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August 2021

Referees, NOW is the time to act

Untold Arsenal on Twitter @UntoldArsenal

By Walter Broeckx, the Untold ref wakes up

With the new season only a few days away from us, now is the time to act. And for possible new readers I will give you a short resume of what lead us to where we are now.

As a qualified ref myself I had a feeling that the standard of refereeing was not what it should be in the EPL. I also had a feeling, which started in the 2007-2008 season, that things didn’t even out at the end of the season for Arsenal. Which it should if we can believe the old idiom that is used when a team complains about a certain (number of) decision(s).

So I went on a long journey and started reviewing each Arsenal game from last season. Apart from the fact that if we count all the favourable decisions and count the unfavourable decisions things didn’t even out for Arsenal last season I also found something that was even more worrying than just the fact that the refs didn’t even things out over a season.

Because the more data I gathered the more it became obvious that the refs weren’t up to their task.  In a few articles I showed (with the numbers in hand) that the level that is required in other countries to stay in the top league as a ref was nowhere near that number for most refs in the EPL. Just to summarize it these are the total correct decisions in the most important categories that a ref has to make:

  • Cards 57.10 %
  • Penalty 48.68 %
  • Goals 87.54%
  • Other 47.00%

Total average correct decisions 62.42%

And of the only 16 refs the PFMOL has in the EPL only 4 get the required 70% a ref should get in other countries. These are the numbers based on the games Arsenal had last season.

Very worrying numbers for anyone who wants football to be played on a level playing field and with respect for refs, players and supporters.

At the end of last season it became clear that we had to continue our reviewing the refs but also had to do more than just the Arsenal games. But to do more games we need more refs.

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So here is the final call on all who wants to help us in reviewing as many games as possible.

If you are a ref (or a former ref but still have access and understanding of the current rules AND instructions) and want to see how the refs are doing, this is the time to act and react. Just send a mail to me ( or to Tony (who will send it on to me I hope) and say yes to this project.

I will then send you a questionnaire with a few questions and then we can see if you can join us and how you can make yourself useful in reviewing as many games as possible. For those who have already told me that you are interested I will send you an email shortly.

At first we were hoping to do the reviewing thing on a website but the new website isn’t available yet. So we will be working like I did last season with a spreadsheet that I have made and that you should fill in while reviewing the game.

A few important things you should know before you send your mail:

–         Reviewing a game is time consuming. You must take around 2 hours (in an easy game) and it can take you up to 3 hours if you have a difficult game with lots of wrong decisions.

–         We not only review the decisions the ref has made on the field. No, as our study has revealed last year the non-decisions a ref makes are sometimes of more importance than the decisions he has made.

–         So you must review the games from start to finish and look at every duel and see if the ref should have made a decision or not. If no decision had to be made we don’t have to review it but if the ref should/could have given a foul we take it in to his account.

–         We judge advantage when the ref gives the signal. But in the rule book advantage is not the same as keeping possession of the ball.

–         We are not interested in keeping the game flowing. I think any ref who has some experience knows that if the ref is strict in the beginning of the game the players adapt rather quickly and don’t commit the little fouls any more.

Now if you can only do one game each week or every two weeks, this is still fine.  Our main objective is to review the games from the top teams at least. The top 4 or the top 6 depending on the number of people we can get on board. If we can do all the games, even better.

If you are new on this site you can see a review of a game here (the last game of the season) and see how we have worked until now and hope to continue doing so. (or until we come up with the website).

We will be publishing the ref reviews on this site (or on another separate site in the future). And apart from us who is running the site nobody will know who you are. You will get a name and a number from us and your true identity will not made public. I know the ref world is sometimes a tricky one and we don’t want a ref actually suffer from doing the work he does for us.

Each week we will try to divide the work between the refs and see who does which game. We will try to avoid people doing the same teams all the time as much as possible. But this is something we will have to see how things work out during the next weeks.

