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October 2016
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Why do they need the referee? How Thomas Bowdler’s heritage lives on in football journalism

By Tony Attwood

A short while ago the press were full of praise for the Liverpool crowd – or at least the members of the crowd who got up and left the ground on the 77th minute, in protest against the proposed rise in the price of entrance to games.

Much was made of the notion that “football is nothing without the fans,” and as all the media bought into this, pressure was brought to bear on Liverpool FC which quickly changed its decision on pricing.

There seemed, for a moment at least, to be a connection between the media (who never pay to go into a game) and the supporters (who do).  Buying expensive players is good, raising ticket prices is bad.

And yet, when it comes to games at Arsenal, this media-supporter consensus stops dead.   The fans make it clear what they have seen, and what they think, and yet the media utterly, completely and totally fail even to mention that the fans have a view.

I’m not suggesting that the media should slavishly follow the fans’ view (although they did in the Liverpool ticket cost case) but rather they should at least recognise that we are there and have a viewpoint.   They might argue against it – but to ignore it is the ultimate insult.

And yet, when it comes to Barcelona, they genuflect so far they are almost underground.

Barcelona of course have it all.   Lots and lots of money, pouring in from a rich sponsor.  Big support – the average attendance is 77,632.  The forwards – Suarez might score with his teeth, as the stadium song goes, but those three forwards are superb.   The children – Fifa may have turned against Barcelona for a year but the club got lots of children illegally for years on end, and caused uncalculated harm to the children they subsequently abandoned, who were left homeless and without protection, and further questions about their methodology are still arising (although don’t expect to read it in the press).

They have the simple league, in which only three clubs can ever win, and mostly it is won by just one of two.   They have the TV deal – which even with recent reforms means most of the TV money goes to the big two.  The tax deal – through which virtually every club has to have its finances controlled through being a PLC – except  Barcelona and a couple of others.  They have the players who are attracted by promises of paying no tax, and even if they are caught, they have the promise that their fans will love them even more for “taking on the state”, and the media will not once denounce their disgusting greed and criminality.

They really do have it all.   They have the media, the money, the three team league.  So why do they need the referee as well?

Once again at what is (for European nights), the quaintly renamed the Arsenal Stadium (the phrase “Emirates Stadium” not being allowed to be said) the dominant factor for those of us there, was the referee.  His decision-making was widely criticised by the crowd, and he and his fellows were very loudly booed off the pitch at the end of each half, and booed back onto the pitch for the second half.

Of course the media ignored it completely – I haven’t read all the morning reports in England, but the ones I have read once again make no mention of the ref.  Not a word.

Now I am not saying that all the media got it utterly wrong, and the majority of the crowd in the stadium got it right.   I am asking what on earth is going on when one can get one vision of a match in the ground, and a totally different vision if one reads or listens to the media – with the media never once mentioning and explaining this oddity.

At the very least, given the fact that the ref was the dominant factor from the point of view of the crowd, why not mention that fact and explain why so many people in the ground were completely deluded?

After all, if the Liverpool crowd are worth commenting on when they protest about money, why not the Arsenal crowd when they protest about the referee?

“Ah, well,” says Media Being, “Arsenal always complain about the ref.”

“Ah well,” replies me, “Liverpudlians always complain about prices.”

The refusal of the media to acknowledge the upswell of opinion in the Arsenal crowd that there is something seriously wrong with refereeing, is interesting.  It shows a clear pro-Liverpool anti-Arsenal bias.  It shows a feeling that the media can define reality, and everyone else will go along with it.  It shows an arrogance that leaves a very nasty taste.

And let me stress again, the issue is not whether those of us who feel that refereeing is in a state of crisis are right.   It is about reporting reality – and the reality is that refereeing is now the issue for a significant number of people who go to Arsenal, just as money is a significant issue for some Liverpool fans.

Indeed the mere fact that the point needs to be made is very odd.   For it is not as if the notion of corruption in sport is unknown.   One might consider athletics.  One might mention tennis.   One might even mention rowing and horse racing.  And one might note that Fifa, the organisation at the top of football, is somewhat awash with corruption.   Corruption is everywhere in sport.  In fact if there were none in football refereeing that would be a big story.

So what exactly is going on?

Barcelona FC appears to be a mixture of corruption and illegality on the one hand, and the exploitation of government bias and a compliant media on the other hand.   Indeed the silence of the media on the subject is now as worrying than the extremely odd behaviour of referees, such as the ref I witnessed last night.

