By Tony Attwood
For years and years we have been claiming that there is a problem with refereeing in the Premier League, arguing that because of this no Premier League referee should oversee matches involving an individual club more than twice in the season.
Of course, it would be better if there were not a refereeing problem at all, but given that no one wanted even to admit what the statistics show (which is a propensity for some referees to oversee home wins, while others seem to officiate primarily at away wins) all we could do was to draw the attention of those willing to look, to the problem.
The situation was made worse by the fact that there was a general agreement by clubs, presumably imposed on clubs by the refereeing body the PGMO, that this was a situation that could not be mentioned by them beyond the confines of their own internal meetings.
But the evidence of dubious goings-on was there in terms of the ratio of tackles, fouls and yellow cards which varied so dramatically between clubs, and then the penalty scandal (still never mentioned). Only once we published the data did the issues start to decline.
Now however barricades if not coming down, have been breached, and we have statements in the media such as Wolves relegation battle in danger of being determined by poor refereeing which appeared in the Telegraph.
Interestingly this sudden change of tack comes just at the time when the media is realising that endlessly backing Fifa and Uefa in all it says and does, is not a good idea either, so we have headlines such as also appearing (that one in the Guardian).
But back with referees, Sean Ingle’s piece argues that “If points were awarded retrospectively for poor refereeing decisions, Wolves would be well clear of the relegation zone. Lopetegui was only appointed in November but says he could write a book on the controversies he has endured so far.”
That is an interesting point although it is somewhat undermined by the comment thereafter which says that, “The wider issue is that the PGMO are being continually let down by their officials. While there remain concerns over the efficacy of Var, refereeing standards in the Premier League and below are regularly causing problems.”
And I say “undermined” for the simple reason that PGMO is its officials. It is the organisation which employs and is run by professional referees and imposes rules on them – such as the rule of no engagement with the media.
That unfortunate twisting of reality by the paper, either at the behest of PGMO or through slipshod reporting, led to the extraordinary comment that, “Supporters across the country are spending too much time analysing referees and officials after matches. They are often becoming the story more than the players. Bile poured from the stands at Molineux after the final whistle as Salisbury and his staff walked off the field.”
“Too much time”??? By whose reckoning? Ah – the newspapers that bent the knee to PGMO and refused to comment on consistent oddities in refereeing behaviour.
Supporters analyse referees and their decisions because the media refuses to do so. Our master work 160 games analysed was published in 2017 – and there has never been another piece of work like it. But the media has refused to recognise it, and equally refused to undertake their own study in the same depth.
But now suddenly criticism of referees is allowed, although mostly the argument is against VAR And not the referees themselves. ESPN did a significant piece for example on the failings of VAR which included the note that “rules were broken elsewhere with VAR not intervening to chalk off Bournemouth’s opening goal [against Arsenal], despite replays showing several players standing in Arsenal’s half when the visitors kicked-off.”
As for why, Football365 noted in a story from September last year that, “At some point football decided it was too important to be flawed and that’s unlikely to change any time soon”. Which is almost right – although actually what happened was that journalists finally realised that their credibility was being destroyed by never mentioning referees.
But talk of referees getting things very very wrong goes back a long way and once we started to bring in video evidence (long before VAR did the job for us) it was quite clear just how far away from what supporters actually experience football journalism had got.
Thus football didn’t decide that it was too important to be flawed. Instead, football journalism woke up to the fact that the world that they portray is not the world that the fans experience. Now the inadequacies of football journalism caused primarily by an unwillingness to question what was going on are slowly being unpicked although the inadequacies of past reporting will always remain a black stain on journalism in England, and the football journalists’ reputation is almost certainly tarnished forever.
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