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October 2016
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Premier League Refereeing is based on a corrupt Italian model.

by Tony Attwood

As the statistical analysis in our piece, Referee Match Distribution: Is the Premier League the same as other top European leagues?  shows, Premier League refereeing far from being based on the methods used in other major leagues.  Instead it is based on the model of the corrupt Italian league – the Calciopoli era in Italy in 2005/6.

Indeed while Italy has moved away from that model, the major leagues in all other countries have also stayed away from it, except the Premier League.

This of course does not prove that refereeing in the Premier League is corrupt, but it can make some people suspicious of refereeing in the PL, which is surely not a desirable.  It also raises questions as to why the media as so single minded in their ignoring of the issue.

And I say this because it seems to me that when looked at from the outside, the model adopted by PGMO which runs refereeing in the PL is surely one that no reasonable person trying to set up a fair system of refereeing would adopt, simply because of the dangers that are inherent in the PGMO system – dangers which in effect were exploited by Milan, Fiorentina, Juventus, Lazzio, and Reggiana.

1: The model that led to Calciopoli

In Italy the discovery of wholesale corruption in football came about by chance, during an investigation by prosecutors of the Italian football agency GEA World.   And I think that “by chance” element is important.  No one was looking for corruption, and although many were suspicious no one had the evidence to show that the way Italian football was organised from a referee point of view, was corrupt.

That’s a little bit like the Premier League today.  No one in power is looking for corruption, but some of us are a bit suspicious about what is going on.

As a result of the investigations that followed in Italy, the other major leagues and Italy itself all moved far away from the system that allowed Calciopoli to flourish.  And the point is that others did this, not because they found it in their countries, but because everyone realised that the system they were using was open to abuse.

Everyone, that is, except those people running the Premier League.

In simple terms Calciopoli was allowed to flourish because of two very simple facets of the Italian professional game

  1.  A small number of referees handling a lot of top matches, and as a result…
  2. The same referees overseeing matches involving certain teams.

Now the “beauty” of this system from the match fixers point of view is that it allows the exploitation of Type III match fixing in a way that is very, very hard to spot.  All you can do is look for the accuracy level of refereeing decision making and send those referees who fall below a certain accuracy level off for rehabilitation.  (But for that you need believable analyses of how well referees are doing – and those need to be open to public scrutiny – which they are not).

To understand Type III Match Fixing, consider this.   Club A is willing to use any method to help it win the league.  One way would be to encourage a referee through bribery to help it beat Club B, its main rivals.   But that is a bit obvious and liable to be spotted.  So instead Club A says to a couple of friendly referees, who each are liable to referee a match involving Club B four times in a season, “when they are playing, see if you can help the opposition a little.   A draw instead of a Club B win, a defeat instead of a draw.”

Immediately there is a chance of one fifth of Club B’s matches being unduly influenced – and that by just two referees who are open to influence.  Let me emphasise: just two referees can change results by more than the normal margin of victory in the league most years.  (And this is the point, if there were many more referees no ref would ever handle any team more than twice in a season, and so if there were any bent referees their influence would be hugely reduced).

Now of course, if Club B’s opponents rush into a three goal lead in the first 15 minutes, the ref will let the matter go – he is not being paid to fix every match, only matches where it is possible.   But if it is 0-0 with 10 minutes to go you might see a dubious penalty awarded for Club B’s opponents.

You don’t need evidence to know that it is better to have more rather than fewer referees in a top league.  The money is there, other countries all manage it, but why not the Premier League?   To wait for an English Calciopoli would be foolish.  Just do it.

And while you are at it, you might arrange for there to be a reasonable geographic distribution of referees across the country, which we certainly don’t have now.

2: If it is so simple to change, and if a change would wipe away all doubts, why not change?

Systems emerge over time, and get changed where there is a benefit to change.  So what is the benefit here of the PGMO staying out on its own, using a system that was hastily abandoned in the light of Calciopoli and which has not been followed in any of the other major leagues in Europe?