But for now if you are a ref and are interesting to work with us to find out that the quality of the refs in the EPL is good enough please get in touch with us as soon as possible. After all, next week is the first week of the season and we have plenty of games coming up.

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34 comments to Referees, NOW is the time to act

  • nicky

    I’m not a ref and never will be. But I’ve long held the view that poor refereeing and biased refereeing will only be stopped by using a pool of officials throughout the EU. Of course there will be mistakes but a lot of the appalling bias towards certain Clubs, particularly on their home grounds, would be eliminated or at least reduced.

  • Ed

    im not a ref either so probably cannot help although i am fully supportive of this campaign.

    I think refs need to take more responsibility for their decisions instead of just getting away, as they do now, with not dealing with any consequences. I think refs should have to explain their decisions, either after the game or perhaps the following day after looking at replays and be man enough to accept where they are wrong, or perhaps explain their view of an incident which helped them make the decision.

    This should then lead to fewer “mistakes” if the refs realise they have to explain why (favouritism, powers from above, etc.).

    hopefully, this will then lead to using tv replays during the game to amot fulyl eradicate human error. we should then have the best team wining and not just the best + luckiest team.

    on a separate note, i do not think the goal line technology goes far enough. Fifa are just making it seem like a real effort to move about 1 small step. How many goals actually require goal line technology and how many important goals? probably 1 a season if that… it wont affect any type of match fixing or agenda they have.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Agree with you Ed on the fact that goal line technology is not enough. But well one step at the time is maybe the only way things will change in football.

  • Dino Abby

    I’m thrilled to know that not only will the ref review continue but you’re planning to expand the number of games for review. I do hope that the day will come when your ref review articles receive enough serious feedbacks or rather realization from the those in power that there’s obviously something wrong with the refereeing standard in the EPL. Some referees are becoming more bold in bias officiating as if they are untouchable..
    All the best, Walter!

  • BobbyP


    While I admire your attempts to expand your refereeing assessment, the criticisms I and others had regarding your reviews last year related to the lack of objectivity – i.e. having an Arsenal fan review Arsenal games will necessarily involve an element of partisanship.
    I had hoped you might address this by incorporating the use of non-Arsenal fans to provide assessments, but if you are just going to include more Arsenal fans (i.e. readers of this blog), then the limitations of the previous work will remain.

  • Laundyender

    I look forward to participating in this very much

    @BobbyP This is open to anyone that wants to participate not only Gooners, the criteria are their quaifications as a ref not the clubs they support.

    Any bias should be filtered by the nature of the reviews it is based on application of the laws of the game.

  • BenDC


    I think he means as Walter has posted this on an Arsenal blog the likelihood that fans from other teams are going to see this and sign up is severely reduced, just getting people from the same pool.

    I still think it’s a top idea though.

  • BobbyP


    As Ben says, unless this is circulated to a wider audience then you are unlikely to get many fans from other teams. There’s a reason why refs aren’t allowed to ref in games involving the team they support…
    This may have been posted in other places though, in which case you may attract a more representative sample.
    Not meaning to detract from the concept (which I think is good), but it would be good to see it implemented in such a way that any suggestion of bias (conscious or unconscious) could be eliminated.

  • Gord


    Lack of objectivity, partizanship or bias, doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a person’s results. It is normal to look for it in certain circumstances, but you should not always expect to find it. I’m an engineer by training and inclination, and for a few years, every team in the city in western Canada I played at had to send at least one player to be a referee (and I got the nod many times). Being objective is part of being an engineer. I would like to think that I did my job well, but in the low divisions, referees didn’t get “graded” very often.

  • BobbyP


    Which of these would you find held most credibility in your eyes?

