‘Technical’ offences give referees far too much latitude to influence matches





By Nitram

Before the Palace game, Untold ran an article under the heading “Crystal Palace v Arsenal: a match overseen by a home team referee.”   And what happened in the game led me to consider the fact that if a referee could be considered “home-biased,” then tweaks in the application of the rules have made it easier for referees to influence matches.

We have been looking at this issue for some time: indeed the article Just how much are Premier League referees biased in favour of home teams dealt with this directly using data from Who Scored.

However, the basis of this piece stems from the fact that the PGMO which runs refereeing in Premier League games, has in its wisdom, decided to clamp down on ‘technical’ rule breaches, such as time-wasting and waving imaginary cards, whilst at the same time drawing back on punishing the physical approach, under the guise of ‘letting the game flow’.

Now before I proceed I need to highlight a couple of reasons why I believe that the influencing of the result of football matches by the officials is so easy, and how it can be done, on the face of it at least, without actually cheating.

And of course to deal with this, first I have to ask the question, “is it actually without cheating?” I don’t think so.  Indeed this is why I have always referred to what is going on as ‘Cheating Without Cheating.”

The two factors in football that I believe facilitate this cheating without cheating are:

1: The sheer quantity of subjective decisions.

2: The fact that a victory by ONE goal is easily the most common result.

Put those two factors together and you can see just how easily a game can be influenced by the officials. In fact, it is probably safe to say there is no other game on earth that can be so easily influenced by the officials.

My issue has always been with the ‘subjectivity’ of decisions regarding, most commonly, what is and isn’t a ‘foul’. And on the back of that, what is and isn’t a Yellow card, a Red card, or a penalty?  All these calls, or at least a vast majority of them, are to some degree ‘subjective’ calls by the referee. Was it a foul? Was it a yellow? Was it a Red?

Now this is the crux of my argument over the years: the subjectivity of every one of these calls means the referee can never actually be wrong. Or right. It’s just a matter of opinion. So for argument’s sake, let’s say we have a dozen of these subjective calls in a match. A third of the decisions are 40/60, a third 50/50, and a third 60/40.

Now if you take each one on an individual basis it would be hard to criticize the referee.  After all 40/60, 50/50, 60/40, we could each of us have called them either way. But what if every one of those subjective calls went the way of one side? What then? Is that cheating? Is that bias?

I think that if a whole series of calls goes for one team and against another then that is highly suggestive that it is, indeed, bias. And that’s where I think referees can “Cheat without Cheating”.

Now the reason for this article is that I believe these tweaks have made it far EASIER this season, for referees to influence the outcome of football matches.

No matter whether a player has committed five fouls already, the referee is ‘letting the game flow’. No matter if the goalkeeper wipes out the forward.  But woe betide the manager who gets upset that neither the referee nor VAR does anything about such incidents.   Arteta and O’Neil both get yellow cards

All that has happened as a result of these most recent tweaks, is that referees have been given latitude to book a player for holding the ball for eight seconds, to send him off for touching an opponent, whilst allowing players persistently to foul or a keeper to wipe out a striker.

And to compound the issue, as far as SKY are concerned, all’s well in the world, well as long as it’s Arsenal’s players sent off anyway.   Anything that suggested otherwise would of course be anathema to the broadcasters, because the moment the TV audience begins to lose faith in the referees, that is the moment when the TV audience starts to crumble.

There is of course an explanation for the yellow card for holding the ball for eight seconds before a throw-in, and that is that the previous player held it for longer, and the two times can be added together.   But if that is what the PGMO wants in the rules, that is what the rule ought to say, and at the moment it does not.  The referee might argue that the two Arsenal players colluded to waste time, but if so, surely the one who wasted the most time should be punished.   As we can see, it quickly gets very messy.

And this is the problem because up to this point, the aim has been that the laws of the game are clear and fixed.  Now they are being tweaked and opened up to referee interpretation on a much grander scale than ever before.

Previously a typical problem for the referee was a) Was that a foul and b) Did it happen within the lines of the penalty area?   Yes to both means a penalty.   

Now the situation is that either eight seconds to take a throw-in counts as deliberate time wasting, or one player preparing to take a throw-in but then passing the ball to another to undertake the throw, is time wasting.  But we are not sure which (or is it both?) – and that is the problem.

If this really is a PGMO-wide decision, the clubs and through them the players need clear information that either the eight-second throw-in or the passing of the ball to another player to take the throw, now counts as an offense punishable by a yellow card, and we need to be assured that ALL REFEREES are now implementing this rule.

For without that, the cries of “Referee bias” will, quite justifiably grow and grow, and faith in PGMO, already at rock bottom, will decline further (if that is at all possible). 

11 Replies to “‘Technical’ offences give referees far too much latitude to influence matches”

  1. Excellent article Nitram! Excellent. I remember I had written an article long time ago when I was doing the referee reviews. In that period I said that a ref who wanted to tilt the pitch would not get in to the complere bizarre decisions. He would not give a penalty that never was a penalty. By the way you could see how reluctant he was to give the clear penalty to Arsenal. But he couldn’t but make that decision.
    No a ref that wants to tilt a match will go in to the 40/60 – 50/50- 60/40 decisions. Because in doing so he will not only give an invisible advantage to the team he wants to give a little push in the back, but he will also make sure that the team on the receiving end starts to get frustrated and start complaining. And when they do so he can punish them even more….

