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July 2021

Mike Riley gives us numbers, but the explanation makes uncomfortable reading

By Walter Broeckx

Well can you believe it. Untold asks the PGMO to speak up and to come out of the dark and on the same day Mike Riley comes out to talk about referees and fouls in the PL. This can be found on the BBC website over here

First let us see at the numbers that have been provided by the Premier League in this article on the fouls in England and in other top leagues across Europe.


Country League Fouls per game
England Premier League 23
Spain Primera Division 29
France Ligue One 31
Italy Serie A 31
Germany Bundesliga 32

Figures provided by the Premier League.

Riley said:  “The Premier League is markedly lower in the number of free-kicks per game than the other top leagues across Europe,” says PGMOL boss Mike Riley.

“The game in Italy is slightly different – there are more stoppages and less physical contact – and the same is probably true in Spain as well. It is interesting that the trend across the top leagues in Europe has seen the number of fouls reduced too.

“However, our game is more free-flowing, more physical contact and the spectacle everyone wants to see.”

If I may put another quote from another person who once was active in the PL against the words of Riley. I quote: ‘The fouls are harder and as a result there are more serious injuries‘.  These was said by Eduardo in an interview a few weeks ago. I wonder Mr. Riley if Eduardo is has happy with the more physical contact as you seem to be? Of course it’s easy for a ref to let things flow. After all it is not the ref who will be looking at his leg hanging off in unnatural angles after a free flowing physical contact.

And do you really think that people will look to the PL to see players with their limbs hanging off to see such things? I really don’t think so Mr. Riley.

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What I do know is that this difference is inexplicable.  I do know that refs in Germany, Spain and Italy are quicker to call a foul. And does this have as a result that the game flow is slower in those countries?  I doubt it. Whenever I see the Bundesliga I usually see a fast paced game and unless Bayern Munich is playing it usually is a very open game with both teams attacking the other goal. With Bayern Munich it usually is a one sided game with the opponents rather trying to defend but seldom do I see a real parking of the bus in the Bundesliga.

It looks as if Mr. Riley is proud of his refs calling almost 30% less fouls than the refs on the continent.  What I did notice when watching the Bundesliga is that I don’t see many dangerous challenges. Usually the players have themselves in hand and don’t go in too dangerous. And when they do the refs are quickly to hand out red cards and get rid of such behaviour.  So it would be interesting to see how this would compare to the PL.

Because not calling the fouls usually results in players getting frustrated and throwing themselves in to opponents in a more dangerous way.  Leading to injuries and…. more stoppages in the game. So calling less fouls might result in …less playing time in the long run.

From the numbers we can learn that the number of fouls committed by Premier League players has dropped by 22% since 2006, according to figures released for the first time.

The gradual decline in free-kicks has made the game more fast flowing, more exciting and more entertaining,” said referees’ chief Mike Riley.

Top-flight players committed 8,562 fouls in the 380 matches of the 2012-13 season at an average of 22.5 per match. In 2005-06, 10,886 fouls were committed at an average of 28.6 per match. However, last season’s total is a slight increase from the 2011-12 campaign, when a total of 8,307 fouls were awarded at an average of 21.9 per match – the lowest figure in the past 10 years of top-flight football.

However, Riley says he has no concerns about the physicality of the top-flight.

The balance between physicality and player protection is right,” said Riley. “Fewer free-kicks result in things such as an increase in average goals per game and average shots in the game.

“Everything in the Premier League is moving towards an exciting game that people want to see.

“You have to accept that football is a fast-flowing game, passionate and very committed – that’s one of the attractions of the Premier League. And within that there will always be incidents where people take a different view.

“It’s important we analyse all refereeing decisions but then go to the players and managers to debate that analysis so that throughout the season we get a consistent line that everyone thinks is acceptable.”

So we see that Riley is saying that they analyse all referee decisions. Do they?  And are they consistent? Really, Mr. Riley?

And then we get the most important question of them all. A question that Mr. Riley never is able to answer. The question: how many of those decisions were correct? Because in a way it doesn’t matter how many decisions a ref makes. What matters most is that those decisions are correct. And that is the answer Mr. Riley needs to answer.

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43 comments to Mike Riley gives us numbers, but the explanation makes uncomfortable reading

  • More physical contact is tolerated against some teams – less for others.

    All hail “The Spectacle”

  • Steve of Chiang Mai

    At the start of last season I watched, for the first time, the now infamous game against ManU where they literally kicked Reyes all the way back to Spain. As inept a refereeing performance as you would ever see…I seriously doubt Mike Riley would know if his backside was on fire.

  • ClockEndRider

    So Riley and his invisible cronies instruct referees at the start of the season not to blow up for obvious fouls then when they review the statistics at the end of the season, lo and behold, the number of fouls is lower than other leagues.
    Absolute effing genius. Can someone explain to this moron what confirmation bias is please.

