Why refereeing in the EPL is so poor (part 5): instructions and “rewards”

By Walter Broeckx

This is the last article in this series where I will give you other possible reasons for poor refereeing in the EPL. But even then after this article it will not be over. I think it never will be in fact.  But before we start here’s a list of the articles so far…

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?

Childhood dreams – part 3 of the series on poor refereeing

Poor refereeing part 4  Gambling and prejudice – two problems that refs and football face

Now part five, including sections 10 and 11.

10. Instructions

It can be argued that some powerful people in powerful clubs have certain other people on their pockets. People who have access and influence on refs. People who can give instructions to the refs.

This could happen in two ways. For instance the boss of the refs picks his phone and is telling a ref: You have this game and we would like to see club X not winning or win the game. One could say a kind of mini conspiracy between two persons. No one knows about it except them.

So if this happens that ref will know that he has to do his best to please his superior.

That might seem a rather crude approach, but it can also happen more indirectly.  Once the person who is responsible for the refs tells the other refs which is his favourite team then this can influence the refs who are doing the games of that team. People who are working will know that it is always a nice move to keep your boss happy. So refs who are working indirectly for their boss will also have this kind of attitude.

Again that might seem a bit obvious and crude – but it is possible that such knowledge can subconsciously affect the refs’ mindset.   The problem for a ref is that even if he doesn’t want to give in to such a pressure it could be in the back of his head during a game.

Now if the first approach of overt instructions to refs to swing a match did exist in football I would be sick of it. No tree can be high enough to hang the persons who would do such a thing. They should be hanged, drawn quartered and whipped at the same time.

But could it happen? Why not? Like I said the boss-employee relation also exists in football so if a boss calls you over and tells you to do something  you can say: “Okay I will do it” or you can say: “No, I won’t.” And then you know you are doing your last hours as an employee or in this case as a ref.

And as most refs actually like their job they will not give it up that easy. And once you have done it for the first time, there is no stopping any more. Then you are in their grip and they are in your grip.

No one can come out in the open with it. The ref can’t because it will kill his job and future as a ref. The “boss” can’t as otherwise it could come in the open that you are a criminal.  And do remember that the person issuing the instructions only has to pick and choose a handful of referees to do the manipulating – because each ref handles so many matches in the Premier League.   Which means the top man can get to know the personality of the referee first, know what he is like, and introduce him to the idea step by step.

So then both parties involved have all the interest in the world that was has been said amongst the boss and the employee stays between them. Once you are on the inside you want to say in the inside.

As it just is more fun doing games in the EPL than in the championship.

11. Rewards

The instructions problem is closely linked with the next: rewarding the refs.

Because apart from the regular money the refs get, there is also another way in which refs can be tempted to do things they normally wouldn’t do.

Because being a ref in the EPL is very nice; you feel like you are near the top of your profession. But then you meet the refs who have a Fifa badge. And you hear them talking about their trips to Spain, Italy or whatever. And how great it is to be a Fifa ref. And then you also want such a badge. As this is the highest level you can achieve.

So how do the local FA hand out those Fifa badges? Well the local FA chooses the Fifa refs, present the list to Fifa who agrees with it. So it is almost completely in the hands of the leading figures of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and their General Manager,  Mike Riley to hand out the Fifa badges. And also together with these Fifa badges come other nice things. Like being sent, for example to the U19 world cup. Can you imagine: one month being treated as a king in another country, do some youth games and come home with a lot of money. Because those tournaments are very well paid for a ref.

So to whom shall you give the Fifa badges if you would be boss of the refs? Would you hand them to the best refs or would you hand them over to your best friend-refs?  And reward them for their loyalty to you?

The latter could be very much reality. So the boss of the refs has a very strong weapon in his hands to persuade the refs to fix some games if he wants them to. He could tell a young ref arriving in the EPL: “if you do me a favour in this game I will think of you when we have to hand out the Fifa badges”.

Rather perverse? Yes it is! I agree. But like I said in the instruction reason: the boss – employee relation is existing and this is a very good way to have the refs eating out of your hand as a boss.  Could you imagine some people being tempted by this and thinking: “what the hell I will do it his way and I will get my reward?” This could be a human reaction. The will is strong but  flesh is weak.

Another form or reward can be to get a high place in football once you have stopped as a ref. Just look at the name of the general manager of the PGMOL and you know what I mean.  There are many ways of rewarding willing refs. And the refs are well aware of this.

And once you have said yes to this you cannot go back. You are trapped in it, they are trapped in it.  And from then on the most important thing is: keep your mouth shut.  Maybe you won’t get shot for coming out with the truth but you will be a pariah for the rest of you live in football.  And there’s one other thing: it could well be extremely difficult to prove the allegations you want to make.


Actually it is very simple – so simple in fact that it is hard to understand why these solutions are not implemented, unless there is something seriously wrong in the world of refereeing.

1:  Base the Fifa badges on clear and open numbers from assessing the refs during the season.

2:  Make sure that the score the refs have got are made public.

