What’s wrong with the refs, part 3: childhood dreams

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Victory Through Harmony

This is the third article in referee Walter Broeckx series about the reasons behind the extraordinarily poor state of refereeing in the Premier League as revealed in his regular post-match analysis of the number of decisions right, wrong and missed in each Arsenal game.  The previous articles are below and there’s a link to the complete Corruption Index at the end.  Each article contains two key points from Walter’s thesis – today we reach points five and six.

We’ve proven that the quality of refereeing is poor – but what is the cause Part 1?

Poor refereeing in the Premier League Part 2:  How do we improve the situation?

by Walter Broeckx

In my series about the why the refs in the EPL seem to get a poor score I wander further down the road to reveal the problems that can have an impact on the refs. In the article today I am going deeper in the ref as a person.  I’m looking at his way of thinking, his life and his childhood.

5. Childhood love

Didn’t we all have a certain idol when we were kids? Didn’t most of us wanted to be the new Tony Adams, Ian Wright, or whatever player you have adored when being young? And did you go out on the football field imagining being that player playing on Wembley, winning the cup final and scoring the final goal? Only then to wake up out of your dreams and find yourself on a bumpy pitch in a park with no spectators and some bunch of other kids, dreaming the same kind of dreams.  Well, if you haven’t had that dream: you missed something.

I think most people will understand this dream and we mustn’t forget that this may well also have once been the dream of our refs. I think no ref will have had no interest in football whatsoever as a kid, and then woken up on the morning of his 18th birthday and decided: “I am going to become a football referee.”

No most refs have gone the way of dreaming of becoming a footballer, then hoping and then realising that the will is there but the talent is missing.  So what do you then do when you have been dreaming of doing a cup final and you find you are not good enough to do it as a player? The only way to get to Wembley then is…. to become a ref.

But as a result of dreaming of becoming the new Brady, Beckham, Giggs, Gerrard or who ever you can think of, most of us became not only fans of the player but we also supported the team. I admit I fell in love with Liam Brady when I was for the first time at Highbury. His magic put a spell on me and so it was obvious I not only supported him,  but I also started supporting Arsenal.

The same thing happened to all our refs at one point in their live. Even if they only went to see their local team playing in the conference league they still will have a player and/or a team as their ultimate role model.

And puppy love may go but it still stays in the back of your mind. So when you become a ref and you go higher and higher and higher and suddenly you find yourself in that stadium of that team you supported in your childhood. Your puppy love team shaking your hands. Tell me who would stay 100% cool? Who could be able to say: oh this is team A and this is team B and good luck guys. Would you? Could you? Ask yourself that question and try to answer that. And if you really believe that you could do this I would beg you to go to the nearest local football organisation, get the course and start your ref career today.

But most people reading this will admit that they would not be able to do an Arsenal game without bias. I think I also couldn’t do this. Maybe I would over compensate myself to prevent my bias showing somewhat and by doing this I could end up with screwing my decisions. So even without me wanting to be biased I could become biased because of trying to hide my bias, if you understand what I mean.  My children will understand what I mean as I was not their lucky talisman when I had do to a game involving them when the ref didn’t show up.

But what can you do about this? The answer is simple. Every ref should at the start of his career fill in a form on which he gives 3 teams he supports or likes and 3 teams which he hates or dislikes. And then the FA puts this all in  a big computer file and puts this on the internet where it is for all to see. Because it is not only vital to know which team you support but also important to know which team you don’t like.

Imagine a kid being a Tottenham supporter. And if he said he likes Tottenham he will have no games involving them. But being a Tottenham supporter usually means that you don’t like Arsenal. So this kid becoming a man will not do Tottenham games but even if he hates Arsenal he will be able to do Arsenal games. And then you have the same problem as with the puppy love thing. The puppy hate thing could lead to a ref doing things against a team without people knowing why.

And to make it waterproof it should be made clear that the evidence shows that it turns out that you have lied on your likes/dislikes to the FA you will be expelled from refereeing at once and banned for life. There is no place for dishonesty when it comes to refs.

Being a ref is based on honesty, so out with anyone who is not honest.

6. Underdog effect

Now we are more entering a level which is very dependant on the person himself. And about being professional.

As a ref you just have to see how things develop and let it happen. I don’t mean that you should let all things happen. It is obvious I’m not talking about letting fouls go by without doing anything.