  2. Amongst other anomalies there is the “ Discretionary “ time added on.That’s added a whole new dimension to a Refs biasness.There no control.No 3rd party to oversee it.If a side is losing,needs a few discreet extra minutes.Add it on.If they’re winning.Limit the amount added on time.It’s a licence for corruption.Why can they not follow Rugby & NFL with a clock.Stop it for goal celebrations,var enquires & Ball out of play.It has to come.

  3. Every major sport has clock-stopping available. In cricket, the umpires guessing at what was LBW or not has been relegated to the dustbin of history. How much of a coincidence is it that the most lucrative sport on the planet still lingers in the age of the dinosaurs? Follow the money.

  4. Nitram and Walter,

    The points you make are true and clear to see throughout an EPL match. Two games into the seasona and all i can do is shake my head. And of course, a wall of silence from the PGMOL. This lack of transparency is at the heart of the bias. As Tony Attwell has often pointed out, the problem is compounded as a club could see the same referee 4 or 5 times a season. Limiting this to 1 home and 1 away match would limit the damage. The PGMOL just doesn’t have enough referees, especially when compared to other countries. Walter can certainly confirm this. I think they like the control they have with fewer officials. Easier to get a result. Shameful at best, utterly corrupt at the end of the day.

  5. goonersice72, the more referees you have the more difficult it becomes to let them go in the same direction. The “omerta” is huge for the referees. If they break the silence then they are out of a job the very next day. And in order to advance to the PL and have more matches and make more money you have to adhere tot the system. So even if a referee would come out and say: “hey, this is completely wrong”… the problem is that he has been part of it and so… it puts him also in a bad daylight. I don’t think that the head of referees will tell his referees : screw Arsenal. But when he makes mistakes against Arsenal he will face not a real backlash from the head. But if he favours Arsenal he might get strong words from the boss. So next time on the field he might think before making a 50/50 call: Am I going to get in trouble for making that decision when I go to the referee training centre….. And then subsequently he might make a decision that will keep him out of trouble. So it is all very subtle of course….

  6. Walter Broeckx

    ” I don’t think that the head of referees will tell his referees : screw Arsenal”


    My argument is that what the referees actually do as a group is follow the path of least resistance.

    I have always maintained that their real boss is the media. What I mean by that is not that the media actually tell them what to do in the accepted way that a ‘boss’ would do, but that they dramatically ‘influence how they referee’, simply by how they rate their performance. I believe it works thus:

    A referees ‘reputation’ or how well he is perceived to be doing his job, is almost entirely down to how they are ‘rated’ by the main stream media. As such the medias evaluation of their performance is crucial. It matters not a jot what WE think of Cootes performance. It matters not a jot what WEBB thinks of Cootes performance. All that matters primarily is what the major broadcaster of the match in the UK think of their performance, and as we heard, as far as they are concerned Coote did fine.

    Make no mistake, a referees career can be made or broken by how he is praised or ridiculed in the post match analysis.

    If SKY say he was wrong he was wrong. If SKY say he was right he was right. It is utterly irrelevant as to whether he actually applied the Laws Of The Game in the correct manner. As long as he did what the media in general want him to do he is safe, and Webb will be happy.

    And therein lies our problem, because it is as rare as rocking horse shit for the media to be happy with big decisions going our way, and almost to an outlet they couldn’t give a toss when they go against us.

    Ask yourself, what would you do if you were a referee? Err in favour of Arsenal and risk public ridicule, or err against Arsenal and garner almost certain universal praise? Don’t forget, as explained in my article, we are often as not, not talking massive calls here, just ‘titling the pitch’ a little. With such narrow margins it doesn’t take much, and of course it’s not even cheating!!!

  7. What are the refs gaining from targeting Arsenal and a few other clubs? They can’t be doing what they do for fun. The time-wasting rule allows referees to be even more subjective than they were last season. The fact that one referee can see a club six times in one season and nobody in the media or the Premier League executive is bothered by that tells you all you need to know.

    The referees aren’t running a £6billion asylum all by themselves and the FA isn’t bright enough either. The way matches are officiated and easily manipulated must suit somebody somewhere. My guess is the betting companies have the most skin in the game and the most control over who wins or loses on a given match day.

  8. Throw-ins have always been a problem for Arsenal. Hector Bellerin used to be regularly picked on by referees over foul-throws when he was no worse than players in other teams.

    This new “initiative” to clamp down on teams for time-wasting at throw-ins is the perfect tool for PGMOL to punish Arsenal with. Even though Palace managed to take 27 seconds to take a throw-in during the first half.

    Neither of Tomi’s yellow cards was deserved, but Coote manages to escape a reprimand for his disgraceful performance.

  9. So to win a game simply concede throw ins by the dozen
    Wait for all those 4 second infringement long enough to result in several being sent off then it’s 11 v 8 for the entire second half surely another entertaining 12-0 drubbing while letting the game flow. A complete farce and corruption thrives .

  10. I am sure there will be an entire article about this, Dean admits not doing his VAR job correctly because the idiot with the whistle on the pitch for the Chavs vs spuds game was so incompetently bad at his. An open admission of bias from the pigmob. no doubt the main stream media will have their poor Mikey headlines ready on command

  11. The sending off was scandalous. Partey was clearly warned immediately before the throw in incident by the ref over perceived time wasting, when he returned the ball short of Ramsdale. My query is what would have happened if he didn`t pick up the ball and gentle throw it in Ramsadales direction? It would have taken longer for our keeper to retreive the ball from where it was, so would that be timewasting? are players now obliged to act as ball-boys? That said I am actually infavour of the clamp down as time wasting needs to be reduced

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