    ‘A group of Tottenham fans from a Tottenham blog have assessed refs performance and found that refs are biased against Tottenham’

    ‘An independent group of assessors (supporting a wide range of teams) have assessed ref’s performance and found that refs are biased against Tottenham’

    I just think that the results will have far more credibility to a wider audience if the assessors can be shown to be independent, which won’t be the case if they all support Arsenal.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I have asked a few other (non Arsenal blogs) if they are willing to publish our appeal. But didn’t get an answer yet.
    If you have any suggestions of other blogs of other clubs that look to be a bit normal (I mean not the L G type.. 😉 ) I will ask them the same questions. Problem is that I don’t really know any such blogs from other clubs….

  • bob

    I can’t agree more with you on all these! Goal line technology gives Fifa/Uefa/PGMOL/Rednose 20 another 2-3 years of breathing space without having to deal with real video replay. “Look, we did something good” – and it’s pricey, that contract to be with BSkyB’s hardware affiliate to provide those cameras. Then it’ll be, “We’ll appoint a committee to study it.” Then, two years later still, it’ll be “We’ll do a pilot program in the next summer’s pre-season.” Then it’ll be, “We’ll implement it on a pilot basis at a pre-season match to be named the next summer.” Well, that’s about 6 years up the road. The point is that settling for goal line technology is to play into this blatant delay game. In fact, the only reason they’re trying it at all is because they fear that public pressure will openly demand it, given half a chance. To give it that half-a-chance would require at minimum an online petition. It would be a useful step forward when enough comments by readers here support that and add momentum to such a league-wide petition, asap, and perhaps Walter/UA would post it on UA. If we supporters don’t care enough to make this a demand, then the ref-shite will continue to tilt the pitch, tarnish our tellies and hoped-for silverware, and our laments will remain useless. Walter is doing a great service with today’s call. Might we, UA visitors, meet him half-way and marshal a few keystrokes on behalf of full video technology now.

  • Gord


    You can of course choose to describe the group of referee assessors however you choose. If the group of people have no jobs, have never had jobs, were born within a stones throw of Tottenham, and have always supported Tottenham; then it is likely the best way to describe them is as you presented. But, since you presented some hypothetical group, how about I augment it: two are members of the National Academy of Engineering, one is a Nobel prize winner and one is a Field’s medal award winner. Would you continue to describe them as Tottenham supporters?

    I think it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt, and judge them on performance, instead of prejudicing your decision.

  • BobbyP


    Glad you’re trying to circulate to a wider field – afraid my knowledge of other club’s blogs is equally limited

  • BobbyP


    Surprised you’re not seeing the value of impartiality. I thought conflicts of interest were recognised as much in science and engineering as in any other field.
    If a study sponsored by ExxonMobil and staffed solely by BP engineers/scientists came to a conclusion favourable to the oil industry, would you give it as much credence as a similar conclusion from an independent non-partisan body?

    Anyway, guess we may have to agree to disagree, as I don’t want to sidetrack this any further

  • Gord


    I don’t have a problem with impartiality. I think there are a couple of points you are glossing over.

    If you look hard enough, there is probably evidence to discredit anyone for any task if the requirement is absolute impartiality. The requirement is whether the person can act impartially, in the presence of whatever apparent reasons are present which seem to suggest there is a problem.

    Second, it is terribly easy to bias answers to a question (or survey), based on how the question is presented.

    I can remember articles in the news about groups chosen in the best possible way, and after the group is chosen, there appears to be a problem of a similar nature. One that comes to mind was some job, and after the short list was developed, it became apparent that the short list consisted entirely of men. At that point, some executive group had to decide whether the selection process needed to be repeated, with selection criteria adjusted in some way. And depending on how public things are, it can be difficult figuring out how to adjust criteria in a manner which still serves the requirements and is fair.

    As far as Walter’s quest goes, how likely do you think it is that whatever group of referees he assembles, is going to be best described as a “bunch of Arsenal supporters”? If one of the referees happens to like watching 30 or 40 different teams, one of which happens to be Arsenal, and is not his first choice, are you still going to describe this person as an Arsenal supporter?