That’s it.  Two points that would be a way to stop handing out favours to refs who are willing to go along with such things.

This was the last article in this series about possible reasons for poor refereeing. Before I make a final conclusion of this I will give my view on the most used excuse against someone who claims that refs are biased: the fact that they are not competent. If you listen to commentaries on football matches on the radio you will hear time after time the allegation made that the referee has made dreadful mistakes, with the implication that he is not competent – so that allegation needs investigating.

After that I will try to make a summary of where we have got to in this series.

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25 Replies to “Why refereeing in the EPL is so poor (part 5): instructions and “rewards””

  1. Simple solutions. But dont think it will ever be implemented. Another simple solution is the Decision reviewal system that gives each team captain 3 chances in a game to review a ref decision, like its done in tennis. Video replays should be used and the replays should be shown on stadium screen. I dont think a ref can make more that 3 big mistakes in a match. So the decisions like penalties, offsides and really bad tackles can be more accurate.

  2. HI Walter, good article, I have been saying for years the F.A. is a cabal akin to the Vatican and only a form of openness can rescue the publics image of it. Dark Princes idea is also good and would go a long way to putting pressure on Refs to make the right decisions, Wenger actually suggested that years ago and was ridiculed because he labeled it a joker system, the press accused him of wanting to turn football into ‘its a knockout’ without actually considering it’s merits. One last thing I google each of the list of premiership refs and was astounded to see that of more than half come from the north west, nearly all come from the north, a couple come from the midlands, only one comes from the south and none come from the London o the home counties.

  3. The solution is for Arsenal to win cups, because attitudes towards Arsenal for being different AND successful will then change for the better.

  4. It makes so much sense Walter but when it comes to governing bodies, sense is rarely a valued attribute.
    Great series of articles mate. I hope that this movement grows and leads to refereee evaluations being the be all and end all of how they are judged and allocated.

    I remember Lord Treisman’s comments that forced him to resign yet he was proved correct. Russia we given the world cup whilst Spain’s way was smoothed to victory without a yellow card til qtr finals ans Howard Webb allowing a goal that was offside to win it for them

    Howard Webb what a surprise!

  5. Why do you think they refuse to do referee post match interviews? Because they would put the rat under the spotlight for decisions that he could not possibly explain.

    They would say, “Mr. Dowd, why didn’t you send off Vidic for intentionally taking out Agbonlahor in the Carling Cup final? You gave the penalty, he was the last man, it was a professional foul? Why didn’t you send him off?”

    And Mr. Dowd would say, “I thought the penalty was punishment enough”.

    Then they would reply, “But the laws of the game say that he must be sent off. How can you make up your own rules? What would have happened if Aston Villa had missed the penalty?”

    Does anyone honestly think that refs like Dowd and the others would be able to keep refereeing after having a light shined on them exposing them as a ref who makes a massive mistake which is clearly written in the rule book and which unfairly cost or gained a team a trophy?

  6. has anybody seen the F.A’s press statement to players on social networking sites including blogs?
    ostensibly it is about encouraging respect towards the refs but the sting in the tail is that anybody caught ‘ saying what they shouldn’t’ could be liable for damages in the civil courts.
    how long before they come after joe public?

  7. Walter when you look at how Reilly got the job head of the PGMOL its truly amazing. That man has to be one of the worse Res ever.

    Your next part should be about, How the media/managers influence the Refs …..Old red nose Fergusson has berated so many with impecable timing through media outlets they hae been affraid to give a decision against his team in OldTrafford.

    Same with Pullis/FatSam/PhilBrown and some of their anti Arsenal comments trying to influence Refs before games. The way the media is used is to influence is a disgrace.

  8. I saw the Article Ugandan ….I have two trains of thought.

    1) The first is that you should be able to express an opinion in an honest and polite manner.

    2) The second that it is counter productive and could cause Refs to take a dislike to us after say Jack Wiltshires comments he was right but we dont need to publicly berate Refs and end up with more decisions against us.

    What we really need is fair refereeing and to find a way to improve the decision making rather than castigating Refs publicly.

  9. The idea of foreign refs brought in to manage games is a good one. There’d probably be some kind of nationalistic stink opposing the plan, but it’s painfully obvious that the premier league refs are generally substandard, even if they do have some undeserved celebrity status.

    However, the thing about refs is that they should be in the background, doing their job, keeping out of the spotlight as much as possible. It’s the football which is on display, not the ref. That’s the way it should be anyway.

  10. @red gooner,
    i agree with the points you make about the need for respect and so froth but i’d like to point out that respect is truly earned only one way and that’s by showing yourself to be worthy of respect. when SAF is the only one getting some, something is wrong!
    How much real respect does Tony pubis command for putting rugby teams out there? or rather how much respect do you think he holds for the rules of the game and it’s officials- judging by his actions of course?
    Do you think that wilshere’s comment about inconsistent refereeing was even a bit libellous?- surely not, what it could do is open peoples eyes to the robbery that takes place weekly right in front of them, in a society with a better sense of morals that would make him a role model!
    I think what this is about is just looking to set a precedent so they can come after some small fry and that will be blogs and other avenues of idea dissemination they cannot yet control.
    Call me a cynic but i don’t doubt our little foray into the rarefied heights of BEEB might have awoken a sleeping giant or two. the ramifications for all established parties of our little broadside, if proven, are catastrophic so i cannot see this as less than a little fire returned- a little reminder that the law is there to protect the powerful from the weak!

