Refereeing is going down hill – the BBC knows but the press ignore the story

By Tony Attwood

One of the first times that we really started suggesting that there was something amiss with refereeing in the Premier League was in December 2010 when we ran the story There is something seriously wrong with EPL refereeing.   An opposite title I am sure you will agree.

We may well have written earlier serious pieces along these lines before – but indexing within the program that we use here isn’t good enough for me to find it straight away.  December 2010 will have to do for the moment.

Headlines like that are of course everyday now – indeed we’ve gone much further.  But most of the time it seems we have been fighting on our own – although this season, one or two of the papers have started to take an interest and PGMO even once got the Telegraph to run a cobbled together press release defending its actions on video refs, after Walter published a detailed report on their inactivity compared with the Netherlands.

But today there’s been a big step forwards as the BBC is running, on its radio news services and on its web site the story

Former referees’ chief Hackett criticises ‘appalling’ standards

What is interesting is that the major serious papers have not followed this up – at least so far.  To them, everything in the garden remains lovely.

In a sense it is not surprising that it is the BBC that picked this up, since it was the BBC who first took our concerns seriously when they interviewed Walter and Dogface.  Now they are backing up our concerns with this tale of Keith Hackett saying officiating standards in the Premier League over Christmas was “bordering on appalling”.  He cited over 20 major incidents.

He named five current PGMO referees who he said should be removed at the end of the season.  OK, we differ, we think they should go now, but any support is welcome in this fight.

He also said Mike Riley should step down from his job.  And I think Walter might like to add a word or two to this,

PGMO which runs the ref cartel said standards have risen since Riley replaced Hackett in 2010.

Hackett added: “I was with a group of Fifa referees from Nigeria who watched [the Man C / Everton game] with amazement. Do you think I took joy in that?”

Marriner is one of the five referees identified by Hackett.  Mike Jones, Lee Mason, Chris Foy and last season’s FA Cup final referee Lee Probert are the others.

The information PGMO puts out says that the accuracy of decision-making by referees in the Premier League is currently at an all-time high.   As the BBC says

“The figures claim accuracy on major decisions was up to 95% from 94.1%, accuracy on decisions in the penalty box stood at 98%, and offsides were now 99% accurate, compared to 92% when Riley took over.”

Unfortunately no basis for these wild claims is ever made.  We can’t see the detailed figures or watch a video as errors clock up, so we can’t say, “you’ve said that tackle was fairly adjudged but clearly it wasn’t”.

Indeed much of the problem is that PGMO is a fanatically secret organisation, that doesn’t even have a public web site.

PGMO also claims that delegate marks for referees have gone up every season since Riley succeeded Hackett and the latest data shows referees are being asked to do 176 high-speed runs and 50 sprints in a game – a 64% increase on five seasons ago.

Now of course this attack is welcome, but there is still a long way to go.

What we know is that if you don’t have fair and competent referees in the league then faith in the league falls.  Analyses of referee performances have appeared on this site, and on Referees Decisions, and on other sites.  Our figures not only show that the accuracy level is nothing like that shown by PGMO (and unlike them we provide evidence to back up their claims).

But worse our figures show that the “all evens out in the end” issue is a myth.  There is clear differentiation between the way players and clubs are treated by the refs.

Add to this the fact that the newspapers very rarely tackle this issue (which is why it was not real surprise that the BBC piece was not cited in the main papers this morning), and you start to get a clear view of what is going on.   Indeed even commentaries noting the action of the Referees Decisions web site in reviewing referees was removed shortly after it appeared on the Wikipedia page on PGMO.

Over time we have considered whether something akin to the actions of Luciano Moggi (the Juventus manager) and others in Italy is now in place in the Premier League.

Moggi et al had conversations with several officials of Italian football to influence which referee got which game.  The system (“Calciopoli” as it was called – Bribesville as it is translated in some quarters) did not mean that matches were fixed to produce a set score, knowledge of which could be used in gambling, but rather that favours were given by a variety of clubs to certain refs over time, and these refs edged games in favour of the clubs using the system. Juve, Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, Reggina were all ultimately found guilty.

