Why football fans believe the opposition cheats.




The essence of the cheating hypothesis the Newcastle fans put forward recently is that not only does Arsenal cheat but that the referees are not up to spotting this problem and dealing with it.  It’s a very common argument.  But why do we hear it so often?

As I have suggested before, one reason must be that the media refuse to deal with referee issues.  The statistics about the way some referees are home-biased, and others away-team biased are clear, but no media touches them.  Just as they wouldn’t deal with the data that arose from the games played without crowds present.  (For the current data see this page and click on “Results” but you might want to make sure you are sitting down first).

Also our own investigation into Leicester’s really weird figures for tackles, fouls and cards, and then later for penalties, was slightly complex, and we know that football journalists don’t like that either.

But there is a third factor out there that completes the answer to why the media won’t touch the issue of referees and their variability.  Most journalists and indeed most supporters either don’t want to consider or simply don’t understand five factors.

  1. Why PGMO is so secretive when this is not the case with referee associations in much of Europe.
  2. Why some referees are home-biased and some completely away-biased.
  3. Why PGMO refuses to employ enough referees so that no team should see the same ref more than twice in a season – something that would remove most suggestions of match-fixing.
  4. How Leiecster got away with committing so many tackles but having so few fouls and cards, for so long, (until Untold exposed it) when no other club has ever achieved this.
  5. Why no one else publicised Vardy’s penalty area antics until Untold publicised them, and why then did the referees suddenly change their view and start refusing to give penalties to a club that previously were en route for getting more penalties in their favour than any other team ever.

I’ve been pondering this for a whlie, and I think I might have come up with a sort of answer.  And it comes via an article in the Journal of the British Psychological Society.  (And I should explain my academic background is in the social sciences, hence my reading in this area).

The recent article from the BPS (linked above) begins, “Wherever you look in the world, you’ll find supernatural explanations for events. Everything from earthquakes and disease to success in war are, in some groups, attributed to the acts of deities, demons, witches or spirits.”

And it struck me that this belief could have been transcribed in modern society so that one could argue that football results are attributed to the cheating of the opposition and the weakness or collusion of the referee in not dealing with that cheating.  This belief is extended via the notion that by being a supporter of one particular club one knows intimately and one understands totally how that club is being put down both by cheating players in other teams, and by incompetent referees unable to deal with that cheating.  In fact, it is just as Donald Trump argues claiming that the 2020 US election was stolen, even though all the evidence suggests that this isn’t true.

This is a natural evolution of the “god of the gaps” hypothesis which as the BPS article says, “holds that when people don’t understand a phenomenon, they tend to infer that a supernatural agent has to be responsible.”

Except that now with Trump the argument is that the Democrats stole the election, and in football it is said that PGMO referees are corrupt or inept or simply biased – but no clear statistical evidence is generally provided.  (That provision of statistically verifiable information is of course what Untold has been trying to provide for years – as with our oft-quoted example of Leicester’s figures in terms of tackles, fouls and yellow cards, and then later in terms of penalties.)

So in terms of football, there is no one “supernatural agent”  but there are the ultra-secretive PGMO, the Premier League, and the FA.   And then the journalists who cover football, who refuse to debate the issue of why refereeing figures are so odd (in terms, for example of home and away bias), why no one investigated the fire risk at Bradford’s stadium before it caught fire, or why we appear to have a growing amount of child abuse cases happening in terms of clubs over-training and over-playing youngsters and either not keeping proper records of the injuries they get or “losing” them along the way.

As a result of this situation, there is no proper debate about football referees (apart, I might argue, on this site) but instead wild and whacky theories of referee bias are invented.  And to be clear I am not saying there is no referee bias – the home and away figures show there is.  Rather I am saying some refs are biased one way, some another.

This series on how we see referees and how we measured corruption in football concludes in the next article.

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