No I mean that if you are in a game where one team is better than the other and is winning by a big margin there is nothing you can or may do about it. This is the work of the manager or the players to try to play better. But never as a ref should you let thoughts slip in your mind as: “oh my god they are losing 8-0 lets just give them something”.

Even that thought entering your mind is already too much. Let alone doing it! The day I give a penalty to a team that is facing a heavy defeat just because I feel sympathy for them should be the last game I do as a ref.

However sorry you might feel for that team you cannot let your feelings take over.

The problem with this behaviour is that his is just about invisible. And the team having a big lead will not make any fuss about your stupid decision, but still this can lead you as a ref in to all kinds of trouble.

Yet it happens. I have heard it a few times when refs talk about their games and say that they gave a penalty to a team just to give them some consolation.

Well a ref is not out there to give consolation. Never. You are there to see if the rules are respected. You are there to protect the players. Never give consolation. But it happens as I have heard it many times.

A part of human nature is feeling sorry for the underdog but as a ref you cannot feel sorry for anyone. And the moment you do this, you are lost. It is a slope that will bring you down one day. So never even think of it.

For this behaviour there is no real solution in fact. This is down to the ref personally.  If it comes to Arsenal games I have a feeling that this could apply to ref Dowd. Or play a part in his odd decisions at time.

If you think over other reasons, be patient. There is more to come. More reasons and more solutions.

Match fixing in the EPL – the complete index

Making the Arsenal – when Arsenal collapsed and was reborn again

History of Arsenal

39 Replies to “What’s wrong with the refs, part 3: childhood dreams”

  1. Great work on this guys…just wanted to add that as well as team bias, it’s worth considering where the refs come from as we know that most outside LDN, dont like LDNers. Most in the north consider Arsenal a mamby pamby team of foreign softies. Premier league refs come from…Wirral & Cheshire x2, Yorkshire x3, Lancashire x3 (2xBolton), Stoke & Staffs x2, Midlands x3, South of LDN X3. LDN x0 – Phil Dowd is unsurprisingly from….STOKE.


  2. I do think there is an anti Arsenal bias wiithin the media and referees because Wenger has not accepted and followed some traditional views of what English football is about. He has

    – rejected the traditional “hoof and hope” “they don’t like it up em” view of football tactics;

    – emphasised skill and intelligence rather than strength and aggression;

    – recruited on the basis of talect rather than nationality which offends those people who want the Premier League to be a showcase for English talent.

  3. I understand your focusing on refs being biased but what about match of the day? Why are they biased. Everytime arsenal make a bad tackle they will slate the player but if it’s against arsenal they will most likely not show it on the tv!

  4. There is so much more to this than meets the eye, the whole human factor side of things we expect Refs to go out like some kind of machine with no feelings whatsoever.

    Walter, I would trust the shower we have now to give honest answers to the 3 teams they love and hate because they are probably the kind who like twisting the knives into certain teams.

    This is something that needs to be done when your a bottom league Ref and a promotion/relegation system in place so that by the time you reach the Premier division something a Ref may not have thought they would do the old answers are to late to change.

  5. I hate to say it but I also think in some (neanderthal) parts of the media there is an anti French bias.

    Remember this is the country that when France refused to go to war in Iraq The Sun (the top selling tabloid) had a front page that said “Q. What do you call 150,000 Frenchmen with their hands in the air? A. The army.

  6. I love the 3 and 3 proposal by Walter, it is so obvious it is beautiful.

    Me i would have to declare Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham as clubs i like, And Man U, Chelsea and Spurs as club i dislike.

    Please i hope the RA and FA are reading this, I suspect they are but through their hands

  7. Outstanding series of articles walter.
    Interesting to hear that Dowd is from Stoke. I wonder if we could get him to go home for the weekend and then nuke the place.

    A more crooked and biased referee has never walked the earth.
    He is a disgrace to the game and Mike Riley and his cronies bring shame upon themselves for sheltering him.


    (and they are the only ones who can’t be charged for it.)

  8. Re. DOWD,
    has anything ever exemplified ‘loving to be hated’ like dowd’s facial expressions?- this guy looks like he takes a perverse pleasure in pissing people off.
    This guy must have been the sort of prat that used to take the ball home just because he was losing. some body tell me they don’t think this guy gets a thrill from the power his whistle bestows him for those 90 or so mins. it must give him a thrill knowing thousands at time want to stick that whistle in quite another orifice! just saying.

