How referee bias works: the details and the statistics




By Tony Attwood

Suggesting that referees overseeing Premier League matches exhibit bias is not the same as suggesting they are corrupt, and to be completely clear, we have no evidence and make no allegation that they are corrupt.

Rather we present figures such as these which reveal a particular bias as a result of the way things are set up in the Premier League.

The cause of this bias we have often discussed and having considered the scientific research in great detail in many other articles the conclusion has to be it is primarily the crowd that affects referees’ judgements.  This continues because the PGMO will not debate the issue openly and so will not examine this phenomenon and thus not help their referees overcome it. 

So our thought is, generally the crowd influences the referee in favour of the home team.   However when the pandemic struck and there were no crowds, and so it was then that bias changed.

However as the research reported on this site shows, instead of the bias returning to zero during the pandemic, in fact with the referees released from the influence of the crowd, the bias swung the other way toward the away team.

Since crowds returned we have found that some referees are constantly favouring home teams, while a minority of others are favouring away teams.  The only interpretation we can put on this is that those referees are aware of what has been reported over the years on Untold and realise that the crowd can influence them, so they react against here, and end up favouring the away team.

PGMO, silent as they always are, make no comment on this, so we don’t know whether they are trying to educate their referees and remove the bias, or whether they are just ignoring it.

In this little study below we take a small number of referees active in the Premier League this season and compare their home and away figures for fouls, fouls per tackle and yellow cards.  In each case we look at the amount by which the home figure is higher than the away figure.

And it should be remembered that in each case we are taking the figures per game from WhoScored, who record all of this data.

Thus with our first referee, Anthony Taylor, he is awarding 48% more fouls against the away team than the home team, and 69% more yellows for the away team than the home team.  As you would expect the number of the tackles that are considered fouls is higher for  the away team.  For them 72% of the tackles are seen as fouls.  For the home team 56% of tackles are seen as fouls.

And of course for an individual game it could well be that the away team is tackling and fouling more and so getting more yellows.  But the figures here are across nine games, so that suggests it is a habit.


Referee Games Fouls Fouls/Tackles YelLOWS
1.Anthony Taylor home 9 8.78 0.56 1.78
1.Anthony Taylor away 9 13.00 0.72 3.00
% difference away is greater +48% (away) +29% (away) +69% (away)
2.Robert Jones home 8 13.50 0.86 1.88
2.Robert Jones away 8 12.13 0.78 3.25
% difference mixed +11% (home) +10% (away) +73% (away)
3.Michael Oliver home 7 10.29 0.57 1.86
3.Michael Oliver away 7 9.29 0.51 2.57
% difference mixed +11% (home) +12% (home) +38% (away)
4.Andy Madley home 7 13.14 0.80 2.43
4.Andy Madley away 7 14.43 0.78 3.43
% difference mixed +10% (away) +3% (home) +41% (away)


So we can seen in terms of yellow cards with these four referees (taken from the list of referees who have overseen the most Premier League games) the away team constantly gets more yellow cards.  On average the away players get 55% more yellow cards than the home teams.

Which raises the question, are away teams 55% dirtier than home teams?

In terms of the number of fouls committed two referees give more fouls against the away teams, and two against the home teams.  While for three of the referees we find that the difference in the number of fouls between the home and away team is around 10%, with one referee – Anthony Taylor – the away team across all the games he has overseen this season, gets 48% more cards than the home team!!!

These numbers suggest that there is a considerable difference between the way referees handle matches, but when it comes to yellow cards, players are much more likely to get cards away from home than at home.  But when we look at the level of fouls these figures don’t suggest that this should be the case.

The most likely explanation is that most of the time the difference in fouling between home and away players is modest, but that as the match goes on, the referee begins to feel he has to assert his authority.   So in order to avoid the home crowd’s ire, he waves yellow cards at away players.   This didn’t happen during the lockdown games however as there was no crowd present.   Thus the away players felt freer to keep playing football, rather than be restrained by a card-waving ref, and thus the number of away wins increased dramatically.

That’s not a perfect explanation, but it’s the best we’ve come up with so far, and at least we can say, we are trying to explain what is going on with PGMO employees without reverting to conspiracy theories.

That doesn’t mean PGMO should not take action – of course they should.   But rather it suggests that a) referees are indeed influenced by the crowd and b) PGMO doesn’t want to investigate this for fear of admitting that not everything in the refereeing world is perfect.

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