  • Mark

    You are correct the issue is not how many fouls are called but if the calls were correct or if the non-called fouls were correct. This public announcement by Riley is basically useless. It is a factoid that has no real meaning.

    If they are actually analyzing each game they ought to come out with a public report like untold ref reviews is doing.

  • Gerardo

    Very interesting article. A clear driver towards more physical games. Do you have stats to enable a comparison with injury rates? If there’s a strong correlation between the two then one might have a stronger case for firmer refereeing. Unless the refs come down hard on players for aggressive physical acts, players/ teams will always use it as a tactic to gain an upper hand or compete against a better team .

  • insideright

    Fewer stoppages maybe – but are those stoppages longer due to the more serious nature of the injuries sustained? And, if so, does that constitute a more or less ‘free flowing’ game?

  • nelson wong

    A few other references would be cards shown, and fouls called in Europa League and CL. By the way, is that a factor causing English clubs and international teams to fail in international competitions?


    As a country we will never win another world cup because we are playing to a different set of rules not the same as the rest of the world.
    Should it take a new player a season to get used to playing in the EPL ? I do not think so its the interpretation of the rules by EPL referees

  • Gunz

    According to Mr Riley there are “match delegates” and “match assessors” that overlook referee performances(decisions).

    From Riley

    “How do you measure consistency?

    “We should recognise that we have a great crop of referees at Premier League level and have among our ranks some of the best referees in the world”
    – Mike Riley
    The Premier League Match Delegate scheme uses former players and former managers to critique the performances of referees. It’s been invaluable in allowing us to compare how referees are performing and to identify issues that we need to target for our training.
    In addition to that we use our technical match assessors, who are former referees, who will appraise the referee’s performance in each game. We also use ProZone and for all the Premier League matches that have it installed, we can go through the whole DVD, we can look at all the ProZone analysis and we can compare events game to game, referee to referee, so there’s a wealth of information we collect.”

  • Mandy Dodd

    Mike Riley has only ever been about one thing ….Utd. He never accepted the physical game against them that is why physical teams like stoke would play them and hardly put a tackle in

  • americangooner

    “Fewer free-kicks result in things such as an increase in average goals per game and average shots in the game.”-mike riley.
    The above statement from Mike is quite absurd. This reminds me of “The 50th Match” against ManUre when he blatantly did not call for the numerous fouls on our players but it did not result in increase in goals either.Rather arsenal lost the ball, which otherwise could have been in Arsenal’s possession or atleast an attempt to score a goal would have been made.
    Mike’s logic is also false. When teams get free-kicks they have more chances of retaining the ball or lofting it forwards. What Mike is also saying is in order to preserve the pace of the game he is instruting his refrees to overlook minor fouls. The contradiction here is – on the one hand EPL is the most physical league, but, on the other hand it has the least recorded fouls. Amazing.

  • Adam

    What’s going on? testing testing.

  • Adam

    Riley’s full of shit and should be treated so. He is never asked to prove his statements or back them up with figures.

    Fouls called is just that, fouls not called? well that’s anyone’s guess.

    The real question that should be asked is; Why is the premier leagues stats so much lower than the other top four leagues in Europe, when we all play by the same rule book?

    No journalist will ask this though, I wonder why?

    If our game is faster than on the continent, prove it Mike.

    How much playing time are players missing out on, because our fouls rate is lower and players are encourage to continue play after being assaulted, sounds more like referee incompetence to me.

    Prove your findings Mike, we don’t want to know about your PGMOL stats, because we know they are misleading, and that’s exactly your intention. To mislead.

    Any other company within a large industry showing a large disparity from it competitors would be flagged up. But no Mike’s PGMOL are doing a fantastic job and everyone else is in the wrong.

  • Rufusstan

    Largely preaching to the converted here Walter.

    It would be interesting to see how many fouls per game we get from the analyzed matches of referees decisions, but unless you could automate the process, going through the data would be a nightmare.

    @Gerardo – that was my first thought, but (unsurprisingly) any data of tackles leading to injury is either not collated, or not made easily available (but will keep looking).

    On that note, I cannot see any reason to celebrate how few fouls we give when Callum McManaman’s challenge on Massadio Haidara, doesn’t even register as a foul, even after the fact.

  • Stuart

    It’s a strange set of quotes by Riley. First of all he is basically admitting that they are incapable of keeping up with the game hence are noticing (acting on) fewer fouls. Second of all, he states the game is more free flowing and exciting since 2006 where as I actually feel the opposite is true and it was better before with less parking the bus and more end to end game play.

  • Gerardo

    @Rufustan – i dont know, but stuff liike that might be hidden in one of the publications from these guys … I’ve been scanning some of their free stuff and its quite insightful (though some of it is kind of “so what”).

