Why the media won’t raise the issue of just how different each referee’s performance is.




By Tony Attwood

One of the problems with football reporting in my view is that the various issues afflicting football issues are rarely related to each other in media commentaries.  Someone says or does something, it is reported and then we move onto the next issue, and then the next and the next.  Implications and consequences are not on the agenda – even though many of these issues can overlap.

So we have the headline

100% penalty’: Clarke criticises referee after Scotland crash out of Euro 2024

and then after that we move on to another subject without any interconnectedness.

And of course, the notion of “interconnectedness” was not helped by the fun that the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” had with it – but just because a very funny novel laughs at a concept, that does not mean that the concept is nonsense.   The Guide’s claim that all things are connected may be silly, but that doesn’t mean some things are not connected.

And in this regard what I have not seen anyone do is total up the number of key refereeing decisions that have been questioned by players or managers.  Is it, for example, higher for some teams than others?  And if it is, are the players or managers right to complain?

Or to look at the matter another way – are the questions raised about refereeing at the Euros the same as in the Premier League?

We can’t answer that because we don’t know if the number of significant referee decisions such as off-sides, that are questioned per match in each competition is 5% or 35% or 50%

But not knowing that, and indeed not asking about that, is a real benefit to the media and to PGMO, because by not relating one match to the next or one referee to the next, the media stops anyone building up a picture of what is going on overall, as opposed to what is happening in each match.   Thus the “100% penalty” headline above is interesting, but surely it is more interesting to know how many errors it is alleged this referee made, how many were for each side, and how it compares with other referees.

Consider a Premier League match: we might measure how many decisions from the referee were questioned by each side in terms of

  • Fouls
  • Penalty appeals
  • Offside
  • The ball having crossed or not crossed the line

Then we could compare club by club and referee by referee.  We might find that Manchester City players only question 5% of all referee decisions, while Arsenal players question 40% of all decisions.  Then we ask why, and start looking in detail at those decisions, to search for an explanation.

Is it that the referee is biased in favour of Manchester City, or simply that Arsenal commit more fouls and are trying to cover them up?

This is the sort of information we never get – and if ever it is raised the argument is that we cannot debate the matter because what is one person’s foul is another person’s fair tackle.

Yet such an argument brings all refereeing into disrepute.  We can no longer debate anything because, well, everyone’s opinion is different, stop harping on about it, just move on…

As a result, refereeing does not improve.   Indeed the only set of data we have been able to utilise in considering refereeing is that from WhoScored  where in the link provided here, we can see which referees oversee more home wins, which away wins and so forth.

So if we look at the referees who oversaw 20+ Premier League games last season we can see that for Robert Jones 63.6% of the games were home wins, while for Paul Tierney the number was 36%.

Looking at away wins we can see that for Robert Jones just 13.6% of his PL games were away wins while for Jarred Gillet it was over three times as many at 47.6%.   So quite clearly intelligent clubs are now studying the previous results each referee they get and adjusting their style of play for each game – which is not how football is supposed to be.

Likewise, across the whole of last season, among the referees who have overseen 15 or more Premier League games David Coote gave out 5.19 yellow cards per game across the season.   Samuel Barrott gave out 3.13 yellow cards per game.  A 64% difference.

Worse, when some clubs are getting Coote five times a season and others Barrott five times a season, and which referee the clubs are picking up, is going to have a major impact.

Obviously nothing would matter if each club only ever saw each referee twice, but there is no such restriction in the Premier League although we’ve been calling for this for years.

So how can the League that likes to be known as the most popular league in the world get away with this?  The answer is simple, the media won’t ever mention it.   And why don’t they mention it?

Ah it’s because English people don’t like maths.  Although they quite like league tables!

3 Replies to “Why the media won’t raise the issue of just how different each referee’s performance is.”

  1. The media like the ambiguity because of exactly what happened last night. Leaving the decision to subjective judgement, without comparison, allows them to claim ‘definite penalty” without fear of being challenged.

    There are no comparisons to be made with other similar calls made by this referee, or any other for that matter, because no analysis has been done, so as I say, no challenge can be made to their conclusion. If Clark, the commentators, the post match talking heads, the next days media, all say it was a penalty, then it was a penalty.

    On another day, when it is another Country/Team, they could easily of said, ‘a close one that, but not enough for me’. Or, ‘not an obvious error’, so it couldn’t be overturned.

    I have seen far more obvious penalty claims dismissed as so, many many times, when it suits.

    My view is it was six of one half a dozen of the other. The defender was having his shirt pulled, but it certainly could of gone the other way, but it didn’t

    The fact is, it went against the poor little Scots, and we cant have that can we.

    The bottom line is the Scots where absolutely atrocious, not managing a single shot on target, and got exactly what they deserved.

  2. I dont think its a Maths problem more of a dont want to do research problem. Like when the media mentioned Wolves were on the receiving end of poor VAR decisions. There were no mention as to why nor improvements.

    Saudis paying English refs to ref games in Saudi league only gets a passing mention from the Mail that it cant be unbias.

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