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Premier League Betting and Odds

So who is benefiting from all the strange referee decisions in the Premier League

By Tony Attwood

So who is benefiting from all the strange referee decisions in the Premier League?

The club by club review of referees’ performances during 2011/12 is almost complete.  If you have missed it (and how could you?) the reviews are listed here.

We have three clubs to go: Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal.

So as we are almost there the question is: what have we found so far? What should we be looking out for in these final few reviews?

First off, through our reports on refereeing performances in 40% of matches in the Premier League last season, each conducted by a qualified ref, we have confirmed in game after game, match after match, that the quality and standard of refereeing is awful.  Way, way below that claimed by the PGMOL which runs the refereeing in the Premier League.

Second, we have found incredible variance between the performance of referees in relation to certain teams.  Basically for some clubs one can clearly say, “if you have got Ref X, you are likely to be stuffed”.

But… and this is the big “but”… this doesn’t happen all the time.  To put it crudely, you can have situations in which clubs are getting huge bias factors against them, and then suddenly everything evens up.  This is not the same as the old BBC adage that “it all events out in the end” (a mantra repeatedly endlessly without the slightest bit of evidence), but rather it is to say that the bias against certain clubs switches on and off.  Indeed, it seems, it switches on and off at key moments.   If Newcastle are getting close to a top four position you might find some odd ref decisions against them.  If Chelsea have slipped down the league and are not going to make the top four, you might find any bias against them vanishing.

Third, it is clear that although a referee can be biased for or against a team (in term of his decisions) that is not always enough to swing a match.  You can’t see bias from results alone – if you want to look for oddities you have to analyse the individual decisions and sum them up.

Thus what we have not proven as yet is:

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a) which club or clubs are benefiting from dubious ref decisions

b) the cause of these dubious referee decisions

c) whether this enormous survey encompassing over 40% of the league games in the Premier League last season was itself reasonable and fair.

On point a) I am going to leave you hanging on for a little longer.  Two more reports will be published later today (2 August 2012) and one tomorrow and you will then be able to make a judgement.  Just chill out, relax, have your lunch (if you are on UK time), and then all will be revealed.

But for the moment I am moving on to points b) and c)

The cause of these dubious referee decisions

i) Referees can make bad decisions because they are having a really bad day on the pitch (and every one of us who is in work knows what that is like, no matter what job we have).   Refs are human, and they will just have days when it all goes wrong.  It happens.

ii) Referees can simply not be as good as we (and PGMOL) would like them to be.   On this point we are at one with Alan Green the BBC radio commentator on football matches.  For years he has been criticising referees, although he has never looked consistently enough at the issue to draw any statistical conclusion (or at least he hasn’t done this on air).  The implication of his commentaries is that the referees in the top league are not very good.  He is very careful never to ask why.

iii) Referees can be influenced in ways that they should not be influenced

This third point only comes into play if we show that the dubious decisions made by referees are so far away from being random that they can’t have happened by chance.  Put another way, if everything is down to having a bad day or simply not being very good, then everything should even up in the end.  If it doesn’t we have to look for a more sinister explanation.

When we first started this whole idea of reviewing referees rather than matches we had several people writing in saying, “you have proved nothing.  Unless you have a recording a chairman A saying to ref B, ‘here are the keys to the villa in Tuscany – use it whenever you wish’ then we have nothing.”

I have always disagreed with this.  I come from a social science background, and in the psychology experiments I was involved in, and all those that I read which came from the eminent researchers across the world the issue was always that if one could show that there was less than a one in twenty chance of the result being due to random factors, then you could say that yes, it has been proved.

In football referee errors should be at a consistent level, varying at random because of the “bad day” factor.  Beyond that, we have a problem.

iv) Or maybe it is PGMOL

The organisation that runs the professional referees in the Premier League (PGMOL) has refused to engage in discussion with us – as have the referee organisations across Europe.  Indeed during the course of our investigation the PGMOL have moved from having a web site with information about refereeing, open to everyone to see, to a web site that you can only enter with a password supplied by PGMOL.   Did this happen because of us?  Who knows – maybe it was just a coincidence.

But let’s assume for a moment that the findings we have are real (and given that we are using a range of referees to do our analysis, and their work is then checked and is open for all to see that seems more than likely) if the explanation of the bizarre and eccentric variances in referee performances through the year is NOT that a referee has been bought, then what is it?

This is where PGMOL really should be coming out with some sensible commentaries.  But apart from claiming a phenomenally high accuracy level in referee decisions, with the claim being backed up by no statistical evidence at all, they say nothing.  “Everything is fine, don’t worry” is their patronising view it seems.

