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The conspiracy to corrupt Premier League football

By Tony Attwood

It is a dangerous business to suggest something is amiss in football.  Not dangerous not because someone might sue.  I mean, I suppose they could but PGMO, Fifa, the FA, and the Premier League,  the bodies most likely to be implicated in any allegation of something being corrupt in football, have a long history of shrugging off all allegations with a laugh (or in the case of the referees’ club PGMO, with total silence and a closing of their web site).

No, dangerous because the idea of a conspiracy is complex, and today football is written about only in simplistic sentences.   Say something complex, and most people laugh.

So, to give an example, as one reader of Untold wrote a little while back, Arsenal is clearly badly run, because we have no recognised defensive midfielder.  That is simple, clear, easily understood, and easily repeated.  The counter notion, as admitted by Martin Jol after the Fulham game, is that Arsenal have just invented the notion of the rotating midfield, and it is starting to bemuse any side that tries to close the midfield down.

That answer is complicated, so it doesn’t fit into a headline and doesn’t get explored much.

It is simple to say that Arsenal have had a terrible start to the season – but much more complex and difficult to go back and read what the Times was saying about Arsenal’s performances in the early days of the Unbeaten season.  For one match early on (and full details are in the Anniversaries section of the Arsenal History site) they said words to the effect that the fans felt that this was the worst Arsenal performance ever.   Today, the last match is everything.  History, trends, the last 15 games – all are nothing.

To give one other example, I saw another note posted here from a Tottenham fan who attempted in two lines to make fun of Mr Wenger, his joke being “In Arsenal you rust”.   The more complex analysis – that showing how many times Tottenham has finished above Arsenal during Mr Wenger’s reign, was ignored.

But if it is hard to analyse anything beyond the very last match, or the amount of money spent on transfers, then matters get even harder in one wants to discuss the idea that something might be amiss at the very heart of football, because immediately there will be a lot of “you are just a conspiracy theorist” type of comment.

That’s another shorthand way of dealing with reality, and a bit of a shame because the phrase “conspiracy theory” has come to symbolise weird theses suggesting that the Americans never landed on the moon, that the Illuminati run the world, or that the Chinese are poisoning Indian tea in order to bring Britain to its knees.

But the fact that there are some very strange stories which have no evidence whatsoever, conspiracies – the coming together or two or more people in secret to change something or other – do happen.  Everyone in Britain is taught about 1605, – a conspiracy to overthrow King James I of England (who was also King James VI of Scotland) via a group of provincial Catholics blowing up the House of Lords on November 5, thus (in their theory) leading to the nine year old Elizabeth becoming queen.  It failed – but it was a real attempt.

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Most football supporters have heard (or most certainly should have heard) about Calciopoli – the corruption system in Italy that took in referees, clubs, TV companies… the lot.  That was a conspiracy theory and a half involving so many people it is amazing that the clubs got away with it for so long.

But still, suggest that something is amiss here, and a lot of people will write in and say “you are just a conspiracy theorist”, which I guess means, “oh you believe that there was a conspiracy surround Guy Fawkes, and there was one in Italian football.”   And on that basis I am, I guess, a conspiracy theorist.

All the information I get, and all that I see, makes me feel that there is something amiss in England’s football too, and I mention that now for two reasons.  One is because slowly, very slowly, the media are starting to talk about the work of sites like Referees Decisions (thank you for your support Talk Sport), and slowly, even more slowly, information is seeping out.  Not enough information for me to point a finger and not risk being dragged into court, but enough to risk talking about the subject again, and taking on the barrage of abuse of being “some kind of nutcase conspiracy theorist” as I was called recently.

Conspiracies are complex, and need handling with caution, which is the opposite of the approach of José Mourinho who this week had a bash at suggesting there is one against Chelsea within Uefa.  Now I can hear the snorts already.  An excuse – always an excuse.  And of course that is what anyone who has any sort of conspiracy in mind relies on.  The people who laugh without even considering the facts always aid the conspiracy by suggesting conspiracies don’t exist.  (I am not saying we need to consider the facts relating to most wild conspiracy theories, because there are so few facts to hand in such cases, but where there are facts we need always to look at the evidence).

José Mourinho’s argument (summarised in the phrase, “this is my history with Uefa for a long, long time”) however lacks one thing.  A motive.  Why would Uefa want to put José Mourinho down?  Given that all conspiracies are risky affairs, generally they are only tackled when the prize is great.

