The Problem with Referees
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- The 61 players Arsenal are buying and 25 being sold. Journalists seem to be slipping.
There is, in English football, an Independent Football Ombudsman. The terms of reference of the IFO is to, “check that due process is followed, and, where necessary, check that the process is a reasonable one – for example, the timeliness of response and whether it has been viewed by appropriate levels within the football authorities.”
It is a very interesting terms of reference because it doesn’t have anything to say about any situation in which there is no “due process,” as for example when a referee is considered to be acting in an inappropriate or biased way.
As a result of that Nottingham Forest, who feel they were very badly done by, in terms of the officiating of their match against Manchester United, have submitted an official complaint to the referees’ body PGMO over the performance of Stuart Attwell and his assistants in their game against Manchester United. (No link to the PGMO, because there is no PGMO website).
But we can say at once that this won’t get anywhere, for there is no one who can enquire what the referees are up to, except the referees’ own body. And yet as we show below, the refereeing statistics in the PL are just plain bonkers.
Nevertheless a report in the Telegraph says that Evangelos Marinakis, the owner of the club has instructed his officials to prepare to take action against PGMO over biased refereeing. If he does, that will be very welcome, and we’ll give him all the bias data he wants (or he can just look it up – and as a sample we’ve put some at the end of this piece) but he will still have the problem that the only people who ever investigate PGMO matters is PGMO.
Worse, he’ll get a tough ride from the media, who always side with PGMO and utterly refuse to publish any of the readily available data on referee bias. Of course, they might suddenly change their policy – but given it is a policy that spreads across the entire media from the BBC and Sky through to every national newspaper and website, it seems unlikely that they will.
In this case it appears the club will be focussing on one referee, Attwell, and his performance in a game between Forest and Bournemouth back in the 2021/22 season. As the Telegraph notes, that game at Old Trafford was Attwell’s first Forest game since a match in May 2022 which also brought numerous complaints.
There is however the point that Forest are not the first team to protest against refereeing at Old Trafford, for as the Telegraph says, “It is also the second successive game at Old Trafford where an opposition manager has been frustrated over refereeing decisions, after Wolves striker Sasa Kaladjzic appeared to be fouled by United goalkeeper Andre Onana and no penalty was awarded, leaving Gary O’Neil baffled.”
Interestingly, the Telegraph (along with all other outlets it seems) then fails to give its readers any more information about Attwell, and that’s where the whole report falls down, for there is plenty available, and very interesting reading it makes.
For example, using data readily available on WhoScored we can see that last season he gave only 0.61 of the tackles in his games as fouls. David Coote, another regular PGMO referee in the PL saw 20% more of the tackles in front of him as fouls. That is a pretty big difference.
Also the number of penalties he gave was less than half for some other referees who oversaw a similar number of games. In terms of yellow cards he handed out only around three quarters the number of some other regular referees, like Michael Salisbury or Peter Bankes.
But there is more, for when it comes to yellow cards he has a real bias against the away teams. Last season he handed out 49 yellow cards against away teams but only 32 against home teams. Compare this with Paul Tierney who awarded exactly the same number of cards against both home and away teams.
The problem is however that Attwell is not the only referee with really spooky numbers, for a lot of them have some sort of home or away bias that shows up game after game after game. And that is why PGMO will not take any action here, because if they started to look at, and deal with, referees who regularly favoured the home side or the away side, they would lose half their referees. Take Simon Hooper: 40 yellow cards against home sides last season, but 60 against away sides. Compared with Michael Oliver: 52 against home sides and 35 against away sides.
The fact is there is no consistency among refereeing in the Premier League, almost certainly because the people who regulate the referees are…. well, not to put too fine a point on it, the referees.
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