What Might Influence a Referee?

By Pete

The refereeing analysis pioneered by Walter and his colleagues over the last few years continues to provoke discussion.  From the analysis undertaken, it is very clear to me that the biases demonstrated can not conceivably have arisen by chance fluctuation – and that is leaving aside the really poor decision accuracy which, as Walter has pointed out, is significantly substandard compared to other top European Leagues.

I have challenged (in the comments to Bootomee’s incredibly popular article a couple of weeks ago) a willing statistician to take the referee review analysis a step further – to calculate the statistical likelihood of the various biases arising by chance… Gord sort of half-volunteered before realising he had a life as well!  I hope someone puts their hand up?

More recently, Walter has authored some articles suggesting some steps that could be taken to improve refereeing.

However, there has been less recent coverage on WHY these biases have arisen.  In fact some commenters have cast doubt on the statistics underpinning the bias outcomes because they can not conceive of a reason why this should happen.  I consider this wrong-headed but, in an attempt to square the circle I throw out some reasons why referees might display bias…  Most/all of these have been previously mentioned in articles and comments on this site – so apologies for plagiarism – but I am trying to pull together in order to aid progress towards identifying the missing link between the proven fact of bias and what may cause it.

I should hasten to add that I have no proof of any of this – it is just idle speculation!

1.      Favouring a Team the Referee Supports

Nearly everyone who is involved in football grew up supporting a team.  For the fans, this passion tends to remain relatively undiminished throughout our lives.  However, for players, coaches and referees this influence often does (and probably should) diminish over time.  For example, Tim Sherwood grew up an Arsenal fan… as did Harry Redknapp.  I was at school from the age of 5 to 16 with an Arsenal fan who went on to play for Tottenham.  You could see his perspective change over time.  On the other hand, Johnny Jackson – now at Charlton – never lost his gooner passion even when wearing the white shirt of the other lot!

So referees will have these preferences.  And some may hold them quite strongly.  This would not just impact on matches involving their favoured team – but may also impact on matches they do for their rivals.  Either traditional rivals –or rivals in the League table at that time.  The (un)esteemed PGMOL will avoid referees doing games involving their declared team (and generally their city rivals) – but they will still be given games involving their rivals in the League table.

At this stage, I note the extreme regional composition of referees in the PL: almost all are from the North of England and none at all from London and the South East.  This looks very bad indeed.  And probably is…

2.      Personal Corruption

It is well documented the amount of money wagered on games, together with many cases of corruption/match fixing all over the world.  While it might be hard to nobble a premier league player due to the amount of money they earn (but recall the- unproven – allegations against a certain Zimbabwean goalkeeper a few years back), although definitely not impossible, referees are paid relative peanuts.  I note the Football is Fixed website allegation that of the 17 matches this season involving single bets in excess of £1mm, 16 involved just two referees.  Various other allegations of holidays etc have also been made in the past.

3.      Higher Level Corruption

The Premier League is immensely popular around the world and has attracted a broad swathe of immensely wealthy owners from a diverse range of countries, several with lower standards of behaviour than we are used to.

Would it really be a surprise if someone who had invested hundreds of millions in his football club might be tempted to offer a (relatively) small amount in order to influence matters his way?  Leaving aside personal vanity, the riches on offer for, say, qualifying for the Champions League or avoiding relegation are huge.  There have been numerous examples of these kinds of incidents in other countries down the years.

Then there is the issue of the “Global Brand”.  The perception is that if the League title is won by someone other than one of the “big names” then the marketability of the overall product may be diminished?

4.      High Level Connections

Some clubs have more influence in the corridors of power than others.  For example, it could be argued (and I don’t have any numbers to hand to demonstrate this) that Arsenal started to get a rawer deal once David Dein departed his various “behind the scenes” roles.  Not that I would be happy with Arsenal getting favourable treatment but putting this one out there.

 5.      Professional Advancement

If referees perceive that the way to remain on the select list – and bear in mind that this is their livelihood – or to get the big games at the big stadiums or to get a FIFA bade or to be nominated for major tournaments – is to ensure that the powers that be are kept happy (see 3 above) then it would be a strong man who could/would resist.