Yet PGMOL are running their organisation oddly.  There are far fewer refs than we might expect.  There is a geographical bias to the referees.  Some referees are given the same team to ref over and over again.   In short: if PGMOL wanted to show that everything in the refereeing world was fine, it could at least address these points.  But it does not, and it makes no response to ourselves.

iv) But maybe it is all a figment of our imagination.   Maybe our referees are the ones who can’t see if the ball is over the line, if a penalty is a penalty, and if a foul is a foul.  Maybe it is us.  The only way to find out is to look for some other organisation that assesses referees.  Not PGMOL because although they say everything is rosy and they give us no evidence.  What we want is to find another totally independent body, and see what they say.

And guess what, we’ve found one.  Details will follow shortly.

During this series of articles we’ve had a lot of correspondence.  Many have thanked and supported us – not just Arsenal supporters but fans of other clubs.  We’re grateful.

Of course many have written and called us every name under the sun.   “Typical whining Arsenal fans”, summarises a lot of the complaints.  Some have suggested that we are picking specific matches to prove our point (although amusingly most of the time when they say, “I bet you didn’t look at …. v ….” – we find did, it is on this site, and our analysis agrees with them).

We’ve had a lot of “get a life” comments and the like – you can imagine the sort of thing.  But the interesting thing is that apart from the question of the issue of cause and effect (ie is it incompetence or deliberate bias) no one has put forward a coherent argument against our methods and approaches.  People call us names, but no one says, “here’s the flaw in your argument” other than demanding a level of proof far beyond that demanded for most other investigations.

This site clearly proclaims it is a football site from an Arsenal perspective.  We are Arsenal fans, and when it comes to the matches we go to, we are as tribal and committed as any Tottenham, Chelsea, Wigan, Man U, Blackburn or any other fan.  But we are also informed and educated enough to be able to engage with supporters of other clubs on matters of importance.  Increasingly this year we’ve had really good debates with fans of other teams on issues that concern us all, not least because we clearly proclaim who we are.

And this is my main concluding point.  If our final club reviews do show that there is a problem with referees in the Premier League, then there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of clubs in the league are suffering because of that.  If there is something wrong with referees in the Premier League, it is not just one club that is being done down.  It is most of them.

For that reason supporters of the majority of teams who are suffering in this way really should be coming together.  If this is the case, we are all being screwed.

Most of all we’d like to see lots of supporter groups from other clubs coming together to do what we have done – although believe me it is a huge job.   But until that moment occurs, I would thank all those fans of other teams who have appreciated our work.

What is being achieved by our referee reviewers is a revolution and its ramifications will echo through football in England for a long time to come.  Of course PGMOL and their allies will ignore us.  But the sensational rise in readership of this site during the last year means that as the story pops out of the box, no one is going to be able to put it back in.


If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again


23 comments to So who is benefiting from all the strange referee decisions in the Premier League

  • GrahamBC

    When you get the final results and if as i expect there is statistical evidence of consistent then the data and analysis should be sent to as many people who might have an influence as possible, MPs, newspapers you name it, because corruption of any sort needs to be weeded out.

  • El Gringo


    I have to say that I love what you, Walter, and DogFace are doing here–a quest for truth in the name of justice. A fairly called match for every team in the league. You’ve all gone to extraordinary lengths to keep a watch on the refs, and I’ve been in awe of the levels of fairness, expertise, dedication, and detailed analysis as Untold has developed this project through the last two years. Most important in my point of view is the transformation from Arsenal supporters to visionaries trying to benefit every team in the league.

    Keep it up, Untellers! Through pressure, change.

  • Lanz

    Another nice appetizer, Tony. But I am intrigued by an info you supplied n a little way somewhere in the article. I used to think you are a historian but then you wrote about experiments in behavioral sciences! Interesting!! Well, now makes up to four articles we are waiting for.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Look forward to the next articles, at the same time, having a strange all encompassing nagging feeling , one that i have experienced for years, but in the past, have not seen evidence to back up….on who will come out as the team …shall we say getting the rub of the green with these refs…! Will your latest stats prove my assumptions wrong?

  • DR

    Nicely written summation, addresses a lot of things that people seem to bring up whenever criticising your work.

    Interestingly, most people I’ve talked to are pretty resistant to any ideas of consistent bias yet will happily admit that United always get decisions at OT but that it’s ‘just the way it is’, seems like there’s a lot of doublethink going on and the only way to break that up is with hard facts; keep up the good work.

  • El Tel

    It just has to be the Mancs. My own eyes without stats tell me it is them.

    Is our League corrupt like the Italian League?

    We are English and we dont do cheating do we? Do we?

    Every football fan outside of Mancunia knows they are bent. That Liverpool player got condemned just the other day for tackling poor old Bale of the Spuds yet Scholes has been doing this unchecked for donkeys years.