The system was hard to track down not least because it had little to do with gambling.  The key approach to stopping match fixing in most of Europe involves waiting for the bookies to cry out that there have been “unusual betting patterns”, and then the investigation follows.  Here there is no such activity, and because there is no other system to track down an English Bribesville, nothing happens.

Untold was been pretty much on its own in pursuing this line of enquiry until the BBC got in touch and started the round of interviews with ourselves, and our persistence with the story leaves us open to the notion that we are just looking for excuses when Arsenal lose.

So now we have another step forwards.  Let’s hope there are more.

 Classic Untold

43 Replies to “Refereeing is going down hill – the BBC knows but the press ignore the story”

  1. Tony,
    A step in the right direction with it a doubt. However simply removing Riley and replacing him with another if the current cabal of insiders will not lead to the clean get of the Augean stables we need. Rather we may be being lined up for something of a sham change. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks Tony. Quite why the BBC don’t insert a sentence stating that the PGMO stats are unsubstantiated I don’t know? At least the UA work is all publicly available and open to challenge.

    Graham Poll wrote a similar piece in the Daily Wail a few days ago. Does that count as the mainstream media…?

    I know there has been discussion about Riley’s puppet master, but so much of the deterioration (anecdotally supported by reference to your 2010 article – although accept that UA hadn’t been alive that much earlier) has occurred since he took over, that I am edging towards believing that a lot of this sh*t can be layed at Riley’s door alone. Am I being too kind?

    As noted in my comment last night on another thread I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist – I like to work with facts and statistics. Follow the numbers!

  3. Ihave been saying for a while now to my mates that the level of ref’s in this country has been slipping and all I get back is that I am a whinging Gooner. Now, hopefully the BBC will show that we are not whinging Gooners (well, most of us) and that the reffing in this country has been going downhill.

    Not even talking bias, they are generally crap now.

  4. Also, I want an investigation into the Fergie era, I am sure there was some strong shenanigans going on there.

  5. Will, re Fergie, it was very obvious that any referee who displeased Fergie was exiled from Man U games in general, and Old Trafford in particular, for a period. Obviously, the refs want to do the big matches in the big stadiums so they took the hint… Hence absence of red cards and penalties against MU for an extended period.

  6. They’re surely cant be any other industry which would allow such a powerful body be so unaudited, we have a company, we have to have our accounts audited, before we submit them to companys house, we then pay our tax (unlike Amazon et al) based on those figures that have been INDEPENDENTLY audited, we don’t just say to the govt, Oh we made x this year so we’ll pay y Tax !
    Can you imagine, what would happen if David Cameron came out and said, oh guys, good news, everything’s fine, GDP is up 5 %, inflation is failing so vote for me !

  7. LOL, you are right Tony. I do have a “few words” to say about that. But as it is more than a few words I wrote them down in an article 😉

  8. Keith Hackett has this morning been interviewed on Talksport, as was Graham Poll on two occasions in the last few days, so as much as I dislike that radio station credit to them for giving some airtime to the refereeing scandal.

  9. Excellent post as always Tony. Please keep up the good work. You will still prevail in running these shameful excuses for refs out of town. An end has to come to all this rubbish.

    @Will and Pete. Well said. I feel we will find out that Fergie did not win the title fairly some of the times, and by extension, Arsenal was robbed of epl glory a few times. Notably, our record of 49 games unbeaten should probably have been longer, and our so called “nine years without a trophy” should have been shorter. If refs are later found out to have been as incompetent/bent (or both) as being suggested, then, Wenger is deserving of more respect, glory and accolades than he’s being given.

  10. Great article Tony.

    The biggest problem is that, exactly due to the Calcioppoli effects – the FA has zero interest in taking care of this problem. Until the revelations regarding the corruption in Italy – the serie A was, for at least 30 years, one of the top 3 leagues (together with La Liga and the EPL). In the 90s it was the no. 1 league in terms of the best footballers and had very strong representation in the final stages of the CL.

