By Tony Attwood
It was last month that the Guardian ran its article “Why are Premier League referees silenced – even into their retirement?” – an article which picked up on a lot of the work by Untold and by Referee Decisions, although they didn’t credit either site.
What would the rest of the media do? we wondered. The normal response would be to ignore the issue, and that is indeed what most did. And indeed we might have expected the Telegraph either to do that, or to run another press release from PGMO as they have done before (if PGMO still issue press releases – they seem to have gone very quiet since the fiasco over their last piece).
In fact this time around the Telegraph went into split personality mode. Four days ago the Telegraph ran the article “We say we do not like talking about referees but revel in using them as punch bags” by the eccentric Jonathan Liew which began, “Yes, I know. And I am sorry. As we keep hearing, nobody likes talking about referees. Fewer still like reading about them. It feels dirty, self-demeaning, a waste of good eyesight. You probably even groaned when you saw a picture of a referee on the page.”
Then the next day the same paper ran a piece by the much more coherent and readable Charlie Eccleshare with the headline “What are the worst refereeing decisions of the season and have they evened themselves out?”
A moment for the double take perhaps. But still worthy of examination nonetheless. Let’s start with the weird: Jonathan Liew. He began…
“Football fans are notorious for being argumentative, but on this subject they speak as one – referees are overpaid, error-prone, attention-seeking and unfailingly biased in favour of the opposition, whoever they are. This bloodletting has even spread to former referees, the most famous of whom now assail their colleagues in the media. After Mark Clattenburg awarded Tottenham a dubious penalty against Manchester City in February, for example, Graham Poll was scathing.”
Liew of course would never sully himself by reading Untold, but if he did he would know that there are lots of people who claim to be Arsenal fans who absolutely don’t blame the ref – they blame Mr Wenger. And there are people who like Andrew, Walter and I, and many other readers, do think that there is something very strange going on with refereeing in this country which goes way beyond Liew’s childish little rants.
We note the lack of refs which means we keep getting the same (often rather elderly) ref doing games. We note the incredible level of bias against Arsenal. We note that similar weird stats arose when we spent a year with other refs analysing football across the Premier League on Referee Decisions.
But of course that is just us. In the Telegraph, the Liew character wrote, “And so we come to poor Jonathan Moss, whose performance in the Leicester versus West Ham on Sunday was both assertive and weak, attention-seeking and responsibility shirking, depending on whom you ask. For days Moss’s decisions were dissected in gastroenterological detail by a media that retains an unnatural fixation with “incidents” over actual football.”
His solution vis a vis refs is, “Promote them vigorously, mic them up, turn the best referees into millionaire household names… Imagine kids fighting each other for the chance to referee playground games. Imagine Craig Pawson on Celebrity Masterchef. It would be a bolder, better world.
“Yet there is something in the English football psyche that kicks against this. We want referees to be infallible and yet implacable, robotic with a human touch, technically flawless and ideally working for nothing. It is why people react with such ridicule when Clattenburg gets an agent or goes to an Ed Sheeran concert. The idea that referees are humans with emotions is too dangerous and complex for football to comprehend.
“At any rate, it is probably time for us to dispose of the myth that we hate talking about referees. We love it. And perhaps there is nothing surprising about this. We watch football not for its empathy or its nuance, but for its simple, brutal fictions. As long as the stupid referees carry on waving their stupid arms, there will always be someone to blame for our team’s latest defeat. There will always be someone less fortunate, less capable than us. This is our little reverie, and these are our useful idiots in black.”
It was a very typical Telegraphic piece. Ignore PGMO with its fanatical secrecy, its woeful lack of referees, its decision to set up a system of refereeing not only utterly different in structure from every other major football league in Europe, but which ensures that articles like this encourage the view that anyone who questions refereeing is silly. The notion that we might actually be analysing every move they make it utterly beyond Liew. He just doesn’t get the notion of scientific analysis. Nor the seriousness of the matter.
Thus I thought that was that. Not worth a mention on Untold. Usual stuff in fact. Until one day later the Telegraph ran…
“After Sergio Aguero scored from a clearly offside position against Newcastle last night, we take a look at the worst refereeing decisions of the season and which teams have been most affected, for better or worse.”
Wow. Was this it? The breakthrough????
For a microsecond I thought it might be until the next line: “this piece is almost entirely subjective and will likely make you really angry and want to abuse the author.”
