Referee Extremism: the situation in Spain and in England 



By Tony Attwood

I have often noted that the UK media will not criticise referees nor will they comment on the vast differences in the results that they oversee, despite the huge variations in the way that referees handle games.   

And yet among the referees who have taken control of over 10 PL games this season we have a difference over 25% in the number of yellow cards handed out between different referees, 

That is pretty large but when we look at results and again just stay with referees who have overseen over ten games this season in the PL we find that the percentage of home wins is just on double for Stuart Attwell (58.3%) compared with Paul Tierney (29.4%).

Yet these, and many other issues remain untouched in England because the media obey the rule that you do not write about referees, their behaviour or their ultra-secretive control group, the PGMOL.

This however is not the way of things in Spain where this week we have seen the headline Sevilla report Real Madrid TV to RFEF over referee ‘harassment’

Real Madrid as you may know, have their own TV station, and for some time there have been complaints that the club has been manipulating the behaviour of referees in their games by focussing strongly on the referees in TV programmes before each match.

This issue has been running for a long time, but now Sevilla have stepped beyond the position of clubs grumbling but doing nothing and according to ESPN, “have filed a complaint with the RFEF accusing Real Madrid TV of a “campaign of persecution and harassment” against the officials ahead of their next match.

The statement says,“We wish to formally report these events to the RFEF to see if their actions can be considered as a violation of competition rules or any other regulations.

“The club also wishes to reiterate its strongest condemnation of these orchestrated campaigns aimed at undermining the image of the refereeing body, causing serious harm to Spanish football and calling into question the integrity of the competition.”

Now this is not the first time this issue has been raised as Barcelona’s president has called the approach of Real Madrid TV “shameful” and claimed that the programmes put out by the station do in fact influence referees each week in Real Madrid’s favour.

And it is not just the other clubs that have had enough.   The head of Spain’s equivalent of the notorious PGMO has also said that Real Madrid TV is indeed “putting pressure” on referees through its extremely negative approach.

Indeed the statement notes that Real Madrid are out on their own in this regard, stating that no other club in any other league behaves in the way that Real Madrid’s TV station does.  They add, “There’s no sport, no team in the world that does this. Teams have their [local] press which supports them, but what’s happening with this TV channel has never happened, anywhere else.

“What they’re doing seems absolutely negative to me. I’ve never seen it in 40 years of refereeing, putting pressure on before a game, every week. It’s negative not just for refereeing but for the image of Spanish football… We’ve put it in the hands of legal advice, to look at the matter.”

However, unsurprisingly Real Madrid are not backing down gracefully, probably because they have never ever had to do such a thing ever before.  Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez instead called for Spain’s Government to intervene suggesting the government needed to “take steps to improve refereeing bodies in this country” in order to protect the well-being of Spanish football.

It is interesting to compare this situation with the extreme opposite that we have in England in which no TV station, no radio station and no national newspaper will criticise referees for anything other than the occasional slip.   

And indeed even that occasional slip is rarely taken up, as we might remember with the notorious goal scored against Arsenal by Newcastle after the ball had gone out of play last November.

Quite why these two extreme positions have taken hold in football is hard to fathom.  Real Madrid have got away with their constant sniping at referees in Spain, while PGMO have been allowed to get away with their policy of utter secrecy; both extremist approaches seem obviously unhelpful to me.  

What is needed is something in the middle.  Not a TV station claiming that one side is being hindered unduly by referee incompetence, nor the abject silence that we have in England as a result of the PGMO “no interviews, no comments” policy.

A little independent balance would be welcome, and the biggest question of all is why have both Spain and England allowed such extremist positions to be taken up.

6 Replies to “Referee Extremism: the situation in Spain and in England ”

  1. Well Poschettino has started doing the same thing as Reat Madrid TV… basically implying the referees may not be neutral.
    Imagine Mr Wenger makin such a comment ? Or Mr Arteta ?
    We’d have a total meltdown in the so-called press and bedlam would ensue.

    But there ? Nope. Nothing.

    Strange ain’t it ?

    As a Arsenal fan, I have no idea what outcome I’d prefer….

  2. It strikes me that while Real might well be trying to influence referees that the response to that is aimed at closing down the implicit criticism from that club. In effect, the status quo would be restored and then the situation in Spain would mirror that in the UK.

    I don’t see two extremes where one country has an actual debate about referees and their performance in the media and one doesn’t.

  3. It seems quite amusing for Real Madrid to complain about refereeing in Spain maybe they do it because it makes sure they benefit. I used to watch a lot of Spanish football but I increasingly find, as with the premier league, it is unwatchable due to the absolutely dire state of officiating in both countries.

    The “laws” of the game appear to be completely flexible according to both sets of referees. One minute a push is a foul, ten seconds later it is not. How can you enjoy a game when you can see bias with your own eyes!

    I also watch Bundesliga matches although the referees here are not perfect the officiating is a whole lot better than Spain or EPL.

    I watched the AFCON tournament, again not perfect, but one of the best refereed tournaments I have ever seen. The best thing about this tournament was VAR – I have not seen so many quick decisions as these matches when they went to VAR.

    As a neutral fan all I would like to see fairness and the protection of players to be paramount. I see neither in Spain and EPL

  4. Chris

    Pochettino should know all about referees’ neutrality – after all, his last English team would get a remarkably high number of penalties each season and went almost 3 seasons without receiving a red card in the Premier League. Not forgetting his Chelsea having the joint highest number of spot kicks this season too…

  5. I imagine that Real do this because they have the situation of many different referees over the course of a season, individual Referees only getting 2 Real league games. Our corruption/influence over where success ends up is in the shape of favourable Referees getting multiple games for the benefit of the chosen teams ensuring Arsenal don’t win anything

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