How could the PGMO have allowed the position of referees get so bad?



By Tony Attwood

Criticism of referees is not everywhere.   It is to be heard in the grounds, and read about in blogs, but in comparison there is very little criticism of PL referees in the newspapers, through their websites, on radio or on TV.

It is in fact as if the people who watch football in the grounds and the people who commentate or comment on it for money, are seeing something completely different.

So how could that be?

2009/10 was the first year for which referees figures were collected – which itself seems rather strange – figures in depth for players and clubs go back much further – but that is how it is and we can only work with what we have got. 


Referee Apps Fouls pg Fouls/Tackles Pen pg Yel pg
1.Martin Atkinson 31 29.00 0.69 0.32 3.97
2.Stuart Attwell 15 25.53 0.66 0.20 3.80
3.Mike Dean 30 25.90 0.60 0.57 3.77
4.Howard Webb 27 25.52 0.59 0.19 3.56


So let’s now look at last year 2022/23 again just selecting the four referees who gave the most yellow cards per game 13 years later.


Referee Apps Fouls pg Fouls/Tackles Pen pg Yel pg
3.Michael Salisbury 15 23.33 0.64 0.07 4.40
4.Peter Bankes 21 23.05 0.66 0.05 4.33
5.John Brooks 19 22.11 0.68 0.32 4.26
6.Robert Jones 26 22.81 0.68 0.46 4.12


What is interesting is that the number of fouls per game has significantly declined, but the number of fouls per tackle has stayed the same.  In fact that shows that the number of tackles has declined – a feature we noticed in Arsenal’s performance immediately Mikel Arteta took over.nine times as many incidents that were worthy of a penalty in a match involved Robert Jones as there were in a match involving Peter Bankes?   Or go back 13 years to 2009/10 – Mike Dean was giving out three times as many penalties as Stuart Atwell.

The number of penalties per game is seen to be immensely variable per referee – which itself is worrying.  Are we really to accept that it just happened that some referees were always involved in games with a lot of rough stuff in the area while others were not?

That’s a thought, but now let us return to what first brought us here: yellow cards.  In 2009/10 our top four referees handed out 3.775 yellow cards a match.   This season our top four referees handed out 4.277 yellow cards a match – that is an increase of 13% per game.

So through this simple bit of research, we are discovering two things.   One is that referees are seeing far fewer fouls per game – down from 26.49 fouls per game in 2009/10 to 22.82 last season.  That’s a 16% decline.

So fouls – the main cause of yellow cards – are down by 16% but yellow cards are up by 13%.   That seems an extraordinary pair of changes.   The obvious conclusion is that players are doing their bit to get their tackles into what is acceptable in the laws of the game, but in return, referees are handing out more and more yellow cards for other things.

Now in many ways these situation needs explaining – these are significant numbers and on the surface they look very odd.

But what is the response of PGMO and their lapdogs in the media?   Absolutely nothing.  The drawbridge is drawn up, and silence ensues.  PGMO as we have noted so often don’t even have a website, and it is left to people like us to take a look.

We might now ask, is the game better for such changes in refereeing style?   In one sense yes – the number of fouls is down.   We noticed this when Mikel Arteta came to Arsenal and it is clear that his approach was part of a general trend by clubs to cut out fouling.  But still yellow cards are going up and up.   And it is reasonable to ask: why?   

The big change is that some clubs that have seen what is going on have their players putting in fewer tackles across the board.   Last season the number of tackles per game ranged from 22.1 in the most tackling team to 12.4 in the least tackling team.    Go back to 2009/10 and the range was from 25.2 down to 18.1 tackles per game.  

The easiest and most straightforward conclusion is that lots of clubs have reduced their tackling to stop referees handing out free kicks to the opposition.  That has worked.   But at the same time the number of yellow cards per game is going up and up and up.

That makes no sense – and what we need is for PGMO to explain.  But as ever PGMO say…. nothing.   

5 Replies to “How could the PGMO have allowed the position of referees get so bad?”

  1. In fairness to the PGMO (not a phrase you’ll hear often!), it would be difficult for them to say something specific about their policies on refereeing and the application of the laws. If they did that, they’d give us a yardstick by which they could be measured and the huge inconsistencies of various officials would therefore become more obvious and directly measurable against the PGMO’s own standards and expectations. Hence they would become directly accountable for the almost daily incompetence we see…..and they would never want that!

    The stupid thing is, 99% of football fans recognise that officials have a difficult job and would be far more likely to cut them some slack if they actually showed a modicum of honesty and integrity. The current picture, however, clearly suggests that the PGMO do not possess a dictionary and hence have yet to locate the concepts of either “honesty” or “integrity”. The media don’t want to point that out for fear that they might damage the massive gravy train upon which they are very comfy passengers.

  2. I have just revisited the notorious game 50, in which MU escaped 3 blatant red cards and were gifted a penalty for a Rooney dive that would even have embarrased Harry Kane.

    The culprit referee was Riley, who then became the PGMOL boss, a position he held until recently, – being replaced by ….. Howard Webb.

    What more explanation is needed?

  3. I am beginning to wonder whether we should just be done with it and put the referees in a jesters outfit as their “interpretation” of the rules of the game is funny to say the least. Sometimes it is so bad that it is difficult to believe they are on the same planet as the game they are officiating. They miss clear fouls and then book players for pointing this out to them. Then in the next breath they are giving a yellow card for the same “non foul” they didn’t see 10 seconds ago.

    If the referees could have the gumption to say “yes I got that wrong” maybe people would say fair enough. But if in their mind they are always right, even though we can see that they are completely wrong, then what hope is there for the future. The fact that they do not explain anything at all at the end of the game doesn’t help either.

    I will agree that they are definitely biased against certain teams.

    It is becoming more and more obvious that there is something definitely wrong with the officials.

    What makes this all the more galling is the commentators who say “what a good job” the referee is doing when he/she is having a shocker. I know the TV companies paid a lot of money for the coverage but at least be honest!

    As I have said before integrity is something the PIGMOB have no idea about. I gave up watching the EPL a long time ago due to the random nature of correct decisions by referees in most of the matches.

    I do find it quite amusing that you have some people complaining about your use of statistics. You have been a beacon of sanity in your coverage of the game. Much better that the so called “experts” who profess to “know a lot” about the game. One of the best was a pundit who said that a player who scored 19 goals in 40 games scored a goal a game. When you hear that all of sudden the rest of what they say is meaningless.

  4. Les Williams,
    I feel as you do. I don’t know what a foul is anymore. It’s just so hard to watch. Very often I feel as if I’m getting picture from one source and sound from another because the commentators MUST be watching a different game.

    John L,
    The 50th game and Mike Dean jumping up and down and dancing a jig to celebrate a Tottenham goal against us. Seen it with my own eyes, as they say.

  5. @goonerssince72 I love your comment “Very often I feel as if I’m getting picture from one source and sound from another because the commentators MUST be watching a different game.”

    Maybe that explains the disconnect between sound and picture!

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