By Tony Attwood
The big threat facing Premier League football today is not so much from the failure of referees to follow the rules of the game, or from the activities of the ultra-secretive PGMO, but from the persistence of immature football journalism that fails to examine these topics properly.
I thought on this today seeing the growth in the number of media sources, from newspapers to football blogs that are now starting to treat the football referee issue slightly more seriously than before. Talking about the refs is in danger of becoming mainstream!
Certainly when we started nine years ago, any mention of a referee making errors was howled down as a simple excuse for an Arsenal defeat. The mainstream media ignored the issue, or worse, published PGMO press releases claiming that 98% of referee decisions were correct and that the PGMO were at the forefront of considering video refereeing.
This approach however enhanced the frustration and alienation from the media by fans, as it was, and still is, made possible through the careful exclusion of certain film clips from the TV programmes. As a result Match of the Day can appear to consider the “referee issue” by only showing certain aspects of the game, and then claiming that in fact Arsenal benefited from gaining an offside goal at the end. What they carefully avoid showing is another foul in the area which should clearly have given Arsenal an earlier penalty.
It is in fact, fake analysis masquerading as a programme talking about the event that “all the fans are talking about” while ignoring other events.
So we have moved from a situation in which most fans don’t know too much about how PGMO operates, and how newspapers and TV sanitise their footballing output, to one in which growing numbers of fans know there is something odd going on. From a time nine years ago when no one seemed to know what PGMO was, to a time when most people appreciate it is not quite all that we might wish it to be.
This shift in knowledge however has left a whole bunch of people in a difficult position. To ignore what is going on with refereeing and the PGMO leaves the blogs on one hand and the mass media on the other, with a problem in their reporting. To move over to Untold’s position requires a total change of direction, and the gathering together of resources and data which we have only managed to get through the amazing dedication and hardwork of Walter, Andrew and Usama across the years.
To take the mass media first, I have never known for sure which of three possible reasons has encouraged newspapers and broadcast media to support PGMO’s statements about the general accuracy of referees while avoiding the issue of the PGMO itself, its Calciopoli style approach to refereeing and its hyper secrecy.
One reason could be that it is part of the deal between the Premier League and the TV companies it licenses. “You cannot overtly suggest that referees are often only 50% or 60% accurate, nor can you state that the ‘it all evens out in the end’ argument is totally untrue,” or words to that effect could well be part of the contract.
Another could be that the newspapers don’t want to step out of line with the rest of the media. Curiously although the blogs and bloggettas could have used their position to challenge the dominant media vision of football years ago most have traditionally taken their line from the mainstream media. Indeed quite a few have criticised and laughed at Untold, seeing our interest in refereeing as a by-product of our support for the club, the manager and the players. Also many blogs try to ape the media in their approach, suggesting through their style that they have an overview. The “Arsenal fans will be worried that…” style of make believe.
A third could be that if it becomes clear that there is something seriously odd about the way refereeing is done in the Premier League (which is quite clearly the case, given the paucity of the number of refs and the need for the tiny elite to rush from one fixture to another) people might stop gambling on football, and might turn away from the sponsors – and it is the gambling companies and sponsors that help pay for the whole operation.
But now we have a move. Not a complete uprising expressing concern that the whole setup is dubious but a sort of low level challenge to Untold. The Sun had its unnamed “experts” examine a dozen or so games last season and gave a fair reporting on errors – but didn’t keep it up, and didn’t consider consistent bias. The Telegraph stopped running PGMO press releases and ran a few critical commentaries instead. And now we find half a dozen blogs and bloggettas commentating on refereeing in a manner that seems to be a sort of shorthand version of the work of Walter, Andrew and Usama.
I asked my colleagues who write about refereeing regularly on Untold to give me their views on what the blogs and bloggettas were doing, and the general view seems to be that they are using Match of the Day as their source which, as Andrew said, “of course precludes most of the wrong decisions as they have already been edited out of the official narrative.
“I noticed that Hackett in his usual way only mentioned three controversial incidents from our game at the weekend, the sending off and the two penalties that were given and his opinion was that the referee was correct in the two that went against us and was wrong with our penalty. He ignored the not given penalty for us, the not given red cards for the two elbows on Mustafi, the red card for the high foot on Kos and the yellow instead of red card from the player who injured himself in bringing down Özil.”
In short, they, like the newspapers, are taking tentative steps into the field, but are baulking at putting together a team for a proper analysis. It’s a shame because the workload in what we are doing is beyond belief, and if we could work together and jointly publish the results, I would not feel so guilty about just how much work I ask my colleagues to do.
And as Andrew added, “Interestingly this week there have been highly critical pieces on the overall standard of refereeing from Arseblog, Le Grove, 7amkickoff and the Daily Canon. Not often they all share the same opinion as ourselves!”
So, after nine years of activity and thousands and thousands of hours’ work from Walter in particular, we’ve helped to get the topic on the agenda – which is no mean achievement given the absolute denial that there has been from on high.
And now we hear that PGMO has a new Chair in the shape of Mike Foster. He started in football in 1973 at the Football League where he spent 19 years, and played semi-pro football.
In 1992 he joined the Premier League as its first General Secretary and is the only current Premier League member of staff to have been at the League since its inception. That might be a good thing – or a bad thing. Time will tell.
He was also Acting Chief Executive for six months in 1999, and for the last three years he has been the League’s Director of Football – overseeing all technical, football administration, and regulatory matters.
That means that he knows exactly what PGMO is up to with its structure that is utterly out of step with the other major leagues in Europe, its ludicrously tiny number of refs and its abject secrecy. New broom? I’m having doubts.
His is however described as “the driving force behind the 2013/14 introduction of goal-line technology in the Premier League,” so again, maybe a little chink of light there. But where the press release heralding Mr Foster’s arrival falls on stony ground is with this statement…
Foster’s biggest legacy will be the unparalleled reputation the Premier League has for integrity and good governance.
That is hard to take. The PL employ PGMO and has at best allowed and at worst encouraged PGMO to become utterly secret, and to have a number of referees which makes Type III match fixing easier rather than harder. This doesn’t mean that Type III match fixing takes place – just that if you wanted to introduce it into a major European league, the PL would be the league you would choose, because of the utter secrecy of PGMO and the tiny number of referees it employs.
But Mike Foster said, “I am an advocate for new technology which can assist with decision making provided it does not alter the dynamics of the game or undermine the role of the referee. I look forward to playing my part in the continued development of refereeing and to ensuring that PGMOL’s Match Officials continue to be recognised as being the best in the world.”
Whatever the national media, the blogs and the bloggettas do, we’ll hold him to that.
If you appreciate what we do and would like to help Untold Arsenal, please
- Follow us on Twitter @UntoldArsenal
- Follow us on Facebook (UntoldArsenalToday)
The more followers we get, then the more it helps to spread the word.
- Shock news: We do better without Santi Cazorla than when he plays. But why???
- Xhaka sending off proves Untold is right about anti-Arsenal bias
- Police abuse of Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act successfully challenged.
- Arthur Gilbert Biggs: only three games for Arsenal but a varied football career
- Arsenal in the summer – the overseas tour of 1937