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July 2021

“It all evens out in the end.” Are referees really that unbiased? Ref Review 2012/13: Wigan

By Walter Broeckx

This article is part of the series of the Referee Review 2013. You can find links to earlier articles on the bottom of this article.


In our last article we showed that there is the home bias as we showed in the season before in our reviews and this still was very much there in the last season.  The next thing we will do is show you how the team bias has been. And this is something that will be more interesting of course for each team. This is where one can see how things have happened in the favour of a team or when things went again that team.

We will show this in a table for each team highlighting each type of decision. We will show you the totals when the team in the article got a favourable decision and when they got it against them.  As you know the traditional mantra “it all evens out at the end of the season” should be visible. So why don’t we try to see if things did even out for each team or not?

In the table we just show the decisions without putting any weight on the decisions. That is something for later on. Now we just take each decision at the same value, which is of course not saying all because a wrong penalty call is a bit more important than a wrong throw in decision.

The first team we cover is a team that went down: Wigan Athlectic.

We  reviewed 14 of their games in total and that is 36,84% of the games they played in the PL. So a rather low number, but still well above the normal sampling rates used in this kind of exercise.


In the second column we see the type of decision. And in the column favoured we see how many decisions favoured Wigan when we reviewed them. And in the column Penalised we see how many times a wrong decision went against them.  The total swing is the difference between the favoured decisions and the penalised decisions.

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A negative number in this column means that the total was against the team and a positive number means that the total decisions was in their favour.

In the last column we see the average swing per game, based on the games we reviewed. And this gives an indication on how many decisions went against a team or were in favour of a team. The lower the number the lower number of decisions that were wrong. And a positive number indicates that in each game they get some decisions in their favour and a negative indicates how many wrong decisions against them, the team had to overcome.

So if we look at the total numbers we see that for Wigan it most certainly  looked as if the outcome of the season was that the bias swing is very low.  Almost non-existent in fact. Based on 14 games one could say that it evened out for them.

So a rather even score for Wigan in this table and we might come to the conclusion that the refs didn’t have much to do with the fact that Wigan was one of the teams going down.  Put another way, Wigan were treated fairly.

At the end of this series we will show you a total table with the final numbers of each team so you can have a look at it in one view. I can tell you it will be a very interesting table.


Earlier articles:

1. Who reviewed the games

2. What we did and what next

3. All the decisions in numbers

4. The first at times astonishing numbers

5. Home and away bias

The books…

The sites from the same team…


33 comments to “It all evens out in the end.” Are referees really that unbiased? Ref Review 2012/13: Wigan

  • HR

    Unscientific twaddle masquerading as fact.

    You may as well be writing about faeries and leprechauns. Such a waste.

  • Va Cong

    Would you prefer 50 years worth of games HR?

  • HR – that is a most interesting comment. Walter gives a load of evidence building on previous work not only on this site but also – going back over 3 seasons.

    Would you care to elucidate how you reached your opinion. After all, Walter has gone to great lengths in his articles to explain how he has reached these numbers.

  • Arsenal1Again

    @HR. I don’t think it is a waste, it is a very useful source for data which others can use in their own analysis. The author is also a REF and at the very least you have to appreciate the time and effort spent on collecting thd data.

    Personally I like to keep it simpler and generally I feel it is swings and roundabouts for most teams in any league. But there is definitely evidence suggesting some teams have favourable conditions more than others over the course of a season and the ‘laws of averages’ highlight this. You and most other fans will just think ‘something doesn’t feel right’ when teams such as Liverpool get endless set pieces towards the end of a game like they used to, or how the top scorer of both Chelsea and Liverpool were the set piece takers, Lampard and Gerard respectively …. but here you have somebody data mining much deeper and naming and shaming match officials too. If you followed it all over the course of a season, you would see you can predict the outcome of some coming matches if you know in advance who the managers are, who the match officials are, the time of season, the points deficit and in some cases who the players are.

    Aston Villa’s best season in recent memory was about 5-6 years ago. They were getting penalties virtually every game, endless set pieces and because of this they sat above us for much of the season. Much of this was due to the diving of Ashley Young and so it was not a surprise to see Man Utd buy the player because of this quality. Remember how many set pieces were gained by Van Nistelrooy? No? Well that’s when guys like the author here are worth their salt.