  11. Hey Ugandan. I think you have proven the point yourself.
    It is corrupt but rubbing corrupt people up the wrong way wont do ourselves any favours.
    The best way so far is Walter and his reports and MadDog and Tony etc.
    I know I wouldnt tweet as a player and I doubt you would either.
    We will beat them yet by continuing to highlight the errors of their ways 🙂

  12. Just watched the last 15 minutes of Fulham-Chelsea. Ref Dean. oh dear oh dear… did you see that flying two footed tackle from Gudjohnsone against Malouda and Dean did nothing….. And he is the one that should protect our players against Birmingham next week in the CC final?????

    I still cant believe it…. Even our match reporter said this should have been a straight red card (I think he reads Untold 😉 )

  13. Still not over this. This Dean is really unfit to be a ref. Even a pub league ref would at least blow the foul and give a yellow. Red is the only coulour you should give. But not even giving a foul…. what is he doing out there??

    I better go to bed now and try not to have too much nightmares about Dean….

  14. There are some who believe Dean favours Spurs – allegedly of course.
    Maybe he was trying not to give Chelsea too much to help Spurs out?
    Or maybe he is just a crap ref – and one we always seem to be on the wrong end of. A final vs Dean / Brum fills me with dread for the safety of our players – and if they are provoked, we all know what Dean will do if they retaliate.
    On another matter – when are refs assigned to games? I am intrigued to find out who will ref our game at home to Utd. Howard Webb anyone?

  15. @walter,
    i am thankful that you have put this series together and i have enjoyed reading it very much. Thank you!
    i cannot help thinking that the real solutions to the question lie in technology and it would be important to understand the various techniques the ref could use to swing the game in one teams favour-
    Purely hypothetically of course- when jack wilshere got booked early in the first half against ipswich, i think, he was neutralised as defending midfielder when he was one of three arsenal midfielders against ipswich’s four or five, it handed the advantage early to ipswich, with just denilson on the bench and song suspended, you could say we were neutered when it came to attacking and defending for that matter!(sorry denilson). if i had wanted to handicap one team, judging by the kind of game they play etc. there would be some pressure points i’d be looking to hit as a ref.( by the way, did you see what Macleish did to stoke last weekend?- pushed the advertising hoardings so close to the pitch delap didn’t have space for a run up! ha. birmingham won 2-0!)
    if the ref’s were consistent when applying the rules and the rules provided little room for grey areas then this form of cheating could be wiped out. so the solution would lie in improving transparency in the decision making processes of the officiating team.
    I have noted a few more from your articles but i am deferring to your experience of ref’s locker room to shine the light on what are truly dark arts to the mind of many a fan, me included.

  16. @Mandy Dodd,
    it is dean for the cc final. the scrawny neck…….
    that guy didn’t get picked to play as a kid, did he? now he has the power……..

  17. I hate to say it ” I agree with you all” The CC final could turn into a joke with this idiot in charge.
    Why can someone NOT ask questions of the PGMOL when a frikken tackle like that goes unpunished.
    Why cant people ask how can that Ref be allowed in wembley as anything other than a spectator.

    No accountability its a disgrace. I hope the BBC pick up on that decision also.
    Its time crap/biased Refs and those that continue to stand by their decisions were thrown out of the sport.

  18. he he, it seems wilshere was right about inconsistent refs killing the game, mind you mr scrawny has always been a plonker!

  19. It’s difficult for me to believe that SO many EPL refs are SO incompetent. It just doesn’t add up, not in the top league of a country. I’m convinced there are some secret agreements made to push certain teams towards the title, and to pull others back.
    I’ll consider changing my mind the day I see an EPL ref pull a Phil Dowd on manure united. Maybe then I’ll believe it’s just incompetence.

  20. The problem is that it’s likely to be far more insidious than a blatant “favor this team” sort of thing.

    I imagine the chances are that it’s more like a group of mates standing around having a chin wag, sort of:

    “I can’t stand that Diaby bloke from Arsenal, just the way he runs gets on my nerves, and that poor lad, Dan Smith, who is the brother of one of my aunt’s cousins is now working in a call centre thanks to the fuss about that tackle, and his manager is always getting on my case in a snide way”.

    I can imagine his mate/s nodding sagely and all thinking, “I’ll show that bloke the what for next time he’s on the pitch”.

    Doesn’t make it any less dishonest, and it’s still cheating whatever clothes you put on it, it’s probably just a lot more difficult to prove.

    I think a lot of what we see is likely to be a pack mind-set than overt conspiracy, although sometimes you do wonder.

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