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October 2016
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Referee behaviour will change this coming season – but there’s nothing to suggest things will improve.

By Tony Attwood

When it comes to what referees will do this coming season there will be some changes next season.  But whether they are the right changes, I wonder.

You’ll know if you are a regular here, that Walter and his colleagues have been running a regular analysis of refereeing of Arsenal games, and we have found a massive disparity between the way Arsenal is refereed and the way other teams are refereed.

To check this out, we also ran, for two seasons, reviews of many other games not involving Arsenal, with the reviews written by referees who had nothing to do with Arsenal.   The results are on and they were broadly in line with the week by week findings that have gone on for year after year on this site.

Last season the highly secretive Professional Game Match Official Board which runs Premier League refereeing started to run a few press releases which the Daily Telegraph dutifully reproduced – including one excusing the PGMO inactivity on video refereeing.  The Sun then came in with a partial analysis which again showed Arsenal were being hard done by.  Since then other places have also begun to comment on what was previously uncommentable: the notion that refs are not doing their job, and that it absolutely doesn’t all balance out in the end.

The level of research on this site alone is now massive, and we’ve waited to see what the referees might do next especiallly since, as we have also reported, there is a major crisis of indiscipline in lower league football, in which county associations are constantly undermining the position of referees who seek to discipline management in lower league clubs who abuse refs.  Sadly the proposed changes will make no difference to that problem but there will be changes.

To prepare ourselves for whatever the Leagues might come up with this summer we published a historic comparison of fouls and cards  in part to highlight that awful lies that the media propagated around the turn of the century (suggesting Arsenal were the dirtiest team of all, which was far from true) and partly to see how fouls and cards have changed.

We saw that between 2001 and 2016 the range of the number of fouls by teams through the season ranged from 414 (the least penalised team to 618 (the most penalised) in 2001.  In 2015/16 the result was 315 for the least penalised to 472 for the most.

We also noted that the least fouling teams in 2001 tended to be towards the top end of the league.  But this had changed by last season where the team with the highest number of fouls committed came 5th in the league and the team with the fourth highest number of fouls given against them by refs came 3rd.

Because we don’t have accurate figures as to the different way different teams judged by refs we can’t say for sure what is going on, but it could be that in these 15 years deliberate fouling has become a greater tactic for certain teams in their attempt to climb up the league.

We also concluded that “there is every reason to believe that at least part (and maybe all) of the decline of the number of fouls called is not because the game is cleaner, but because the nature of fouling has changed, and the referees see less because of the speed of the game.”

Expanding on this we said that we suspected referees know they are picking up a lot less of the game because of the deliberate attempts at cheating, and, once more, the speed of the game.  So they are waving cards more often. Plus of course Fifa is forever expanding the number of offences that merit a yellow. 

There is a fair bit of evidence which I can’t put into print (so you may well choose to dismiss it if you think Untold is written by a bunch of lying toads) that PGMO is very aware indeed of our long running campaign, and has been keen to ensure that the mainstream media deflects the view that there is something wrong with refereeing in the PL.   Certainly you will never hear it even mentioned as an option or possibility on TV or radio.   The Sun’s article suggested there were errors, but not that they were systematic – only that they didn’t all even out in the end and that Arsenal were the ones who suffered.

What was always on the cards was that when the new approach for the coming season was announced the Telegraph would link it to its little “Refereeing In Crisis campaign” (which basically consisted of two articles relating a handful of stories – as opposed to about 500 specific analyses on Untold).

What the Telegraph, the FA and League seem to have done now is suggest (without any evidence) that bad behaviour in the lower leagues is due to the way things are perceived in the Premier League.

That link is possible – but it is far from proven.  One might also see a link with the way people write things on Twatter and Facebook.  Or the way the Leave campaign was conducted.  Or the abuse hurled at foreigners by the British foreign secretary.  It’s all guess work at this stage.

Anyway it seems that “the new initiative will instruct referees to take a no-nonsense approach enforced rigorously through the awarding of more yellow and red cards.”

Our tables showed that the number of red cards handed out 15 years ago ranged from six for the worst offenders, to one for the least.  Last season it was six for the worst to none for the least.  So the situation looks to have been moderately static over this century – although it is suggested by the Telegraph that “the level of swearing and abusive language, physical contact and the intimidation of officials by crowding around them,” is on the up.  Which raises the question, why don’t referees do anything.  I think that’s an interesting question and it would be nice to have an answer. 