  • Pat

    Looking forward very much to the table of all teams, Walter.

  • ClockEndRider

    Ignore comments such as that from “HR”above. You have taken the time to buld up and explain your methodology. People such as this would of course very much like to destroy your work. The very fact that they state no reasoned methodolgoy or posit no counter to your thesis shows just how much weight should be attached to their words. These people are clearly happy to be part of the problem. Personally, I side with those looking to be part of the solution…

  • cyberian

    Walter: I admired your remarkable dedication and persistence in this entire endeavor–it is an empirical epic. It is a testimony both to your character and conviction. I look forward to further reports.

  • Stuart

    Am I right to assume that as with the penalised column being incorrect calls, the correct favoured column is also where calls incorrectly favoured the team?

  • Stuart

    Am I right to assume that as with the penalised column being incorrect calls, the favoured column is also where calls incorrectly favoured the team?

  • WalterBroeckx

    Yes Stuart, you are correct.

  • Florian

    Walter, does the decision weighting have any role to play here? I remember in the last year’s review the weighted decisions were summed up along with the non-weighted ones.

  • Russell

    Off topic. All throughout this Suarez saga we’ve been branded classless and all of that nonsense. How comes Real and Chelsea aren’t being vilified for their pursuits of Bale and Rooney. So we’ve apparently bid 40mil and a quid and been slaughtered for it. Why would we pay a penny more if that’s the price being touted? Getting sick of the bias drivel pouring out of these journalists brains and onto my computer.

  • Russell

    ……and keep up the good work Untold, I thoroughly enjoy your articles for a bit of late night reading.

  • Arsenal1Again

    This site though has a 100% persecution ethos. This makes it very negative. It’s a clique of like minded depressives attracted to the site because it’s a macrocosm of their daily life where everybody is biased and unfair, out to get them and basically abnormal if they’re not like minded depressives. Even when we win there is no joy here, just a focus on unfairness and persecution, just woe and futility because they all out to get us. It’s a conspiracy.

    I remember when Untold covered subjects we would likely never come across if it were not for the site, but I look in now years later and it is nothing like it was, it is just whining and a soapbox for people with a persecution complex. It is sad to see.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Arsenal 1 Again – Do you mean people who have multiple issues with their ;-
    1) Parents and/or family
    2)Bosses or staff at work ( if they work that is !).
    3)Spouses ( some are their bosses too !)
    4)Sexual or physicial inadequacies / issues ( size, impotence, pms , frigidty ,Oedipus complexes ,etc)
    5)Money issues ( lack of ,too much ,not able to understand its usage ).
    6)Mental issues ( too many to write here !)
    7)An unjustified sense of entitlement ( I am , I say ,so it is / has to be !)

    Nah …. I don’t think so .These posters are as sane as those in any asylum I been !

  • ClockEndRider

    No persecution complex. Just sick of hearing tired, lame drivel such as “it all evens out in the end” from biased media and “pundits” which just don’t stack up with what my eyes tell me. Sick and tired of being dictated to by media populated by dinosaurs with no interest in anything beyond expatiating on their own biases (thats you, all ex Liverpool players from the 70’s and 80’s with the possible exception of Souness) or worse those of their employers (that’s all Sky employees with the exception of Gary Neville, thus far). Look at the BBC with Hansen and Lawrenson. at the start of each season they go on about how this is Liverpool’s year, without fail. if they were employed to forecast in any other industry they would have been sacked by now, so poor is their success rate.
    Returning to the point in hand, bias in decisions, when an unbiased sample of the decisions is taken, as it has been by Untold and nowhere else, this concurs with what I see both when I attend and when I watch TV games.
    Sorry if this doesn’t meet with your approval. But, as Keynes famously said; “when the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Arsenal1Again, I love cats and usually respect their opinions but I’ve never heard such dog-brained thinking than claiming that Manu bought Ashley Young because he fell over a lot.

