We’ve proven that the quality of refereeing in the EPL is poor, but why is it so bad?

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Victory Through Harmony

By Walter Broeckx

In my previous articles I showed you that the level of the refs in the EPL is below par. Now I will try to give a few reasons on to why some things might be wrong.

But a word of warning: don’t read read these reasons and think this is a total explanation for everything.  The reasons for having an unacceptable game can vary from ref to ref a bit. And most of the time there can be more than one reason as to why a ref does not get to the required level that one should expect from professional refs in the best league in the world.

Of course some of the reasons are closely linked with each other. And there  could be other factors affecting bad performances than just saying: the refs are bent. No there is much more in to it and this is an attempt to give you some insight in the problems refs can face when doing their job.   In short, some reasons for bad performances are down to the refs, others not.

To be complete I had to write it down in to different articles. At the end of the series I will make a short resumé of the reasons again and some of the solutions. Because pointing at problems is one thing, giving the answer to solve the problem is another thing.

1. Not enough refs

So in the best league in the world, the EPL, there are only 16 refs to do the games. As there are 10 games each weekend those 16 have to do a lot of games.  Of course a manager can rotate his players a bit but the refs have to stand there up to 3 times a week.

And believe me doing a game of football as a ref takes a lot out of the body. We all like to see how many kilometres a player has run in a game but when they checked it in the Champions League the man who runs the most in a game is usually the ref.

But if you only have 16 refs you will have refs who will have to run each weekend and also in midweek.

So there should be more refs in the EPL. I think that you need at least some 30 refs in the schedule in order to have a good league. Because as I will point out in my next item getting tired as a ref makes your decision making bad.

The fact that there are only 16 refs in the EPL and many of them are what I would call a bit over aged in fact. I know how I could run when I was 40. And now near to my 50th birthday I know that to do the same I really have to work harder, train harder. And even then my body lets me know that the best years are a bit behind me. But those older refs have to be ready for it each week and midweek and do their games.

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and their General Manager,  Mike Riley  is responsible for this situation. It is his job to get more refs in the EPL. You cannot tell me that there a no other people in England who are good and fit enough to do games in the EPL.  But maybe it is that they are not considered good enough in some other ways. I will come back to this later in one of my following points I picked and you will see what I mean.

So the solution for this= find more refs

And the low number of refs leads to another problem and that is the next thing on my list.

2.  Fatigue

When do you drive at your best? When you are fit and awake or when you are tired and need a rest? The first you will say. When do you perform your best at work? When you are half sleeping hanging over your desk or when you feel fresh and bright? The first you will say.

So when will a ref have is best game? When he is fresh and strong or when he is tired and weak? Of course you will agree with me that it will be the first.

And you are right. There are of course exceptions to the rule but most refs will have the best part of the game when they are fresh and fit. Their reactions to events is sharp and they will see the fouls better. They will react quicker and think quicker. In fact this is just as for most football players.

I know from my own experience that to have a good game for the whole game you must be fresh and fit during the whole game. So you must train to be in a good condition. Every ref that wants to perform well must train. Be it on his own or in a group, just do it. You will benefit from this as a ref.

I know that in Belgium the refs in the Jupiler League are constantly monitored on this. They have trainings which they must attend with the other refs and the other days they train on their own. And they have all kind of devices that measure the heart beat that they must wear when they train. And when they come to the group training those devices are linked to a computer to check that they have done enough in the week.

They get all kind of schedules with them to work on their fitness. I can only hope that this is the same in England.

So training is very important but what also is very important is: rest. The day after a game you need rest or some cool-down running at the most. But I’m not a doctor so I will not try to bore you with all kind of terms which I don’t know.

But as you have seen in point 1 because of the shortage of refs they are simply not getting much rest. And so the refs do their games, day in day out. Run the most on the pitch and it will tire them. And from the moment they get tired, their decision making will suffer from it.

So a big part of making wrong decisions can be down to just a tired human body combined with a tired human brain. An excellent partner ship to make bad decisions.

But here I come back to point one as there is no other option than to get the same refs doing the games and more and more and more.

So because of the shortage of refs the fatigue creeps in and the decision making goes down.

The solution? Simple and like in the first item I mentioned: get more refs. So again I have to point my finger to Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and their General Manager,  Mike Riley

The series will continue. More problems and solutions to come.

If we adopted the same standards as Belgium we’d hardly have any refs left

The shocking figures that prove that the Premier League is bent

The History of Arsenal – latest article is on Jack Crayston

Making the Arsenal – in the light of current developments it almost makes sense

31 Replies to “We’ve proven that the quality of refereeing in the EPL is poor, but why is it so bad?”

  1. @Walter If fatigue were a factor, one would expect more bad decisions later in games and perhaps later in the season as cumulative fatigue sets in. Have you found this? As an aside, Dowd must’ve been pretty effing tired.

