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Analyses by Mike McFarlane, commentary by Tony Attwood
We have known for some time that some referees tend to oversee home wins, and some away wins. So we wanted to look at this further and in particular consider
1: Which referees do we get more than twice?
2: Which referees have the largest bias toward home wins or away wins?
3: What the PGMO has to say about all this?
To get this information we knew we could use the Who Scored pages on refereeing which we have been citing for some time and with which so far we have not found any problems.
But WhoScored don’t tell us which teams each referee oversees and how often. So for this we sought out the only source there seems to be, the Premier League Match Officials page which appears on the Premier League’s own site.
And here we found a problem. Or in fact several problems. As Mike said, “I have … found that some of the listed information on refs does not match up with other sources on the web. It seems the official information is too unreliable to be used as the basis for a serious article.”
As a result we can verify however that Arsenal had Anthony Taylor six times and Michael Oliver four, but errors and omissions on the official list of referees is bizarre. Is it that difficult to get the website right?
This lack of accuracy comes on top of reports showing that the number of tackles that a club can put in before a yellow card is waved varies by 75% between different clubs.
That is readily explainable if there was a similar range in terms of the number of tackles per foul for each club and a similar range in terms of fouls per yellow card. But in fact Chelsea can put in 4.73 fouls before getting a yellow card while West Ham can put in 11.88 fouls before being shown a yellow card.
Now that could be explained by the fact that Chelsea players are ignorant twits who don’t know how to tackle. But no, Chelsea players can put in 1.88 tackles before a foul is called while West Ham can only put in 1.68 tackles.
It is of course possible to set out a scenario in which both cases can apply, but it involves Chelsea and West Ham playing in ways we don’t actually see.
Back with the official list of referees, Mike added, “I sometimes find two referees slated for the same match. The only safe conclusion I arrive at is that Anthony Taylor did six of our matches this season and that looks awfully strange.”
So at this point we took a step back to look at the data we have and which is verified via WhoScored
Now quite clearly knowing who the referee is going to be is a good bit of information for gamblers, and is also going to be interesting news for managers who can then pick a team based on the referee’s attributes.
We also know about the variation between the most card-prone referees in selecting the team. So for example we know that Michael Salisbury gives 4.4 yellow cards on average per game while Jarred Gillett gives 2.71 cards per game – which could influence whether one might pick a player who with one more card will get a suspension, or not.
Mike then added, “I sometimes find two referees slated for the same match. The only safe conclusion I arrive at is that Anthony Taylor did six Arsenal matches this season and that looks awfully strange.”
So we are struggling to get the information we want, but we do now have four bits of valuable data:
1: Some referees are heavily home-biased, some are away-biased.
2: PGMO data on which referee does which match is too unreliable to be used as a basis of analysis.
3: Arsenal are getting the same referee over and over again, which means Manchester City are probably also having this experience. It is possible (but we can’t reliably check) that one of these clubs is getting referees that will act in their favour (ie a home favouring ref when that club is at home) and the other not.
4: PGMO are doing nothing about any of this even though it is blatantly obvious that this situation is bringing the game into disrepute at every stage.
5: The media are colluding with the PGMO over this by utterly refusing to report it.
Now all of this comes on top of finding about referee home bias. As the journal Science Direct put it “Home Advantage is a robust phenomenon in football whereby the home team is more successful than the away team. A key factor for the HA is the home crowd, spurring on home team performance and influencing referee decision-making.”
That we now know explains the results during the pandemic, but it doesn’t explain errors in the Premier League’s website concerning referees, nor the enormous variation in terms of giving home or away wins by specific referees. Nor do we yet know how the PGMO select certain referees for certain games, and why Arsenal can get the same referee over and over.
In the Premier League if each club only saw the same referee twice there would need to be 19 different referees. But of course, referees can be injured, or get ill, and referees might well be fans of a certain club and declare that and so rule themselves out.
Now let’s be generous and say we need to ensure that for whatever reason referees don’t do more than two games in three (ie 26 a season). We need 29 referees. We actually currently have 23, although some are used in excess doing 30 games (as well as undertaking internationals, cup games etc).
So that is all we need: a small number of extra referees, and a requirement that no one oversees the same team more than twice, plus a powerful training course to stop referees being home or away-biased.
Thus two questions remain.
1: Why doesn’t the richest league in the world not do this, when it is so sensible and obvious an answer to a very real issue?
2: Why does none of the media in England pick up on the issue of referee bias? Just read the Science Direct paper: it is clear, detailed and available free of charge.
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