The one change we have seen is that the Chelsea / Tottenham game resulted in no points deduction by the League for either side (one again wonders why not) but a much smaller incident which existed just once in the game between Man U and Arsenal resulted in a two points deduction for Arsenal and one for Man U. 

So a new approach, for which the Telegraph is claiming responsibility, starts on the opening day of the new season.  Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said, “We’re looking to make a step change in the way our participants behave and how they are seen around the world. This is about players, about managers, and about referees.

“We and our clubs have been discussing for some time concerns that certain elements of player behaviour are overstepping the mark – the mass confrontations, overt displays of dissent and offensive language….

“When we discuss what is holding us back from being universally popular as a brand, one of the things that comes back time and time again is wouldn’t it be nice if some of participants didn’t display those behavioural tendencies that just step over the edge.”

That last bit makes it clear this is a marketing ploy, but ploy or not it will affect refereeing, in a game in which there is huge evidence that refereeing is not balanced and unbiased or well managed.

Mike Riley of Professional Game Match Officials Board, said there will be a “clamp down” on:

  • Dissent towards match officials;
  • Making offensive, insulting of abusive comments or gestures;
  • Engaging in physical contact, whether it be intrusive or aggressive;
  • Surrounding match officials over decision;
  • Poor conduct in the technical area.

The Telegraph adds, “Under the new guidance, players will be booked for visibly disrespectful behaviour, aggressive responses to decisions and face-to-face confrontations, while players use abusive language or make aggressive contact with officials can expect to be sent off and face match bans.”

The “overfamiliarity” between teams and the fourth official will be clamped down on, as renewed emphasis is placed on “neutrality” in order to “better manage the technical area.”

So would the Chelsea/Tinies game have ended prematurely with so many players sent off that they couldn’t continue?
I wouldn’t bet on it.

22 comments to Referee behaviour will change this coming season – but there’s nothing to suggest things will improve.

  • Tom

    Then it should be advantage Arsenal, since Arsenal players don’t do any of the things the league are to clamp down on.

    It could be an interesting season for players like Costa and a few others though.

  • Usama Zaka

    The irony in the PGMO and EPL’s so called “clamp-down” for next season is that all offences/misconducts listed above have always been a very integral part of the Laws of the Game even before the previous the season 2015-16. The only difference is that these offences/misconducts have been continuously ignored thanks to PGMO’s incompetence/agenda/corruption/biases/whatever.

    This so called “clamp-down” sounds more like a good rep enhancer among the media and public.

  • Goonermikey

    Rooney banned for 30 games a season………..

  • colario

    ‘This so called “clamp-down” sounds more like a good rep enhancer among the media and public.’

    I agree.

  • Tom

    Also, the fact that other media members outside of this forum did point out Arsenal suffered the most from bad refereeing decisions last season should help us this term.

    If Arsenal find themselves near , or at the top of the ” most wrong ref decision ” table this season again, the fall out should be more significant than the one last season.

  • Mick

    The looks of sheer disbelief and incredulity sometimes shown by Ozil and Giroud, usually accompianied by hand gestures when they are fouled for the umpteenth time right in front of a seemingly blind referee could well see such reactions interpreted as dissent and consequently yellow carded.
    Some things never change so you can bet your bottom dollar that the yellow card offence threshold shown by refs will be set at a much lower level for Arsenal players and will result in them often being carded for things other more favoured teams will get away with.

  • Norman14

    This will all disappear after a couple of games. We’ve been here before with shirt pulling, foul language, offside, rotational fouling, keepers steps/time to get rid of the ball, etc, etc.

    One thing we CAN be sure of – PGMO referees will again, be the worst in Europe.

