The refereeing problem in the Premier League. What the Tottenham issue misses



By Tony Attwood

In all the fuss about the Tottenham match against Liverpool and the officiating therein, it has rather been forgotten that we recently had another set of complaints about refereeing: those raised by Paul Heckingbottom involving a Sheffield United match.

Of course managers complain all the time, especially when there club is near the foot of the league, so what made that set of complaints special?

Well, the point was that Heckingbottom complained vigorously about the refereeing in a match between his side and …. Tottenham Hotspur.   

Of course it could be a coincidence that the same club was involved in two matches in which it was alleged by the opposition manager that the referee and his VAR team were out of order but it nevertheless is interesting that Tottenham were the opposition each time.

For the latest controversy came on top of another one in which the referee added 12 minutes at the end of the game, which gave Tottenham time to score two goals and move from defeat to victory: something about which Sheffield United complained about vigorously

And indeed there is more, for CNN then quoted Stephen Taylor Heath, co-head of sports law at JMW Solicitors, as saying that the Tottenham engagement with Liverpool “may not necessarily result in a legal action by Liverpool, but it may achieve something else which is for the officials behind PGMOL to be held accountable by the Premier League and for changes to be made within the PGMOL, which the PGMOL might not be prepared otherwise to make, which will hopefully avoid this type of situation happening again.”

Now that is, as far as I know, the first sign ever of a report from a major news source suggesting PGMO might needs to be investigated.   And that really is a major step forward, since until now it is just Untold that has been making this point.

The Athletic have taken up the point.   It doesn’t then suggest in any way that there is a conspiracy among referees to do down certain clubs and give victories to others.   Instead, it says that “human failings and incompetence are far more likely to explain things than unnamed dark forces pulling the strings for unclear reasons.”

And that might be true.  But that still doesn’t explain why none of the media will investigate the variation in refereeing outcomes that we see, wherein some referees oversee many many more home wins than away, while for others it is the other way around.

They do note however that complaining about referees led to the introduction of VAR, which has now “led to a bunker mentality among referees. They cite Grace Robertson’s newsletter, which points out that “abuse and scapegoating will inevitably foster a fierce in-house loyalty between officials.”  As when Mike Dean “admitted not asking Anthony Taylor to review an incident because he “didn’t want to cause a mate any further trouble.”

Now from this point they move on to the problem with refereeing in under-13 Sunday league matches, which is undoubtedly a valid issue for journalists to cover, but unfortunately leads away from the key issue that we now have in Premier League refereeing which is not, as the article says, “Referees should be doing their jobs better,” but rather, “Why is PGMO not better at ensuring referees are better at their jobs?”

As the article says, “Genuine mistakes should be tolerated,” and I’d agree, but totally ignoring the home and away bias of some referees is ludicrous.   They do highlight the “conflict of interest” of referees working in a country that has close ties to “Manchester City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour, who is the vice president and deputy prime minister of the UAE,” but not a simple issue raised by the statistics.

So consider this: when a Premier League match gets Attwell or Jones as a referee, the match is three times as likely to result in a home win as it is in an away win.   When a match is overseen by Taylor or Pawson it is considerably more likely to be an away win than a home win.

That cannot be right, and yet that is what the figures from last season show.   And that remains the issue that PGMO should be investigating and the media should be asking about, just as much as it is currently talking about VAR mistakes.   It is a great shame that they won’t.  And the question still remains: why?

2022/23 season…


Referee Games HomeWin% AwayWin% Draw%
Stuart Attwell 25 72.0% 12.0% 16.0%
Robert Jones 26 65.4% 26.9% 7.7%
Anthony Taylor 30 33.3% 43.3% 23.3%
Craig Pawson 21 33.3% 47.6% 19.0%


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9 Replies to “The refereeing problem in the Premier League. What the Tottenham issue misses”

  1. Is this page called “Untold Arsenal” because it doesn’t tell you anything about Arsenal? This is your second article about Spurs in a week.

  2. The problem with your comments in respect of the Sheffield United game is that United did waste at least the twelve minutes that were added on, probably their goalkeeper wasted that much on his own. It was an incredibly blatant performance, players going down feigning injury right, left and centre. So since you are claiming adding time is unfair that must mean you consider time wasting perfectly legitimate, the cynical side of me wonders if you’d still think that way if Arsenal were the victims.

    Liverpool have a genuine complaint with the disallowed goal. Their fans don’t seem to understand abolishing VAR would change nothing, the officials would still have wrongly disallowed the goal. Of course the fans don’t stop there, they then pretend the sendings off were wrong. They weren’t. “I didn’t mean to injure him, I’m just a really clumsy tackler” has never been a legitimate defence, reckless endangerment may not be as clearly spelt out in football as rugby but it still applies. Stupidity as shown by the second, totally unnecessary, yellow isn’t a legitimate defence either.

  3. Bro, the ref did Sheffield a favor. He was terrible all game torwards both sides. Heckingbottom was talking shit and he knows it. Should have been 90+20 at least for Tottenham. Plus that wasn’t really what was being complained about. Tottenham not the issue here.

  4. VW: I think most readers understand why it is called Untold Arsenal, as it has been for 15 years, so I guess it is probably best just to leave you to work it out yourself

  5. I agree with VW.
    & a PGMOL conspiracy theory? The PGMOL officials may be many things but corrupt, no.

  6. Ill continue to try Tony – and sorry if I got under your skin.

    As a follow up – in your article, you say that its “..interesting that Tottenham were the opposition each time.”

    More interesting to me is the importance you placed in responding to my, admittedly, childish jibe over the more intelligent points raised by Jod, which question your own sporting integrity and the general substance of your poorly written article.

    Still, each to their own….

  7. @ Stew

    I’m suspecting you agree with VW because you are a Tottenham fan. Be that as it may, please show me where in this article Tony specifically said there was a PGMOL conspiracy theory or that they are corrupt. As far as I can see, Tony merely points out a number of questionable issues and asks why the media are largely unwilling to raise those same questions.

    My personal theory is that a number of the officials working for the PGMO are either incompetent, biased or corrupt and that the actions of the PGMO do nothing to minimise these issues. There has been no review or investigation which would enable me to decide which of those options (or combination thereof) is true.

    What cannot be questioned is that there clearly numerous and regular failings which remain uninvestigated and, in practice, means the PGMO are unaccountable which is patently wrong.

  8. My point to you VW is that you make judgemental comments without justification or evidence. No you didn’t get under my skin. I’ve been running Untold Arsenal for 15 years, so if any of the comments made got under my skin too much I’d have stopped years ago. And you should see some of the comments we get that we choose not to published But dutifully my colleagues and I look at all of them.

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