deeply embedded in the English game and one that the PGMOL goes along with. It is the kiss of death to skilful football.

  • proudkev


    I respect your opinion but don’t appreciate being insulted for having an opinion you don’t agree with. I won’t respond regarding that pathetic racist slur. I guess if you don’t like someones opinion just throw a label at them!

    If you actually read the article, you may understand the point. The FA have decided the rules of the game must be interpreted in a way that does English football no favours. Unlike our European counterparts, we take pride in kicking opponents who are more skilfull. Ask yourself how it is possible that referees are considered not good enough based on geographic location. The FA think that. Keith Hackett says it is an issue he tried to have addressed (is he an ‘ist too?) but the,FA ignored him.

    How can referees from the North be deemed better than referees from the South. Please explain that to me. The FA are discriminating. Why? Bevause they favour a softer attitude to physicality bevause that’s what they think the English game is about.

    Have a think about it. It was obvious to me. Look at the ratio of NW or Northern refs. Listen to Keith Hackett. Look at the shocking injuries. Listen to the media. Ask yourself why the anomaly.

  • proudkev

    14 of 16 PL refs from North. The other two from the South West, Wiltshire. 1 in 3 chance of getting a referee from the NW.

    The liklihood of a NW team getting NW ref pretty high. A,Manchester referee appointed to Manchester game away in London.The FA warned there was a major problem by Keith Hackett. Neale Barry of the,FA does nothing about it.

    Yet I’m being called the one with an issue.

    I spotted a pattern. I asked a former referee and former head of PGMOL for his opinion and he AGREED.I cited Riley and I cited several assaults putting our players in hospital.

    If you cant see a pattern fair enough but to me if it looks like duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a fking duck!

  • syd

    I did read the article I just find your opinion has no real fact. Please show the proof or the stats you keep harping on about and Walter did Hackett actually say northern officials are corrupt? Nope didn’t think so. And if you don’t like being tarnished as a bigot stop your obvious obsession of hatred towards anyone or anything that doesn’t fit into your perfect life. You do realise that AFC has a world wide fan base and when I take my friends to games it is embarrassing to hear some of the disgusting screaming by our fan’s against anything north of Archway station and your article does no favours to alleviate their fears that they are not welcome at Arsenal game’s. I really think you don’t understand the history of us real Gooners from the 70’s and 80s we were Irish Cypriot West Indian Italian Asian etc all standing on the clockend and we would not allow bigots amongst us and I have lived by this for the next 40 years so your opinion to me is garbage.

  • Chris


    Yes, I believe as you that it is a ‘general’ attitude and bias. Was just curious to know if it can be sustained as well from the perspective of other London area clubs for example, yet I can understand that you are most probably following Arsenal first and foremost and time may not be available for statistics on other clubs.

    And I believe as well that this issue is costing the England national team as well as all English teams in european competitions as players are not used to the ‘international’ kind of refereeing, as well as suffer from more injuries.

    Considering the gazillions the Premier League is generating in all sorts of revenue in the UK and in the rest of the world, I find in midboggling to learn that basically a restricted group of people can have such a negative impact on the beautiful game as well as on its economics.

    But then…considering the shambles FIFA are into…what can you expect ?!?! It is like a headless duck….and it does not look like it will be able to clean up it’s act like the IOC has apparently been able to do.

    Maybe we should open the duck hunting season….!



  • Chris


    back to economics, considering how much MU, Liv, MC are worth to their owners and shareholders, there maybe another angle to look at….
    As my experience in accounting has thaught me…follow the money.In this case, all these clubs have a common perspective, a common (vested) interest.


  • Chris


    I remember vividly that game.
    Espacially an ‘agression’ – at least this is how I label it – early in the second half, I am not sure but it think it was on Fabregas. How he did not get seriously hurt does escape me, but after that, I could sense that this scared the s..t out of the whole team and always thought this was a major element in them catching up – not to talk about the rest of the decisions.


  • Gord

    Sorry, not about the exposure of northern bias.

    I suppose some of you are aware that Arsenal (men and ladies) have a presence on twitter, and that the Arsenal website shows the 3 most recent twits from (first team) players.

    There are players on Arsenal who do not know English well. I have heard that people “think” in a language, and to someone with a mother tongue different from English, it can be difficult to move back and forth.