I think of all this today, because today, 24 February,  is the anniversary of the death in 1825 of one of the most harmful censors of reality of them all: Thomas Bowdler.  Under the guise of being an “editor” he re-wrote Shakespeare, the Old Testament of the Bible, and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, to take out the bits he thought inappropriate, and in so doing radically changed the understanding of such works for huge numbers of people.  As a result of him several generations lost the beauty of Shakespeare, and our greatest writer’s reputation fell to that of an also-ran, as it was hard to find the text of and impossible to see on stage, the original Shakespearean works.

Eventually of course he was discredited – and that is exactly what we need to do with the modern Bowdlerizers in the media.   We are losing football to the editors and journalists who manipulate the vision of what is going on.  And if, as I strongly suspect, there is corruption, it is flourishing in this atmosphere of the media’s making.

Two famous debuts

  • 24 February 1951: Jack Kelsey debut against Chelsea and he let in five.  But he returned and eventually became one of the all-time favourites at the club.
  • 24 February 1962: George Armstrong played his first Arsenal game, v Blackpool.  He went on to play exactly 500 league games for Arsenal before moving to Leicester.

The Untold Books

The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.

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29 comments to Why do they need the referee? How Thomas Bowdler’s heritage lives on in football journalism

  • ClockEndRider

    Once again spot on, sir.

  • Minesy

    Totally agree … the “alleged” referee was the main talking point in Block 111 last night … but then again, we only had Barcelona and Arsenal to watch otherwise, and we all know we all only go to watch and talk about the referees in the pub after the game … (it must be true, Mike Riley said so) …

  • serge

    Thomas Bowdler!
    Would he have been a bit of a 19th century Piers Morgan?

  • colario

    If you would like to know more about Thomas Bowdler, then this short wiki page is worth a read.

    From wordweb on line dictionary.

    to bowdlerise:

    Edit by omitting or modifying parts considered indelicate

    “bowdlerise a novel”

  • colario

    The editing in this case by omitting by the English media is not in the ’cause of indelicacy’ but with the of purpose keeping to the agenda the newspapers, radio and TV and many websites and blogger have concerning Arsenal.

  • colario

    My rottenahm (spuds) friend is happy that his beloved rottenham is out of the FA Cup as the rots can now concentrate on the League.

    I have a feeling he is not too happy with last night’s result.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I copy/translate this from a Dutch news company who publish this today. To be honest I don’t know about this as I watched with the sound almost turned off as usual so don’t know how the crowd was.

    ” Turkish commentators stopped their live match report on the Turkish channel TRT in the 65th minute of the match and for a rather remarkable reason. In the rest of Europe the most comments were about the goals from Messi and the missed chances from Arsenal. But in Turkey they were about the two commentators of the match. Because they stopped their job in minute 65.
    The reason was that the commentators sat next to the Arsenal fans and lots of them had a lot of comment on many referee decision of the Turkish ref Cakir. And the Arsenal fans let their displeasure known in loud voice and using some abusive language. As the commentators sat close to the fans the noise of the crowd could be well heard and understand in the Turkish living rooms. That is why the Turkish channel TRT decided to stop the comment of the match around minute 65.”

    OK, who from Untold was it? 😉 🙂

  • norman14

    I’ve come to a conclusion.

    We are TOO “nice”

    That is my personal opinion. As I’m not an award winning Sports Journalist, I can’t say things like “Long suffering Arsenal fans think their team is too nice”

    Why, oh WHY didn’t Giroud roll around clutching his face, wiping away imaginary blood, screaming in “agony” when Jordi Alba had completed his Oscar nomination act, and shoved his head into Ollie’s face?

    Sometimes, I just wish we had a bit of the “divey cheaty” in us, but we are Arsenal – we just don’t do that!

  • norman14


    I wish they’d make the idjuts from BT shut up.

    I NEVER have commentary whichever channel is televising.

    It just never relates to the pictures being shown.

  • norman14

    As ever, the non transparency of PGMOL is proven in the following exchange between myself and the Premier League:

    “As previously requested, can you please provide the email contact for PGMOL?
    Arsenal now have Mike Dean in successive games as he has been appointed 4th official in this weekend’s Premier League match against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

    I would like PGMOL to publish the communications between Mr Dean and referee, Craig Pawson, following the game.

    I wish ask PGMOL to consider this request!”

    Response from EPL:

    “Thanks for your email

    PGMOL doesn’t have a public email address. You can write to them at:

    30 Gloucester Place
    W1U 8PL

    As you probably know, referees don’t comment publically on matches. As a result, we have no access to communications from after the game.