  • para

    @ Russell
    It seems as if the media and refs will never treat Arsenal like they treat other CL teams, and i for one did not really want Suarez to come to Arsenal, for that sole reason. Imagine how much more they are going to dump on Arsenal if that does happen. I have still not found the real reason why they hate Arsenal so much. Maybe some research could be done on that?
    Another thing i see is that the match commentators are clueless when it comes to fouls, penalties and offences on the field, and they have the replays in front of them. Sadly their reporting seems to decide what has happened to the mainstream of non thinkers. Sometime you see a player barge into another player, and you hear “strong player” then 2 minutes later another player does almost exactly the same thing, lo and behold this one is now a “dirty foul” and gets booked. I get confused sometimes watching games, and turn the commentary off.

  • Rupert Cook

    But how do you distinguish between bias and ineptitude? Or basic human error?

    It’s all very well you sitting in a comfortable room supping on an ice cold cola analyzing every ref’s decision but you are not trying to officiate in the heat of the game.

    Walter, when you were refereeing was every decision you made correct? Did you have an independent assessor judging your performances? And if so if he called some of your decisions incorrect did you accept that? If he claimed your bad decisions were down to bias or ineptitiude would you be outraged?

    I admire your pertinacity regarding this subject but I can see the point of HR’s comment, though he did nothing to support it.

  • Mick

    @Rupert Cook
    ‘But how do you distinguish between bias and ineptitude? Or basic human error?’
    Unfortunately I think Walters in depth reviews have shown that bias and ineptitude are rife, and yes, it is hard to distinguish between the two. However it is stretching the bounds of credibility too far to dispute that it is ineptitude that allows Man U so many penalties at home and such a tiny amount against compared to almost any other team. Given Man U are given the pick of the ‘best’ refs for their games how come those hand picked ‘super’ officials are consistently more inept in Man U’s favour rather than their opponents when penalty decisions are made, both for and against. Surely Rupert, even you (who sound to me a fair minded chap) must smell a rat here or do you say it is just coincidence?

  • HR

    Hand this in as a first year undergraduate piece and you’d get an F. OK, that’s generous. You’d get it thrown back in your face and given a two week extension.

    This is not how you collate and analyse this sort of thing. But if you’re persuaded otherwise, then better get back to the faeries and leprechauns.

    Imagine governments making statements based on this standard of rigour? Oh, that’s right, they do. And millions believe them. Again and again and again.

    People are lazy. And Arsenal supporters are people too. People are also not particularly bright.

    If Walter wanted to be taken seriously then he’s going to have to put in the effort to learn. Being intuitive and having common sense isn’t enough. That’s why this is a waste.

  • HR – this is a most interesting set of allegations – and it would actually be of interest if you put in a single example of exactly how and why anything here is wrong.

    I didn’t write the piece, but I did check it through before publication. Now I admit that I don’t have a statistics degree, but I do have a BA degree in psychology, and a research degree from London University Institute of Education which uses a high degree of statistics, and I can’t see what is wrong. Please do enlighten us all.

    This is the second post you have made in which you have simply pronounced on the inability of Untold and its writers to understand the basic of statistics. I wrote back after the first piece to ask you to give reason and clarification for your views, but you failed to do so.

    I would ask once again that you back up your strong assertions with explanations that we can all understand.

  • bob

    How Ridiculous? Everyone has a ___, everyone has an opinion. You are not the exception to this rule. Provide a scintilla of evidence that Walter is wrong on any specific call/non-call or interpretation and you will rise above the stupidity that you attribute to people. By making your pronouncements from on high and no sense of offering any accountability, when you slag such a man’s 3 year transparent and scrupulously evolving effort, it places you beneath the stupid humans that you posture as standing above. Without evidence, you are, until then, a cliche monger; surely beneath contempt.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Mick, I expect Ferguson may well have influenced ref’s performances. It’ll be interesting to see how many decisions Moyes can engineer.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Tony , this just reminded me of you !

    The Patient Grandpa…

    I was walking through the local supermarket the other day when I saw a grandfather walking around with his 2 year old grandson. It was obvious that the grandpa wasn’t having an easy time of it, with the siren-like voice of his cherished youngling scaling upwards every time candy or toys came into view.

    The grandfather, however, kept his cool, and intoned softly to the child: “Ron, relax, it won’t take long.”