    That notwithstanding, I get little out of a twit that is written in any language other than English. Here’s a little blurb from the Perl poetry section of PerlMonks:

    print “Life and death are balanced on the edge of a razor.\n”;

    sub razorsEdge {

    if ($death == $life) {
    $life = int(rand($death+1)*2);
    $death = int(rand($life+1)*2);

    $life++ if ($life $life);

    $life– if ($life > $death);
    $death++ if ($death < $life);

    razorsEdge($life, $death);

    razorsEdge($life, $death);

    It's nominally English, but if you don't understand Perl, or at least some programming, it doesn't make much sense.

    The same is true of player twits. If you don't know the language, something is lost.

    What I think would be nice, is if there was an archive of all the player twits (minus repeats), that people in the community could translate. English twits could get translated into German, Spanish or whatever. Spanish twits could get translated into other languages.

    Then we all get some appreciation of what is in all these twits. Or maybe there is nothing in them, and they are all just a huge waste of time.

    Oh, get rid of the repeats (of twits).

  • Rich

    Sheesh. Lot to get stuck into here. Great stuff, Proudkev

    If I’ve ever doubted in the past whether Riley and co take much interest in what’s said here, I certainly don’t in this case. If they see this one, I’m guessing they’d probably contact Hackett, and not to say ‘hello, how are you?’

    Very interesting, and good of him, to reply to you, and i don’t think he said anything PGMOL are entitled to feel unhappy about (though I bet they will be), but I have to point out Hackett may be the fellow who…appointed Riley to do game 50 (not sure. Checked and he was appointed general manager in March 2004)

    Think I’ve mentioned before I can’t watch those match highlights too often. Interesting you say Riley was looking at the Van Nistelrooy incident. Afterwards the player was banned as supposedly Riley didn’t see it. Worth looking at that again as my vague memory is that he was right on the scene for it. Maybe I’m misremembering though and it was the linesman who was looking at it.

    Agree with a lot of what you say in the piece about our football culture and style here and the effects of it. The national team is of course where it shows up most clearly. Was thinking about it last Friday when I watched some of a championship game with Ipswich to see how Maitland-Niles is doing.

    Late in the first half there’s a loose ball which M-N was closest to, you could instantly see the other player would have to make a huge lunge to win it, and wouldn’t win it. Sure enough M-N zooms in speedily, the other guy takes a huge jump without any control. M-N just about manages to avoid most of the contact but still takes a whack and would have been in trouble if he hadn’t got his leg out of the way in time.

    As clear a yellow as you can get, and would have been a red if the M-N had been foolish enough to concentrate on the ball, thinking ‘he can’t get there, so he surely won’t try’

    Well, the ref decides what’s needed is a real good talking to. The insanity of it being that if the other player had lightly tugged the shirt of M-N or anyone else in the same position (middle of pitch, heading towards opposition goal) it would almost certainly be a booking. Hard to find the words, but basically if that challenge wasn’t a booking, and similar decisions are regularly made, good technical players are discouraged from becoming what they could be, and dangerous tackles are effectively encouraged.

    Anyway, it seemed to encapsulate it all for me in that moment. Ok, we want to protect our footballing way of life somewhat, but draw the lines in the right place. And quit being shocked when the national team underperforms. Our decision currently is that we care more about the right of battlers and honest foulers to be free to fly in than we do about technical players trying to keep control of the ball and use it well. Undisputable, and undisputable that will result in, among other things, a national team who are almost certain to fail on the big stage.

    Football is unfortunately probably motivated even more by self-interest than your average person is. That being the case, it suits most teams here for things to stay as they are. The bigwigs meanwhile don’t care so long as the product remains so popular and lucrative.

    Our friends at Stoke are actually an interesting case study in that regard. In Pulis’s time, they would have lost a lot if the refereeing onus shifted to protecting players. Their fans meanwhile could not really relate to the type of players who most need protection. Now they can (or should). They have a few excellent technical players now.

    Bojan in particular catches the eye as someone vulnerable to a bad challenge, and is someone whose skill their crowd noticeably enjoys. How would they feel if he got Shawcrossed? The howling is guaranteed, (but then it is for anything up there) but, if bias and hypocrisy were not an issue, players like him present them the opportunity to think about what it would be like if everyone played as they used to. What they stand to lose if everyone played like that.

    Anyway, that won’t happen, but if honesty and football went together that’s what should happen. They actually did lose Bojan for 6 months to a cruciate. Gutting experience, no doubt, with fears from the fans about if he could recover fully. Now imagine if you lost a terrific young player like that as a result of a terrible foul! Or 3 in 4 years.

