Arsenal News

Live Arsenal News

Arsenal latest news

Arsenal News & Transfers
As featured on NewsNow: Arsenal newsArsenal News 24/7

Arsenal News, Only Arsenal, Blogs, Transfer News


July 2021

Mike Riley and the garden of secrecy. Inside the world of referees

By Walter Broeckx

How random is random at the PGMOL? How do they appoint the refs for the games? Does Mike Riley knows what he is talking about when he said there is no bias? Or is he just a…  Well of course I can’t say that, and I don’t have the evidence.  And that is what this article is about really.  We don’t know how the system works, so it is hard to know what is really going on.

But the mere fact that we have to ask these questions, the mere fact that we have to try to find out a few things in this series of articles about referees, shows there is something not right, for there really is no need for all this secrecy.

Let us start by the appointment of the refs. The first step to a fair world. Or not?

According to the PL website and I quote:

The appointment of match officials for matches is traditionally announced each Monday with 19 referees available to officiate 10 Premier League matches and six selected Football League matches.  The appointments are made by the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB).

When making the appointments, a number of factors are taken into account including:

  • – The current form of the official
  • – The referee’s position in the merit table
  • – Overall experience
  • – How often they have refereed the Clubs involved
  • – Proximity to the ground or city in which they were born or live
  • – The team the referee supports
  • – International appointments (For example if referees have UEFA matches on Thursdays they will only be available for matches on Sundays or Mondays)

I will start with the last criteria as this is a very obvious criteria and no one can have anything against giving the refs enough rest after an international game.

So that’s one out of the way – but let us look at the rest of the criteria now.

Now what do they mean with the current form of the official? What is the result when a ref is out of form? Will they then send him to a lesser team to screw their game? I must say that this criteria poses more questions than it gives answers.

Watch Arsenal Live Streams With

The next criteria is the referee’s position in the merit table. How should I read this one? Or better said: can we, the people who make quite a contribution to the financial well-being of football see that apparently all-important “merit table”. I can assume that this is a table based on game reviews of the type we do at Untold. But as this is kept secret and nobody has any chance to see that merit table (if you do have seen it please let me know) it could be nothing but dead words.

Or could it be that the merit table is based upon doing what the forces want you to do? Is the merit table based upon such a thing? Well that could explain 5 times Dean has overseen Arsenal (with 3 times in the space of 10 games).

Overall experience is also a criteria. And I can understand that your first game in the EPL should not be Manchester United – Manchester City. But then again I wonder if you are good enough to do games in the EPL then why should there be a discrimination towards smaller teams where they and just them have to pay the price for an inexperienced ref? This is an injustice in my eyes. All the teams should be treated the same and thus teams should be equally open to inexperience in the same way.

The next criteria is….well…. mind blowing. So apparently the PGMOL and the PL are aware of the fact that it is not a healthy situation to send a ref to the same team all the time. And yet we get to see Dean 3 times in some 10 games involving Arsenal. And we get to see Webb involved in 3 games of United in 3 weeks time.


The next criteria (proximity) is very funny with a certain ref from Manchester doing games from Manchester clubs. Oh well….

And the most important criteria is again baffling. The team the referee supports.  Blimey so the PGMOL and the PL is aware of the fact that a ref can actually support a team. And supporting a team can only mean that you can also hate a team. An Arsenal supporting ref will maybe not be suited to do a Tottenham game. And the other way round.

But dear PGMOL and dear PL would you please consider letting the public now what the teams are those referees are supporting? Because they seem to know which teams the refs supports. And wouldn’t it be a nice thing that the public knows about this? Now it is saying we know there is a possible bias but we will not tell you which bias there is.

Luckily we have Dogface and the result of our ref reviews then to see that bias a bit.

I also wonder how it works in fact. Only a person living on a desert island the last 15 years will not have thought at some time or other that perhaps, maybe, well possibly, Webb supports Manchester United. I think even most fair minded  Manchester United supporters will acknowledge that his actions can on occasion be interpreted as what we might call a “sympathy” for United.

And of course there is the issue of appointing referees for matches involving teams that the referees dislike? This is not to suggest in itself that the refs are evil, out to get a certain team, or anything like that.  Rather it is the reverse.  It is to say that the refs are like the rest of us.   Human – with human likes and dislikes – often irrational but none the less real.  I would bet that Mr Dean has just such an irrational dislike, just as I do.

So apparently there are some rules. But because of the secrecy that is practised by the PGMOL and the PL we don’t know anything about those rules, and so we can’t comment in any realistic fashion on whether they are being applied properly or not.   It is like having a legal system set up in a country, and not telling the the citizens of that country quite how things work.   No wonder if looks confusing.