  9. the fact you got mentioned in BBC was rather cool. Who in their wildes imagination would have thought a journalist named “dogface” would turn the PL referees upside down?? and that in BBC of all things? Bet its the first time ever BBC has quoted a “dogface” muahaha. On a more serious note, have they ever actually refered to a fanpage at all? Im very impressed.

  10. I personally think the sheer amount of noise in St. James’ Park had a massive effect on Phil Dowd last week. A study came out last year in which they said refs were more likely to give decisions to the home team, based on the fact that psychologically the more people shouting at you the more you feel they’re right and you’re wrong. Also, look at the Man Utd stat from these guys! It’s no wonder it feels like United always get the penalty decisions.

  11. As well as biased based on the team I would suggest that English players get favourable decisions in the premier league, especially the ones who are important in the England team. The amount that Terry and Gerrard get away with compared to someone like Marouane Felienni is noticeable and it shouldn’t be

  12. Great articles please send them to that biased buffoon Mike Riley.
    When you think about it – if there are 16 elite refs – there must be an undeclared Manc amongst that lot, and supporters of other teams as well – tho seemingly not us! I bet they all declare their support for Peterborough, Barnsley, Luton, MKD or whoever but…..
    The worst thing about the allegedly biased Webb – think he is a Yorkshireman (stand to be corrected here) so where does the Utd thing come from?

  13. Now the dust has settled on the weekend’s events, the question of an official’s ability to influence the outcome of a match is very much on the agenda. Plenty has been written and said by Arsenal fans about Phil Dowd’s performance. Unsurprisingly other fans and most pundits disagree with us, and put it all down to some Churchillian team talk from Alan Pardew at half time. This again is unsurprising, although quite what can be said to a home team 0 – 4 down at half time to turn them into world beaters is beyond me. In truth, the real impetus for Newcastle’s fightback came from one man, and it wasn’t Alan Pardew.

    Until the offside Louis Saha goal was allowed to stand on Tuesday night, we had not conceded a league goal in 4 games, or to put it another way the whole of January. This statistic does not sit comfortably with what occurred on Saturday. Surely a team that can collapse and lose a four goal lead in less than one half of football, is incapable of keeping one clean sheet let alone four in a row. This was not even against a good team, so there has to be another reason.

    All teams and supporters can point to perceived wrong decisions in any given match. I’ve lost count of the times that a losing manager has quoted a denied/awarded penalty, or an allowed or disallowed goal etc, as the ‘turning point’ in the match. These ‘turning points’ can ultimately mean the difference between winning the league or staying up/relegation. So much for the highly paid manager’s influence, when the game turning moment always seems to come from the ref. For the record Arsene Wenger cited the Diaby sending off as the ‘turning point’ of the game.

    If the game had remained 11 v 11 or become 10 v 10, does anyone think Newcastle would have recovered to draw the game? If the ridiculous second penalty was never awarded, does anyone think Newcastle would have recovered to draw the game? Based on the first half showing, the only logical answer to these questions is no. If you answer no to these questions, then the comeback was made possible by a non-footballing factor, namely the referee. His decisions undoubtedly changed the course of the game, and no matter how well you play you simply cannot train, or plan for, the gross incompetence of the man with the whistle.

    The sending off of Diaby, the non-sending off of Nolan for a remarkably similar offence, the soft first penalty and the joke second penalty awarded to Newcastle all added impetus to the growing fightback. The equalising goal was undeniably a beauty, and is all that will be remembered. It was the fightback all on its own. It will be spoken about down in the Bigg Market and on the Quayside for years to come. There is no doubt that the beleaguered, shambolic Newcastle players visibly grew with every favourable decision. The crowd now replaced the boos with cheers creating an almost fevered atmosphere, and Phil Dowd bought into it. His influence on the game, turned into the crowd’s influence on him.

    Because of the romance of the underdog battling back to give the bullyboys a bloody nose, Phil Dowd’s influence is overlooked. We are accused of sour grapes because we didn’t get our own way. I’ve nothing against Newcastle or their magnificent support, they were just the happy recipients of Phil’s generosity. For me the real ‘turning point’ was not the Diaby sending off but the non-dismissal of Nolan. When Phil Dowd failed to apply the same interpretation of the rules to two identical incidents, everyone in the stadium knew he had become a ‘homer’ and they welcomed him in with open arms.

