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April 2021

Football, politics and religion: where’s the research?

Religion is a question of faith, of course.  And politics is also a question of belief, in that it is rare to hear a politician saying “we tried this approach in these counties and that approach in some different counties and now we know which works best.”

No, politicians like followers of a religion come in with a belief, and in many ways that is right, because politics is closely wound up with moral positions.  A belief for example that it is right to help the poor rather than leave them to starve.  I don’t really want a government to start testing that out – I want them to take it as true.

But football – does football have to work on belief and faith, rather than factual analysis?  I think not, but that is what happens.

The problem in football is two fold.  One issue is that very few people do the research (and when they do even fewer understand it) while on the other there is a continuing view that one can understand and make decisions about football just by looking at it.

I think this is a profoundly false vision, and that football does need rigorous analysis.  That’s why Untold undertakes analysis and publishes the findings.  We are pretty much alone in this fight but slowly, very slowly, there are tiny signs that maybe one or two people are starting to take notice.

This view was highlighted with the university research we recently highlighted into whether clubs in Premier League benefit from sacking their manager.  Turns out they don’t if they are in the top half, but may do if they are in the bottom half.

I’ll give some details of our own research programme of recent years below.  And let me say that I am not saying this is all research of the highest order, such as might have been carried out in a social science department in a university.  But I’ve got a research degree which included a fair amount of data work, so I have a clue as to what we should be doing.  And no one has found any major flaws yet.

But let me also say, our research has been in areas that have been of interest to myself and my colleagues – just as it is in any research project.  There are a billion things that could be researched – and we have chosen our own.

Thus telling us that “you ought to research xyz” isn’t helpful.  By all means go and research it if you feel that way inclined, but please don’t suggest that our research is invalid because we should have researched something else!  (That might sound dumb, but you’d be surprised how often it has  been said).

Here are some of the topics that we have covered:

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1.  Are referees systematically influenced in favour or against of one club rather than another?

Walter Broeckx and his team investigated this first here, and then on Referees’ Decisions, drawing in referees who were in their non-refereeing life supporters of clubs from across the country.   The answer was found – yes there is systematic bias, and in some cases it is huge.  They also found something singularly odd within PGMOL – the organisation that employs and controls the work of Premier League football referees.

2.  Which club gets the most injured players?

Dale Higginbotham did this research in great depth for most of one season, and we published it week by week.  Dale didn’t ask why – that was not part of his remit – but he did make it quite clear that something odd was happening in that some clubs got many more injuries than others.  Dale’s no longer with us, but he was one of the two Untold writers who, in part through their research, were able to get new jobs from employers impressed with what had been done by them on Untold.

3.  What is the explanation of one club having more injured players than another?

It was Walter who took this issue up, and showed that if one analysed different types of injury a pattern became clear.  A significant part of the different between clubs could be traced to injuries on the pitch.  Given the finding in project one, one clear hypothesis is that referees are protecting some players and not others.

4.  Where is the fundamental issue that drives larger football clubs increasingly into debt?

This research was undertaken by Phil Gregory – the second member of our team whose research helped him get a new job.  Phil’s evidence was provided to the government enquiry into football, and showed that the single biggest destabilising factor in football is the huge difference in income between Championship and Premier League clubs.

This awareness led to the introduction of FFP in the championship and the first round of action will follow later this year, particularly in regards to Leicester’s spending – something which we dealt with in an article recently.  Interestingly the response from Leicester fans was very similar to that of Man City fans.

5.  Why does England fail to win international tournaments?

My own contribution to our research programme, and one that led me to compare numbers and percentages on a range of topics across a range of very different countries, from England to the Netherlands, Spain to Germany.

The finding was that one factor consistently showed up in relation to countries that got to the World Cup final – the number of highly qualified coaches in each country working with young players.

The issue so often cited as to the number of players from a country playing within that country was irrelevant, the stats showed – and yet of course the press and the FA bang on about this all the time.  Maybe they should do their own research.

The Daily Telegraph did however later republish the work, although without citing us as the source of course.  Others have followed since.

6.  Why is grassroots football in England in such a poor state?

Of course some of our research is fairly basic, and is done simply because the press seem to miss the point totally.