We don’t have access to the form table of the refs. We don’t have access to the “merit table”. I really find this a very intriguing table and spooky.

We don’t know which ref supports which team. We don’t know which ref has a perfectly normal irrational dislike for a team. So once again the secrecy upheld by the PGMOL and the PL about those things leaves us open to what we are seeing right now.

So once again I ask Mike Riley to open up the numbers they have, to open up the things they know. And as long as they don’t do this I will not trust them. And trust is something that you have to earn. It is not because you say: “trust me” that I or the rest of the people will trust you. Not with your back ground, Mr. Riley.

In a next article I will give the answer to all the problems that could occur when appointing refs. Keep on reading Mike.

Untold Arsenal

History of Arsenal

53 comments to Mike Riley and the garden of secrecy. Inside the world of referees

  • Anne

    I’ll be looking forward to that next article. As will Mr. Riley, I’m sure. But for now, bedtime for me. Good morning to everyone else 🙂

  • What team the referee supports

    What we can be sure of is that it is easy for PGMOB to pick a referee that doesn’t support Arsenal to officiate in an Arsenal game as none of them lives within 100 miles of London.

  • colario

    In an age of openness, the PGMOB’S closed book is damming. The Proffesional Game Mob!

  • Tasos


    At least we do know where our Referees come from, which I guess comes under the criteria;

    – Proximity to the ground or city in which they were born or live

    M Atkinson- W. Yorkshire
    S Attwell- Warwickshire
    Clattenburg- Tyne & Wear
    M L Dean- Wirral
    P Dowd- Staffordshire
    C J Foy- Merseyside
    K Friend- Leicestershire
    M R Halsey- Lancashire
    M J Jones- Chester
    A Marriner- W. Midlands
    Lee Mason- Lancashire
    Jonathan Moss- West Yorkshire
    M Oliver- Northumberland
    Lee Probert- Gloucestershire
    Neil Swarbrick- Lancashire
    A Taylor- Manchester
    P Walton- Northamptonshire (retired)
    Howard Webb- S. Yorkshire

    I realise this point has been raised before but how come the most populated part of the country (SE England) is not represented amongst the list of EPL referees, and why is there so many ref’s from the North of England?

  • WalterBroeckx

    I find it a bit funny that one year ago I had to convince some people over here about bias and now they (PGMOL and FA) admit it themselves that there is such a bias. Well hidden and only known by them of course.

    But still it made me wonder: have they read my series of articles about possible bias of referees last year on Untold ? 😉

    Maybe Mike is a regular over here… 🙂 🙂

  • It would be interesting to see how many of those referees have officiated in Manchester United and Liverpool games. As the best supported clubs in the country it is likely that some of them will support one of these clubs.

  • Arun

    Here’s how I think the system works:
    1) Form of the referees: Decided by how much he has contributed to Man U’s title run and how much he has derailed the challengers.
    2) Referees’ position in the merit table: Pretty much the same as 1 but another factor taken into consideration is the penalty factor (No of non-penalties given to Man U and given against their challengers + no of penalties denied to Man U’s opponents and their challengers)
    3) Overall Experience: For how long he has been serving lord fergus (will be the most important factor in deciding the successor to Riley)
    4) How often they have refereed the clubs involved: Depends on how much poor is Man U and how many times do they need the referees.
    5) Proximity to the ground: North v South bias
    6) Team the referee supports: If he supports Man U, he will get most of their games and if he supports anyone else he won’t get the chance to ref in his favorite team’s games
    7) International appointments: There’s just nothing they can do about it.

  • legolas still trust Wenger

    Excellent job you are doing Walter always enrich us with statistics and such news thank youuuuuuuuuuu

  • WalterBroeckx

    Arun, LOL…mmmm or in fact not that funny …It could come close… too close…

  • It looks like Howard Webb supports West Brom or Wolves as he hasn’t reffed any of their games this season although he was in charge of West Brom twice last season and Wolves once.

    He can’t be a Man Utd fan as there is no way that Mike Riley would allow a Man Utd fan to ref 5 of their games (and 4 Man City games) in one season. Or am I just being naive?

  • legolas still trust Wenger

    1- Oh Lord please let Bendtner score a hatrick against Spurs and Sunderland Win .
    2- Oh Lord Please let Swansea bounce back and get at least a draw against newcastle
    3- Oh Lord Please let Chelsea fall against Fighters Wigan .
    4- Oh Lord let us win over Man city

    Is this too much to ask for Easter ? :$ 😀 heheh i hope this scenario comes trueeeee

  • bob

    You’ve got a list of where they were born alright, and thanks.
    The rule, however, is where they were born or live. So if Ref X comes from the North but lives in the South, or has dual residence, then he can ref in the North and in the South. This, of course, means he can advantage a certain Northern side in both the North and the South. Surely some of the SELECT boyz have dual residence. Surely there’s been a certain perk made available that way for good behavior. Dontcha think?