“I have a fantastic experience of playing with 10 men in Uefa matches,” he said.  Well, that’s just the statement.  And the motive?

His subsequent statement gives his version of the evidence of the event:  “I played two or three times with 10 men against Barça. I went to Inter and played a Champions League semi-final, one hour, with 10 men against Barcelona. I go to Real Madrid, I played again a Champions League semi-final with 10 men. Now I come back to Chelsea and played a Super Cup final with 10 men again, and go to analyse the actions and make your conclusions. I’m unlucky. Just that.”

So that is the evidence.  But we also need motive, means and opportunity.  José Mourinho’s conspiracy falls because although Uefa has the opportunity to fix referees, and the referees have an opportunity to fix the games, where is the motive?  Do they just not like him?
Compare this with Calciopoli.   The motive of the clubs to have referees give certain decisions one way or another over time, was for them to win the league.  The means was the huge amount of money the owners of certain clubs possessed, and the opportunity arose because the referees’ decision on the pitch is final.  With TV replays fixed, most people would not notice or complain.  Those who did notice were dismissed as “conspiracy theorists”.
But there is one final point, and I am sure you would have seen it in the Mourinho case.  As soon as he starts speaking like this, the reaction is to laugh, to think, “typical Chelsea, always moaning”, or in our case “typical Arsenal”.  Indeed it is a commonplace among Arsenal fans who follow the media and who like them are against Wenger, to answer any suggestion that there is something terribly wrong with refereeing in the Premier League by saying words to the effect that “I suppose you are saying there is nothing wrong with this Arsenal team.”
And that’s the problem we have.  A complex issue overrun by one-liners.
Indeed so restrictive is the view of most fans (of all clubs) that when we published a review of Tottenham and the referees a short while back, a significant number of Tottenham fans read a few lines and stopped, turning at once to make the case that the analysis was flawed.  We said that there were a number of penalty errors in the Tottenham games that Referees Decisions analysed.  They jumped in to sneer that “Tottenham got not penalties,” last season and thus the whole piece was rubbish.  In fact we were saying that there were occasions when Tottenham should have had a penalty and didn’t get it, and others where a penalty was awarded against Tottenham but should not have been.
That trifling incident symbolises the whole story.  Conspiracies – which sometimes do exist – are complex and need careful untangling and analysis of evidence. Laughing at someone who proposes a conspiracy is easy, it requires no effort, and from that false position all conspiracies are put down.
Of course matters are not helped by the manager of Chelsea proposing a conspiracy and then failing to give motive, means and opportunity.   But none of this proves there are no conspiracies.
To do that – to find out if there is anything going on – you need to investigate.   That is what Referees Decisions has done, and I am so pleased that those who dedicated so many hours to the site, have started to get the recognition they deserve.

17 comments to The conspiracy to corrupt Premier League football

  • Andy L

    The problem for Chelsea came to a head during the infamous Champs League tie versus Barcelona when Drogba attacked the referee , verbally , for not awarding numerous penalties . As a result Chelsea were not awarded a penalty in Europe for a couple of seasons , one particularly blatant trip on Kalou which was obvious . As for the Totts they are now getting penalties , both dubious in my opinion , whereas they had had none last season which is similar to us last season following the previous seasons where we got relatively nothing. This could be coincidence of course. One final point referee Taylor fails to give Baines a penalty yesterday but managed to award Villa’s 2nd against Koscelny ,indeed very confusing.

  • Epicurean

    Great article. I also wonder about doping in football, I heard a testing facility was closed in Brazil ahead of the world cup. With the amount of money and gambling surrounding football it would be naive not to be open to the possibility of conspiracy IMO.

  • Fred

    There is definitely a ref problem against Arsenal in the EPL . It has become very easy for refs to punish Arsenal in situations where others would not be punished. Is it a conspiracy? I don’t know. But certainly some refs would predictably punish Arsenal. They and the media just hate Wenger in this country, helped by so many ignorant fans. The FA are too irresponsible and dismissive to ask one question: How is it possible that a top European side goes so many games without winning a game when a particular ref is in charge? The win and loss percentages should be roughly the same irregardless of the ref. I have seen many Arsenal games that should have been investigated. I ask myself, is it betting, conspiracy or just simply antipathy towards Wenger? Any experienced ref knows how to influence the result of a game without most noticing. To assume all refs are infallible is wrong. They are after all humans

  • An absolutely fantastic article, Tony. Thank You.

