The forgotten issue of the power exerted by club owners on referees




Everyone knows that referees have clubs that they support.  That’s not a secret: PGMO referees have to declare who they support to their employer.  They are then not given any games involving that club, or their local rivals.   A referee who declares his/her support for Tottenham Hotspur for example cannot be given a game involving Arsenal.   Although interestingly there is nothing to stop that referee overseeing a game involving Chelsea or West Ham United.

Unfortunately, there is no rule saying that a referee can’t take money from overseeing a game in the UAE Pro League or the Saudi Pro League.   Even though it must be quite clear to everyone that a referee who does a fair job dealing with Manchester City or Newcastle United on the pitch is not going to be invited to take the money and fly (as it were).

On the other hand, make sure that Manchester City and Newcastle United have a good ride in a match and the invitation to handle a game in one of the Arab states could perhaps be more likely to ping into the email in box.  

Quite obviously I can’t prove that, no more than the Premier League can prove that a Tottenham Hotspur supporting referee will give 50/50 decisions to the opposition if he or she is involved in a match involving Arsenal.   It just seems possible, and therefore it is better all round if the situation doesn’t arise.

What’s more, the Premier League has no control over what Sheikh Mansour, (deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and controller and owner of Manchester City) does with his time.  And that is important since the Athletic recently reported that the UAE Football Association “has held talks with City Football Group chief executive Ferran Soriano about a ‘framework of joint cooperation’.” 

That is alarming in itself.  But when accompanied by the revelation that the United Arab Emirates top league is sponsored by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which has on its board the chairman of Manchester City, (Khaldoon Al-Mubarak) we might start to be worried about just how much influence the UAE Football Association has over Premier League referees.

Certainly, in light of the above connection between the UAE Football Association and the owners of Manchester City, it is not surprising that the UAE has also extended its arm of friendship to the PGMO.

Now this is not because one can make any allegations about the integrity of the authorities either in England or in the UAE but because the organisation that runs refereeing in the UAE, and the organisation that runs refereeing in England have one thing in common.  They are both hyper-secretive and restrictive and in the way they perform their duties

OK, I must admit I have not written to the referee associations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to get more information on how referees are chosen there, but these are monolithic states with no tradition of democratic principles.  And when they look at the home of democracy (as the UK liked to be known in the past, although actually, that was Greece), they tend not to copy our values of openness and transparency.

But when they look at PGMO they see an organisation that is run along exactly the same lines as their own countries.   PGMO has no openness, no website, no adoption of the obvious approach of having referees restricted to overseeing each club no more than twice a season, no referee interviews on TV after a match, with the ref explaining decisions against video replays etc etc etc.

In this regard PGMO and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are perfect bedfellows, and it should come as no surprise that PGMO referees are regularly flying off to such lands to do overseas gigs before dashing back to referee another Premier League match.

The chief refereeing officer of PGMO is Howard Webb and it is he who has played a major part in getting Premier League referees work in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  Now it must be admitted English referees also appear in matches in Greece and Japan, and I would say the same rules should be laid down there.   If a referee oversees games in a foreign country, he should not be involved in any game involving a club in the Premier League that has part ownership by people in that country.

That is hardly a restrictive covenant, but it is one that is missing.   And in the case particularly of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, that is worrying because of the profound philosophical link between those countries and PGMO: they are all against open debate and freedom of expression.   There is no PGMO website, no PGMO referees discussing their decisions on TV or radio being asked bloody awkward questions by pundits.    Indeed one would be forgiven for thinking that PGMO is already owned by the men who own football in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Either the referee links with UAE and Saudi Arabia should stop at once, or PGMO should become an open organisation that can be examined and questioned on issues like “why this ref for that match”.  Preferably both.

Meanwhile, it would be rather handy if the media took this issue more seriously.  The Atheltic has run an article on it, but there are very few others.  Why is that?   Fans are clearly interested in what referees are getting up to, so why doesn’t the media express more interest?  Has someone told them not to? 

4 Replies to “The forgotten issue of the power exerted by club owners on referees”

  1. Maybe referees are 1) earning too little money to ignore money from gigs over there b) feeling so insecure about their job (a few have been stood down and more are to come so they prepare for the next job over there c) are fed-up with open criticism now happening daily and prepare to move.

    Or all of the above….

    What I don’t understand at all is why/how owners of PL and Championship clubs do NOT intervene and force through change. To me it just does not make sense.

  2. just take a look at the referees at the rugby world cup, there attitude towards the players, the way they explain there dicisions to players and fans alike, all seen and heard on vidio screens, could you ever see Webb instructing his band of cowboys to act in the same way.

  3. Peter Martin

    The problem with football is subjectivity.

    When I listen to Rugby commentators and pundits they are almost always, to a man/woman, in agreement about the severity of a misdemeanour and the punishment that should be applied. Then we see, and hear, the officials doing exactly what the pundits expected. It is very rare for there to be any disagreement. This suggests to me there is very little subjectivity, ambiguity, whatever you want to call it, in the way the laws of the game should be applied in Rugby.

    When it comes to football exactly the opposite is true. The scope of a yellow card offence is enormous. A little tug on a shirt can warrant a red card and get universal approval. I really poor late dangerous tackle can be overlooked with agreement from all and sundry that there was “Not enough for me, “Too early in the game” “It’s his first offence” “He’s not like that” “He was looking at the ball the whole time” blah blah blah. All manner of excuses to justify NOT applying the Laws of the game, but only when it suits. On another day, “You cant get away with that” “He’s always likely to do that”, well you get the picture.

    The subjectivity and ambiguity extended to the ‘Laws of the Game’ in football is simply enormous.

    What I would say, in defence of your argument, is that perhaps pinning the officials down, so to speak, by forcing them to explain their decisions, may, just may make the PGMOL get their act together and dispense with this enormous latitude they are affording their referees in the application of the laws of the game?

    It could help cut out these enormous discrepancies in refereeing that Tony continually highlights?

    The problem is, my argument has always been that the people that I believe run our officials, the media, actually want this subjectivity. They want the referees to be able to apply the ‘Laws’ in a way that suits their current agenda, or favourites if you like.

    Either way it’s a fair point you make, just cant see it happening.

  4. Michael Oliver vs. Martinelli in the Wolves game (Feb 2022). No-one could doubt Oliver’s eagerness to send Martinelli off for two offences in a seven second period.

    Michael Oliver vs Kovacic in the City game at the weekend. No-one could doubt Oliver’s reticence over punishing Kovacic (who doesn’t play for Arsenal), for two offences in the space of five minutes, each of which should have been a red card.

    Howard Webb said “the angle of buckle” of the ankle of the victim is a critical factor in these decisions. What a load of crap. That seems to imply that a fracture of the shin-bone is less serious than an ankle injury.

    “Obviously, the VAR is not able to get involved in second yellows”. Wriggle and squirm. They will do anything and use any justification to avoid the correct decisions.

    Are PGMOL hoping that nobody is actually listening to their pronouncements?

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