Has nothing changed in 40 years of refereeing?

How it all began: the book that re-writes Arsenal’s history

When Arsenal almost died.  The story of 1910 “Making the Arsenal”


By Walter Broeckx


A comment was made by “goonergerry” in one of the articles we published at Untold. And it was a very interesting thing he mentioned which made me go back in time a bit. This is what he wrote:

“Why indeed.

Debateable Decision website has Arsenal receiving the benefit of only 7 out of 25 debatable decisions last season-consistent with this data.

What seems significant to me about DD is that Stoke City are out on their own at the top of the league- with not only far more debatable decisions-37 in total but only 8 against them. Given that Stoke play muscular set piece football (putting it politely)- and Arsenal don’t- does this not point in the direction of the refs bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to those that play a traditional style of muscular English football and conversely with an antipathy towards foootballing teams like Arsenal.

If Arsene Wenger does have a compiled list of bad decisions- why doesn’t he take it to the PL and publicly ask for an explanation? It is important to know what advice is being given to referees by the PGMOL.”

And this brought back some memories from the time when I was around 12-13 years old. I played in a local team in Antwerp and we use to have an international tournament each year. Mostly with teams coming from Germany or England. And then we got invited back to that team a few months later to play a tournament over there. So I visited England with my team as a 12 or 13 year old. My first visit to England. It was a place near Aldershot that is what I still remember but I have no idea of the name of the teams we played.

Now we had a team that ended around 4-5th place in our local league. So not that special but we had a nice mixture of some very fast and technical attackers, some strong defenders and maybe our midfield was our weakest part of the team. But our manager was one of the first people to have an official grade to be a football manager in those days. And we played a game that was based on technical skill. I still remember our manager shouting and swearing if we would hoof the ball up field too much in a game.

So the first day we would play not the team that invited us but another local team. And much to our surprise after some 15 minutes playing we were 0-3 up. For some reason the other team could not cope with our swift attacking game. Playing them off the park one could say.

And then suddenly the game changed. I don’t know if they got the instruction to do what they would do as my English wasn’t that good at the time and I was just concentrating on the game. But looking back at it, it looked that way. Because suddenly that other team started to rough us up. Every one of our players that got the ball and released it got a little kick after the ball was gone. Coming late you know… As a result almost half of the team got a knock on the ankle and was limping around. And the ref? He did nothing.

We were still trying to play our game but it affected us. You could see the not-that-brave ones trying to get rid of the ball before the other team could even come near to them and this resulted in more lost balls. And as if that wasn’t enough they started to playing some kind of rugby with us. I remember our centre forward going past the last man with just the keeper to beat. But the defender came back, threw himself round our striker with his harms around his hips, dragging him to the ground in the penalty area and the ref shouted: play on!

This was the start of a kick festival with all kinds of fouls being made and the ref did absolutely nothing. Of course some of our defenders started to have enough of this and started to do the same. The final outcome was that it looked more a fight than a football game. And the ref enjoyed himself shouting “play on” as if the record had stuck.

Our manager and the people from our club who were looking at the game from the sidelines were shocked the longer all this went on. They tried all they could to get the attention of the ref and asking him to do his job. They started arguing with the ref when one of our players had to be carried off after another rash tackle. It was a complete nightmare.

I cannot even remember the score line at the moment that our manager summed us to leave the field and stop playing whatever game the ref and the other team were playing. They didn’t allow us to risk our limps anymore.

As I say, my English wasn’t that good but the other team celebrated as if they had won the game and had taught us a lesson. Normally we would have lost this game but as we went to the people from the team that had invited us to complain about it and after some arguments between all involved the proposal was to replay the game with another ref.

The people from our team agreed but made it clear that if it would get out of hand again they would stop and would refuse to play another game. Some parents refused to let their kids play again in the replay. Some players didn’t dare to play again as they got bruised legs and ankles. So in the replay I had to play up front in attack and in those days I was a central defender. I remember missing some 5 or 6 open chances in that game but giving the assist to give us a narrow 1-0 win with a sort of backup team. The ref did his job and was strict so no complaints any more and at the end it turned out to be a good game of football.