6.      Fear/Pressure

The other side of the coin to 5.  It is well known that referees that incurred the displeasure of the former Man Utd manager were often kept away from appointments with Man Utd, particularly at Old Trafford (the biggest club stadium in the country) for lengthy periods – sometimes a year or more.  The outcome of this was practically no penalties or red cards awarded against Man Utd for years.  Extraordinary.  And this has been alluded to by Messrs Poll and Halsey amongst others.

And most referees are influenced by the home support screaming for a decision.  Referees are human…

7.      The Media Narrative

Bootomee covered this thoroughly in his recent article.  But the media drives the focus by fans, the FA and others.  Take, for example, the lack of subsequent disciplinary action against Agbonlahor for his breaking Rosicky’s nose.  Does this correlate with the lack of media attention?

8.      The “Referee’s Union”

When a manager or club makes a fuss about a referee or an incident, do other referees close ranks and punish the team attacking one of their mates?  I would say so.  We all know that, in the real world of business, one is more likely to get what one wants if one is nice to someone (why else would the corporate hospitality industry exist?).  The exception to this rule is 6 above of course…

Finally, one of the key reasons why (justifiable) suspicions are raised even higher is the completely opaque way the PGMOL goes about its business.  I just can not understand this.  Why be so secretive unless there really IS something to hide?

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14 Replies to “What Might Influence a Referee?”

  1. this is a great summary Pete of different things that can influence referees.

    For those interested I will write a further article about point 1. As by accident I have experienced this myself only a few months ago.

    On your point 7 and 8 I want to bring up the bad memories of the game at Newcastle just a few years ago. What people tend to forget that in case of a win we would have been top of the league at that moment. This for those who like to mention ‘8 years of failure’ as evidence that we did compete on more than one occasion.
    In the midweek match against Everton the ref and the assistant messed up completely by allowing Everton a clear offside goal. So the next game we played Dowd and at least one of his assistants decided to kill us. I still remember how also the TV companies at the time gave a very strange version of showing a match of football. I remember that almost every time when our keeper kicked the ball towards our forwards the TV company was showing replays of previous chances of incidents and when they showed the game again we always had lost the ball already. I could not see how we lost it on most occasions. It might have been by wrong decisions from the ref also. It was almost impossible to see.

    If ever I have seen 45 minutes of Football is Fixed it must have been them. A clear case of referees closing ranks and whoever showed the match doing all they can to make it look very confusing because of the choice of the images shown.

  2. “Thanks a lot” Walter to remind me on that game.
    I remember after game I was not even angry. I was sitting and wandering HOW. How, for a Gods name, is possible to make so many mistakes without intention.
    I do understand referees and assistants are just human beings, and as every of us they make mistakes. But how can they have so many on just one game. I expected Dowd and The Crowd to be thrown out from football. Or at least, to do that job Elementary School Championship.
    But, nothing happened.
    I would even, forget it and forgive it, giving it to Dowd incompetence, only if I didn’t sow him in some other games. He is very competent and quite good ref… So what happened than. How much of those 8 reasons we had, and which ones. As Walter mentioned 7 & 8 for sure.

  3. You haven’t added INTERNAL REVENUE OFFICE!

    With Chelsea and Man City paying astronomical fees to their players and 45% going to tax office, don’t you think referees are being instructed to favour these big spenders, thereby making it clear that you can’t win if you don’t spend? Man City beat Arsenal 6 – 3. But with fair officiating, the worst Arsenal would have gotten is a draw!

  4. Very interesting article,another possible reason for biased officiating is the fact that AW/Arsenal have always given the F.A an easy ride and this makes ‘mistakes’ easier to give against us without the threat of a demented drunken Scottish sociopath abusing them,unfortunately the xenophobic press have painted a bumbling blind comedic picture of AW

  5. There is a simple solution. A selection of Match Official providers (several clean PGMOLs). This will be a start, as monopoly is corrupt. The next step would be random selection of referees (balls out of the glass bowl like the cup draws) for each matchday. Allocation of the official to each match would be in drawn order to alphabetical match.

    The referee and reserve officials would all be published well in advance of the games and being random should go some way to a fairer non corruptable system.

    Pre season media & public education in the Laws of the Game would go a long way to clearing the pathetic interpretation of contact (an example is Yaya Toure kicking Willian and getting a free kick outside the penalty area; several Suarez sxamples also exist).