The FA came out with statements about how Sports England were wrecking the future of grassroots football by stopping funding.  Sports England said it was because the FA was doing bugger all (although I don’t think SE used that exact technical term).   The FA said they couldn’t do anything because of the weather.

The press just ran that story, accepting that Sports England were to blame.  But Untold looked at the weather charts and the dates the Sports England decisions related to, and found the SE criticism of the FA related to a period of quite reasonable weather, not the period of the downpours last winter.  The FA could have acted.  It simply failed to do anything.

What’s more, none of the press analysed how much the FA got, how much it had spent on bidding to bring the world cup to England, and how much it spent each year on paying interest on its Wembley debt, and how much was going into grassroots football.

That’s closer to “investigative journalism” rather than “research” but I throw it in simply because no one else ran that analysis at the time.

Of course you may not be interested in grassroots football – but several of us here are, and we would like to see the FA do much, much more, to hold football together.

7.  Is it possible for Man City to sue Uefa over the illegality of FFP under European Law?

That was the view put by Man City supporters during the hiatus as we waited to see what settlement FFP and Man City would come to.  The view was that Man City was about to take the matter to the European Court and that this is why there was a delay.

So we tracked that possibility, and also the current case relating to football going to the European Courts.  You may have seen the note recently saying that the courts had thrown that case out, after the Man City affair was settled.

The Man City story was not, as Man City fans suggested, just made up, but rather a gathering together of all the evidence that there was.  Some was openly available, some we had to go digging for, and bits that came from friends who couldn’t publish it themselves for reasons of sensitivity but who could pass it on to us.

And we were very close to getting the story right – certainly far closer than anyone else.  Just by doing a bit of digging and finding the right question to ask (which is often what research is about).

Of course ~Untold gives opinions too – but I think in the above we have done some good research  – and I think it puts much of football to shame that it is left to a tiny organisation like Untold to do it.

So why don’t the media and the footballing authorities take note?

I guess  it is because we are just a blog, and our findings are often totally out of accord with the political line that the press likes to do.   They have what psychologists sometimes call “set views” and when our findings don’t accord with those views, they ignore us.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed at least some of our research, and I hope that you will stay with us for further research in the future.   And if you would like to do some digging and see what you find, please do get in touch.  Sadly, we can’t fund your research, but we can give some thoughts and advice and if you see it through and write it up, we will of course publish.

Thanks for reading

Tony Attwood

Publisher, Untold Arsenal

36 comments to Football, politics and religion: where’s the research?

  • Pete

    Completely off topic – sorry Tony – but may I wish everyone a happy silver anniversary today of the “Greatest Moment Ever” (c).

    I’m sure I will have some thoughts on this article later, once I have worked through the day’s family duties. But you know how much I like facts ahead of quasi-religious “belief”. Personally, I’m still struggling to get past the astonishing drop in penalties awarded to Arsenal since 2009 (see my article from a month or two back).

  • robl

    Unfortunately the sheep view is easier to peddle, and more pallateable to it’s audience.

    Keep up the excellent work,


  • philo

    Thank you Tony.your articles are always heartwarming.
    Keep up the good work
    This is a voice of reason and i applaude the level of maturity on this site

  • Kelser

    This is the only Arsenal blog I can take seriously, and it’s completely different to the others – funny that! Keep up the great work!

  • Mandy Dodd

    Some ground breaking work, and with recent cyber attacks, seems like your work is seriously upsetting somebody……wonder who?

  • Shard

    There have been some fantastic series on this site Tony. Keep up the good work.

  • Mike T

    From a Chelsea supporters view I too congratulate you on this blog.

    Most of you articles are, of course Arsenal centric, as are your conclusions based on the numbers that are produced.

    I really enjoy fighting my corner and so long as those that disagree don’t resort to personal and childish personal insults the blog can be proud of the debate it provokes.

    Football isn’t religion or politics.Thank goodness!

    But football is tribal. We all see the good in our team but often fail to see the bad that others shout about.

    In many instances football, religion & politics do share a similarity in the main your religion or political beliefs are hereditary so is our choice of football team.

    I look forward to 2014/15 and the no doubt inevitable disagreements that I will engage in with the usual regulars.

