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July 2021

Which ref makes the wrong calls?

By Walter Broeckx

In my last article when I was talking about data we could gather from the ref reviews we do I told you about the way bad calls were made and which team suffered most and who benefited most.

But we can also have a look at the refs and see how many wrong calls they make in their games. Once again I must warn you that this is a starting point and not a final table. It is only about some 20 games and some refs have had only 1 game reviewed. And when by accident you have a bad game (which can happen) you could end up with a terrible score for the moment. But just like with the wrong calls against the teams it will be interesting to see how this develops over time.

So here is how things stand for the moment

Ref Games Total wrong calls
Walton 1 19
Atkinson 2 12
Dean 1 5
Dowd 3 20
Halsey 1 21
Jones 3 34
Mason 1 15
Probert 3 33
Webb 2 20
Atwell 1 5
Clattenburg 1 9
Marinner 2 21
Total 21 214
Average wrong calls/ game 10

So in 21 games we had 214 wrong calls from the refs and this means that on average a ref makes some 10 wrong decisions per game.

But the interesting part is to try and see which ref is doing better than the average and who is doing bad. We can see this in the next table:

Ref Games Average wrong calls per game
Walton 1 19
Atkinson 2 6
Dean 1 5
Dowd 3 7
Halsey 1 21
Jones 3 11
Mason 1 15
Probert 3 11
Webb 2 10
Atwell 1 5
Clattenburg 1 9
Marinner 2 11
Total 21 130
Average wrong/game 11

First of all I know that there is a difference at the bottom of both tables. This is down to the rounding of the numbers. As we can only work with real numbers because a ref can only make a good or a bad call but if you start to divide the numbers you get a chance of ending up with a different final number. So we could say that the number of wrong calls per game is between 10 and 11.

So when a ref is hitting that score we could say he is just average on that point. Now we must consider that refs can have a bad day. Just like players they can get it wrong. A player misses in front of an empty goal (can happen to the most expensive ones you know) so a ref could completely miss an obvious call. Let us for the sake of it imagine that all refs are doing the best they can in their games without fear or bias.

So who are the refs that make few mistakes then? Atwell and Dean are on top of this but this was only based on one game. Atkinson with only an average of 6 wrong calls per game based on 2 games is doing rather good also. And also Dowd has a very good score with 7 wrong calls based on 3 games. And in this score he has the MU-Chelsea game in which he made 11 wrong calls. I can’t help it but apart from the last game he had a strong start of his season.

We have a few refs who are averaging the average one could say. Clattenburg, Webb, Jones, Marinner and Probert.

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And then we have a few refs who had many wrong calls. But all 3 of them this was based on only one game. So it could be  that we just witnessed their bad day. Just as we could have seen Dean hitting a great day in his one game.

A question I left unanswered a bit is : how acceptable is making 10 or 11 mistakes in a game? At first sight I would say it is too much for professional referees like we have in the EPL. But the average is what it is so maybe it is not possible to do better with the games being played at high pace? Maybe a ref can do better on a good day but he will have bad days. And then we come back to the fact that there are only 16 EPL refs in the pool they can pick them from. And the fact that fatigue will creep in the game.

So the chance that the number of 10-11 will rise during the season is very likely. But now I am moving away from the facts we have until now and I am starting to tell what might happen in the future. So I better stop before the refs in the EPL make a fool of my prediction. Now that would be a great thing to happen.

11 comments to Which ref makes the wrong calls?

  • Walter I would disagree that 10 or 11 is acceptable. People lose their jobs because of what happens on the pitch – and this suggests that employment as a player or a manager is at the mercy of a system that is riddled with errors.

    The fact is that the technology is there to improve the system, but that official bodies do not use it. Whatever the cause what we have is hardly good enough.

    It is also a reason why one might be suspicious about corruption in football. It is much easier to hide a corrupt decision among 10 mistakes, than among 2.

  • Stuart

    I would tend to agree with Tony, 10 or 11 mistakes does seem pretty high, particularly if they were 10 or 11 clear goal scoring opportunities. Imagine 10 penalties not given to Arsenal when playing Man Utd.

    I would be more inclined to look at a perentage of wrong mistakes to take into account how busy the game was.

