In football the trend is for all evidence to be ignored, and assertions made instead.



By Sir Hardly Anyone

When there is a problem it is generally agreed that a good way forward is to look for a solution.   And if the solution doesn’t work it is often a good idea to go and look for another solution – while perhaps at the same time reading a decent book on how to solve problems.

And if one does read a book (or better still several books) on solving problems involving a number of people, it is likely that the notion that you’ll come across includes the idea that despite our society’s absolute adoration of punishments, punishments actually tend not to work.

As the official government site says, “Adults released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months had a proven reoffending rate of 53.9%.”

Indeed if you type “why punishment doesn’t work” into Google you’ll find a multiplicity of articles on the subject.  A good simple introduction is “Why punishment doesn’t work” but that is one of thousands of solid articles that explain the issue.

Yet of course our society is based on punishment: fines, imprisonment, being told off by parents or teachers… the list is obvious.   And so it is in football: free kicks, yellow cards, penalties, admonishments, red cards….   

And indeed in football, they keep on using more and more and more of them.  And now we find that clubs are starting to complain if they get cards.

As the Guardian newsletter recently pointed out, Nuno Espírito Santo of Nottingham Forest said he had, “written a stern and almost certainly pointless letter of complaint to the Professional Game Match Officials Board Limited (PGMOL) asking if what Toney did constituted foul play. Given the almost universal lack of clarity offered by various former refs-turned-pundits in the past two days, they might be waiting a very long time for a reply.”

The phrase “the almost universal lack of clarity” is interesting.  We are talking about the nation’s favourite sport – and about matches that are watched all over the world, and yet there is an “almost universal lack of clarity” in relation to foul play.

What is however particularly interesting is how clubs are tackling the yellow card situation and this “almost universal lack of clarity.”

To understand a little more of what is happening we’ve created a yellow cards table.  In the second column (Yellow cards) we see how many each club has this season.   In the third column, we see how far above Arsenal they are in getting yellow cards in percentage terms.

Then in the fourth column, we have worked out how many cards the club might get by the end of the season if they carry on getting them at the current rate (The Expected Total).

For the last two columns we have considered last season’s total and how much above that we estimate (based on current trends) the number of yellow cards per club will be this season.


Team Yellow Cards % above Arsenal Expected total Last season Expected increase
Chelsea 66 120% 125 77 62%
Aston Villa 59 97% 107 80 36%
Tottenham Hotspur 53 77% 96 75 28%
Newcastle United 52 73% 94 62 52%
Manchester United 49 63% 89 78 14%
Liverpool 38 27% 69 57 21%
Manchester City 36 20% 65 44 47%
Arsenal 30 54 52 4%


So what we can see is that Arsenal’s yellow card total will be up by two cards or 4% on last season.   We might compare that with Chelsea up 62%, and at current rates expecting to reach 125 cards this season!!!

Quite why PGMO are handing out cards like they are going out of fashion, and why they are keeping on doing this, only they can answer.   Certainly, nothing is getting better, as we can see simply by considering the “UEFA Euro 2020 final between Italy and England, [when] riots broke out at the entrance to Wembley Stadium, and in Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. 69 people were arrested by police that day.”

Or indeed, how “In September 2021, Leicester City and Napoli fans clashed during a Europa League group stage match. Leicester City fans whipped Napoli supporters with belts before the match started.”

In fact pull all this together and you might understand the headline “Violence and abuse among fan culture growing concern for soccer, new research finds”

Is there a connection between more and more yellow cards with three of the seven clubs listed above having an over 35% increase in cards this season, and abuse of players and those associated with players, or with violence among fans?

Possibly yes, but we don’t know because no one is properly investigating the matter.  In football, the normal approach is just to let things drift along and not worry about the effect.

But if you look at the correspondence we get on Untold we increasingly have correspondents constantly making assertions but giving no evidence.  If one looks up the evidence one generally finds these assertions are wrong – but they are made over and over again.  The infamous case brought against Manchester City by Uefa is one perfect example.   

It is not easy to see a way out of this mess.


2 Replies to “In football the trend is for all evidence to be ignored, and assertions made instead.”

  1. When there is a problem the general consensus is to look away, lest you notice it and have to become involved.

  2. Many a time I have noticed that when there is a clear cut problem , and those in charge want to sweep it under the carpet , they would widen the problem by bringing in more people and more ( new) problems ! The arguments would then flow till the original problem is considered fit to be no longer a problem !
    A further study is called for which in most cases is lost , inadvertently in due time , in bureaucracy !
    While the fallout from the original problem lives on and on ad nauseam !,

    If you didn’t follow that , then the job has been done . And well !

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