  • nicky

    A couple of points….
    1. Has any research ever been done into the source of our Club’s long term injuries, i.e. the proportion sustained on the field of competitive play as compared to training games.
    2. I’ve long felt that since (say) the 1966 WC, England have simply not progressed as other countries have. Whether the influx of foreign stars has had an influence or not, someone will no doubt tell me.
    But as a TV spectator of international games I no longer look forward to England matches with any degree of confidence (or real interest)… as I would to Arsenal games.
    And I suspect I am not alone in this view.

  • oldgroover

    Mike T
    You always conduct yourself properly in an often toxic comments section (not your fault), and as you say fight your corner well. Long may you continue to be heard (fairly) here.
    I like this blog above the others simply because of the campaigning against poor refereeing standards & anti Arsenal media.

  • oldgroover

    I usually look forward to England’s competitive games, but am a bit ambivalent due to national pride & really disliking some of our players: Rooney, Terry, Cole, Carroll & a few others from time to time.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Nicky, on point two, you are correct, England have not progressed….a key reason is the deeply flawed work and continued influence of Charles Hughes who has done more than anyone to keep our football in the Stone Age. To this day, the upper echelons of FA coaching circles are mainly populated with disciples of Hughes, Roy Hodgson, Howard Wilkinson , John Beck, Adey Boothroyd amongst them. The likes of Venables, Hoddle, Brooking have tried to move away from this, as did Robson to a degree with the players he had at his disposal, but none of them got very far at all.
    This defensive, long ball…kick and rush..knuckle dragging ….English game …..doctrine affects everything from the national team to kids being coached on school playing fields. It is one of the reasons why refs are lenient on teams who play this, it is why English clubs in the past with visionaries who go too far against it have met all kinds of obstacles, as wenger knows full well. It is also why I want Ox and Jack to come back from the WC energised, having done their best , but other than that, I have no interest whatsoever in the England team

  • WalterBroeckx

    off topic but do relive the moment…

  • jambug

    Mandy Dodd

    Here here to that.

    One: Our players coming back fit and well is the most important thing.

    Two: Coming back as soon as possible would help in that.

    Does this make a traitor? A non patriot?

    Not at all.

    Whenever an English/British Man or Woman competes in ANYTHING I want them to win.

    During the Olympics I found my self screaming for ‘Dancing’ horses, folk bobbing about in Dinghies, Women kicking and punching the living daylights out of each other or a man doing the ‘Hop’ ‘Skip’ and ‘Jump’. If it was for my Country, I was behind it, screaming and shouting with the rest of them

    Why not football?

    Well, it’s because I love it so much. It’s because it means so much to me.

    But all I see is our game being f**ked up by our incompetent leaders. Leaders with no vision, no integrity.

    They see our home grown players falling further and further behind and yet do nothing about it, except blame those ‘pesky foreigners’.

    We have a dearth of coaches at all levels and yet do NOTHING about it.

    Nope, because it’s all the fault of those ‘pesky Foriegners’

    And what makes it worst, the man that could, should of been held up as the light to lead the way is ridiculed and victimised at every turn.

    His teams, whilst superficially applauded are in fact despised.

    The physical attacks on our players have become such an expected part of the PL that even the English players are targeted.

    It is so bad that every broken leg is excusable to the point that it has somehow become our own fault for passing the ball about too much.

    We are derided for playing ‘ticky tacky’ football. For trying to ‘walk it in the net’.

    Our footballing authorities are insular to the point of xenophobia, verging on racist.

    Yes I hope we fail. I hope we fail big time, because that’s what our FA, our Media and yes, a hell of a lot of our self important, arrogant, bloated, pig headed players deserve.

  • Nicky, we have not evaluated injuries by length and by source at the same time. Simply shown how many are injuries caused by illegal tackles on the pitch which should not have been allowed by refs. This is to be combined with the way refs allow all sorts of tackles on Arsenal players which are penalised when employed on others, thus encouraging players to go in for an approach that they do not use against others.

  • bob mac

    As always you produce excellent research, this reinforces the views that are apparent from a subjective perspective.

    Obviously, much knowledge can be gained from watching the games closely, preferably with no sound if it is via TV.

    This knowledge can only be gleaned if you actually understand what you are watching and what you are looking for.

    Sadly, far too many of those who slag off the players and manager certainly do not.