  2. So tired in fact Tee Song, that he was seeing Black and White stripes in front of his eyes all the time.

  3. Another factor in favour of having more referees is that it will reduce the effect of any potential bias that any referee may have.

  4. Walter,
    haven’t you yourself repeatedly pointed out that the number of top level referees in England is astonishingly low? So not only are there too few EPL referees, there are too few English referees to choose from. The EPL should therefore import referees. I mean, why not? Everyone else can be a foreigner.

    In addition, all of this underlines the screaming need for video technology. It is only a matter of time, so why not now.

  5. They all stand together anyway, doesn’t matter what will be done, ref will always have the final words even though these are bollocks, look a Webb, 3 yellow cards to the same player in an international game and still there.

  6. by the way, thank you walter for your previous article, I have use some of it to make minde today, great job and link back posted indeed

  7. Interesting analysis Walter. I agree that fatigue most probably plays a big part in poor performance and that this could be as a result of not enough refs to do the job.

    However, as Tee Song pointed out, if this was the case then we should expect referee performance to fall as more and more games are played. We should have some very poor decisions around December during heavy fixture congestions than in more kind times.

    It would be interesting to know the following;
    – People often say decisions even themselves out at the end. It would be interesting to know how true this statement is.
    – How do the 16 refs rank in terms of performance
    – People often say ‘big’ teams get more decisions than ‘small’, how true is this statement?
    – Does the homeground hold any advantage in terms of favouritism in decision as they say or is this a myth. (It appeared to be a myth in the Arsenal vs Everton game. Are there any statistics to prove this?

    I believe that there is more at play than just fatigue and numbers. I think that some refs are not strong enough mentally to deal with some issues. I also believe that some refs are influenced by their own perceptions.

    How do you explain a ref blowing the whistle when a ball touches him and falls kindly to an Arsenal player? How do explain the refs poor performance at Newcastle?

    I think there is more at play than just fatigue

  8. May be the fatigue is one sided making them to victimise some certain teams while favouring some consistently. May be the teams out of favour of the referees or the victims of poor refereeing are the cause of the fatigue. In all these, they know what they are doing. EPL is the most corrupt league in the world.

  9. i don’t accept walter’s view cos had it been for such reason such grave fault could be made against other teams but that is not the case.rather the bias is made by the reef cos arsenal lacks england players in it and things are dona deliberately by the reefs in collaboration with the FA .

  10. What can we do?? Now i don’t want to look at this in terms of an Arsenal fan, but as a Sports fan this is shocking and fascinating. I think it really does explain a lot 16 refs… and lets be honest the system of dropping referee’s is dubious. There needs to be tighter control on this end of the spectrum. The FA,Fifa and UEFA love to look into teams which make their tournaments thrive but not so keen on the rules side. If the EPL wants to continue to be the best then i think we need to reform this area.

    Can we do something about this… As the Government is overhearing how best it is for clubs to run, can we maybe try and get something running in reforming this end of football. Get many other teams and members involved. Turn this into a nationwide thing.

    eye tests, fitness tests and a retirement age needs to be governed. This is way too lacks on an aera which is quite clearly so important. Very interesting.

  11. @ Arselicked

    Frustrating as that decision was, it was morally the right call. I was annoyed with it too because it’s not a legal measure by the ref. But Mark Halsey is actually a good ref in my opinion. Sure he makes mistakes, but he’s fair to both sides and tries to keep his influence to a minimum. He’s also willing to use some common sense instead of being a stickler for the rule book. I’d take Halsey over Webb or Dean anyday.

  12. The reason why the quality of Premier League refereeing is so bad should be obvious: Because no one is willing to punish the guilty. And if they did punish them, it would be the proverbial slap on the wrist. You know, like in the American South before the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, on those rare occasions when a white man would be convicted of killing a black man, he would be sentenced to only 5 years in prison… suspended. So it went on his record that he killed a black man (which wouldn’t exactly be a negative down there), but he wouldn’t have to spend a minute in the hoosegow.

    It’s the same way with these refs: I can imagine them getting suspended only as long as it takes for the next Arsenal-Man U match to happen, and then, back to work! After all, who got hurt? It’s only Arsenal…

    NCIS Rule Number 40: If it seems like someone is out to get you… they are.