    Football is rather unique when it comes to conspiracies and theories. Bias plays a huge role in the way people think about the sport. All attempts to reason fail because unless you are saying something in support of one particular club, ideas are quickly dismissed. For instance, what Manchester United fan would be willing to to even entertain the possibility that a large part of their success over recent years has been down to referees cheating for them?

    I do have to laugh when the usual ‘conspiracy nut’ comments are thrown around. The people who do that are so ignorant, totally brain dead, that all you can do is pity them. Our world has been full of conspiracies through history and yet suggest one in football and the tin hat pictures start flying around. Its a pretty sad indictment of our current cultural malaise in truth.

    As far as Mourinho is concerned, it is bias and then pettiness that are the motives I would point to. This started for Chelsea against Barcelona in that very famous game where the referee decided to play by different rules that ensured Barcelona won the game. If you watched Barcelona a lot over the last few years, refereeing decisions should surely be investigated. After that game, Mourinho spoke out and possibly sealed his fate as far as UEFA is concerned. There can of course be no accusation without some proof, so I would just go as far as saying that I fully understand Mourinho’s opinion. The same could be said of Wenger… poor old Arsenal have had terrible ‘luck’ in the Champions League ever since the Barcelona game where the referee sent RVP off for no reason and made decision after decision in Barcelona’s favour. Wenger was well and truly silenced with petty touch line ban punishements.

    There is a common thread here of course – Barcelona. This brings me back to bias. It only takes a fan of a club to have too much power and bias can be just as strong a motivation to slip into corruption as money.

    Ah, money. Wherever there is a lot, corruption seeps in. To that end football in THIS country is absolutely ripe for corruption and the bigger surprise and leap pf faith to me would be that there is NO corruption in the Premier League.

    My 2c.

  • ClockEndRider

    At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, great work. Please keep it up.

  • forengaxx

    As you rightly said, club bias plays a part in a fan admitting or dismissing the presence of conspiracies in football;just like a Man utd fan won’t admit the role of referees in their wins, an Arsnenal fan also won’t entertain such notion. Please stop painting arsenal with the ‘hollier than thou’ brush; am sure if thorough investigations are conducted ALL clubs will be found to be corrupt(incuding our darling arsenal)……..So the question is how corrupt are the clubs? For me, Man utd will top the list!! … opinion anyway!

  • Previgo

    For a while now in every uefa match barcelona plays against english teams, its been a culture of ONE compulsory REDCARD and ONE compulsory PENALTY in favour of barcelona. I don’t know what to make of this. BIAS? CONSPIRACY? OR JUST COINCIDENCE?

  • AL

    Brilliant piece. Why anyone would believe football is clean when all other sport around it has been embroiled in cheating controversy is beyond me. We ve seen it in cricket, boxing, cycling, atheletics, etc., and football has more money than any of the above.

    Whatever happened to the Spanish doctor who claimed to have had many doping clients including footballers?

  • MoW

    Tony, is the there a killer document or report that puts together all the facts, pieces together the evidence, builds a case and concludes with a compelling argument that the English ref conspiracy exists? My mind is open and Id love to read it.

    Given how complex it is I think it should be incumbent on the the theorists to make this case with an almost evangelical zeal. Which would include formatting and presenting the case in a powerful and lucid way, which could be shared very easily. Surely this is how ideas are spread.

  • nicky

    “The conspiracy to corrupt Premier League football”.
    The title alone is a terrible indictment on English football.
    From a mere test of skill between two sides on an area of grass, the game has emerged into big business where only the strong stand a chance of surviving.
    Once upon a time, only the clubs wielded strength. Now we have player power AND the Associations who govern the game.
    And there you have the inevitable nucleus for corruption.
    The love of money being the root of all evil, a return to the purely amateur game might be the answer…in a perfect world!

  • Tasos


    “Whatever happened to the Spanish doctor who claimed to have had many doping clients including footballers?”

    He (Eufemiano Fuentes) was given a one year suspended sentence.

    The judge then ordered the remaining blood samples held at his lab to be destroyed.

    However this could be a “conspiracy theory”.