  • This is the reason that I come to this site. The work that you put into this site and I share the same feeling’s as you also. Thank the good lord that true Arsenal Fan’s can come here and know that w are not alone in thinking as most on this site do. Please keep up the wonderful work you do and also know that you are doing great work. In Arsene I trust .

  • Oluwatoba

    I recently stumbled on the post celebrating the 4oooth article on this site, wanting to comment, I decided against it. I think now’s the time to do just that. For some reasons not completely clear, I got stuck on this site just because I naturally hate when people talk without any factual basis and secondly I get naturally attracted to people with a positive mindset about life. Untold offers this supremely about Arsenal and that clicks for me. That has gone on since early 2009.

    Reading through this post, I think it’s just a remind of the necessity that is laid on every right thinking human to place above all else: Profound reasoning founded on truth and logic

    Keep up the good work sirs. God bless you

  • Mr-Ed

    Point 7 is hilarious. The actual fact is that UEFA have backed down.
    City only failed FFP by UEFA changing the governance of FFP (the guide on how to fill in the FFP returns) after the 2011-12 accounts had been submitted and were prepared to take it all the way to court but gave UEFA a face saving way out. As City are now profitable City will only have to pay a €20m ‘fine’ – actually a membership fee to join the European Club Association cartel with all restrictions lifted next summer. No major City sponsorship deal is classed a related party (RP) deal with only two minor deals classified as RP and they were both passed as fair value.
    So the cartel drawbridge is pulled up and ickle City are inside the castle.
    I hope you are not too disappointed.

  • dan

    What ever you say Mr-ED!!!

  • accuracy matters

    As you claim to be so close to being so nearly right in Point 7 you should have continued digging further and wider. A little research would have made you aware that the EC throwing out the case refers to the European Commission not the European Court Dupont still has appellant recourse to both the Belgian Legal Institutions and the ECJ to challenge the EC’s competence in this area.

    Tsk, Tsk you’ll be erroneously citing state aid again at this rate

  • jambug


    Point 7 may be hilarious but it hasn’t got a patch on you.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    You havent got a prayer Arsenal.
    (our mates the media)

    “Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack. A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield. Thomas, it’s up for grabs now! Thomas! Right at the end! An unbelievable climax to the league season.”

    Heres another link (at the end) to the greatest commentator of all time reporting on the radio, I didnt listen to it, but watched the game on TV-old Brian Moore.The ceiling had to be repainted that summer as I chucked a can full of beer up in the air when we scored and it left a mess and a massive dent in the plaster. But until the final whistle I stood there in total shock almost shaking in disbelief, and kacking it that they would score.
    Me and my mate ran out into the street shouting our heads off at the final whistle, and he was a Charlton fan!!He phoned his old man who was a long time AFC fan, and said he switched off the last five minutes as he thought he was gong to have a heart attack. He would have, had he watched it!!
    Our other mate( who we -not very- originally dubbed “scally” as he was from Liverpool-duh) went to the game,( I was living up Norf as a wacky student) the poor bastard, but when he got in after midnight he shook my had and was pretty gracious about it all.He was (is I hope) a good bloke.
    About ten years later I dated a girl from Liverpool and when I met the family(mostly LFC) the game came up,(much to my joy) her brother wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the day!-he’d also gone to the game.I didn’t care. Aha!
    I cant believe its 25 years. I recall listen to the bloody Irons losing in the game before the game on the 26th, and really thought how are we going to do it. But another lad I knew reckoned it was possible because it was such a bizarre scoreline needed.
    Next day I think the paper said”The miracle workers”( our mates the media!) Magic magic magic moment, bit like the 79 cup final.Well its almost time….

    Over to Peter Jones:

  • walshie

    Why is it that Arsenal are happy with perpetually finishing fourth in the premier league and getting into pot 1,when the chamions end up in pot 2?

  • Mr-Ed

    While we’re at it, the agents case against FFP was thrown out by the EU, but only because it was brought by an agent. Read the following EU press release:
    It clearly states that if a case was brought by a player or a club in national court that is found to breach EU Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union then FFP is stuffed.

  • para

    Well said Mandy Dodd.

  • Pat

    Mandy – I did not know that about Charles Hughes. I’ll now have to look him up. Or maybe you could write an article for Untold about him? Anyway, very interesting!