    Kind regards
    Supporter Services”

    “Supporter Services” indeed.

  • ob1977

    I honestly believe that if we were to start diving, rolling around etc then we would still get nothing, except the commentators and all that goes with it will now say Arsenal always diving that’s why referees can’t give them a decision, or words to that effect without even bringing the ref into it as they don’t like to talk about the ref…

    Alba should have been sent off without any theatrics from Giroud, and the tackle between Coquelin and Alves, when Alves cried and played for Barca so got the foul even though it was him who literally jumped in on Coquelin and should’ve been sent off, am still awaiting the media outcry about the repeat offending thug Alves…

  • thierryhenry22

    Well, the ref yesterday would have got paid £20,000 (as a complete guess) for the game. There was probably over a £1,000,000,000 (Billion) placed in bets across the world on that game. Add to this the fact there’s ZERO video technology. Those 3 things absolutely stink of corruption to me.

    I also think Arsenal vs Barcelona draws the highest amount of TV viewers in the world apart from the final which is why we keep getting them drawn.

    Notice the (materially) wealthy boys could never have their beloved Cricket and Rugby tarred with corruption so it’s rightly dripping with video technology. Leave the corruption and manipulation to the savages as usual.

    I actually enjoyed yesterday’s game though, our passing was off and we still could have won. Shame. COYG

  • thierryhenry22

    Oh sorry, we have Goal-line technology. It’s such a basic need to me I didn’t even count it as technology.

  • Mick

    ‘As you probably know, referees don’t comment publically on matches. As a result, we have no access to communications from after the game.’
    This comment does not make any sense.
    They say refs do not comment publically which insinuates that they do comment privately. If they comment privately then they do have access to communication after the game, but they say they don’t.
    Or are they saying they do not speak at all?
    All very puzzling.

  • Walter, that point of yours is great about the stopping of the Turkish commentary. I will come back to it in my next article, which looks at the way one English newspaper commented on the whole event.

    Really the most helpful piece of research.

  • Stevo

    The BT discussion after the match was sickening to say the least! Lineker Rio and Wright were talking about the Barca first goal as thou it was the greatest ever scored, reality is that it was a standard counter attack against a defence that was pushing forward a few yards to far.
    Lineker was also stoking up the old chestnut about if Arsenal don’ t win the Prem. this year that Wenger should go because there has not been any progress made this season. Is this really what a TVs presenter should be doing rather than let the ‘Pundits’ talk about the match that they were covering?

  • para

    February 24, 2016 at 11:39 am

    “I also think Arsenal vs Barcelona draws the highest amount of TV viewers in the world apart from the final which is why we keep getting them drawn.”

    So true. Let’s see if the same happens next season?

    I for one will not be watching Barca again unless they are playing Arsenal.

  • Highamspkgunner

    Here are a few Twitter exchanges I had with “friends” this morning
    @highamspkgunner also no one else mentioned the ref having a bad game you’re obsessed demented and wrong again… sport bitch

    @highamspkgunner most people watch the game not the ref….did the ref cause oxide chamberlain to spunk an open goal? @highamspkgunner hahahahahaha – just saw all your ref tweets Dan. You are mental #refsfault #everyoneagainstarsenal #mugs #x
    @highamspkgunner no way was he sober if he wasn’t I am actually worried for the boy

    Yes you can guess they were watching the game on BT Sport

  • bjtgooner

    norman14 & Mick

    I am not sure of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. That Act has produced some strange results and it may be a route to open up the internal proceedings of the PGMO (and possibly the FA also).

    There will be great resistance – because they know that once a crack in their protection opens up a collapse and landslide will result – that landslide will involve a lot of bodies – I suspect some reps from the media will be included.

  • upp

    What’s all this noise about alba being sent off? When wilshere squared up to fellaini and indeed made contact with the belgians jaw last season, I don’t remember any of you berating the ref for not even giving a card, yet look at you all now, crying wolf because it’s another team’s player. Hypocrisy is classless

  • Highamspkgunner

    Was that the same game McNair broke Wilsheres ankle with a disgraceful late tackle and the ref didn’t even call a foul.I find it embarrassing that a man u fan trolls an Arsenal website after Mike Riley has been up your arses since the famous 50th game

  • Menace

    There was a penalty shoot out yesterday in the Youth CL Valencia v Chelsea. One shot at goal came off an angled support to the posts. It was about a yard or so in the goal. The goal line official & the referee deemed it a miss. The Valencia goalkeeper was livid as he was also on the goal line a distance away from the goal & clearly saw the ball cross the line. This resulted in Chelsea winning despite the fact it was a draw. Sporting clubs would replay the penalties,

    The referee eventually walked off the pitch with a yellow card in his hand, ready to book any dissenter. It was the most wicked bit of officiating televised for a long time.