    When the screaming didn’t stop, the grandpa continued: “Ron, there’s no reason to get angry, try to enjoy this walk and in a minute we’ll be on the way home, promise.”

    child crying
    When I came out of the store I saw them in the parking lot, the child screaming and the older man still talking softly and quietly to him. I couldn’t help myself. I walked over to him.

    “Sir,” I said, “I have to say you are an amazing grandfather. The way you talk to the boy and keep your calm despite all of this screaming – Ron’s a lucky kid to have a grandpa like you.”

    “Thanks,” said the grandfather, “but I’m Ron. This little bugger’s name is Michael.”

  • americangooner

    i read Riley say 99% of the offside decisions are correct but is it? Or riley is just telling a figure from back of his head ? Or probably he thinks since no one is scrutinizing the refs he can come up with stupendous numbers?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Sigh ….

    Patient : “Doctor, every time I drink coffee I get this pain in my eye…”
    Doctor: “May I suggest removing the spoon first?”

  • Geoffrey Soupe

    The problem with this is that it includes all types of decisions in the same analysis. It would be more pertinent were it to break it up into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ decisions which significantly affect the outcome of the result.

    So the conclusion here that Wigan’s season almost ‘evened itself out’ is marred by the way that throw ins are being weighted against penalty decisions. Try telling any Wigan fan “Oh, sorry you didn’t get that penalty you should have had, but you did get that throw in when it actually went out off McArthur.”

    Also, how is the Own Goal column taken into consideration?

  • Hi Geoffrey – yes we do have weighted figures generated and that is an good observation. The weightings are arbitrary though and open to criticism in their own right – but interesting none the less.

    The Own Goal is essentially just a Goal that was given incorrectly either for or against the team:

    For example a defender might stick a boot in to block a cross and put it just over the line – the goalie might get to it late but make out the he saved it and con the ref – this therefore would be an incorrect ‘Own Goal’ call which favours one team and penalises another… so you could legitimately lump Goal and Own Goal figures together.

    Walter if you want any further breakdowns off the back of this for the next article then let me know?

  • Stuart

    Geoffrey Soupe
    I think with a little patience here, you will see the report published with weighted decisions. You are indeed right to highlight the fact that one decision does not balance out all other types of decision – this will be covered (as Walter did mention in the article). One thing previous years summaries have not covered is whether the balancing out took part at the same time in the game or not (ie did one team get a decision incorrectly in their favour at the start of the game and the other team at the end of the game).

  • HR – the analysis reflects the broad nature of the readership, it is not intended as a first year undergraduate ‘piece’ but rather something that is a summary of a vast body of work.

    Thank you for your shitty comments all the same.

  • bob

    “I expect Ferguson may well have influenced ref’s performances. It’ll be interesting to see how many decisions Moyes can engineer.”
    Rupert Cook,
    To my understanding, Lord Football, the former Don Fergus (aka Sauron) is still enmeshed in the scene at Manure as a director and ambassador and, larger than life, may well have both a hand in and a general mission to defend, preserve and expand the VALUE OF THE BRAND. Seeing no evidence as yet that Fergus has taken up knitting and golf and a rocking chair at high tea time, I cannot imagine that he is a stranger to power. The man retired at high tide and it is naive for anyone to assume (whether you do or not) that he is estranged from power and influence at MU, Big Media and Big Football. I don’t expect that David Moyes is able to engineer conditions that matter on his own. He is a lightweight relative to the players at the table. And I’d wager that if things ever got really rocky on Moyes pitch, that the Don would descend from on high (or the back room) and right the ship.

  • Bob – it depends; if we assume that he has exhausted a lot of favours and pushed the envelope of tolerance during the latter part of his tenure then I would expect any ‘untoward influence’ to wind down… also – he no longer has the ear of the press which further weakens his position as ‘the don’ in that it is not so easy to smear the reputation of or ostracise those who displease him.

    Also he does have a fierce ego to protect so the path of least resistance, for the retired don and his valuable legacy, might be for him to be ‘sorely missed’ ergo further inflating the narrative that he was the greatest manager the world has ever seen.

    I expect Moyes to struggle… but that could be just wishful thinking on my part!