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By Sir Hardly Anyone
The raging has died down in some quarters – no mention of Arteta and referees on the Guardian’s football page today, although the Telegraph still has four Arteta related headlines on its home page. The Athletic had a piece yesterday which attracted some 200+ comments mostly taking one side or the other without evidence and many calling the writers supporting the other side of the argument from themselves, short-sighted, biased, or worse.
What was interesting was that nowhere was there any statistical reporting of what the referee did in that match. So I guess we’d better do what all the media seems incapable of doing or are unwilling to consider the numbers.
Here are the basic figures for Stuart Attwell as a referee.
He gave 23 fouls in this game. Prior to this match he was giving 21.86 fouls per game, so a 5% increase beyond his average.
Prior to the match he was giving 0.63 of the tackles put in as fouls. In this game he gave 0.75 of the tackles as being fouls. That was 19% above the norm.
Prior to this game he gave out 5.50 yellow cards per game. In this game he gave out six yellow cards. Since it is impossible to give out half a card, then we would take either five or six cards to be his norm, and that is what he gave out.
So Attwell the referee behaved pretty much as he normally behaves in the main aspects of the game. It was only the VAR incident that shook him about.
But it is in terms of his comparison with other referees that is where we see the variation. Taking into account only referees who have done six games (as Attwell has) or more, he is lenient.
In terms of fouls per game Andy Madley sees 27.5 fouls per game where as Attwell sees only 21.67. And whereas Madley hands out 5.86 yellows a game, Attwell sees fewer yellow infringements at 5.50 a game.
So although he is not the most laissez faire of referees he does have a more relaxed approach to what makes an offence, which to some degree explains his willingness to let the goal by Newcastle stand. It is his inclination to let matters be that dominates his approach. The ball goes in the net – he gives a goal. That’s how it goes with him.
Thus Madley sees 27% more fouls in a game than Attwell, and so with this sort of more relaxed attitude it was totally within Attwell’s nature to let the goal stand. That is what he does – he sees fewer offences.
But there is a real oddity in his refereeing this season. We know that he doesn’t oversee draws. Prior to the Newcastle game the percentage of draws in a game was 21% but for Attwell it was 0%. Not a single game as a draw. And now after this game, once again not a draw.
So Attwell behaved exactly as the statistics predicted he would and we are left pondering not just the oddity of the allowed goal, but also the continuing variance in the ways referees behave.
Fouls per game seen by the experienced referees range this season between 18.67 for Tierney and 25.33 for Jones – a range of over a third. How can one referee consistently see matches in which there are over a third more fouls than another referee sees? It makes no sense in “the best league in the world”.
Jones sees 0.79 of the tackles in his matches as fouls, while Oliver sees 0.54. A difference of 46%. And let me say that another way – one referee sees almost half as many again of the tackles in his games as fouls, as another does. That is not consistency.
As for the yellow cards per game, for Attwell (the referee in the Newcastle v Arsenal match) that is 5.57 yellows per game. For David Coote it is 3.40. A 63% difference.
The simple fact is, how the game goes depends on the referee in charge as much, if not more, that the players on the pitch, and this is crazy.
There is absolutely no reason in logic why there should not be a clear indication of whether a ball is out of play or not, all the way around the pitch.
There is absolutely no reason why officials from the PGMO should be allowed to go to Saudi Arabia to be involved in a game and then return to England and be involved in a game including Newcastle United who are owned by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund – ie the Saudi state.
There is no reason why any referee should ever oversee a match involving the same club more than twice in a season.
And yet not only is this the situation we have – it is a situation that until now has not ever been questioned by most of the media. And even now they seem curiously reluctant to express any negative opinion. PGMO, it seems, is above criticism.
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