The comment made by Goonergerry suddenly brought back this memory (my first experience with English football and English refs) and I wondered: did nothing change in those almost 40 years? In a way you could say that we (as soft foreigners with tippy tappy football) were like Arsenal. If you let us play we were superior (as Arsenal is most of the time) but if the ref let them kick the shit out of us we couldn’t impose ourselves anymore (just like Arsenal has problems)

And for those who want to know: we played the final of the tournament against the local team that had invited us over. Because of a heavy rain in the hours before the final the pitch got covered with water and mud and the game should have been cancelled. But as this was a tournament with us going away the next morning at 6 am the game had to be played. Our football with keeping the ball on the ground could not be played and we didn’t have a chance at all to pass the ball like we were used to. The local team could adapt and played the ball high in the air and we got a good beating. 6-0 was the final score I think as I lost count a bit after a while.  But the ref was fair, the other team just was better overall (they had also beaten us on our own field a few months before but with a smaller margin).

So thanks Goonergerry for bringing this memory (my first English memory in fact) back. And my first meeting with refs in England. Which wasn’t that nice. So is it still the same after 40 years of football…? Are some refs in the EPL still somehow stuck in those days? Of course I know and realise that most refs will be much better and want to do it in the right way. But I do wonder if some refs are still doing it in the bad way I can recall from my own experience.



Deliberate Injuries: an Untold investigation:


37 Replies to “Has nothing changed in 40 years of refereeing?”

  1. English fans call it passion and there are still a few Arsenal fans who would prefer we played that way.

  2. I played schools football in the 80’s for a team in the north of England. Here is a selection of the usual advice from the touchline:-
    a) get rid of it
    b) let him know you are there
    c) don’t let him past
    d) stop fannying about (usually when taking more than 1 touch and retaining the ball – I apologise for the expression!)
    e) hit the centre forward (not literally but hit a long ball to him bypassing everyone else)

    This was English schools football for a generation. Speaks volumes really and explains a lot.

  3. Ziggy

    There are millions more who prefer not to play that way.

    Bobby Pliers, i remember all those expressions too and this was in the early seventies. We as kids were shit scared to play football. When we were having a kick about over the park though we enjoyed ourselves more.

  4. My teacher shouted to one of my team-mates: “Bring him down”, from the sidelines – during a match where we were outplayed.

    I’m sorry you had to go through all that, Walter, even though that experience has undoubtedly helped you become the man you are. (Including the wet eyes experienced when reflecting on Eduardo’s Arsenal career).

    Raphael Honigstein’s book, Englischer Fussball – A German’s view of our beautiful game, offers some clues…

  5. El Tel,
    “We as kids were shit scared to play football. When we were having a kick about over the park though we enjoyed ourselves more.” Your remembrance is so moving to me. It’s what the Authorities do to play, the most natural and joyful activity. Something is surely amiss in this state of affairs, the way they steal childhood and turn it into grim normalcy.

  6. rantetta,
    if it’s at all handy and if/when you could spare that time, what are some observations from Honigstein?

  7. Is this finally getting at some of the roots of why England finally flops in international competition?

  8. A very sad article Walter. Even though I come from a country where football is largely a peripheral sport…its very sad that “foot”ball is a game of head tennis for so many teams.

    @Bob: Another reason for England flunking IMO is no one apart from Beckham and Owen had the guts to go out and play in another country. And Owen was largely peripheral. And it isn’t a coincidence that Beckham is largely the only English player of that generation I have any time for. Not the most gifted, pacy or steely player..from a kicking perspective…but he had a great right foot and a lot of courage. He’s played in England, Spain, Italy and the MLS and dare I say he’ll make ONE more money move before he retires. Takes guts. And I’ll never forget his free kick against Greece in the last minute. As for the rest…Duh…

  9. Right, Bob.
    Before I make my excuses, let me acknowledge the interview you posted a link to re: A. Wenger, given to a Mail reporter and a Times reporter. I was so taken at being able to read an in depth interview with a man I have the greatest respect for, that I kept a copy of it, from the (London) Times. (And the reason I did so was because I didn’t know that the same interview appeared in the Daily Mail). I knew I’d be unable to link/refer to it due to the Times paywall.

    You have linked to the interview via the Daily Mail, which means we can all read (or in my case, gush, over) it.

    Thank you Bob, for the original and subsequent posting(s), and please allow me to put up the links again, for those who might not have seen them:

    Part 1

    Part 2

    A time for excuses.
    I’ve found the book – Englischer Fussball. This was no mean feat as
    1) I finished reading it about 2 years ago
    2) I didn’t find it on my shelves (the ones where I keep books)
    3) I’ve looked for it in the meantime, without success
    4) I eventually found it – where I’d left it – in the bedroom, on the multi-junked bookshelves within.