  • finsbury

    Portugal win the Euro’s. Nani and other square jawed players who may or may not have been banned for doping alongside a former national and Man Utd coach who may or may not have been banned for doping…Pepe vomiting upon the pitch at full time…Clattenburg…Mendezian Mules…the specialist in signing mules from special agents back to his sycophants/business partners fanfare after nearly relegating Gazprom..,

    Same old same old

  • Dr Duh

    I’m not a tweeter, but the Telegraph provides a useful fulcrum to exert pressure on the league. First, neither the league nor pgmol is ever going to do anything for Arsenal, much less at the behest of Untold. We should piggy back off their efforts by tweeting about referee abuse and intimidation using #refcrisis @telefootball. Once the hashtag has legs then bring it out for every act if intimidatiom, simulation and missed call. Advocate for an additional official, video review and post hoc punishment. Use it to tweet the statistics. Not as in I’m mad they did us wrong, but let’s make the game better.

  • Ben

    For a one off can you provide a ref analysis of the Germany – France game from Euro 2016 where the ref was Italian and Germany beat Italy in the previous round. I want to see how unbiased that match was.

  • nicky

    I continue to wonder whether these detailed reviews on the behaviour of referees in Arsenal matches, has had an adverse effect on how disgracefully they treat our great Club on the field of play.
    I am unaware whether any reviews are carried out by followers of other clubs, but it just seems to me too much of a coincidence.
    A sort of “payback” in retaliation.
    Under no circumstances of course, would I favour curtailing the reviews which are vital in drawing attention to the corruption that is the PGMOL.

  • Usama Zaka

    The major rule changes for the upcoming season are also related to the Denial Of Goal-Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO). There are several changes to regarding the red cards and yellow cards, and the type of offense committed.

    I suggest everyone to give it a read to clear things up from any individual’s perspective. The IFAB has provided clear examples and simplified explanation of the offenses, for easier understanding. One thing is for sure, even with tons of announcements and awareness created by IFAB for rules changes for the upcoming season, the pundits and media will still mess up and interpret incidents to their own liking/agenda.

  • para

    Agree that this is a PR enhancing move, nothing else.

  • Menace

    Usama Zaka – you know where this is coming from. Do you honestly think these FA bods know anything about the real problems with the game?

    The foul & abusive language has already been abused by the PGMO (Vieira will testify). The gesture will immediately give the PGMO reason to pick on players like Alexis, who regularly gets fouled in sight of the blind PGMO cheats. He always waves his arm in disgust. I cannot believe that nobody has brought the FA to court with regard to the blatant cheating by its appointed monopoly PGMO. The number of physically injured players directly because of poor officiating is unacceptable. The geographical selective system of mostly northern rugby biased officials also needed addressing but the media kept it low key so that will continue.

  • Andy Mack

    Firstly it should be pointed out that the new initiative isn’t new at all. They’ve regularly said they’ll clamp down on foul language with yellow cards but a few games into the season and it’ll all be forgotten again.
    Secondly it should be pointed out to the few that aren’t already aware of it that this initiative does not apply to Mike Rileys ManU like most other initiatives, which generally goes without saying.

  • ClockEndRider

    “Or the abuse hurled at foreigners by the British foreign secretary. “.
    Enough with the lower sixth radicalism already. The referendum went the way it did. Just stop linking everything in football with your political preferences. It’s boring and specious.

  • Rantetta


    They dislike it up ’em.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Be honest when in trouble and be simple when in wealth .
    Be polite when in authority and be silent in anger .
    This is called the life management .

  • Menace

    Voy lost to Iceland. Big Sam will lose to Poundland & Tescos!

  • finsbury

    The show must go on:

    “Various reports in England, Italy & elsewhere claim Raiola’s fee is now believed to be the only hurdle remaining before Pogba leaves Juve.”

    Translation from gobbledigook =

    “The plebs (that would be you and me) love to be amazed by the amazing magician, The specialist in signing players signed to special agents.”

  • finsbury

    All this fanfare for the funny papers business partner the specialist being enthroned in Manchester, the rise of Sir Samwise Allerdici and hardly a squeak about Venga turning down the England job. Not for the first time. I think fact deserves an untold article all by itself!

    Of course Venga dithering and saying no to England (I don’t imagine he did dithered for too long) hasn’t stopped hacks from the funny papers saying:

    “Venga must go”, baby you gotta believe me. Please.

    On the Sunday supplement, and other such great football shows.

    You are correct the funny papers are ratcheting up the bile and hate yet again will the AAA be capable of showing that they do not act like programmed zombies this time?

    The only way the PGMOB would stop cheating is if Venga had said yes to the FA. He remains loyal to the glorious Arsenal. It’s values and ethics. What about you?