  • Stevie E

    Hmmm… I wonder what the motive behind this particular ManU defending is..? –
    With this little nugget being very interesting – “Moreover, bias is all well and good but the sort of refereeing favouritism that would help a team to be closing in on the Premier League title for the 13th time would amount to the greatest and most blatant scandal in sporting history. Football is a game of small moments and slight decisions but neither small nor slight enough to be manipulated on that scale.” Seems to me to be along the same defence as ‘Arry used in his trail, I’ve got so much money, why would I need to cheat?
    The media have dropped all charade and are out in full force behind AF & ManU. Stories about dressing room fights and Mancini getting the sack all designed to destabilise their title attack and rubbish like this. It’s all so sad, I’m losing my love for the game.

  • bob

    For my money, Micky R isn’t a regular hereabouts. He might deputize an underling to keep tabs (he’d be more of a fool not to), but the Lord of the Fleas couldn’t bear a the proverbial look in the mirror, let alone the Untold mirror. Why not issue him an open invitation to post anything he wants and suffer the comments. I’d credit him for opening himself up – as he likes to very rarely do with his celebrated drop-ins to the well-publicized after the fact meet the fans town meetings. So touching his need to reach out and assure us that nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark. Micky R, why not write in and let us here about how proper things are in the Hives of Riley and what you are doing to ensure fair play and a level pitch, and how tirelessly you must work to bring about such a high percentage of correct call, and how it must feel to get so little appreciation from the fans. Many here are ready to appreciate anything constructive that you do. Let us know about it, hmmm?

  • bob

    Why should anyone assume that proximity is an absolute disqualifier rather than a “prudent” cost-saving qualifier for assignment in hard economic times?

  • Alex

    The only solution is to push for video technology as this kind of analysis speccially on untold make look like a site of conspiracy reads.

  • Dutchie

    Well, i don’t think the PGMOL should be completely transparant. With so many interests it would only raise more questions with every decision they make. So i think it is judicious that they don’t publish which clubs the refs support. On the other hand, they have to explain why Webb is getting all the big games at Old Trafford. Apart from his bias, he is just mediocre. No one can justify the appointment of Webb in the big games. I think Phil Dowd is a far better referee, despite is bias in the Newcastle game last season.

    Just randomize and allow video-evidence. Don’t appoint refs by certain criteria, just draw them out of a selection based on some of the criteria (exclude fans and locals from the selection etc.). That would be fair.

    In the 2008/2009 season (and before) Liverpool were getting a lot of decisions their way. Everytime they were outplayed by the opponent, they got a penalty or the opponent would receive a red card. At that time i was convinced that the refs were keeping Liverpool into the top-4 (at the cost of Everton). But the season that followed (2009/2010) it was the complete opposite. They got a lot of major decisions against them and also the 50-50’s. Out of nowhere the only team that possibly had even more advantage from biased refereeing then Man Utd, got screwed. Has it something to do with Riley taking over in 2009?


    Excuse me for my grammar.

  • bob

    It is a conspiracy. Do you think they are so rare?
    Coincidence, thy name is alex.

  • bob

    Correlations with Micky R’s rise to the top of that heap? What are you some sort of conspiracy nut job? 🙂

  • David Stewart

    I believe Howard Webb is quite open in his support of Rotherham. Although I’m convinced he harbours a soft spot for Man Utd too!

  • WalterBroeckx


    we could answer those questions if we could take Untold Referee reviews up to the next level in fact.

    I noticed this season that Liverpool getting a few important decisions going against them. Then Kenny went up to Riley (according to the media) and suddenly the decisions went the other way.