    The only way the situation would be likely to change is if other clubs, especially the bigger ones , with anything like the same ambitions or a similar mix of skill to physicality, found it in their self-interest to seek a change in the way the game is played. That is the anomaly that needs explaining in my theory.

    The short answer (honest) is that they have been much better protected by referees than us during these years. We are supposed to believe Shawcross could as easily have made the Ramsay challenge on Giggs. That the Diaby one could have happened that way to Scholes. That Taylor would have gone in like that on Ronaldo. That one of ours could make those challenges and generally receive support and a 3-match ban. All unfortunate accidents. Absolute bollocks.

    Who knows if players of teams actually dislike our players and team. It looks like that often, but is most likely a simple matter of self interest, doing what they are allowed to do in order to seek an advantage, under the guidance of men who have no qualms about doing anything they can get away with to try win. So…referees are ultimately the decisive factor. Good refereeing over time and chances are not a single one of those fouls would have occurred.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Great piece of work , Proudkev , keep on probing . One day the truth will come out and our suspicions will be laid bare . Let’s then see how the culprits run for cover or try to cover their arses !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    ” You can give a person knowledge , but you cannot make them think . Some people want to remain fools , only because the truth requires change.”
    Tony A. Gaskins Jr.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Ok Syd then give us a reasonable explanation why refs from the south or London are not good enough to referee in the PL. Best based on facts.

  • Horsham Gooner

    Moving away from Arsenal and to the effect of referees in England interpreting the laws in favour of an “English” way of physicality over technical skill.
    I recall 1997-98 when Alan Shearer was held up as the archtypal English centre forward. Undoubtedly a very good player but one who was quite happy to throw his elbows about. Physicality to him was part and parcel of the game and he still talks that way on MoD.
    Everybody in England could see this and nobody noticed the anomaly that in Europe he was consistently penalised for that habit. Foreign referees were ridiculed for their anti-English bias.
    I’ll pass over the incident involving Neil Lennon and straight on to the World Cup: England v Argentina.
    Ten-man England; the score 2-2; Campbell scores a headed goal from a corner; England players celebrating off the pitch. Suddenly, in panic they realise that the Argentinians have been awarded a free-kick and are streaming towards the England goal. Fortunately, it came to nothing.
    Cue English commentator criticising the foreign referee: until the replay shows the Argentina goalkeeper jumping to catch the ball but is met with an elbow in the face from Alan Shearer. A free-kick was the correct decision.
    Years later, we still haven’t learned that the “English” way is outdated and wrong. To maintain it for cultural reasons is stupid, to maintain it to favour a certain type of domestic football against a more technical game could be corrupt.

  • Al

    Excellent piece, Proudkev.
    In addition to the ‘dont like it up em’ mantra, here are a few more..”he’s letting him know he’s there” after a crunching tackle, “will he do that on a cold night in Stoke” usually used to question Messi, or any other player of great ability.

    If we look at the two this is just repackaging thuggery as acceptable art in the English game. How and why should a player need to be reminded that the other player is there by use of a crunching tackle? Any player will know there is 11 players his team is up against, so I can’t understand how or why another player might need reminding that such and such a player is there. If we look at the other one about a cold night in Stoke, what exactly is this supposed to mean? Are stoke famous for their footballing ability? Why would a player of Messi’s calibre need to prove his worth by performing against stoke? Are stoke the best England has to offer? No, no and no. The real message here is can he still deliver such a performance when he’s getting roughed up. These are lines often trotted out on national television by English pundits. No wonder the national team hasn’t achieved anything of note since the solitary triumph on home soil in ’66.

  • Pat

    My personal view is that probably the reason for the tight geographical spread of the PGMOL referees is that it is easier to keep a grip on them. I don’t know if there are other more conspiratorial ways in which they keep that grip.

  • Pat

    By the way, great discussion. Should be required reading for all journalists.

  • Pete

    Syd – never let the facts get in the way of a good prejudice, eh?

  • Andy Mack

    Just using the evidence of my own eyes I’m 100% convinced that there’s a bias against technical teams and pro the physical teams. Until we have a more neutral set of refs showing a real geographical balance, I’m afraid I can only assume it’s a northern issue. Of course I’ll be happy to change my mind on this when the detailed proof supplied by syd shows otherwise!