    Further detail can be added but the initial process would clean up any ‘set’ corruption.

  6. It is something that is never mentioned but is there a possibility that Freemasonry could exert an influence within football. I am not knowledgeable on this matter but I have heard tell of ‘favours’ and ‘preferential treatment’ being bestowed on one brother by another. Are any ref’s members of the Masons, not to mention managers, chairmen, players etc. Is it possible the course of a match could be swayed or even decided when handshakes are exchanged after the toss before the match starts.

  7. An excellent article. Lets also remember that the PGMOL is answerable to and protected by the PL, FL and FA. Ultimately the Minister of Sport is responsible – not that one can have any faith in (any) politician. However, the Minister will act if and when “sufficient” evidence indicates a mess that might ultimately reflect badly on him – and probably only then!

  8. I hate to say it but a thought that has been in my mind for some time following AW’s ref attack some 5 or 6 years ago, was “Will the refs retaliate?”

    “Some Johnny foreigner having a go at us? How dare he.”

  9. Walter,
    I am glad someone who supports Arsenal still talks aboout that game, one of the commenters on a previous article was giving a qualified defence of ESPN, if only he could be reminded of their part in this robbery. i think we’d scored our fourth goal by the half hour mark, and the TV company clearly showed vast numbers of newcastle fans leaving the stadium, the game was over as a contest and there was still an hour of telly to fill, they had an interest and i hope we will be proven right.
    The other game, this one actually cured me of sports betting, another put up job, another draw, 2-2 upton park, I love Zola but after that game, i knew there were wheels within wheels within wheels.
    One day, someone will slip up, even if it proven these two games were above board, i now know it can be done, that genie ain’t going back in the bottle.

  10. Walter.

    There has been mud been slung around about the dodgy goings on with regard to Fergie and Utd but non of it will stick because the media don’t want it to.

    Rest assured if any of these accusations had been about Wenger they’d of been under the microscope and Wenger would already be on the way out.

    The odd journo tut tuts but basically it’s all allowed to be brushed under the carpet.

    Fergie will never, I repeat never be held to account no matter how bad the accusations.


    What’s been done ????

  11. Nice one Pat. Think all your points are valid. Maybe things start off with their own bias, a bit of fear of certain managers, dislike of others….then progress to career advancement…..who does scudamore and Riley favour in a given year…..then with some, doubtlessly onto personal and systemic corruption. These corruptions exist at every level….yes even in England, which is clearly news for some. I am not sure all are at the personal corruption level….yet, and I am equally sure some officials and administrators at least start off honest, maybe some even remain so.. but with the money around, and what we see with our own eyes, we can make an assumption some are corrupt and criminalised.
    The problem for arsenal…we are not favoured, we are not a northern giant or oiler, we work against the wishes of some, our manager and coach helped out the marseille corruption that Eufa amongst others clearly wanted kept quiet, our manager is not a bully, scudamore resented dein and the fact he always put arsenal first….yes dein has gone, but has the desire for revenge? some say becoming the invincibles humiliated fergie, and therefore upset Riley, we will not knowingly work with corrupt agents, and wenger, with his methods, against the odds has come far to close to upsetting the status quo, it took bent refs to embarrass themselves , their profession and football organisations to stop us at times, we all know what those times were. What does this season have in store….sadly, think I can guess. Anything run by Blatter / FIFA is corrupt to the core, by definition.

  12. An excellent post Pete. We should keep this as reference material, it very concise and covers all the major points.

    As for myself, I believe in ‘truth’ before ‘proof’. If something ‘is’, if you are objective and can see truth where the more clouded of mind cannot, then specific legal proof as per the laws of the state are unnecessary, even ludicrous. We all of sound mind and objective temperament know football has been fixed for years and years. I always remember the words of a Hungarian footballer from I think the 1950 world cup, saying they were not ‘allowed’ to win because they were from Eastern Europe/Soviet bloc. Thats Arsenals lot at present.

    However, I have faith our intrepid and gallant boys and wise old manager will see victory despite adversity. Man United’s referee bought titles mean nothing. Triumph is hollow without adversity. When Arsenal win, it will be on merit alone.

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