  • Gord

    I can’t find all the data that Walter used, and a couple of my totals are different too. But, just looking at the referees for which more than 1 game has been observed, I get that the average number of bad calls per game is 9, and an estimate of the standard deviation of that number is around 3 or 4. I am calculating standard deviations based on the range in wrong calls per game for each referee individually. And a person sort of has to ignore Webb, as the range for him is too small to be realistic (I see 12 in the Fulham and 10 in the Arsenal games, for a range of 2, which would mean a standard deviation of 1.4).

    Hence, around 2/3 of the time we should see between 6 and 12 wrong calls per game, and 19 times out of 20, the number of wrong calls should be between 3 and 15.

    I would say things are probably consistent on the few calls per game side of things, but to have 2 or 3 referees getting 15 or more calls wrong per game in 21 games looks suspicious.

    Before a person goes jumping into the technology argument, I think a person needs to find out what calls would be helped by technology, and how. For example, technology could help with offsides. But, I don’t believe the current definition of offside is sufficiently clear to allow technology to help. What does it mean for the attacker to be even with the second last defender? If the attacker raises his arm, so that his fingers are closer to the goal line, does that mean he is offside? Long hair on a windy day? Big feet (long shoes)? How about a long nose? Some of those suggestions are not serious, but the idea is to find a problem by looking at boundary conditions (even ridiculous ones).

  • Stevie E

    “Imagine 10 penalties not given to Arsenal when playing Man Utd.” You don’t have to imagine, just watch the last 10 games…

  • Stuart

    Stevie E

    I’m sure we dont have to go that far back to find all 10.

  • Gord – it is not just technology. There is the fact that the number of refs qualified and allowed to do EPL games is so small – that in itself is a problem.

  • Gord

    I mentioned quite a while ago, that in one city I lived in, all teams had to submit a referee. Which is how I got to be a referee for a few years. Amateur football (Canada has little professional football). It gets the numbers up, probably doesn’t do much for quality.

    But, for an adult to take on a responsibility such as refereeing in a professional league, probably means making a quite a few sacrifices with respect to jobs, lifestyle and similar. I once proposed that each FA should propose a team of officials, and that all of the names go into a hat, and be drawn to find out what country this proposed team would referee in for the following season. It would add a little incentive for some people, to consider becoming an official.

  • The answer with the offside is to use technology every time the ball ends up in the back of the net or the keeper has to make a save.
    One need not even use machine vision, just judicious use of replay angles by a TVMO (the Rugby equivalent), winding back from the point of scoring (or a corner being conceded by a reaction save).

  • until the ref association starts relegating their cronies their shall be no incentive for refs to raise their game. if we can’t get technology, we should at least be able to get competition among refs based on some standards. the english r.a. seems to operate on cronyism as the only available standard.

  • Sisyphus

    The offside ‘rule’ is the perfect definition of what is wrong with football. Never mind big feet, long nails, or blowing hair, whoever thinks that an attacking player can be in an offside position without ‘interfering’ in the play has never spoken to, or been, a ‘keeper. The ‘keeper has to cover him at all times – and that constitutes ‘interference’.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    I am a big fan of technology as a tool to support or help officials refine decisions and avoid serious errors or poor decisions. When I officiated in professional and international games, the pace, drive and intensity of the game often became overwhelming not to mention the noise level and distractions from the sidelines, the crowd and the players themselves. It reaches such a crescendo of the above that it becomes very easy to miss key events, particularly when you are blocked (intentionally or not) by infield players or you are too far away from the incident you needed to see. The linesmen aren’t ideally positioned for seeing events on the other side of the field or behind the referee’s back, since they are focused on keeping in line with the last outfield defender. The analogy i like to use when teaching officiating courses is that of a gecko, who can rotate each eye in a different direction. since we aren’t lizards (well maybe some are??)the officials needs to develop the equivalent ability to see two things at the same time.
    Walter and Tony’s comment about fatigue being a factor in poor decisions is absolutely right. As the game nears its end, after an intense 90+ minutes of stress,pressure and noise-heat-cold or whatever, an official is quite knackered even if in top shape. Doing 2-3 games like this a week is an invitation to make mistakes. We need technology to act as a buffer for potential errors and as a remedy to correct them.