    I’m unable to give a reasonable synopsis of the book as it’s some time since I read it, but I’ll copy a paragraph written from the book, which referred to a 1999 essay by Hunter Davies:

    “The tradition in England is the same as everywhere else – you cheat as much as you can. When the ball goes out you raise your hand, even though you know you touched it last. Players go down, especially in the penalty area, to con the ref. They push, pull, shove, kick, spit, insult. The only crime is to be caught. English players are not better than others; they’re merely less cunning and subtle. And yet the myth still exists that English players practise fair play. Only because we gave the world that expression”.

    From memory the book refers to the origins of English football, from ‘Rugby’, (or Stoke, as some would have it), relating to “class”/boarding schools/clergy, etc. The book’s first chapter is entitled, “Take it like a man: The pleasure of suffering”, and it goes on to talk about Ramsey’s injury and the related comments of Hansen and Lawrenson for the BBC, which I won’t repeat here.

    It may be that in the future I’ll re-read this book but I really couldn’t do so presently for fear of reaffirming any depressive thoughts that coursed through my veins at that time.

    Here’s another tiny snippet:
    “Players like Charlie George know what to expect on the pitch, John Sadler wrote in the Sun at the beginning of the 1970’s. In other words, players who showed off their talents so openly had only themselves to blame.”

  10. bob,
    “Is this finally getting at some of the roots of why England finally flops in international competition?”
    Maybe that’s why they still hold onto this “culture” of being tough on the field. In all due respect to england, they have slim hopes of winning in international competitions. Maybe they see this and want to hold onto what they still have, and still have in their control, their image.

    Then again everything is relative. Many places in the world have customs I wouldn’t be too comfortable with, which says more about my openness than that particular custom. But to the english, they have this rough and tumble view of football and whether we agree or not, that’s how they like it. Only through the transition into international club football has this image of “tough” football started to vanish. Foreign influence on football in england makes these hardmen a dying breed, and of course that doesn’t sit well with many. Subsequently arsenal became the embodiment of the “foreign influence” ruining their game, thus becoming the premier league’s piñata.

    I have to say though, that I do sympathise with them, to an extent. Essentially they had a way of doing things but globalization took hold of their game and slowly choked out what made them ‘special’. I would sympathise more if it wasn’t for how dangerous and anti-football this style can be

  11. Think it is a big reason why England flops Bob, not only playing like that but also because foreigh refs will not put up with what our own refs do….with certain players anyway. I guess Chelseas recent exploits will give the dinosaur element confidence to carry on ..for now.

    BTW, if Engelbert Humperdinck wins the Eurovision for us, does that mean the Spuds lose their Europa place?

  12. iniez,
    I really like all of how you put your comment. What I get from it is that there’s a long-standing style of manhood that’s being threatened and the kick-back is to maintain it with a vengeance, the way they know how – to defeat the growing threat to the privileges that hard manhood used to convey without question.

  13. Now, thanks to Walter, we have a sense of what may be one of the roots of the problem and that to this day, the sturdy and anti-tippy-tappy English approach/attitude to the game may still persists at the highest levels of football officiating in the country.
    The question remains: without prejudice to the English mindset, how do we get the officials to execute the letters and spirit of the law governing professional football game officiating? How do we get them to show less prejudice or bias against certain teams?

  14. Why Mandy Dodd!
    Would you be insinuating perhaps, that one, the sanctified Wayne Divemaster Rooney, might not have gone Cardless had he played in the Euro leagues? I find that a most shocking allegation, smattering on conspiracy theory, which surely has no place in these pages! 🙂

  15. I will be as quick as possible,so bear with me.
    Australian footballers have always been known for high energy,big hearts,physical presence but not technical brilliance.
    Last year,I began coaching my sons U/5 side.
    To my dismay,I found it was all 4 a side……geez,they’ve gone soft,I thought.
    I did some research and found Brazil and Holland are two countries who produce the best technical players in the world,and have done for decades…….they have been playing small sided,small field games for decades……enough said.
    I have coached my side positional play with an emphasis on passing…..it CAN be done even at this age.
    My kids are winning 30 minute games probably with an average score of 12 or 14 to 1.
    Now,I’m no genius and was an average player,but simply by teaching the kids to keep the ball at their feet with no long shooting,and no kick and chase,suddenly I’m looking very smart lol.
    I actually spent a bit of time reading up on Wengers philosophies when it comes to kids,so at least I was smart enough to do that!
    This season,the club has me running 4 sides as the other 3 coaches are novices,whose sides were getting belted last season.
    Theyre now at least all competitive.
    Anyway,the point is this……bad coaching will destroy good kids forever,before they even have a chance.
    I see my kids belting sides who shoot from everywhere,with coaches and parents applauding BIG KICKS!!!.
    This frustrates the hell out of me,but you know what,that style of play was exactly how I learnt to play the game!!!
    In closing,the reason some countries play a certain style of intimidating football is because they were not shown the correct way to play the game in the first place.
    A big,fast 12 year old will probably outplay a small,technical kid on a full size field,but a few years down the track,the technical boy takes over.
    What does the bigger kid do?
    Try to intimidate the technical boy.
    My prime example of a footballer who never needed to learn how to play is Theo Walcott.
    Being so fast meant that as a youth,he’d simply dominate,but now he’s up against tough,smart professional,he can sometimes look very,very ordinary.
    Hope that was short enough.