    Is there not a check that can be done about Managers and Clubs too as I see the Stoke Manager,and others like Allardyce siding up to Fergie and even having a so called outside football relationship with them.

    Hated seeing Allardyce teams lettingnthe Mancs spank them and add to their goals tally only for them to kick the f..k out of us and see US as their cup final.

    Its not just the Officials who are crooked imo.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Clock Ender

    @El Tel

    You’re spot on mate. I believe that ‘certain teams’ (not mentioning any names) are used as enforcers and leg-breakers to damage clubs that may interfere with the status quo. They’ll lose the right games, break the right legs and maybe as a result they are rewarded by staying up.

    I used to love football, but nowadays there’s this foul stink in the Premier League.

    Sport is fun, pantomime is very unappealing though. What are we watching nowadays?

  • Limpar

    El Tel , Clock Ender
    I agree with both points.
    Look at how many players Fergie gives his chums to keep em sweet. He just gave Hughes 2 this summer. Most people know who his lap dogs are & there are more apart from the obvious. The main ones seem to get help when they need it from other places too.
    Who benefited / lost out from Stokes pushing the goalkeeper into the net, & very dubious penalty @ in the final game of last season?
    Arsene Wenger has few allies in the league , but Owen Coyle is one of the few who loan our players & doesnt try to bully wenger on & off the pitch. Seems like he wasnt wanted in the division, @ the benefit of Guess who. Mark Hughs QPR.
    Shame for Fergie that Mcleish was so poor he was beyond help

  • Gooner S

    Very good post. Very eloquent. Looking forward to the conclusions and how they stack up. Regardless of outcome I can’t understand the attitude and approach of the PGMOL.

  • Mandy Dodd

    EL Tel, agree. Fergie in effect runs the League Managers Association, and therefore, the home based managers second in commands are the likes of Pulis, Allerdyce et al. There is no doubt some of these managers sent their teams to soften us up. Even the failure that was, Phil Brown spent his first year in the EPL brown-nosing this lot, and doing his bit ie kicking our players and the completely false, trumped up charges against Cesc, serving purely to try and ingratiate himself with this bunch, with the aim of survival.. There are loads of these managers, Pardew has been there, most of the ex Mancs, the league has been full of them. Even Jose, of not quite a fully paid up member of the dinosaur UK manager Fergie worshipping chapter, knew where deference needed directing. Hopefully, AVB and Rogers will be too much their own men to get involved.
    The two managers who had absolutely nothing to do with this cabal, mainly Wenger and Benitez, and sometimes , it shows.
    I met an ex ref – from a while back at a function. He was doing a Q and A session – he stated that in his view, refs were not especially Utd supporters, they were just terrified of getting something wrong to upset Fergie, knowing they would get no backing from the FA or Refs association when Fergie slammed them on the back pages. They also knew a costly mistake against Utd meant not being allowed to ref games involving them , and no cup finals. This ex ref stated he believed most refs and authorities just wanted Fergie to retire / get sacked / go abroad because he has too much clout, they could not handle him, and at times, he embarassed them. Witness Clattenberg refusing to do Rooney over his blatant elbowing of Macarthy…can you imagine Song getting caught doing that? Does this situation still exist…I will leave you to make your own minds up.
    Sorry, maybe getting ahead of myself, the stats may yet prove otherwise!

  • Stuart

    It’s really good seeing the results come to fruition now. I wonder who gets the rub of the green from the remaining three and who loses out (big time), is there a prize for guessing the right answer?

    I think we need to consider two types of bias when looking at the overall figures here. Firstly you have ‘intended bias’ where the official ‘chooses’ to make an incorrect call. This is really bad and is the same as match fixing so should result in mega fines and prison terms for those involved. The second type is ‘un-intended bias’, this is more for the decisions which were accidentally incorrect and is more commonly known as incompetence. It is important to note that un-intended bias is not always the ref to blame for not doing their job properly as they only have one set of eyes and can only be in one place on the field at a time.

    Both of these types of bias can be eliminated through the use of video replays which can take place whilst the game is still in play and if need be, the game can be stopped brought back if it is deemed there was an error / call.

    I think the two types of bias would also answer your questions regarding the big but where it doesn’t happen all the time.

  • OK – the Manchester United and Manchester City referee analyses are now on the site.

  • Shakabula Gooner

    Lord Tony,
    You wrote: “What we want is to find another totally independent body, and see what they say. And guess what, we’ve found one. Details will follow shortly”.

    The details didn’t come in this piece. I trust it will in the next.

    Having been with you for 2yrs or more, I am not a stranger to the series on EPL Refereeing and had been wondering at how to take it further tan great articles on the Arsenal blog…to making EPL better where it matters, at the PGMOL and the League management levels. Hence the reason I am looking forward to your promised details.