Thus here we are again. You can’t use science. English people (particularly those who read the Telegraph) don’t understand science. Scientists are boffins. Odd blokes in white coats who can’t get girlfriends and have funny glasses, stand in front of bunsen burners and mumble. You can prove anything with statistics. You can’t do anything unless you analyse everything. Etc etc. (Science teachers in England have a lot to answer for. Goodness knows how I ever got through).
Anyway, having said it was all nonsense they gave us the list – I’ve kept the opening of their quotes for the two Arsenal games they have chosen – for the rest just the headlines. You can look the piece up – it is on the internet.
- Benteke goal incorrectly given against Bournemouth
Referee gets Costa and Gabriel the wrong way round
This match also produced one of the most laughable statistics of the season: Costa for all his histrionics and late tackles, was not penalised for a single foul.
- Three offside goals during Tottenham v Man City
- Coloccini incorrectly sent off against Sunderland
- Sterling is not given penalty against Everton
- Sterling pays harsh penalty again
Dier stays on against Arsenal
Already on a booking, Dier pulled down Giroud in full view of referee Mark Oliver for what looked like a certain second booking during the north London derby in March.
- Dann takes Huth’s shirt off…but no penalty is given
- Kouyate gets his marching orders against Palace
- Aguero gets away with one at Newcastle
And then the Telegraph dramatically asks the question we started posing eight years ago (always on the ball the Telegraph)
Do bad decisions even themselves out?
Which teams have been best and worst affected by these incorrect decisions?
Of course they have only highlighted a handful of decisions of this type – generally there are more decisions like this in half a game than in their entire list – but still they have chosen their tiny example base and they give us their results…
- Chelsea + 3 points
- Sunderland +2 points
- Liverpool +2 points
- Tottenham + 2 points
- Everton + 1 point
- Palace + 1 point
- Bournemouth – 1 point
- West Ham – 2 points
- Manchester City – 2 points
- Newcastle – 3 points
- Arsenal – 3 points.
So what is going on in this snapshot, and in the fact that it has that “this piece is almost entirely subjective and will likely make you really angry and want to abuse the author” comment at the beginning? A filler piece on a slow news day?
I might have said “yes”, but the fact that it came 24 hours after the Liew rambling piece makes me wonder. The Telegraph like all the papers can’t bear the thought of football being bent, because they have so much invested in football being news. And any suggestion of corruption and they will also lose their licence to print fixtures which would harm their coverage. (Untold has no such licence, and so doesn’t print fixtures).
A little bird whispered to me that the issue of refereeing is one that the more serious papers feel they can’t ignore any more – and I think we can take a bit of credit for that. So they are trying to laugh the issue off a bit, while realising that now, some fans are beginning to wonder. I think that’s rather sweet.
Of course there are many people who wander onto this site and claim that we just use refs as an excuse for Wenger’s mishandling of the club. They’ve blamed him for Arsenal having more injuries than others (Arsenal doesn’t), and for 100 other things. But it is interesting that even now so very few attempt to answer the basic questions:
1: If Mr Wenger left, but there is bias against Arsenal because of Type III match fixing, what will the new manager do?
2: If there is no Type III match fixing, why is the PGMO organised in a way that is so utterly different from the rest of Europe, and arranges things such that it makes the issue of Type III match fixing one that becomes discussed? After all, if they arranged matters as in the rest of Europe, it would be harder for us to question what is going on and life would be easier for them all round.
3: How come that when we got refs of other teams to analyse PL games from a ref’s point of view, they reach similar conclusions to ourselves – that the accuracy level in the PL of refereeing decisions was alarmingly low?
The questions remain – for all the efforts of the Telegraph to deflect our attention.
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- Sunderland v Arsenal Sunday 24 April 2016 – The Match Officials. A point with this ref would be a miracle.
- Oh God forgive me when I whine…
- Analyzing the table of shame
From the anniversary files (the full list is on the home page)
- 23 April 1927: Arsenal’s first FA Cup Final – lost to Cardiff 0-1 at Wembley. The crowd of 91,206 was the largest thus far to see an Arsenal game. This was also the first cup final broadcast on radio.
- 23 April 1966: The decline of interest in Arsenal was emphasised by the fact that on the same day as Arsenal were playing Sunderland Northampton managed by ex-Arsenal man Dave Bowen got a crowd of 24,523 into their 3 sided ground, despite heading for relegation.