By Tony Attwood
A recent article by Harry Pearson in When Saturday Comes came with the headline “If you think referees can ‘ruin’ matches, perhaps you’re not watching them right”.
Much of the article isn’t about referees or refereeing as such but towards the end it does get there, and asks, “Why everybody in English professional football these days is so obsessed with refereeing decisions is another matter.” Another matter that is, from the ones that have been discussed earlier in the article.
And the writer continues it is “One which deserves some scrutiny.”
Unfortunately that “scrutiny” is then missing – which is why I suspect the Guardian chose this article for publication. Scrutiny however not what we get – so I thought I would offer some.
Harry Pearson writes a little about watching “South Shields defeat Team Northumbria in a wind as remorseless as Garth Crooks pursuing the end of a sentence,” and for that I have to admire and congratulate him. Supporting lower league teams and making fun of Garth Crooks are both things I am very much in favour of, and the former is something that I wish all Arsenal fans would do when they can’t get to a game at the Ems.
Now what Harry Pearson doesn’t tell us is who it is that he supports, so I am not too clear if this game was one that is typical of what he watches – that is to say he supports either South Shields or Team Northumbria – or whether he was just taking a day out from the hurly burly of a game in the higher parts of the pyramid. The page about him to which I am directed by various links won’t tell me, but I suspect it is the former. He spends much of his time with lower league football – and more power to him for that.
But if Mr Pearson is primarily watching football from the lower leagues then he is not going to be subjected to the whim and fancies of the PGMO which is what we direct so much time to here.
So when he says, “it dawned on me that though I’ve been to 25 games this season not a single one of them has been “ruined by the referee”,” I can understand his confusion – given that I guess he has never come across Untold. Occasionally I potter along to watch Corby Town, this season of the National League north, (next season probably in the Southern League, following relegation this season), and yes, I can’t think of any games that have been seriously impeded by the ref.
However as the author says,
“Yet I knew for certain that when I got home that evening and switched on 5 Live it would be one fan after another telling Robbie Savage that “The referee today was a joke” or “That ref has probably cost us the title” or “That offside flag could lose us £45m”. Savage, of course, will concur, saying that: “The ref has tried to make a name for himself….”
“I put the difference between my experience and that of the 606 brigade to the bloke standing next to me at Coach Lane. He said he felt the same way as I did. We concluded that there were only two possible explanations: 1) The match officials at step five and six of the English non-League pyramid are the best in the country and utterly infallible; 2) Paying £6 to watch a match leaves you less prone to paranoia and wild delusion. I’m still undecided on which of them is right.”
All very jolly of course, but sadly there is a third option, and that is that there is something funny going on in the Premier League vis a vis referees.
Now I know it has become fashionable for people to write to Untold laughing and sneering at anyone who dares suggest that refereeing decisions in the PL are odd. We publish a few of these comments but mostly they go straight into the junk box because they break the fundamental rule that we have imposed: that some sort of reasoning is given to back up an opinion. Sneering and saying something is just “obvious” never gets a debate moving anywhere of interest.
Which takes us back to logical deduction – the subject of my earlier piece.
Refereeing for the Premier League is run in a way that is utterly different from refereeing in any other top leagues in Europe, and different from refereeing in (for example) the non-league football that Harry Pearson regularly, and I occasionally, see.
It is run by a highly secretive body that has no web site, and offers no discussions about its activities with anyone. It hands out on average on press release a year, and then will not put up anyone for radio or TV interviews to discuss what it has said.
It used to produce statistics that seemed extraordinary, in that they reflected an accuracy level among referees that the referees working with the Referee Decisions web site could not reproduce at all, and which were much higher than the statistics given by other leagues.
But as it is highly secretive in all that it does, no question can ever be asked of it.
It employs a small number of referees so that the same referee can be involved with a particular team, many times in a season – which adds to the danger if there were to be a ref who has been “influenced”.
It requires its referees to sign a “no discussion” contract for when they leave the PGMO. In return the ex-referees are given £50,000.
It allows referees in the PL to re-interpret rules laid down by the International Football Association Board which are more strictly applied in the rest of Europe, and does this without any explanation other than one ref who let slip that “players prefer it this way”.
Now all these things strike me as not only unusual within the European context, but also singularly odd. And the oddness is enhanced by the fact that because PGMO is so secretive no question can be asked. What’s more for reasons best known to themselves the media rarely broach the subject. That again is curious, for there is a real issue here, even if one were not to think some referee decisions are strange. The fact that the PGMO acts as it does is odd and worthy of note.
So what logical deduction asks in response to this is “Why?” Why do all these things if there is nothing to hide?
It is an interesting question and one for which I don’t have an answer. I have written to PGMO putting this point (well, actually simply asking “why?” rather than “why if you have nothing to hide”) but they have not replied.
As I have said, it has become a little game for some correspondents to indulge in, to laugh at Untold for its attitude towards PGMO and referees in the Premier League, but it is noticeable that few (if any) of these correspondents ever manage to provide a coherent answer as to why Premier League refereeing is run in this way, when it is run so differently in the rest of Europe.
But anyway I can at least answer Mr Pearson’s problem as raised in When Saturday Comes. It is not a case of there being a referee issue throughout English football. It is an issue about the way referees are organised and act in the Premier League, why it is as it is, and why PGMO won’t engage in a debate about the way it does things.
- What the papers don’t want to say, what they can’t bring themselves to admit
- Be like Chelsea only more so? Is that what the lynch mob want?
- Why don’t clubs take care of their prize assets?
Two sales on this day
- 27 April 1973 Double-winning captain Frank McLintock was sold to QPR for £25,000. He played127 league games for QPR over four years, taking the club to second position in the First Division in 1976, as Arsenal sunk to 17th, retiring one year later.
- 27 April 1991: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 3. Benefit match for Ray Kennedy. He was Shankly’s last purchase as Liverpool’s manager, and his sale to them was an absolute disaster for Arsenal, a triumph for Liverpool, and a sign of Mee’s total lack of judgement at the time.