The referee problem: the difference between incompetence and bias



By Sir Hardly Anyone

One of the most common put-downs that exist in relation to speculative journalism is that the writer is a conspiracy theorist.  The notion that people gather together in secret, with the blinds closed and the room swept to check for recording devices and then plot to subvert the course of… well, anything from football matches to general elections, is considered laughable.

Although only laughable in England.  If it were to be reported that it happened in Italy there would less chance of laughter and more chance that the corruption is believed.  That’s often the English way.  We are not corrupt, but foreigners are.

Which is a bit worrying because much of the media in Europe is awash with talk of the plans of Uefa to start playing matches away from the home grounds of one of the clubs – with Champions League games in the USA for example, with all the issues that raises in terms of kick-off times.

Such events are seen as outrageous by many home fans who can put up with varying kick-off times for matches at the moment – although that equanimity does not last when matches are arranged so that it is impossible for fans to get to away games and get any form of public transport back home.

These ideas are circulating as a way of getting in more money for the clubs – by taking some matches to North America for example it will (it is thought) increase the support for some teams, and then the Americans will be more willing to watch matches that are played in the UK – as long as the kickoff time is amended to make it all more acceptable for the American audience.

But apart from the money, talk about moving matches to be played in other countries also helps to hide the one thing that the Premier League absolutely do not want talked about: referees and their odd decisions.

There is, in fact, no more obvious way of considering this than in looking at the results of matches involving specific referees, and the results of matches as a whole where the result can be put down to referee bias.

Let’s reverse these two points for a moment and consider the fundamental first: can football results be put down to referee bias?

The question was first raised over the issue of why there are more home wins than away wins.  Various theories were put forward to explain the phenomena that had been witnessed in professional football

In the very first league season there were 59% home wins, 24% away wins and 17% draws, so we can see the bias toward home wins has been there from the start.  Later changes to the rules, the addition of TV replays, etc have not altered the situation.    The issue is, why has there always been home wins?

The answer became clear when we had matches played without crowds during the pandemic, and a set of very clever academic research projects that studied that effect.

During the no-crowds period the percentage of home wins, away wins and draws changed.  All sorts of reasons were put forward for this, for example, “The intimidation factor is taken away from the opposition,” Michael Caulfield, one of the UK’s leading sports psychologists, told ESPN. “To a degree, they are almost preseason-like friendlies with nobody there.”

In fact that statement was a reminder that one should never speak before the research has been done, for the research showed that was not the answer.  The full story, including more on the false explanations that the media offered, is given in “What the media won’t tell you about football part 3 – referee home bias.”

In essence, the finding of the research undertaken by referees and academics working together was that it is the influence of the crowd noise on referees that causes the home bias.   It is a very clever piece of research involving a range of highly experienced referees and academic researchers, and well worth following through if you have not seen it before.  It explains why the domination of English professional football by home wins was overthrown so that we ended up with a home win figure of 38%, an away win rate of 40% and draws running at 22% during the no crowds era.

One Reply to “The referee problem: the difference between incompetence and bias”

  1. While I understand the local fans feeling of loss to witness these games , but I cannot but feel that there are thousands of foreign fans who would throng to see such European games at our local grounds.
    And if the refs are curtailed , so much the better !
    Am looking forward to the day that I can watch a live Arsenal competitive game , rather than meaningless friendly games.
    And if Arsenal gains financially , so be it !

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