  16. Mindset of English football= Research Mob Football.
    It’s not only some British sides that play rough house ball, the Scandinavians where notorious for kicking you up in the air. It was more of a northern european thing(the long ball game).

  17. There was talk of stopping youngsters from playing 11 aside games untill they where 13/14 years old. The standard of coaching is changing but it will take time. Plus the standard of surfaces is better abroad than in England this also has an impact at grass roots.

  18. That’s an interesting perspective Scott; thanks. I think it really comes down to 1 thing; and maybe that is how life is as a rule. You don’t have to be as good as others; just good enough to survive. So for example: If you have a government job in India, even if you are utterly abysmal at it, you’ll never be kicked out for multiple reasons. Mapping that to football, if the FA thinks kick and run is great, 80% of all the teams in England think its great, at least 14 out of 20 teams play long ball in the EPL, all the refs think the “physicality” is great and all the managers cry about how they “cant compete” otherwise…..and most importantly all the youth coming through who know that their careers are going to be in England think that style is the best…and all “great” English icons play “IN England” bar Beckham….so …. expecting anything else BUT kick and run and long ball.. is not logical.

    And that is why Arsenal is disruptive…in a way…it is changing albeit slowly the norm…from a business point of view and a football point of view. If the FA cannot see that…more fool them.

  19. If you think England is bad, try playing in the local leagues in India. Especially Delhi. Any player with any bit of skill is targeted by these muscular numbskulls, and if you ever make the mistake of going past one of them with say a pirouette or a stepover, that’s it. You’ll be kicked out of the game. Of course poor coaching, poor quality of pitches and infrastructure (not to say the intense heat) all contribute to a poor standard of football.

    Why it should remain so in England, I do not know. They have the money, the infrastructure, the exposure. I don’t know if people really would hold onto this idea of a mythical glorious past where English football was great, and there was no diving or ‘weakness’ shown in the game, you just ‘got on with it’ etc, if the ex-players didn’t propagate that view so much. Which begs the question why do they get so much space in the media? One difference between England and Italy, France and Germany (that I’ve noticed at least) is that while ex-players there have their say, they are usually not the ‘go to guys’. It is specialised football writers who analyse the game. The player is used more for some insights into particular incidents on the field, and player reactions etc.

    Of course the specialised football writers here are luminaries like John Cross and Martin Samuel. That wouldn’t help much with anything, would it?

    As a wild guess, I think the FA is aware of the problem and want to rectify it. (Whatever happened to that academy they were planning though?) I think England’s problem might be the opposite to India’s problem though. We don’t have much money in football, so there is no incentive to change for the better. The English have the richest league. Too much money. So where’s the incentive to change for them? Why grow when you are already on top? (In terms of money, and that’s all that matters these days) Far easier to let things be and rake in the moolah.

  20. I think the FA is doing a disservice to English football,look for example who would dare give Terry the card he received in the Champions league or who would dare give Rooney the card he received in the Euro’s qualifier?(This season he never got even a single card) I mean any ref or 2ref would be relegated to the Division as he was not fit to be in that match or he is not the ref to do that.
    I think its high time Ref/FA without segregation to apply the rules of the game simple.So those of you who will be watching the Euro’s watch and see if rules applied in Euro are the same as those in the Premiership.

  21. Exhibit A once again rears its ugly head. It is the Bad Seed – indeed, how to succeed in the EPL on EVERY LEVEL: the celebrated crime scene and the fans adulation of the victory and the method of victory at Old Toilet on October 24 2004. A day of infamy. A day in which the values embodied by English Football are on full display, in full effect. And the rewards of following its example – and punishments for rejecting its example – are clear. It is the template; the actual Law of the (English) Game. Indeed, it should be taught in every youth setting as what NOT to do, as how to disgrace the game (as players, as refs, as managers, as fans), and how to fail in international competitions: (again, to thank rantetta for keeping it in circulation):
    And then, let the seed be planted. Why is this “way of the warrior” being promoted? and by whom?

  22. Stuart,
    What’s Bit Torrent? How does the neophyte access it? (C’mon, steal the fire and give it to the cold and huddled masses.)