  • Chris

    Kev, Walter,

    thinking about the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, I was wondering if we could come up with the ewquivalent of the payer heatmap for referees, where the map is Enland and some colour combinations indicate provenance, dstance from home etc…. would be intersting to have that like a weather forecast map before every gameday….and would most probably be a very explicite and simple way to present the issue…..



  • para

    And there we have it;
    “interpretation of the rules”

    This is the most obvious thing wrong. If there can be interpretations of the rules, this means that the rules are not being applied fairly.

    I say again that all these rules are meant to be absolute. ABSOLUTE.

    Reasons for fouls should not matter;
    whether “he meant it”
    it was a “soft foul”
    “he fell too easily”
    as commented by the commentators, who obviously have evolved into telepathic beings reading the minds of players for intent.

    Listen to these two scenarios applied to two different but similar shoulder challenges by those telepathic commentators:
    1: “That was a strong tackle he should not have got a card for that”.
    2: “Oh, he went down too easily and should have been carded”.

    Until the rules are applied regardless of opinionated thoughts, e.g. a foul is a foul is a foul regardless of the opinionated or telepathic opinions, we will continue to be upset at the refs and their performances.

    Another thing that gets me is the idea that the ref should not be flashing cards “so early in the game” when it is this exact use of the rules that should show the players that they have to be fair and allows the ref to have true control of the game.

    “so early in the game”? When is the right time? in the second half? midway through the 1st half? or in the last half of the game?

    The right time is when a foul is committed. Any child will be able to tell you that.

  • para

    “and not give us time on the ball” is really a valid tactic 🙂

    “they have to go in hard on us” is not 🙁 .

    There is a clear difference i think.

  • Rich


    Your post reminded me of something i saw a few months ago. Picture on the internet of what was supposedly a whiteboard from when we played City some years back during Hughes time there.

    Can’t remember the wording, but the main point, dominating the board was something like ‘make a statement early on’. Might even have been a bit more explicit than that. Just a hint of the sort of thing that goes on and can culminate in a challenge like the one Taylor, not a violent player by nature, until then, made that day.

    Talking about pundits, too. I went on a lot about a BT sports pundit, Richard Hughes, after the Emirates cup. He did our games and was brilliant, as he had been when I heard him before. Said to all and particularly Jambug, what a shame they’ll presumably never let him near an Arsenal game proper thanks to, among other things, his very positive attitude to Arsenal.
    Relief of getting someone without the normal negativity is surprisingly immense.

    Anyway, heard him again recently for an Italian game and he was excellent again. A moment stood out when he described in detail how a player had no choice but to strike the ball how he did, badly as it happened, for what looked a reasonable chance. Said the player would have wanted to position himself strike it differently but no way would he have had enough time or space to do so. The usual suspects would just have said he wasted a good chance with a rubbish shot

    A minor thing but one that characterises his commentary : real insight and intelligence into how the game is played and the ability to pass that on for the viewer. Anyway, he is so far ahead of most of BT’s commentary roster, but you can be sure he’ll never be used for the premier league. That,too, probably says a lot about the way the game is here.

    I thought Scholes had a lot to disqualify him from being a good pundit which is not nearly offset by his one big strength (he was a great player), then I heard Gerrard. Instead of letting people hear a different voice and one who is excellent at the job, we get more of the same, with the same limitations.

    Anyway, enough of that before people start thinking Rich stands for Richard Hughes.

  • proudkev


    Yes that is my point, how is there a different ‘interpretation’ of the rules? What is this ‘interpreatation’?

    This is described as a training issue. This training issue prevents referees from the South getting to the top of the merit tables. I did not set out to slur referees as cheats, I made that quite clear in the piece. My point was that whether we like it or not, Northern referees ‘know’ how to referee to the standards set by the FA and Southern referees do not. Well what are these standards? Are the Foiotball clubs aware of this ‘interpretation’ of the International rules of football?

    Rules are rules.

    Keith Hackett says that you cant promote referees based on Geopgraphy BUT that is exactly what they do!

    I want to open a discussion with the FA and PGMOL and have them explain:-

    1. HOW are the FA interpreting the INTERNATIONAL rules of football?
    2. What is it Southern referees do not understand about the application of the rules
    3. Why are 30% of the referees from North West Counties
    4. If there is a training issue – why has nothing been done about it
    5. Why do PGMOL appoint a home town referee to a home town club
    6. Why have they created a problem for themselves with the allocation of referees?