    In the end it’s all about perspective. In the case of Saturday’s game it was, to all but the Gooners, a wonderful fightback that epitomised the Premier League. But what if the game had finished 0 – 0 and Phil had disallowed four perfectly good Arsenal goals? The result would have been the same, two points would still have been dropped and the referee’s influence would still have been the reason for the outcome. The difference this time would be that we would be the victims of an awful display from the ref, and the game would be long remembered for a very different reason.

    I am aware that there are 38 games in a season, and at the end of the season the best team wins. Arsenal are right up there with the best teams, and winning or losing the league can be a fine line. The two dropped points against Newcastle may well decide if we win or lose the league. If we do end up as runners up this year, I would like it to be down to our own deficiencies, rather than the game changing influence of someone who is there to only apply the rules.

  14. The Underdog effect can start happenin from the 1st whistle itself. If the ref knows that a team of a very strong calibre is taking on a minnow team then the ref can influence even b4 a goal is scored.

  15. @ steven

    Well said.. It really is so frustrating. Often when the match has ended in a draw or a loss, I end up thinking, why can’t it ever be just about my team’s failings. Why do I have to have the referee to blame for something? Partly that’s football I suppose. But so many times I actually want to blame ourselves, but I know that it’s not just their fault. Sad really.

    Just a thought on potential leg breaking tackles. Has anyone seen such tackles inside the penalty area?? I don’t remember seeing any. perhaps its because people are actually going for the ball?

  16. Just suppose for a moment that your fondest dream comes true, and Phil Dowd is barred from ever again officiating any match that people have paid to watch. Then what? For a start there’ll be one fewer ref, and all the problems that Walter astutely noted will be racked up one more notch. In the longer term he’ll be replaced, and even if we replace him with a bug-eyed Italian maestro, somebody else would replace him as the bogeyman. In short, there will always be a worst ref in the league, and it will sometimes seem that they are all competing for that title. Therefore any improvement to the referees pool will never compare to a review and repair process, either after the match like the German system that the arrogant English association shies away from, or (most obviously) a real-time video review, with the possibility of reversing howlers before they become points. That way a corrupt ref would have to make two bent decisions – the award and then the review.
    For video review to be adopted by every other professional sport in one form or another, and for them to manage all the checks and balances, and deal with the range of users from professional to park-level, and then for football at all levels to say its unworkable, is breathtaking. The only way to beat them is to keep the pressure on, to keep complaining, to keep highlighting the flaws, inconsistencies and downright failures. Keep up the good work, and thanks.

  17. Unfortunately, the ref cited the fact that Diaby had two physical altercations as the reason his card was red, and Nolan’s yellow. While I don’t agree that should be the difference as the second shove was nothing, it does give him an out.

    Also, I must say, I’m not sure the 3 and 3 rule would work. To admit one referee supports Man U for example, even if he did not put Arsenal on his list of dislikes, he would still be biased to go against other big sides like Arsenal in order to help Man U’s title chances.

    The job of being a referee is to not have biases. Whether this is possible or not, I can’t say, but they are to try and remove any bias as much as possible. To have all referees list who they support and hate would go against what referees stand for.

    The rest of these posts are great, and if I may add an observation I’ve picked up in my years of following English Football:

    It seems that referee and media biases are much more present in England than in my native US. In basketball for example, there are many teams with quite a few European or South American players, and there are others with all Americans. While I think many people recognize that the foreigners tend to embellish contact and fouls a bit more, there is nothing close to a negative view of the imports or a strong nationalism evident over here. Additionally, in England there seems to be a bit of a regional bias. North v South, big city v small city, rich area v poor, etc. There is nothing of that sort here in the States with NBA or NFL from what I’ve seen whether it be with referees or the media.

    Just something to think about, and something that was surprising to me the more and more I came to realize it existed.

  18. cheers lancer,
    the regional bias isn’t that significant here either except in the cover up operation that goes into overdrive when your attention is being diverted from some shoddy officiatng. there is nothing more reassuring to certain arsenal fans as hearing that we haven’t got the winning mentality or we have a soft underbelly or our title credentials are weak- all this rubbish is trotted out like it makes any sense at all and believe it or not people who saw the match live will tell you this rubbish. the real divide is untold vs the rest of the chaff! he he.

  19. @Lancer

    It doesn’t give the referee an out, because if it were two separate incidents then he has to show two yellow cards, not a straight red. (which would be a 1 game ban instead of 3)

    Your other 2 points however, I do agree with. That flaw had occurred to me too in the 3 and 3 suggestion. But what merit it has is that that bias will at least be formally noted and in the public eye. However, i’m not sure that it’ll be workable.