    Now it’s basically somehwere between 4th and 5th place (as I am not sure whether the Ligue 1 is better or equal to Serie A). And may I remind you – 10 years had passed.

    Finding out that something is rotten in the state of PGMO might have a very negative effect on the EPL. So it’s very obvious no one has any interest in exposing it (aside from the personal criminal implications).

    So unless someone will provide hard evidence (recorded phone conversations or intercepted emails) no one will do anything about it. That’s my sad presumption.

    @ Will – I agree re the Fergie era. Unfuckin believable. BTW it goes hand in hand with my thesis – ManU is the biggest marketing asset the FA has. When ManU are not in the CL and are not winning things – the FA is losing money. Simple.

  11. All good points and interestingly the Telegraph’s Henry Winter wrote an article asking for video assistance and managers having a certain number of appeals for use of video replays per match. He also spouts absolute nonsense (especially about ref Taylor being good!!!) on many points, but does compare Riley to King Canute! A small step in the right direction from the papers.

  12. “When ManU are not in the CL and are not winning things – the FA is losing money. Simple.”

    I have said that for years.

  13. I watched a fair number of FA Cup games over the extended weekend.

    It appeared to me that there were not anywhere near the same number of game changing errors by the officials as in the latest series of PL games.

    Funny, basically the same refs for both sets of games.

  14. Any such articles can only be a good thing, but I am sure Riley has those protecting him, or else he would have been long gone on merit alone, no matter what false stats the pgmol release.
    This will add pressure to certain refs as well, most people under pressure make mistakes.
    it all sounds very similar to Italy, the difference is that the Italians did something about it, sometimes looks to me like Italy is doing more to combat its corruption on various levels than the UK, there are some very, very brave judges, police and even politicians at work in Italy.
    Something will eventually bring this all down, maybe journalists, insiders, Untold, a current or ex ref turned grass, or possibly the upcoming spilt between UEFA and FIFA, some in the know might just turn on a major European nation in revenge as the game tears itself apart.

  15. Is it a coincidence that things appear to have got worse with regard to referees since since financial doping really took hold?
    And is it a coincidence that people are now beginning to speak out (backed by far improved data) since Fergie retired?

  16. Of the five referees mentioned by Mr Hackett Mike Jones has been the best we have seen this year A Villa v Arsenal (although far from great). Chris Foy was barely adequate in the West Brom game,Lee Mason barely adequate in the Newcastle game and Andre Marriner bad in the Southampton game. We haven’t yet seen Probert as he has been out with a back injury but is now starting to appear again..

    The worst referees we have had – Atkinson, Dean and Taylor are considered to be OK by Mr Hackett.

  17. If someone at The Arsenal had some guts, they would ban Taylor from the ground. The man is a joke.

  18. Great article Tony…on a topic which UA has been ‘banging on’ about for ages it seems and the few keep telling us how paranoid we are – well it seems as though we are not so paranoid after all!

    @Andrew Crawshaw
    January 7, 2015 at 11:41 am

    “The worst referees we have had – Atkinson, Dean and Taylor are considered to be OK by Mr Hackett.”
    O noted this too; should we assume that the worst of the bunch are still acceptable?

    Atkinson, Dean and Taylor, have single handedly robbed us of a truck load of points!

  19. On the subject of fergie’s influence, I was watching sky sports 2 days ago. In the panel.was tissier, Nicholas, the ex Liverpool manager (cannot remember his name) and they were discussing the penalties and tissier said that the refs used to get scared of fergie and I really wanted them to debate it and from what I felt tissier wanted to go with this, but the host said “enough of controversies”…..nice way to shut up and push things under the carpet.

  20. Certainly wish Arsenal would do something about Taylor, and others, or at least speak out more.

  21. I don’t think Hackett is a dis-interested observer, Mike Riley 😈 took over his job. While Hackett may look better if Riley gets mud on him, I think problems predate the changeover.

    I thought that some older version of the Wikipedia page on PGMO mentioned the date at which Riley replaced Hackett. But looking through the history, all I see is the actual transition back in 2009. Mind you, I only looked at 2 or 3 older versions of the document, and there are LOTS of edits on that page.