    I wrote an article about this at the time. Maybe Kenny said something that scared Mike R. at the time… 🙂

  • JJ

    In the modern world, where greater transparency is promoted in business and in politics it seems that the FA, UEFA and FIFA are behind the times. I read your articles quite regularly and see your attempts to prove that there is bias in Football, EVEN in the Premier League. I know how things are done in Eastern Europe between clubs and between clubs and referees, but in England it’s done more subtly. As in British politics, we have seen in recent times that there is corruption but it is difficult to prove. The affair with Murdoch, cash for honours and the latest one with donors ‘buying time with Cameron’ in order to push their personal agendas. We would be naive if we thought that there are no greater interests in football, a multi billion dollar industry partly controlled by the same people who deal with these corrupt practices in media and politics. The trouble is, (and don’t get me wrong I admire your attempts) the data you are using is from your own judgement when you grade referees, the data is amateur and is just a rough analysis. It still can highlight the problems in football and we need to push for greater transparency for the game that we love. From the very top all the way down to the referees and each decision they make. I very much like the way Rugby has done this, the way the referees are respected and their decisions are entirely transparent. If a referee makes the right decision, I as a player will respect him… if he makes the wrong decision, of course I will go berserk! If I can challenge a decision, as in Rugby, Cricket and Tennis you can, then I will know if I am wrong or if the referee made a mistake. I believe football needs to evolve in this way, it will attract more people to the game and many BACK to the game.

    Honesty breeds Respect! Keep up the good work!

  • Mahdain

    @Arun that made me chuckle and im sure its like that

  • jaroda

    Since when did place of birth preclude you from supporting a team elsewhere in the country. The reason there are no ref’s from the South East is to limit the number that support Man Utd… 😉

    From a west country born Gunner, raised by Gooners.

  • Chowdhury

    One thing we know for Certain ==> Mike Dean and Arsenal ==> Match made in heaven [or is it PGMOL???]

  • Tom

    It is almost difficult for a Ref to support a team and be independent. Because the results from other matches he handled could positively increase his team chances of winning the title or getting a better standing. Howbeit, let the facts be unveiled as to which team each of those Ref support.

  • Shard

    Benfica’s president after Chelsea eliminated them.. Anyone remember the referee?

    “Whether we were there (in Lisbon) or here (in London), we were not allowed to eliminate Chelsea,” Vieira told RTP. “Benfica were the better team and deserved to go through, but other factors seriously hindered us. We lacked luck.”

    Vieira, who added that “only the officials failed to see” a John Terry handball in the area in the first leg, suggested the fact that Portuguese football is “very small” meant the authorities showed a preference for teams from the bigger leagues.

    “We can’t understand how a Slovenian referee was in charge of this match and we will explain our position to the Portuguese Football Federation,” he said. “I don’t know whether the federation is capable of doing anything.

    “Surely everyone saw what happened here. It is evident that this is a business and that there was no desire to see Benfica go through. Refereeing has reached a scandalous point.”

  • Shard

    The Slovenian referee in question, is the little squealer who doesn’t like to be touched.. Damir Skomina.. And who studies game scenarios as to which team will do what.. Does anyone know if the Slovenian referees are full time professionals? 🙂

  • Arvind

    I was just about to paste that Shard : D

    This part is key…

    “Surely everyone saw what happened here. It is evident that this is a business and that there was no desire to see Benfica go through. Refereeing has reached a scandalous point.”

  • Mahdain

    @Arvind and Shard says a lot eh?and is anyone suprised the ref in question is none other than Mr i dont want to be touched Skormina? Lets see if UEFA ban him too now that it isnt Wenger

  • Mick

    In view of our terrible record when Mike ‘Flatley’ Dean refs our matches, (1 win in 12 games) we should really, on the basis of the ‘it all evens itself out theory’ be looking forward to him officiating in as many games as possible for us. We are surely, according to that theory, due a run of several wins under Dean to bring us up to parity.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Damir Skomina, a name to remember for the future…. LOL

  • Mahdain

    another interesting thing is that Mourinho had some very interesting things to say yesterday when he said it wont be a chelsea vs madrid final just like he knew whats gonna happen

  • WalterBroeckx

    Don’t we all know what will happen Mahdain?

  • WalterBroeckx

    Oh well I will not watch it anyway…

  • Mahdain

    @walter yeah we do know alright

  • Mahdain

    for some reason my comment with the link as the above doesnt work doesnt appear

  • Shard

    Actually, we don’t.. I’ll probably be in the minority here, but I’ve had this feeling ever since Chelse beat Napoli that they just might be helped in winning the CL, or at least getting to the final. What better way for UEFA to end talk of Barcelona being specially favoured than get Chelsea through after some contentious decision? That gives Barca face saving, gives Chelsea a crack at the CL, and saves UEFA’s record of no team ever having defended the most elite of titles.

  • Mahdain

    @shard perhaps but ever since the QF draw was made i had the feeling Uefa wanted an El Classico final you know for the money and attraction and if thats the case im sure they will do whatever it takes to get that final..

  • Wooby

    @Shard – interesting point but I think the final will be Farca vs Bayern because of the recent revelation about the amount of tax La Liga clubs owe the Spanish gov’t. If I recall, I read a German government official had complained about the need for the clubs to pay their tax debts. RM owes no tax but Farca does.