  • Menace

    Sewer rats keep surfacing. Must be on the upp.

  • rich

    I felt the ref was pretty decent yesterday.

    I strongly suspect he might have sent off any player of ours had they done what Alba did, but that is based only on past football events and not on any incidents I know of with that particular referee.

    My anger at that moment was based on our long history of refs tending to take any opportunities that arise to dish out maximum punishment against us, while often failing to do the same against opponents, but I feel it is important to separate that from the individual decision.

    Things are a bit different where a premier league ref is concerned, because there it is possible to have a much fuller picture of a ref’s past behaviour in general and in your own matches in particular.

    Finally, yet another thing needs to be kept separate when looking at that moment : the fact that falling over squealing and holding your face in such an incident is generally very well rewarded in football. That’s an ugly fact and it becomes more acutely painful for us because we are quite seriously disadvantaged by being an honest team.

    However, that ill of football in general shouldn’t really come into weighing up whether or not the ref should have sent off the player last night. Being angry or disgusted with that being the way of things in football and one that we are particularly disadvantaged by is, to me, utterly natural and a fair response, but i think the right thing to do is try disentangle those feelings from judging whether or not the ref made a very bad call last night.

    Given how much we slam referees here, rightly in my opinion, I feel it is incumbent upon us to always try be at the very top of our game when judging them.

    That was not a Dean or and Atkinson out there. Speaking of which, I watched the first 45 mins of Atkinson doing the Juve Bayern game. I knew beforehand I would be watching a different referee, and so it was. A totally different man/ ref. A competent referee who made few mistakes and lots of good decisions.

    Anyway, done a poor job of addressing the main point of the article, just had to say my bit on last night’s ref.

    My sense is that the media are currently absorbing this new development of the Emirates crowd getting strongly stuck into referees. Be sure that if it continues for much longer-another game even- they will have organised a response before long. That response will undoubtedly be a critical (and hypocritical) one : the Arsenal crowd are especially and unusually unsporting and are trying to unfairly influence referees; watch out for this, dear readers; we have your backs and, more importantly, feel free to ignore them ,dear referees.

  • Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

    Thomas Bowdler even censored (before they were ever written) the writings of his French nephew Charles Baudelaire.

  • Pat Lenihan

    I was at the game & thought the officials were awful. I watched the BT Sport highlights today & I thought they weren’t quite as poor as I thought while at the game. This was not influenced by the commentary as I was anticipating the poor decisions of the officials and checking them very carefully, even doing my own freeze frame and rewind facility to review incidents.

    I’ve long suspected the unwillingness of UEFA to use technology might be because they don’t want to take away the opportunity for officials to interpret the game as they see fit! I also believe that the big clubs in the CL tend to get more big decisions going their way. However, many smaller clubs supporters in the PL might say the same!

    Wengers comments in his prematch press conference concerning the 2006 final where Arsenal were late to the stadium because they were not allowed to use the motorway whilst Barcelona were allowed to use the motorway smacks of another advantage being given to the European big teams.

    The administration of footbal By FIFA is corrupt. Platini has been banned from footballing activities so their most be question marks about UEFA. Would it really be surprising if it wasn’t just the administration of the game but actually matches that were being corrupted?

  • Pat

    It might be hard to find out about the PGMOL through the Freedom of Information Act. I bet the reasons why refs are appointed to particular games are not written down anywhere, mainly because there is no justifiable pattern to it. They already publish obviously untrue figures for the percentage of correct calls by referees.

    So you would have to think of a question about recorded information where that information could be revealed. But having seen some responses to Freedom of Information requests – with most of the information redacted and replaced by big black squares – you might not have any luck even then.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Never having heard of Thomas Bowdler or of his misdeeds until now , and being the proud owner of Thomas Gibbions ‘ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ , I am aghast to find out that that work was defiled . My book is of a more recent edition , so I do hope that all the original content were reinstated .
    What was he trying to fudge anyway ? Nero’s fiddling or Caligula ‘s excesses ?

    Thanks Tony , not only for this information , but for also broadening our minds in topics other than football .

  • Pat Lenihan

    The Freedom of Information Act can only be used to seek information from public authorities. The FA, Premier League & PGMOL are not therefore subject to the act!