    I also fear that if EPL/PGMOL worsens rather than improve in this aspect of the game, over time, its international appeal may diminish in favour of less “rigged” national leagues. The Olympics is the only one of its sort worldwide but there are many who don’t bother to follow a number of the sports it offers because of the drug cloud over such sports.

  • bob

    Walter, Dogface,
    Clearly the above 3 postings – by Limpar, Clock Ender, and El Tel – raise a very important issue: are the Pulis and Allardyce teams complicit with the final outcome needed by Don Fergus of Mancunia? Is there any support for this widely-held suspicion in the ref review statistics from last season? How did the teams managed by Fergie’s acolytes do in the head-to-head competition with ManUre? Any pattern there? How did specific weighted calls in their matches impact the league standings? Clearly this is a subset of your focus, but perhaps you can find enough data at hand to at least put this hunch on somewhat of a statistical basis to pose the question in a “legitimate” sense. This is not to suggest that the perception is wrong; but it is to suggest that the perception will take on more energy and urgency, going forward, back into the new drive for the Rednose XX, that was so “tragically” derailed in the waning moments of last season. Lord Football to be will be calling in all favors, and any statistics that examine and buttress the notion that his minions are favoring his chances, or not, would be most welcome in this fast-approaching fateful season.

  • bob

    p.s. And please add Mandy Dodd’s first-rate posting to the list of those 3, now 4, and me 5 for concurring. Can you stats be massaged for showing any patterned bias within the Rednose network of games (vs. ManUre and other contenders) that have benefitted Fergie’s table-standing?

  • WalterBroeckx

    From the back of my head:

    At Old Trafford Stoke usually rolls over.
    In Stoke they usually get a draw but lots of calls going in favour of Stoke if I remember correct.

  • bob

    So, if that number holds up, it means there’s a reliable 3 points per season. So ManUre’s season begins at +3, at least, before any game has begun. It would be interesting to see who has reffed these matches. Also, imo, well-worth keeping a statistical watch on the most likely/identified Fergie-abetting sides.

  • Once again I repeat my call from 2010 for pressuring the pgmol head cases a system of relegating refs. Keep beating the drum guys.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Mandy… have hit the nail squarely on the head when talking about the officials’ fear of SAF and the hair-dryer treatment. The only group who don’t really fear SAf are the media pundits since they seek controversy and confrontation….nothing sells better than SAF chewing out a journalist who has the temerity to question his decisions or opinions…then blackballing him.
    I do remember managers trying to intimidate me as a linesman or a referee in ¨big¨ games between NASL teams or in broadcast international tournaments. They were never permitted to enter our dressing-room but they’d send a minion who’d deliver the teamsheet or whatever and along with it a veiled warning/advisory to be ¨careful of their opponents, watch out for # 9 or take it easy on the offside, etc.¨ We would duly report this attempted manipulation to the League or organizers who would always blithely ignore it. It was all swept under the rug!
    With SAF squeezing the PGMOL’s gonads and frightening officials with his rapier wit on the back pages, he has ensured that those men do his bidding,either at OT or away, and that is worth 6-9 points per season. The PGMOL, like the faithful lapdogs they are, do his bidding and will ¨punish¨a miscreant official who has the temerity to offend SAF or United.

  • @Tony,DogFace n Walter one question,Webb was the referee in China(he keeps following us) and i do remember well we had a kind of penalty (or its my eyes) he waved as usual but there is something i did witness;the cameras never went back to that incidence! I waited and waited, where those Chinese crew or it was SKY or ESPN ?Why didn’t we get that replay?

  • Web

    @kampala gun… at one point had a 9.3% stake in Manchester United.
    Sky runs united and Chelsea tv stations hence why both these team are never criticised by SSN.Its not just the tach officials that influence football.

  • James C

    Reading your article and comments – please, be serious.

    I would like to know:
    a)how you judge the severity of a call
    b)if your ‘experts’ have ever refereed at a decent level
    b)has your agenda influenced your analysis
    c)if you have ever picked up a whistle and tried refereeing
    d)your opinion of how little money (relative) is put into the PGMO and grassroots refereeing out of the TV revenue

    My ‘coherent argument’ against your analysis is that anyone can take refereeing course and qualify. It doesn’t make them a good referee. All you do is pass a course of LOTG (the laws of the game to all you ‘experts’). You can’t prove the accuracy of your ‘data’.

  • WalterBroeckx

    James C,

    why don’t you review the games then?
    Can/could you do it any better?
    The reviews are on the site. We linked to it after each team report. So if you have any comments on the judgements we made just say so.

    And then you can also answer your own questions of course.

    And you can say how you know a “good referee” from a “bad referee”.