  • Pat

    Tony – thanks for the reminder of just some of the great work Untold has done – the reason it’s the only Arsenal blog I always look up.

  • robl

    Any one fancy lasagne?

  • Walshie would you like to give some evidence for your view?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Keep up the good work Tony and guys .Some of the posters here are really funny , especially when they are trying to be serious !

    After 20 years of marriage, a couple was lying in bed one evening, when the wife felt her husband begin to fondle her in ways he hadn’t in quite some time.

    It almost tickled as his fingers started at her neck, and then began moving down past the small of her back.
    He then caressed her shoulders and neck, slowly worked his hand down over her assets, stopping just over her lower stomach.

    He then proceeded to place his hand on her left inner arm, caressed past the side of her breast again, working down her side, passed gently over her buttock and down her leg to her calf. Then, he proceeded up her inner thigh, stopping just at the uppermost portion of her leg. He continued in the same manner on her right side, then suddenly stopped, rolled over and started to watch the tv.

    As she had become quite aroused by this caressing, she asked in a loving voice, ‘That was wonderful. Why did you stop?’
    He said, ‘I found the remote’.

  • Pete

    From memory:

    Charles Hughes was a coach – and technical director(?) at the FA – who did a lot of statistical research in the 60s(?) on the most effective way to play football. His conclusion was that most goals are scored from 3 or fewer passes after the transition (i.e. when possession changes hands).

    Therefore he felt that the optimum style was to play “directly” – i.e. get the ball forward as quickly as possible. Not necessarily aimless long balls, but certainly longer passes.

    At one time I think I even owned his textbook?!

    All really superceded now, if it was ever valid.

    As a sometime manager of a youth team, where technical skills are obviously far weaker and pass completion percentages are much lower, it is very tempting to resort to the long ball down the middle (often via a clearance from the goalkeeper) and rely on the opposition defenders making a mistake (which often happens…). But, it is reassuring that most teams I see at that level do try to play a passing game. The challenge is more getting the kids to make the right decisions (i.e. pass rather than dribble).

    I have often wondered whether we are contributing to the poor technical abilities of the next generation through focusing on passing rather than dribbling?

    Completely agree that the lack of high level qualified coaches in this country is a major issue compared with Spain/Netherlands/Germany for example (along with facilities). In other countries, many youth football clubs will have several coaches at UEFA B level (=FA Level 3), maybe even UEFA A (FA Level 4), whereas in England the number of FA Level 2 coaches is extremely low. The FA are trying to ensure all youth squads now have at least one Level 1 coach – but even that is a challenge!

    One easy step would be to make ALL coaching qualifications free – or at most a nominal fee to discourage timewasters. Instead we get the FA proposing B teams all the way up to Pro Tier 3, which is a nonsense.

    Rant over!

  • M18CTID

    Morning jambug – how goes it mate?

    To be fair, Mr-Ed’s summary is an accurate one. I’m not sure I’d have worded it as UEFA “backing down” though, more a case of “let’s agree to disagree, and here’s the settlement offer by way of a compromise”.

    Mr-Ed is also correct in that the agent’s case against FFP hasn’t technically been thrown out – reading that statement he linked to suggests that the EU commission, far from unequivocally backing UEFA on FFP as many originally thought, could actually be distancing themselves from UEFA on the subject matter.

  • jambug


    Good morning.

    Mr Ed, yourself, whoever, it makes no difference.

    All you are doing is fooling yourself, because what it boils down to is that you’ve spent a small Countries entire marketing budget buying your Cub out of the shit it had got itself into, through terrible management over decades, and by hook or by crook you intend to continue to do so.

    You can try and justify it however you like but that my friend is the truth of the matter.

  • M18CTID

    Think you’re missing the point on this occasion jambug me old mucker,

    I wasn’t trying to justify anything (well not on this particular occasion anyway ;)) – I was just pointing out that Mr-Ed’s analysis of where City stand with FFP going forward is an accurate summary. There was no justification from him/her for the amount of money spent by City to get to where the club is now. Leaving City aside, I’m not sure what right any of us have for criticising a rich man for investing his money as he sees fit but that’s for another discussion (which I’m sure we’ve touched on somewhere in the recent past)

  • jambug


    Yes I think we have. 🙂