  13. Hi all Arsenal funs,

    All your opinons are good, but mine diverges a bit. I have been watching football matches and following comments game after game for years and noticed that there are three people responsible of poor refs performance. These are:

    1. Refs immorality : If one is a ref in England or elsewhere where justice and democracy is an always song why doesn’t one sing it like politicians and does the job according to the rules of the game?

    2. FA negligence and protection: I wander all members of the association keep quiet after such drama like Saturday’s and let it happen season after season, were Blair, Brown, etc. more incompetant than Dowd? Are refs really unpanishable. Why do they punish coaches and plays who complain against obvious unjustice and let refs do whatever they want? What will be the gain of spending 90 minutes in a stadium or in front of a screen watching such injustices?

    3. Sep Blater: Thia old man is also a problem to the world football. Technology is advancing and being used in every sector of life except football. If he changes his mind and cease to be conservative and let technology be used to settle some contentious cases instead of letting refs book complaining players when they are right?
    Some people are getting fed up and tired of these refs behaviour and start to lose their football love and interest.Who has the remedy?

  14. Mike Riley was a completely inept, biased ref – now he heads them, not a promising situation.
    I think one of the problems is that younger refs coming through see the lofty position in world refereeing the likes of Howard Webb has reached and may want to copy his methods in the hope of getting similar results in their career ie not upsetting Fergie.
    Having said that, I seem to remember Webb once sending off Ronaldo, how Fergie must have got to him to make him the simpering gimp he is now – at least where Utd are concerned.

  15. I have seen some comments on other reasons and they will be talked about in the next days. Be sure about that.

  16. Walter to be honest in every country the top division the referees should be paid about 10,000 a match linesmen 5,000 and fourth officials 2,500.

    Look at what players and the agents and managers get paid and then take into account what Refs get paid.
    When you consider the ammount of money 3 points is worth when missing a chamions league place and finishing 5th instead of 4th.
    When you consider the pay scale in where clubs finish etc its lunacy that the whole system isnt much more rewarding and proffessional.
    Referees should be training together every week like teams before the season and sporadicaly after that together.
    Fifa and the rest should have a major training centre for referees in each country ensuring they know what they are doing.

    Accountability should be like in Belgium and at the end of each season an independant group should look at the likes of Mike Reilly the PGMOL head and see did he really do his job did he relegate the ones who performed bad etc if not he goes also.

    At least 4 Refs should be promoted and atleast 4 demoted each year to keep them all on their toes,
    But that would be doing the right thing. The loss of wages compaired with an EPL Reff and a championship one would be enough to encourage good decisions if they were paid right.

    The whole affair is a sad state and yes I agree completely more Res for each division people wont do it though for the love of sport with what the rest of football gets paid the Refs need to be suitably rewarded.

  17. There are rotten apples in every orchard. With referees, they can be inept, biased or plain unfit mentally. When Clubs submit their views on performance after matches, do the refs get a copy? If so,an adverse report or reports would, human nature being what it is, cause paranoia by some officials against the Club concerned.
    I still say that an exchange of officials with the Continent should be considered. By this means at least, the problem of bias might be diluted.

  18. On another note if Refs were paid like I meantioned above.
    Premier league say 10,000 per match
    Chamionship 2,000 per match
    Div 1 1,000 per match
    Div 2 500 per match

    And had to work there way up even referees would be keeping an eye on eachother why did he not get demoted or why didnt I get promoted it would self govern itself.

    Even after matches players and managers have to give interviews allow a Ref to give transparancy also make him do an interview.
    Worst case scenario is I got it wrong couldnt see the incident so I conferred with my associates and came up with what we felt was the best possible action at that time.

  19. My Brother,there is more to this than mere FATIGUE, and DOWD knows better.And if you insist its about fatigue, then let it affect Dowd against MANU.

  20. I will point to it again, the real solution is video.
    Works perfectly fine in many other professional sports, even our dear AW has vouched for it in the past.
    But for “unknown” reasons, FIFA (Platini) still refuses to make it happen.
    In 2006-7 Juventus (last club Platini played at, and adding to this his last comment on the matter this year as he declared “they should win the Serie A”), was convicted for march fixing, stripped from trophies.
    Do you really think a man as influential as Platini would not have known what was happening?
    Ask yourself who benefits from no video…
    Match fixers
    So until video is enforced, I will not say anything else.
    Corruption is at the centre of the system.
    Some say that as Juventus fall, the Serie A level dropped.
    That’s kinda true.
    But the fairness grew, and I’d rather have a clean PL without cheaters rather than a money-machine without the basis of sport.
    What’s the point if the game is not fair?
    It just becomes a spectacle and is not a sport anymore.