    Bayern will likely be “helped” to win the CL so the German officials don’t feel the need to say more while Farca gets the extra $$$ towards the tax bill.

    Oh one more thing. I look forward to reading over the summer that Damir Skomina gets a promotion for his “outstanding work”.

  • Arvind

    @Shard,Mahdain: Slightly OT but this reminds me exactly of our CL final season where we scraped past Villareal in the semis with a Jens Lehmann save. We were also struggling in 5th for a long time that year. Ditto Chelsea.

    In the end we failed against Barcelona with an Eto’o offsie goal (tight but it is offside) and somehow managed to finish 4th. I have a feeling something very similar will happen to Chelsea.

    No proof though..but who knows. And didn’t someone at Chelsea talk a lot about Arsenal then..apart from Mourinho? Dunno..dont rem who. Anyway..we shall see…

    p.s I did get my facts right I hope?

  • bob

    you’re very polite and reasoned but your analysis lacks specifics:
    Just what do you mean by “amateur” and “rough analysis”?
    And how do you mean “we need to push for greater transparency”? How so? On what points?

  • rusty

    I look forward to seeing Skomina ref at the UEFA championships this summer, no doubt he’ll put in a shift we’ll all be hearing about later…

  • Stuart

    I don’t think the PGMO needs to go as far as declaring which team each ref supports.

    The problem lies with the lack of opportunity to question what they do and bring them to answer on performances.

    A professional body should be monitored and regulated with each decision and performance monitored. A professional body which is open to a ‘public gallery’ so to speak and answerable to some form of regulating board, would apply the same set of rules each and every time it goes out and carries out it’s tasks / duties. My industry is monitored, with the typical types of bias or corruption being collusion/price fixing as well as discrimination, knowing that someone can check up on you any time keeps the industry on the straight and narrow.

    The fact it is more like a boys club is very worrying. In these, you get a natural hierarchy and a flavour of the month with an un-written set of rules one must follow in order to fit in and still be chums with everyone.

  • meditation

    Just one theory. I felt a while back that chelsea may get the champions league trophy through linking russias bid win. Euro or world cup. Money trail. Maybe?

  • Shard


    I don’t remember someone from Chelsea talking about Arsenal. What are you referring to? We did get through because of a Jens Lehmann save, from a Riquelme penalty. Though the penalty was given for a blatant dive. So justice was done.

    We finished 4th because Spurs lost on the last day to West Ham, from a Yossi Benayoun goal 🙂 Of course, they were all victims of food poisoning after eating some dodgy lasagne, but Spurs are s***, so justice was done 🙂

  • bob

    This from Mourinho in regard to Scum-meany:
    “Let me be honest, I don’t think the final will be a Real Madrid/Chelsea final. It could be Bayern or Barcelona, I just don’t think it will be Real Madrid v Chelsea and we know why.”


  • Mahdain

    @rusty i can see Skormina being given the CL final..He has done what he is sent to do brilliantly so far

  • Arvind

    @Shard: I meant it in a subjective way…looking at the type of struggling season the established stars of Chelsea are having. Similar to our last season at Highbury where we just scraped it.

    I might be wrong but someone..Terry or Lampard said that all the pretty football is of no use without trophies or something to that effect. That’s all. And I was just thinking the same thing might be about to start at Chelsea…

  • nicky

    Surely you will never get Riley or anyone else in the den of refs , to admit to which Club is supported by which ref.
    That some of them are biased or bent is without doubt.
    I’ve long felt the answer is for enhanced technical assistance plus a pool of “euro refs”….keep UK refs out of EPL games.:lol:

  • nicky

    😆 Sorry

  • Pat

    Walter this information about the alleged criteria for selecting the referees certainly provokes more questions than it answers.
    How can one of the criteria – how often the referee has refereed a particular team – be even in the list of criteria, when it is so constantly not followed? (Witness Arsenal repeatedly being given Mike Dean)
    The real criteria by which the referees are selected would appear to be very different from the published ones.

  • walter wot planet do you come from! you always rock me. DEAN I’MEAN MIKE DEAN!! Did you guys see his celebration when QPR scored the first goal!!Oh my, the guy hates the Arsenal with a passion.
    Web ,is manure through and through you mean mike Riley does not support any team, let him tell us what team he support ?
    All in all i don’t see Arsene/Arsenal wining the Premiership when we do have those silent killers against us. Even though we buy Messi they will kick him up like they did to Reyes and those Zombies will never do a thing. As always like the QPR game they will give yellow cards to the assassins in the 90th minute and the Song’s /Varmalen in the 8th minutes.