The effect of refs and seasonal change is probably more than you think

By Bulldog Drummond

According to CNN, “Over a billion dollars has been spent” by Manchester City’s owners on player recruitment since 2008.  And they also make the point that Reading FC is teetering on the edge of going out of business.

Put those two factors and football in its current form does not look sustainable.

Meanwhile, a few of the media have picked up on the statement by Kayleigh McDonald, who plays for Stoke City in the third tier of women’s football saying, “I am currently off work, unable to walk, making no money but still having the burden of paying my bills.”  She was injured playing for her club, who are apparently (according to the media) not paying her medical bills nor supporting her in any way while injured.

What we also know is that “Stoke City Women are to become semi-professional in what is a landmark day for the club.”   Apparently “The Coates family and bet365 are making a “highly significant” new financial commitment to the women’s side with a mission of tapping into the surge in popularity of the sport, encouraging young girls in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to take up football and ultimately compete to reach the Women’s Super League.”

Why they are not helping one of their team who is unable to work due to an injury playing for the club is not known.

Of course one wonders what sort of contract Stoke City and their new owners are using that means that they have no obligation for injuries caused at work, even part time work.  It is also not very good publicity for bet2365 or the Coates family that the lady in question is being left to sort out her own issues.  It would be good to know exactly what the club think of this.

Now I mention this as a contrast to what is happening at Arsenal.   Arsenal women are of course properly funded and as far as I know the club always look after their players.   But it is interesting that we have a dominant top three in the women’s league rather like the men’s league.


# Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 16 1 2 54 12 42 49
2 Chelsea 18 15 1 2 53 14 39 46
3 Arsenal 19 14 1 4 45 18 27 43
4 Manchester United 19 9 5 5 41 25 16 32


As that table shows the gap between first and fourth is 17 points.  In the Premier League that gap is 11 points.  In the Spanish League (men’s version) the gap from first to fourth is 20 points.

This sort of gap has been happening for many years in many divisions, and indeed it is noticeable just how much of a leap Liverpool have had to make this season to get into a challenging position.

But just how much does the league table change from one season to the next?    This table shows where the last season as compared to this season, after the same number of games (ie the number of games played this season).


Team Pld Last This Difference
Manchester City 32 76 73 -3
Arsenal 34 78 77 -1
Newcastle United 33 65 50 -15
Manchester United 33 63 53 -10
Liverpool 34 59 74 +15
Brighton and Hove Albion 32 55 44 -11
Tottenham Hotspur 32 53 60 +7

In simple terms from one season to the next it is quite possible for a club to remain fairly much where it was one year ago (we might call this consolidation in Arsenal’s case since the rise from the season before we so large), or to have a large rise or a large fall.

Of course there are explanations for these changes – with Newcastle United for example we might consider the level of injuries this time.   With Liverpool we might consider last season to have been something of a blip, considering their achievement the season before.

It is also interesting to note Tottenham Hotspur who are forever being talked up as a team challenging for the top both by the club itself and by the media.  Over recent years they have ended up 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th.  This season they have improved on last season, but any pre-season talk of them suddenly shooting up into the top three didn’t really take account of what has gone on at the club of late.   They are still meandering between fourth and eighth, and havne’t really shown anything that could then take through another leap back.

More than anything predictions about Tottenham show a constant journalist bias to over-estimate what they might achieve.

But there is also still the issue of referees,  Nottingham Forest having accused a Premier League referee of being a fan of relegation rival Luton Town according to  CNN.

And of course it is happening elsewhere too: “Barça wants to replay the Clasico in the event of a proven refereeing error” (according to 20min).

This now gives football a problem.   Clubs do rise and fall, as the data above shows, which makes it harder to work out if there is any systematic bias by referees, or if there is pure incompetence to blame when mistakes are made, or indeed there is just a level of inaccuracy in refereeing, which has to be expected.

This is where PGMO are constantly shooting themselves in both feet and hands simultaneously (if such a thing were possible).  By being ultra-secretive they leave the media without evidence, and (until now) suggesting refereeing in England was fine, as a matter of faith.

But the data shows that some referees do have a bias towards the home team which others don’t.   Now there might be bias in favour of a certain team as well – as we showed statistically that referees did treat Leicester City quite differently from other clubs*.

All of this brings into question the PGMO approach to secrecy.   But any investigation is made much harder by the fact that of course clubs can change.   The decline of Liverpool last season and their rise this season is an example.   So what we are doing with referees is trying to evaluate their performance against an ever moving background, which is not easy.

*For the background on Leicester see: Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league.

2 Replies to “The effect of refs and seasonal change is probably more than you think”

  1. There is no way the PGMO would survive in America? Can’t somebody in England sue them for something?

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