    The biases in England took me by suprise too and it’s actually quite well hidden, to an outsider looking in at least. I’m still not sure that they reflect the views of the society though. It’s probably just the traditional football people protecting their last remaining bastion. Foreign players & managers have upstaged them. They are determined to not give space to any ‘new’ ideas or people in the press.

  20. Also, I’d like to say that it seems to me that the football media in England employs a very high number of ex-footballers rather than having just professional journalists, as compared to other countries in Europe like Italy and Germany, and France even. The footballers then carry their traditional biases in to the public sphere, disguised as reporting.

  21. Lancer,

    I think two seasons ago the Fa gave the instructions to the refs that if a push or any other agression towards another player is aimed at the head it should be a red card. The push in the back of Nolan= yellow.
    So Diaby pushing Barton against the back of his head = red. Dowd just showed a red card. So if he tries this way out he is just telling fairy tales.
    The aggression from Nolan against Szczesny was aimed at his head. So again this should have been a red card.

    Two possibilities:
    1. Dowd doesn’t know the rules and instructions and is not fit to be a ref.
    2. He did it on purpose and aiming to help Newcastle or maybe aiming to destroy Arsenal.

    Whatever the reason: he showed he was not fit to be a ref in this game.

  22. Actually, the more I think about it, the more it seems to be the cause. I mean how often do you see any of the Italians like say Baggio or Baresi, or Germans like Kahn and Effenberg, any of the French World cup or Euro winning squad, writing columns for newspapers or becoming ‘the voice of football’ in their countries? they do make appearances but that’s what it remains as. They are used by the media to inform the public, not form public opinion. Whereas, in England you have people like Stan Collymore, Alan Hansen telling people what is right or wrong.

  23. Walter, can I just wish you congratulationss on getting the recognition that your sterling work deserves. Well played.

  24. I think that the main reason you have referee/media bias against Arsenal is that Arsenal is very threatening to the “establishment” of English Football. In the EPL, like anywhere else, you have a group of people (including media, refs, managers, etc.) who all have a vested interest (corrupt or otherwise) in maintaining the status quo. Arsenal, on the other hand, is trying to innovate and bring a new approach to football in England. That’s very threatening to people whose livelihoods depend on keeping it the way it is.

    Think about it. Arsenal plays a style of football that is more entertaining, more appealing to fans, and more effective at winning matches than any other club in the EPL. If Arsenal is allowed to develop unhindered, in a few years, you’ll have the equivalent of Barcelona coming to join the EPL. Naturally, certain parties are opposed to this outcome.

    If Arsenal brings that type of innovation to the EPL, everybody else will be forced to innovate as well, just to keep up. And those who don’t wish to do so are currently fighting tooth and nail to prevent Arsenal from succeeding. That’s what I think is going on. But I’m confident that Arsenal will win this battle so long as they refuse to be intimidated.

  25. the biggest irony is that Wenger so often urges u not to forget how young his squad are and how remarkable their achievements are for it. But this time round, it seems it was he who forgot that that Song (23) and Djourou (24) were also young players in need of his protection and support.

    Arsene might also have forgotten that the failure to sign a re-enforcement forward in January 2010 was a significant factor in the wheels falling off Arsenal’s title charge in that campaign. Or that – as Andres Iniesta’s comments suggest – a certain other young Arsenal player may only have remained at the club so he “could lift the title as captain during his last season”! Now whilst Song and Djourou etc rub their sore limbs, Arsene Wenger must hope not to get a sore reminder.

  26. Don`t rise to terrys posting lads, just ignore him, has not realised this is serious discussion based on credible data.

    He can do is winding up on the child orientated sites on the web, he knows where they are.

  27. The biggest irony is actually that a Manc is named Terry…Jeez.. what cesspool did he spawn from? Please do not spread your filth here. But if you insist on doing so, I shall ignore you. Goodbye..And good riddance hopefully.

  28. Don’t be too hard on terry – I have it on good authority that he was bullied at school for having no pubes.

    Children can be cruel and Klinefelters Syndrome is nothing to laugh at; so we, as mature adults, must try and help Terry deal with the deep seated insecurity and inferiority complexes he exhibits.

  29. @ A casual Observer

    So pointing out the irony in his name, and generally highlighting the crappiness of his fortune and choices doesn’t help?? Damn, I feel so guilty.

    Good luck growing your pubes terry. Eat healthy now.. That’s a good boy..

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