    Is this too much to ask because surely the integrity of our game is paramount.

  • proudkev

    PS: As Arsenal fans we are more sensitive to teh subject of late tackles.

    How many other teams fans have had to witness an Eduardo, a Ramsey, A Diaby and even that Paddy McNair assault on on Jack? What about the refereeing performance in the 50th game? Look at Costa in the Chelsea game, not only did the Northern referee think what he did was fine, we even had pundits saying hes the sort of player Arsenal need!

    When the North West player Shawcross was offered all that sympathy by the media and Ramsey was rounded on for refusing to accept his apology, it spoke volumes. I don’t care what anybody says, we have a backward attitude to football that holds us back. And it creates a disadvantage for teams like Arsenal who’s players get treated as fair game.

    Sick of it.

  • Rantetta

    Excellent article ProudKev. Thanks.

  • Pete

    ProudKev – as I have commented before, your analysis supports what I was told by an ex-PIGMOB ref regarding regional differences in interpretation. It ain’t going to change with Riley and Webb in charge.

  • Markyb

    What always makes my blood boil is the fact that on top of the tolerance of the team fouling AFC players they often then book the first of our players who commits his first foul. Like the opposition is contributing to the aggregate of bad fouls on our behalf.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Oh and the omerta amongst referees and former referees is still very much in place. We will not be critical of another is the message.

  • Dave

    I have tried to take this issue of referees up with Dr. Sweeney as well and he also says that refs should be protecting players, not allowing thugs to do as they please. It is also fair to say that he advocates a Television Match Official (TMO) to help refs do a better job. Here is his take on the Costa affair against Arsenal where he is quite scathing of Mike Dean and Mourinho.

  • finsbury

    Comprehensive stuff proud Kev.

    Proud of your efforts.

    Riley’s Crows are a blight upon the beautiful game. Upon sport in the UK. And more still.
    There is no doubt whatsoever of their adverse effect upon the national team. None can refute the context of your article: one home international trophy….

    PGMO Rules Football. It’s football Jim, but not as we know it.

  • Bobome

    Couldn’t agree more with your views in this piece. A very apt article on my perception on why England has been so very poor on the International stage in football. The Press, the Government, the FA, English football fans need to ask questions of those in charge of football on why their teams always collapse on the International stage. If they could half see what you have shown them in this article they’d sooner reform football refereeing in England than keep ridiculing and hurting gifted footballers. Even their own boys are not spared: Jack Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott, Ramsey and others have suffered from this backward mentality.

    Instead some guy is here trivialising the whole matter by alleging racist motives in such a serious matter that keeps hurting the English people every year since 1966 (49 years since England won any major trophy in football!). I sometimes wander why this people, who gifted the World so many good things including football, cannot see the connection between the appalling refereeing standards in many EPL matches and their national teams’ persistently poor outings!!!

  • proudkev

    Walter, as a referee can you expand on the subject of ‘interpretation’ of the rules?

    As all of the referees will be working for the Football Association, I assume the FA will be passing any directives down to them, so I dont understand why there is a ‘training’ issue with the Soithern based referees?

  • proudkev


    “why they cannot see the connection between the appalling refereeing standards in many EPL matches and their national teams’ persistently poor outings!!!”

    Spot on.

    This is as much my point Bobome as anything else. I am adamant that this backward mentality towards football is what holds us back on the International stage. We pick players based on effort and athleticsm and less on skill. Technical players are criticsed for work rate or not being big enough. Meanwhile, Spain win the European Championship AND the World Cup with a diminutive midfield of ball players and technicians and we STILL do not get it!

    Wake up!

    Our game is built around this arrogant notion that we invented the game – so English is best. The dinosaurs at the FA have not changed, so much so that they mess around with the rules of the game, as I suggest. The rules our referees are asked to enforce is not the same interpreatation in Europe and elsewhere. If we had European referees in the Premier League, different game. Certainly more protection for the players.

    You often hear foreign players say they dont want to come to England because its so physical and demanding. Something we appear proud of.

    This was never a piece about Arsenal being picked on. The point I was making was always about the backwards attitude we have and how we sneer at Johnny Foreigner and his ‘interpretation’ of the way the game should be played. The reason few English players go abroad is because they arent technically good enough in the more technical, ball playing game in Europe. The reason the National team flops on a regular basis is because other Nations have over taken us while we still learn to play possession, pass and move football and pick players who can run a round a lot and have great heart.