  21. Eriss, come back tomorrow for more reasons and then more reasons and the even more reasons… This is just the start of a few articles.
    And a nice resumé to round it up and a debate about incompetence….

    This is only the start….

  22. REdgooner I agree on the amount of money that should be paid for the refs.
    The more you pay them per game the more they have to lose so they will be forced to do their best and be unbiased. And also if they earn a very good living with being a ref the chance that they might fix a game for a little bit of money will become smaller.
    A ref in the EPL who could earn let us say £60.000/month for many years, would this ref risk losing this nice salary for tilting a game or fix something? The chance would become very small because whou would risk losing a year salary of £600.000 per year???

  23. I cannot remember who put the article up showing the birthplaces of the refs in the EPL, for which i apologise, but what was interesting was that they were almost all to a man ‘northern’.
    could there be another angle to this corruption?- say for instance , the reason there so few of them blowing top games is that they have a strangle hold of the selection process?- it is thoroughly inconcievable to my mind that no ethnic minorities, southerners, women etc might want a crack at officiating.
    secondly, when the ref assessors submit their reports how come certain officials seemingly escape censure and continue to ruin fans’ weekend up and down the country?- is the group a bit too tight? could’nt such a small group be bought en masse?
    thirdly, with a clique this tight wielding the power of life and death over teams’ isn’t there an element of “dare to challenge and you’ll get whats coming to you”- a mafia with don riley at the head?- a yellow card or two here, banishment to the stands there?
    there is something else that’s bugging me which is how come all the news papers seem to ignore what would be a cracking story every week? are they scared for the refs’ safety or do they get a press release on how to make the unpalatable disappear?, me thinks it is because this coterie of catsmeats, cutthroats and codwanglers is ostensibly backed by the FA and the EPL who wield the real power and that sanction to rub the salt in the wounds financially.
    I am sure walter is not suggesting that DOWD is fat, unfit or as nicky put it “plain unfit mentally” but i lean towards the view that he is all the above and then some judging from his effort in the second half last weekend, all puffed out in the second half wasn’t he? could’nt carry his fat face another step when barton collapsed under rosicky and thought to himself blow for a breather and all i have to do is flap my lighter bingo wing in that direction. Yeeeees, i am beginning to get a hang of this fatigue lark.

  24. Walter
    Your analysis of the refereeing in the epl is excellent and it could be that you are in the process of uncovering some form of bias (or corruption or whatever). However I would advise that you make sure all your stats are ‘treated’ properly. The averages seem to be calculated in an odd way and its difficult to understand how you’ve done them (and I’m doing a physics degree!) and perhaps it would be clearer if more emphasis were put on the separate categories of decisions rather than the overall scores of refs.

    Also I know that these analysis must take alot of time and effort and it is appreciated, but for people who aren’t arsenal fans to take your suggestions seriously, it would be good to look at the refs in matches between other teams. This would remove the obvious criticism that you are an Arsenal fan and therefore would see it in their favour and would provide a refeeeing baseline to compare the alleged change in standards in Arsenal games at different points in the season.

    Overall though a fantastic effort and great site

  25. Walter,
    To minimise fatigue, what if the match ref swapped at half-time with the 4th official, so refs wouldn’t tire so much towards the end of the game ?

  26. Rob,
    thank you for your remark. As said I am working on an even better (I hope) and more detailed way of doing this from next season on. One of the problems will always be that even though I could write an article as long as a book no one will read it anymore. So I have to reduce the length of an article so people will have the courage to start reading it. So I do have to focus more on my opinion and what I think of the numbers than how I got the numbers.
    But I will ask Tony if we could have somewhere a permanent link to the file in which I keep all the records on the ref scores so if one would feel the need one could see where the numbers come from. But I don’t know if this can be done and if there are any software or hardware problems who could interfere.

    About doing other games, I totaly agree with you. It should be done. Oh, if only I would win the euromillons or the Lotto and could have enough money on the bank to stop working. I would fill my days with it and would love to do it. Unfortunatly I still have a job to do and will not be able to analyse the other games.

  27. Hi Walter,

    To a large extent I agree with you that there aren’t enough refs – but you have to realise that the one and only reason for this is that there is no freedom of movement for referees of other nationalities the way there is for players. It’s illegal under EU law and someone – perhaps a Belgian ref? 🙂 – should challenge it.

    The game has got quicker, and as a result harder to referee, because we have imported the best players from all over the world. The needed increase in the quality of the referees is impossible as long as we restrict the selection to those from England, in just the same way that a team restricted to only English players couldn’t compete in the Premier League.

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