We’ve puzzled over this for about six years, and none of us has yet found a benefit to football in England in using the Calciopoli system of refereeing.

Worse, we can’t ask PGMO because it is an utterly secretive organisation that doesn’t engage with the media, or the fans, and which even pays referees who are retiring, £50,000 if they will agree not to speak to the media about their experiences after they have retired.

And there is another factor.  Not one that was part of the investigation reported in our previous post but one which is equally relevant.   The PGMO is much closer to the league it serves than any other refereeing organisation serving a major league in Europe.   Working “hand in glove” seems the most appropriate phrase.

It seems logical and obvious that the PGMO should be independent and open so that there can never be any suggestion anything is wrong with refereeing in the PL.   But it is neither.

So to answer the question why doesn’t PGMO change, and become more open, more distanced from the League it serves, and indeed more like the rest of the top leagues in using more referees in order to avoid Calciopoli , is… I don’t know.  I wish they would tell us what the benefit of their system is.

The most positive answer I can come up with in relation to PGMO is that if they were to change they would be admitting that they have been acting dangerously in the past and that we were right to raise these concerns.   It is either that, or there is corruption.  I can’t think of any other reason for keeping the present system – although of course just because I can’t think of it, it doesn’t mean it is not there!

In the final part of today’s analysis we shall look at the implications of using the Calciopoli model in the Premier League, plus the role of the media in supporting the status quo in Premier League refereeing.

Recent Posts

And on the Arsenal History site…

The full index to all the series is on Arsenal History Society Web Site 


11 comments to Premier League Refereeing is based on a corrupt Italian model.

  • Goonerwin

    Is this the must be sat down information you told us about? It’s nothing more than adding two and two together and getting five!

  • It is indeed comments like this that make me think we are on the right track. While those of us interested in this have gathered together a large amount of data and put it together drawing conclusions, you simply make a statement and leave it at that.

  • Good article Tony! You raise the right questions.

  • Sam Sayyed


    Excellent article on the referee distribution.

    It would be great to see regional distribution of the referees aa well. Why are more than half of the PL games officiated by referees from only two refereeing associations?

  • austinpaul

    Tony, gud work, kip it up! One tin am dead sure of is dat soon, very soon d footballing world will get to kno d details of how Leicester won d 2015/16 Title while Arsenal neva got a penaly against opponents truout a whole season!Shallom!!!

  • Jerry

    Considering the article I wrote with Tony, Walter, and the rest of the Untold team that you are dismissing with your comment is based on statistics, you are more than welcome to show us why the math does not add up.

    All of the data is available in the other article. I welcome any constructive criticism. That is the only way a conversation can be started.

  • colario

    The £50 000 payment for silence on all matters PMGO paid to retiring referees is surely a signal to the world that the PMGO has something to hide.

    In my opinion if UEFA was not itself corrupt then the closed shop practice of the PMGO would have been investigated long ago and stopped.

    But I suspect Goonerwin knows something about the PMGO that we don’t know and is not prepare to share it with us plebs.

  • Andy Mack

    Tony, As you say, this doesn’t prove the system is corrupt but it show the potential to be corrupt whilst making it even more difficult to prove it isn’t corrupt…
    A very odd system being held onto by the PGMO.

  • finsbury

    @ Goonerwin

    You must have missed the information and data in the previous article.
    This is a summary.

    If you want to attempt to troll or contradict the numbers collected on referees across the leagues you’ll need to do it there.

    Better luck next time.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Raises a lot of questions…..and so few answers.
    Still think the pgmol , and their head are pawns.
    Unbelievable there is not more media scrutiny……surely there must be an independent journalist out there who wants a scoop?

  • omgarsenal

    Goonerwind…..maybe in your universe 2+2=5 but the hard reality is, you are unable to process the facts provided so have to write a specious, uninformed and patently stupid comment that makes you the clown and arrested development adolescent you probably are.