    People are using statistics to analyse referees here. If Walter is the only assessor, a naive estimate of the precision of his analysis says that he has no precision (standard deviation often scales as the square root of 1/(N-1), and if N=1, the standard deviation would be infinite). If Walter assembles a team, it is possible to do statistics on the team, to see how likely bias is. If the team assembled is big enough, it should be possible to see if it behaves like a single population, or multiple populations, in terms of various properties.

  • bob

    I agree there’s not such thing as total impartiality, nor is there absolute certainty. We can get increasingly higher-probability results as we refine our methods. That’s about it. After that, anyone can then say – and will say – “well, the original idea came from an Arsenal supporter, so what good is that?” Some people still say the earth is flat, was created in six days about 6,000 years ago. There’s no arguing with the irrational, the pre-rational or the tribal. Or, it seems, with people who think that pure objectivity is attainable, because that too is a tribal belief that pays the rent, secures grant monies, and puts food on the table. Anyway, thank you for giving your knowledgeable green-light blessing to Walter’s call. Perhaps we can be spared another massive debate on these points like we had for weeks last season and just bless and allow Walter’s project. Being up front about one’s values and about one’s efforts to set them aside is not only ethical, but rare, and among the best things we can do for one another. Especially when the effort is intended to produce a level playing field for ALL sides. That is the goal. Will it impact Arsenal for the good. Yes. Will it help achieve fair play for everyone, not only Arsenal. Yes, as well. Thanks, Walter.

  • toto

    Very interesting debate, and shows how difficult it is to get consensus on whether there is bias and the direction of that bias. Predictably, many fans will agree there is bias, but bias against their team! So my own approach would be to spread the ‘bias’ evenly by making sure no referee follows certain teams around as is the case at the moment where a certain referee might be in charge of several of a certain team’s matches. Given enough referees, it is possible to ensure a referee would only handle one home game and one away game for each of the 20 teams in the league. Could anyone tell us the number of referees needed for 380 matches involving 20 teams so that each ref gets 1 home game and 1 away game for each team?

  • walter

    We will try to change the games also and I will not be trying to do all the Arsenal games myself this season. In order to get as many different persons doing different teams

  • walter

    On another note the website of the PGMOL seems to be dead and deserted. No appointments are published anymore. I will be keeping an eye on this as this could be a change from the PGMOL?

    Are they not publishing them any more so that people like our own Dogface cannot predict how the ref will do????

  • toto

    Walter, I didn’t make it clear I was referring to referees appointed to referee the game. Is it feasible that with 19 referees, each referee will take charge of a game involving each team once away and once at home? In practice, we will need more than 19 to take care of absences etc but that would do away with the possibility of one referee exerting to much undue influence on the outcome of matches involving a certain team. If we accept that all the referees are premier league standard, why is it that certain matches are ‘reserved’ for certain referees?

  • Gord

    Any time a human wants to condense information (for example, news reporters reporting the news), there is the possibility of bias. And in general, no condensation scheme is unbiased. And this is exactly what Walter has been doing: watching the entire game, condensing specific aspects of the game to a few words. That Walter has been willing to do so, speaks very highly of him as a person.

    Everybody has bias in how they perceive the world (we all see the world in our own particular tint of rose coloured glasses).

    One thing I had suggested in Canada a few years ago, is that each country should nominate a “team” of officials for export. And each of these “teams” would end up in some other country for an entire playing season, officiating games as a team. This would give more officials, more experience at football outside of their “native” country.

    In terms of statistical analysis, it is nice to try and spread the work around, but what probably helps as much, is to arrange games where more than one person is producing reports on the same game.

    The BBC has an article about Halsey preparing for this season (after having cancer treatments). There were no remarks in the article about learning how to bias calls “properly”. Not that I was expecting any. Just coming back from cancer treatments, is a difficult enough task itself.