    Serious Injuries will be at the top of a pyramid with its base made up of a huge number of near misses and minor stuff. Clubs I guess will be pulled between creating a “sexy” and entertaining spectacle (income related) and protecting their prized assets (value loss, expenses without contributing to revenue generation/team performance).

    If a team looses enough key players thru injuries then ultimately that club may loose its place in the Division (revenue and status loss). I can see a few ways things could change . a few v serious injuries to high profile English players in one of the most popular teams might do it although I think the clubs involved would just get at each other more. For those in Gods own land it’d be a bit like Aberdeens v own Londoner and the Gers Litigation may be the answer lol .. No I’m not a lawyer!

  • Mick

    Riley appears to be saying that the referees (and him) deserve some sort of credit for contributing to a faster more free flowing game. As Walter has often pointed out these factors should not be of any concern to the match officials, they are there strictly to apply the laws of the game correctly and consistently.
    Walter, now that the BBC have ‘dipped their toe into the water’ re Riley’s comments would it not be an opportune moment for Untold to urge them (the BBC)to undertake/produce an in depth documentary on the PGMOL. You and your fellow refs have done so much research and have so much documented evidence which could be put at their disposal’ I really do not see how they could turn down such an opportunity. It surely would be a huge hit if the BBC would only grasp the nettle.

  • WalterBroeckx

    IMPORTANT NOTE: A kind wind has brought me a nice report and in the next article about referees I will show some mind blowing numbers.

  • Robl

    @ Steve Vallins, 100% right:
    1 we won’t win another major tournament.
    2 we are stifling a generation of skillful young players
    3 we are playing Champions League games at a big disadvantage (as Fergie found to his cost)
    4 Riley, who the **** are you to decide how we play the game?

  • Robl

    Oh yeah, and 5, if Spanish football is so boring why do we see so many young British kids wearing Barcelona tops?

  • Norm

    And where exactly is this ‘debate’ that idiot Riley states? Within a darkened room at Old Toilet? Yes, all the bad tackles not given against Manure would bring down the foul count somewhat. Congratulate our fine refs?! Can’t wait for the ‘kind wind’ to storm across UA!

  • Mick

    I know little about Freemasonry but is there any evidence to suggest that membership of particular lodges can enhance ones chances of advancement within the PGMOL’s ‘secret society’ structure?

  • LRV

    Our old pal, Riley, has scored an own goal yet again.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Does the head of referees have the right to set how the laws are interpreted? The refs set the standard? Shouldn’t the league or the FA set the standard? Why is the head of referees spouting off? His role should be enforcing standards of refereeing; he should be ensuring that the referees are doing their jobs…not propagandizing.

  • Meditation

    Sounds like mike riley is living for the sponsors and the face of the premiership and not for the teams who are a part of this illusion. Scary. If they are that bold then surely executive decisions would be made for certain teams to benefit the sponsors. Is mike a puppet and slave to higher demands? Sounds like it. A grain of sand lost in a billionaires tornado. Money talks. Talking about money.A banker as chairman of arsenal. When will we ever learn that we are the masses who keep ourselves starving whilst feeding the desires of the few.Money talks. Power and positions. Spectators to our own lives that we should be living.Thats what happens when liberties are taken

  • ClockEndRider

    “Talking about money.A banker as chairman of arsenal. When will we ever learn that we are the masses who keep ourselves starving whilst feeding the desires of the few.Money talks.”
    Can we stick to football and the obvious funny games going on and keep off the sub 6th form politics please.

  • Meditation

    Its Maybe why there is all this media love in with bale.Trying to compare him to Messi and ronaldo and other players in other leagues.To protect the image. Do not get me wrong, bale is a good player but its over the top.This league is clutching at straws and they know it. A player not in europes elite competition.Not winning the league or cups.Classed as great? This league and its conclusions are always back to front. My theory is that a man who tells the truth never has to remember what he last said.Reason is that the story will never change.Already the purpose of being a ref has changed from what their guidelines promised so they will slip up because they are not where they started. The most deceitful destroy themselves from within. Keep putting the pressure on lads and ladies.

  • Meditation

    First off you are not talking to a child so change your tone. Second is everything not relative? Every action causes a reaction? I try to look at everything even arsenal. Blind faith doesnt exist here when money is involved. Oh yeah do you have an opinion on anything i said apart from sounding you like a 6th former? If you havent noticed the role of bankers in the worlds economy the try to. Just because the club gives me soundbites doesnt mean they are giving me love. Hows that corporate clockend your riding now? Same as the old one? You picked up on me talking about arsenal and got offended.Careful because i can be tribal too.

  • Meditation

    Dont you ever tell me what to say. Dont ever tell me what you want to read from me. Ignore my thoughts. Simple.
    Funny games going on but no politics involved? Sounds like you want the story to be told then tucked into bed after with a warm mug of milk. Mate the world isnt disneyland . Somethings ,if not most things are mirrors of each other. They define each others reflections. Gambling sites,journalists,footballers,owners,sponsors,television, alcohol,newspapers etc. Different tentacles creating one vision.