  • para

    MONEY, that is usually the main argument in conspiracy theories or facts. For you can guarantee that someone wants to earn if they are responsible for helping to implement it. After studying many of them, i realised i had to change my mind on them(used to think they are all rubbish), they are so many that now have masses of informational proof, yet nothing is done against the perpetrators, because they are usually too powerful for most to risk directly accusing them. In football i think that organisations BETTING (sometimes but not always secretly) huge sums on teams causes the disruption to football. We have had examples of this in boxing and other sports, why not also in football.
    Finally, just look at the so called leaders of countries(countries who by the way have gained all their wealth nefariously) who lie, steal, and even involve themselves with bombing others for profit and get away with it every year, why do we not expect it to be happening amongst the “lesser” folk too?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Keep up the good job ,Tony .Sometimes it takes time for the truth to be exposed .Don’t bother with the know-it-alls and the naysayers – the truth is out there .
    A lot of things is not right in football , but one day it will all unravel .
    In the meantime here’s ….
    Frank Feldman, Perfect Man!

    A man walks out to the street and stops a taxi just going by.
    He gets into the taxi, and the cabbie says, “Perfect timing. You’re just like Frank.”

    Passenger: “Who?”

    Cabbie: “Frank Feldman… he was a cabbie who did everything right all the time. Like my coming along when you needed a cab, he was always in the right place at the right time. Things happened like that to Frank Feldman every single time.”

    Passenger: “There are always a few clouds over everybody.”

    Cabbie: “Not Frank Feldman. He was a terrific athlete. He could have won the Grand-Slam at tennis. He could golf with the pros. He sang like an opera baritone, and danced like a Broadway star. And you should have heard him play the piano! He was an amazing guy, perfect in every way.”

    Passenger: “Sounds like he was something really special.”

    Cabbie: “There’s more. He had a memory like a computer. He remembered everybody’s birthday. He knew all about wine, which foods to order, and which fork to eat them with. And he could fix anything. Not like me. I change a fuse, and the whole street blacks out. But Frank Feldman, he could do everything right, he never made a mistake, he was perfect!!”

    Passenger: “Wow, some guy then.”

    Cabbie: “He always knew the quickest way to go in traffic and avoid traffic jams. Not like me, I always seem to get stuck in them. But Frank, he never made a mistake, and he really knew how to treat a woman and make her feel good.

    He was the best lover in bed, and could take his wife to the top of the mountain. He would never answer her back, even if she was in the wrong. His clothing was always immaculate, shoes highly polished too. He was the perfect man! He never made a mistake. No one could ever measure up to Frank Feldman.”

    Passenger: “This Frank Feldman was an amazing fellow. How did you meet him?”

    Cabbie: “Well… I never actually met Frank. He died, and I have the pleasure of being married to his widow.”

  • AL

    Cheers Tasos. You’d think the materials would have been preserved, as they could’ve proved useful in the fight against doping many years from now. Wouldn’t be totally surprised if said judge received a brown envelope, but then again, like you say it could all be a conspiracy theory.

  • marcus

    The term “Conspiracy Theory” was invented by the CIA post the Kennedy Assassination I believe. As we all know now, the CIA assassinated Kennedy on the orders of the banking elites, primarily because he planned to seize control of the fractional reserve banking system from the Fed.

    The Modus Operandi of the CIA was to float a ton of stupid ideas to muddy the waters. e.g. Kennedy was assassinated by Cuba/Aliens/The Mafia/Feminists etc etc etc, so that the daft, the lunatic, the improbable and the credible all swirled around together under the banner of “Conspiracy Theories” – essentially tarring any story that deviated from the official version of events as a daft baseless notion.

    A similar tactic today is to have an inside man play the crackpot, and then embrace a lot of prevalent thinking, some correct, some patently false. I am thinking of David Icke. The idea is to throw the good in with the bad, so that the good is harder to distinguish.

    The term “conspiracy theorist” is therefore such a loaded term it has no real semantic purpose, other than to deride and mock the object of it. I.E. it is in fact pretty meaningless, and is more just a general term of abuse like “dickhead”

  • Digvijay

    In today’s game, the refree was doing fine in the first half. But in the second, suddenly odd decisions started to take place. Is that good enough lead, for an investigation? 😉


  • Stuart

    Interesting comment re Barca, have you got more data on that?