    Until the FA wake up and smell the coffee, sort out their ‘interpretation’ of the rules and actually start replicating the game the rest of the world plays, it will be more of the same. Skilfull players will continue to be targets for the British players bought up on knowing how to stop skilfull players from playing by kicking lumps out of them. As Eduardo, Ramsey, Diaby and Jack will endorse – and Mike Riley demonstrated so aptly in that infamous game at Old Trafford.

    I am passionate that we need change at the FA and in PGMOL. But dont hold your breath.

  • Rich

    Think we saw one of the unintended consequences of pgmol/northern refereeing in Utd’s game tonight. Contrast between the way they defend set pieces in prem and Europe was stark. You’ll rarely see Smalling and co not wrapping their arms around someone in the former. In Europe they obviously felt they couldn’t get away with it.

    Looked like they were very very rusty at defending set pieces within the laws.

  • Gord

    Interpretation with rules

    An offending player is allowed to be even with the last defender and still be in an on-side position.

    What is meant by that? What defines the location of the player? Is it the part of the uniform closest to the goal line in contact with the ground? Is it the part of the body some where inside the uniform, in contact with the ground. Is it the point on the body at waist height (centre of mass) that is closest to the goal line? Is it just the point of the body that is closest to the goal line?

    Does having big feet (toes further along) make a difference? Having a big nose? Long hair? If the person has their arm up, is having long arms and fingers a part of the decision?

    That is an example of the interpretation involved.

  • omgarsenal

    Gord…………..A player, if completely parallel to the 2nd to last defender can not be in an offside position….and therefore cannot be given offside. A player in line with the last defender (keeper,fullback or whomever) is IN an offside position and can be given offside IF he or she meets the other criteria for offside (interferes with play, distracts an opponent, etc.)
    I remember very well officiating the english WC champions in a friendly when they came to Canada. Their technical skills were incredible and they did NOT like it up them either. Before the game, Sir Alf Ramsey warned me that if their opponents tried to get tough with them, they risked getting a hard lesson from his team. I advised the home team to avoid late tackling, dangerous challenges or desperate efforts to stop the English players. It ended up being a very enjoyable game and nobody was injured.
    comparing the 1967 English team to the latest version, it strikes me as patently obvious that a gap between technical skill and tactical mastery has developed over the last 48 in English Football, to the detriment of the national side.
    Perhaps the same thing has happened in UK officiating as well!

  • Mandy Dodd

    utd have gone out of the group stage, as could at worst, ourselves and Chelsea. We could lose our potential 4th place in the ECL.
    This lucrative 4th place could eventually affect us, Chelsea. Spurs, or it could affect Utd, Liverpool or City.
    Our league is extremely competitive, and our top teams seem to be suffering resultant injuries
    Maybe Utd going out, with a few kids covering, if nothing else might make the fuckwits that run our game sit up and think?
    As one of northern roots, I still agree with proud Kev, there is a uniquely northern way our game is run.. But are northern teams starting to become victims of it all?
    Yes city did ok in the end this eve, but take the excellent aguero , silva and kompany out of the equation, as often happens because they are injured…..anything can happen.
    The FA need to wake up to this……..and other things…..Fed related for other articles.

  • omgarsenal

    48 years…………

  • Mandy Dodd

    the England team floundering once they get into tournaments, our clubs despite being amongst the richest on the planet, these days underachieving in Europe, the top teams with six to ten players out injured, referees in clear need of help, spec savers or imprisonment.
    Mike Dean. Martin Atkinson. Referees from greater Manchester refereeing Utd games. A 100k Petition over a ref, his boas/incompetence beamed worldwide. Refusal for proper video technology. Supporting Platini, and in doing so, a vote for Qatar.
    What does it take for the FA, Webb, Riley and the incompetent fools that run our game to go?
    Would put Scudamore in there, but he is part of something that generates too much money. And I don’t think many club object too much to that.

  • Gord

    I’m lost, and possibly still asleep. I was trying to say it is ambiguous as to how a person’s position on the field is defined. And that this is left up to the official to interpret. Maybe you’re comment will click with me in 6 or so hours. 🙂

  • proudkev


    The rule they re-introduced regarding offside was ‘interfering with play’. I agree with that too.

    Therefore, if a player is standing in the line of the ball or ‘affects’ a goalkepper or defender, he is interfering.