  • Matt Clarke

    Riley’s headlines sound like an admission of guilt:
    “We are NOT applying the rules of the game, beacuse WE know what is best for the game.”
    I thought that they were there to referee.

  • AL

    If ever anyone deserved the title of sewer rat its riley.

    Actually those figures show he’s asking his refs to ignore fouls unless they are of a very serious nature only. Disgusting vile thing.

  • greencardusa

    I am happy to include myself in the host of responses on this page! I will add that this arbitrary calling of fouls, yes, arbitrary since some are allowed while others are not, has a lot to do with the unwholesome theatrics that has invaded the game – the ones that ‘make the most of it’. Because refs appear to be wavering about whether to call a foul or not, the player therefore has to be dramatic about drawing the attention of the ref. And when Riley calls attention to a band of ex referees, players, and expert officials, what is he saying? He is merely playing reassurance game by appealing to so called ‘experts’. And what is their expertise? They may have intimate knowledge of the game but that does not make them courageous critics nor does it attest to their sense of justice and fair-play. The issues we raise are about the rules of the game and a demand for just distribution of rgulation on the pitch.

  • Pat

    Has there been any challenge or critique of the Riley statements in any branch of the mass media?

    Is there any forum more public than Untold where it could be made?

    Because as several people have said his views are actually dangerous for the future health of players.

    Mick – interesting thought.

  • Pat

    Tony, off topic – but what’s this annoying video in the top right hand corner? I keep setting it off by mistake.

  • WalterBroeckx

    as far as I know: not.

    But be aware, Untold Arsenal even thought not part of the mass media will challenge his statements and numbers. Watch this space.

    Who do you think you are fooling Mr. Riley…. (all together…)

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Mick – I ‘m not sure if Mike Riley is a Freemason, but being one for the last 15 years ,I’ve derived much joy and pleasure from it and its teachings inspires me always to be a better person .
    I’ve not been given a ” leg’s up ” ;nor have there been ” thus unseen doors” being opened for me or for my fellow brethren . Whatever “gains” we derive is in a more spiritual plane .
    Maybe it could be that I live on the wrong country/continent !
    Do check out the following site –

  • Brickfields Gunners

    And true to his words …

    This woman dies, and when she gets to heaven she asks Saint Peter, “Would it be possible for me to get together with my dear departed husband? He died many years ago.”

    Saint Peter asks, “What’s his name?”

    “John Smith,” replies the woman.

    “Gee,” says Saint Peter, “we’ve got a lot of John Smiths up here. But sometimes we can identify people by their last words. Do you happen to remember what his last words were?”

    The woman thinks for a moment, then says, “Oh yes! I remember them! He said that if I ever slept with another man after he was gone, he would roll over in his grave.”

    “Oh!” says Saint Peter. “You mean Whirling John Smith!”

  • Adam

    Gotcha Mike, you lying piece of **** and from your own partners.

    In the above link Prozone release figures for the champions league 2012/13 regarding distance covered and distance covered sprinting. And it shows the Germans are ahead of all others.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Adam, just wait till my next article about his numbers. 😉

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Just like ,”A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” James Keller ; thought you may like this tale of Freemasons and what it stands for .

    A member of a certain Lodge, who previously attended meetings regularly, had stopped going.
    After a few months, the Worshipful Master decided to visit him.
    It was a chilly evening, and the Worshipful Master found his brother at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.

    Guessing the reason for the Worshipful Master’s visit, the brother welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.
    The Worshipful Master made himself comfortable, but said nothing.

    In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs.
    After several minutes, the Worshipful Master took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth, all alone.

    Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. His host watched all of this in quiet contemplation.

    As the one, lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow, and its fire was no more.
    Soon, it was cold and dead.

    Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.
    The Worshipful Master glanced at his watch and chose this time to leave.
    He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember, and placed it back in the middle of the fire.
    Immediately, it began to glow once more, with all the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

    As the Worshipful Master reached the door to leave, his host said, with a tear running down his cheek, “Thank you so much for your fiery summons, my brother. I’ll be back in
    our Lodge next meeting.”

  • Domhuail

    GoingGoingGooner….the head of referees usually transmits the EPL’s interest and concerns about certain applications of the Law which need improving or adapting, each season. Beyond that, he normally should NOT dictate to officials any specific bent or manner in calling fouls or infractions.So, for example, the referees’ decisions regarding an intentional hand ball will usually follow the FIFA Laws & recommendations, NOT Mike Riley’s suggestion to ignore any hand ball infractions against certain teams or to be ¨lenient¨ when such events occur against certain teams. However, if that ¨suggestion¨could be proven, then that would be a firm nail in his coffin.