  23. Bob,
    I’m not quite sure myself, I accidentally worked it out once but never again.

  24. bob,
    Yes that’s what I’m saying, though you put it better. It just makes sense to me I suppose. The incessant boasting by pundits, players, and coaches about the english spirit and getting stuck in, surely means they’re very proud of it. It’s an overt love for that style of play. Certainly something that they’re so proud of must be protected and, as you put it, they need to fight back “the way they know how”.

    Whether arsenal became the poster-boy for this fight back is up for question, but it seems whenever a finger is pointed for deviating from the english way, it’s pointed at arsenal. Arsenal “don’t like it up em”, arsenal “need an english backbone”, etc. To me it’s essentially a promulgation that arsenal is the anti-christ of english football. From there the doors only open. The public sees arsenal as soft, so any complaints we make is just us bitching because we don’t like it. Now when it comes to refs, just pick your favourite conspiracy theory, whether they themselves also believe arsenal is just soft or it’s coordinated bias, just pick your poison. So once everyone is good and desensitized to arsenal getting the treatment, it paves the way for teams to do be a little harder with us. Either as a strategy to stop/hurt us, or to fight the “foreign invasion”

    And Bit Torrent is a program used to download files online through peer-to-peer sharing. These files are called ‘torrents’ and can be music, movies, games, programs, etc. The torrents themselves are found from torrent dedicated websites (such as the torrentz.eu as linked by Stuart).
    This is a link to the bittorrent site if you wish to download it http://www.bittorrent.com/. If you have any questions please ask

  25. iniez,
    so, a bit further, that overt love for “the only way the know how” to prevail also betrays their fear of failing by their inability to cope with a more technical style, hence having to label it “unmanly” (french), “alien (johnny foreigner’s) and, on the pitch, by kicking it to bits. imo, these combine with profit-driven as well as other economic motives (such as eliminating the threat of AFC’s sustainable business model) to produce the actual (not-paranoid) experience of our having to play against twelve men in far too many games. would you agree with this combination as generally what’s been going on?

  26. p.s. last bit: imo, in the foreground, the UK football media focuses on beating the drums for the “English style” (combining a style of manhood and their version of being patriotic) against the “foreign” influence (technical proficiency) because it’s a long-standing formula for capturing public agreement and then channels it against AFC/AW for the above listed reasons. In the background are the deeper economic games and shadow wars that deploy their media assets to push the foreground buttons in service to their economic interests (winning the league, CL qualification, billionaire control, bung-o-rama forever, and other deeper machinations.)

  27. bob

    I’d like to say thank you or that link, but in all honesty, can’t thank you, because that link just made me so ANGRY.. And that man is the head of the referees. Simply brilliant.. And looking at Fuckworth Ferguson’s beaming face tells you all you need to know about that man. Does anyone doubt he told his players to go out and kick the Arsenal players? And Rio’s clock on Ljungberg.. Fucking amazing that that referee becomes the chief of all referees in England.. Or not… Busacca is also now head of referees at UEFA isn’t he? And no..these matches are never fixed..no..never..

  28. Shard,
    i couldn’t agree with you more. it’s the Bad Seed and says it all – and it’s still going on, “hidden in plain sight”!

  29. Shard,
    one last bit: I find it mind-numbing to behold those rapturous fans’ immoral complicity in the whole rotten charade. that is the main reason i am so glad that the Rednose XX was de-railed (even by these petro-ballers). It all starts again soon enough…

  30. Shard,
    I think Bussacca is now head of referee standards (or some like exalted title) for FIFA (I think. But I have read that it’s somewhere other than UEFA – perhaps a distinction without that much of a difference.)

  31. bob,
    Yes very well put! But I would believe that what happens in the background hinges on how effective the work in the foreground is. There’s a very fine line between the “english style” and assault, so that interpretation must effectively be translated over to the public. Likewise there’s a difference between complaining because you’v been mistreated, and just being a softy that can’t handle it. The key to me is this translation to the public

  32. iniez,
    totally with you there. the illusion must be maintained and the translation must work with enough of the public so that those who complain can be marginalized as whingers, nutters and conspiracy theorists… hmmmm.

  33. rantetta,
    there was so much to chew on here that I actually missed your super (or should I say Zuper!) links to Englischer Fussball. It is really good. Maybe you should provide installments, a bit at a time for us to savor. It sounds like required reading. And, of course, I’m really glad you have Arsene’s interview to gush over! 🙂 That too is required reading. These links are so worth keeping alive so there’s something like solid ground in this madhouse.

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