By Tony Attwood
How much influence Untold actually has on football is not the thought that occupies many of my waking moments, but I do occasionally ponder.
If you read these pages regularly you’ll know we have suggested a few things that we have subsequently had an impact: the idea of statues around the Emirates stadium was definitely one of ours, our regular column on injuries some years back brought awareness of just how high Arsenal’s injury level was compared with others, the notion of phantom and vapour transfers has started to creep into the mainstream (although not much because making up transfers is such a fundamental part of their daily existence) and of course most of all Walter’s remorseless pursuit of biased referees has highlighted an issue that was nowhere near any agenda before we came along.
And this season, it is already possible to argue, we’ve been at it again. My rant over BT Sprout was more me venting my annoyance rather than a campaign, but the station did radically change its position immediately after. That doesn’t prove cause and effect, but maybe we helped things along.
However of much more significance is today’s article in the Daily Telegraph by Henry Winter which comes very quickly after the series of articles which set the scene concerning the issue of video referees.
This was followed by an article in which we showed what the football authorities from Holland are doing to improve the refereeing standards. The third article showed what the PGMOL are doing in England to improve refereeing and then the final piece referred to how PGMOL works to silence its critics.
That final article was published on 7 August 2014 and today on 12 August 2014 we see “Rise of ‘robo-referee’ awaits Premier League” in the conservative Daily Telegraph. Coincidence? Read on to decide.
The Telegraph mentions the “successful trial in Holland,” a determination not “to rush into action”, and an “inevitability that at some point there will be a video referee in the stands in the wealthiest leagues”.
And then there is the difference, because Walter’s report in Untold made fun of the fact that PGMOL were doing nothing – which was absolutely true a week ago. Now, the Telegraph suddenly tells us, “The two most influential figures in English refereeing, Mike Riley and Howard Webb, are preparing for a future with ‘robo-refs’ with caveats about the need for a proper debate and lengthy experimentation. Riley certainly feels the dawn of the video age is not that far away.”
So, certainly another occasion on which Untold has been ahead of the game. And if the sudden appearance of the Telegraph’s article is not a coincidence, then it might just be another occasion on which we have influenced events.
H Webb, technical director of PGMOL (now apparently to be called PGMO – either way the highly secretive body that controls refereeing in the Premier League) speaks however with the ultra caution of the inward looking organisation for whom he works when he says, “We really need to be careful not to change the high intensity and fast flowing that makes football such a good spectacle that people enjoy to watch…. Practically it is going to be really difficult to implement.” Which of course contradicts the Dutch experiment. (“Who needs experimentation when we already have our theory” as the flat earthers say).
Much of the rest of the Telegraph article follows Walter’s piece with talk of the “man who has to make the key judgments that shape a game’s destiny often has least evidence, certainly compared to fans also following on streamed smart-phones…”
But there is one bit of new news in the long article from the newspaper. For it tells us that PGMO(L) “has been instructing managers and players that referees will be clamping down on holding and blocking this season, focusing specifically on those ‘under the flight of the ball, the player who doesn’t look at the ball, but is just looking at the opponent’’.”
And then some funny figures follow…
“There were 25 fouls per game in 2010-11 and 23-ish now and that reflects the nature of the game the players want to play. They don’t want continual stoppages. Contrast that to Champions League football where you’re looking at 30-35 free-kicks a game. In Italian and Spanish football it’s more than that. Even at the World Cup it was over 30 a game.’’
Now you will notice that if the word “given” is inserted in that sentence so that it reads “There were 25 fouls given per game in 2010-11” you will see a totally different meaning. As Untold’s ref reviews over three seasons have shown, the number of fouls given and the number of fouls are two very different numbers – and that difference between the numbers is not consistent between clubs.
The Telegraph touches on this and gives us a statement which is just so silly it made me fall off my chair, bang my head on the table and slump on the floor for a while. Fortunately I recovered. Here is the statement, but before you read it, make sure you are sitting comfortably.
M Riley said, “We analyse every decision the referees make and their accuracy rate was 94.8 per cent two years ago and last season was 95.1 per cent but that’s not the story that comes across, because you can always point to one decision in a game that generates the week’s interest in newspapers and TV. There is not another group of referees in the world that has that strength in depth.’’
Oh dear, oh dear.
And more oh dears because the dear old Telegraph accepts that without looking at the evidence. (We’ve got plenty and it has all been published, if only they would like to have a look – and it was all compiled by referees). As ever, the PGMO(L) don’t reveal how they gather their evidence and don’t give us a single match as an example. Tragically the Telegraph doesn’t raise this point but just accepts PGMO(L)’s word for it, making the newspaper the mouthpiece of the referees society, rather than a paper with investigative credentials.
Now one more point. A major issue with PGMO(L) has been the paucity of number of referees who can handle Premier League games. We’ve been banging on about it for years, and it is a scandal because if you do have a biased ref, the chances are your club will get him multiple times through the season.
There has never been an excuse for the tiny number of PGMO(L) refs, and we’ve been saying so for years. Now according to the Telegraph, “To deepen the reservoir of talent further the Premier League and FA has earmarked 70 young referees who they are fast-tracking to the top, providing them with mentors, coaches and sports psychologists. The hope is that the best will accelerate up the league pyramid to challenge for Select Group jobs within five to 10 years.”
So five to ten more years of unmitigated bias then, all due to a lack of foresight five years ago. Again, no question in the Telegraph as to why this ludicrous situation has been allowed to carry on.
But as we approach the end of the article, the Telegraph has a laugh for us…
“Contrary to conspiracy theorists’ belief, the Premier League insisted that referees who briefly upset clubs, like Clattenburg with Everton, Chelsea and Southampton, and Atkinson with Manchester United, are not kept away from future fixtures involving those clubs.”
Oh, how much do you wish to misunderstand what is going on? Untold, along with Referee Decisions, doesn’t want these refs kept away after a row. What we have been asking for (and apparently will get in five to ten years) is a much bigger group of refs so that the bias level is reduced to reasonable proportions.
So there we are. Untold ahead of the game maybe, writing the agenda perhaps, forcing PGMO(L) to come out of its shell and talk to a favoured journalist, or just happening to spot a story first. Like the BT Sport story it doesn’t really matter which is true – if we’ve helped move football forward a fraction out of the dark ages, then that’s good, however it has happened.
But there is one thing that does come across here. At the very least we ask the questions. The Telegraph, along with much of the rest of the media, just accepts the press releases and prints them as if this were investigative journalism. You might have thought that the case of the financial collapse of Rangers FC in Scotland (in which the press insanely reprinted the news that everything was fine, and that stories of their demise were just scaremongering by wretched bloggers) might have taught them a lesson. But it seems not.
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