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 http://www.refereedecisions.co.uk/ 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.”
- By this August at least half the Arsenal first XI will have joined in the past year.
- Grab your chance and prove your genius
- There are figures you can trust and figures you can’t. Some figures are numbers, some are people.
And from the Arsenal History Society – Arsenal in the 30s
Arsenal, April 1932: Film of the 1932 cup final