  • Ed


    i agree with you about the biases and having an impartial referee, but it would just get so complicated.

    in the simplest form, who do the refs support. but then what about an arsenal fan taking charge of a tottenham game (even if is a meaningless mid table game), then how about a man utd fan taking charge of arsenal or chelsea matches who are contenders for the title? thats not withstanding any other biases such as who the family members support i.e. what if the refs wife supports Stoke, and withholds sex for a month if they lose?

    as you can see, it is impossible to get rid of biases as long as there is human emotion and decision making involved. The best method is to use TV replays so that refs are forced to make the correct decision but this is too complicated for FIFA.

  • Micko

    “On another note the website of the PGMOL seems to be dead and deserted. No appointments are published anymore” – Yeah I just checked and there are no appointments up yet for Saturday’s games.
    They usually have them up about a week in advance !
    Very mysterious.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Micko, it could mean 2 things.

    1. the want to keep it a secret so that only the day before the game or the day itself the teams know which ref is coming. This to avoid SAF comments about what a great ref Webb was before the Chelsea game. I completely agree if this would be the case and would support it. Sorry Dogface. 😉

    And in a way it would be doing something that I had been saying that should be done. Well, er… well… would they read my articles??? 😉

    2. They let the clubs know but the public not. This makes life more difficult for people like Dogface to write an article. But also for gambling offices to predict the outcome of games.

    It is all a bit strange.

    but it could just be that the webmaster is on holiday?

    Oh and a final note: there still are only 16 refs in the EPL. The same number and the same persons as last year.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Toto, to give you an example: in Belgium with a league of 16 clubs there are about 27 refs in the Jupiler league. So most refs do games in the second division every other week over here. But like this you will not have one ref doing 5 games of one team like we had last season.

    I would say that in the EPL you would need at least 27 refs to have each ref only having a team twice a year (one at home and one away).

    One of the things I have recommended the PGMOL about. But I think they missed that article. 🙂

  • Micko

    Walter, I think it’s more likely to be point 2, sorry.
    I’ve no doubt that gamblers can be guided by Dogface’s articles. It doesn’t look good though, if they are becoming even more secretive over the referees than they already are.

  • bob

    There could be a point 3: that there’s a (not-unplanned) leak from PGMOL to certain “players” where smart money, in no small amount, is “wagered.” So while the surface appearance has improved, the insider-trading, so to speak, can carry on in a safer environment. Nothing, btw, that full video replay wouldn’t fix (in the right sense of the word “fix”)

  • Gord

    I have no idea what fraction of Untold Arsenal is Linux friendly, what fraction of potential referees are Linux friendly, or what alternatives on M$ or Mac are.

    But today I seen an announcement of a software package that is designed to help people review sports matches. It is called LongoMatch, is nominally something which is built on top of the “Mono” framework (which is an implementation or approximation of C#).

    The creator is Spanish, and some of the examples in the article I seen involve Barcelona players. This package is the result of the author’s work in engineering, and a link to his thesis is present (he went to university in Italy). There are various other links in the article to the software, and to other documentation (some in other languages).

    Oh, it is free software – free as in free beer and free speech.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Thanks Gord will see if I can use this.

  • bob

    Is Longomatch for Linux only, at least right now? Do you use it? I’ve read through the writeup and it seems an amazing tool with great potential for monitoring calls, non-calls, disputes and to help bring more fair-play.

  • walter

    I missed that it was for Linux (I really don’t follow all those things that much as long as my computer works) and I don’t have linux..

  • Micko

    So still no referee appointments out for tomorrow’s Premiership games !
    The BBC website, which always includes the referee appointments in it’s review of the games which come out on Friday afternoons, also has a no show in this respect.
    I guess that they just want to surprise us at the last minute.

  • bob

    not to spend anyone’s dosh, but if this tool is really great, it might save you the time and be worth it to get a Linux computer. It’s just the operating system that’s different and wouldn’t be tough to master. Ask your sons or dogface, whomever. It seems worth considering, and I’m looking into it for me as well.