    Anyone have any idea what IP addresses PGMO or The FA might have? Many of those edits are anonymous (only by IP).

    On the travel front, it looks like the rails are under repair during the Stoke game. has advice.

  22. It is, however, very interesting that the BBC in its unbiased (lol) way has a little list of quotes by managers to demonstrate their frustration with poor refereeing decisions. Blow me down if the first one isn’t about the Alex Song ‘goal’ that was (correctly) disallowed against us. The BBC and the media may well be picking up on this but I still have no faith that we’ll end up being treated any differently by them.

  23. Is anybody else experiencing difficulty connecting to the Independent link given by Calario and indeed the link in the BBC article to Hacket’s actual blog?

  24. When I had a chat with a recently retired PGMO ref, his comments were (paraphrasing) that Riley is an unpleasant bully whereas Hackett was supportive.

    As noted above, things really started to go downhill fast in 2009. Also, there was nothing like the current north/south refereeing disparity then as there is now. Even though Hackett is from Sheffield.

    You can be absolutely sure that Hackett has been talking to his former charges. Does anyone know whether the refs Hackett has criticised were appointed to PGMO before or after he retired?

  25. Well done guys you’ve set the wheels in motion i’ve got faith that this will be exposed sooner than later. Regarding the Fergie era, I would love to read what you have to say about that. I’ve read bits and bobs on here regarding it but nothing in one article I think. Its amazing that Wenger achieved all he did during such corrupt times- the man is a genius, a legend. I almost take it personal the way he and Arsenal get absolutely RIPPED everyday on talksport, f365 and the newspapers. It’s nothing less than personal attacks with zero facts to back them up!

  26. It will take a VERY BRAVE man/outfit from the wimpy Media/Journalists to say anything about Ferggies blatantly obvious (even the birds in the sky knew) manipulation of referees during his tanure at MaNure!

    But even if they (Media) don’t – there isn’t a living being on planet earth (even MaNure supporters) who would easily deny such suggestions!

  27. One of the questions that come up is who is benefiting from the manipulation of the games by the refs? It does not seem to be the gamblers because there would be unusual betting patterns that would call attention to the manipulation. So it seems to me that the manipulation is most likely benefiting some clubs. This was most clear in the Sir Alex’s final season. Clearly the manipulation was to allow Sir Alex to step into retirement as the league winner. Recently the beneficiary of the manipulation seems less clear but it might involve the media who want certain teams to be in the top four and this includes big money teams. Because big money team produce more headlines and drama. Also this season and last there does seem to be a clear effort to keep Arsenal from winning and from a top four finish. This also might be for the media. The media makes a lot of money by bashing Arsenal and making every thing that happens a crisis. They media would like to see Wenger sacked because managers changing is good for the media. Stability at a club is not a good thing for the media. Liverpool is more to the liking of the media because the go up and down the table quickly, they unexpectedly win and then lose. They are constantly buying lots of players and all of this creates ‘news’ that the media like. Because the EPL is being manipulated by the way the officiating is done, it becomes less interesting and enjoyable.

  28. mick

    ” January 7, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Keith Hackett has this morning been interviewed on Talksport, as was Graham Poll on two occasions in the last few days, so as much as I dislike that radio station credit to them for giving some airtime to the refereeing scandal.”

    Many years ago I stopped listening to Talkshite except match commentaries I had no choice with, and H and J, though I have even stopped listening to them now.

    My point is they also had Graham Poll on H and J about a year or so ago, and came to the conclusion “we have the best Referees in the World”

    I would be careful of giving ANY credit to that agenda driven cesspit.


    As Andrew Crawshaw says:

    “The worst referees we have had – Atkinson, Dean and Taylor are considered to be OK by Mr Hackett.”

    And this from Goonermicky:

    “It is, however, very interesting that the BBC in its unbiased (lol) way has a little list of quotes by managers to demonstrate their frustration with poor refereeing decisions. Blow me down if the first one isn’t about the Alex Song ‘goal’ that was (correctly) disallowed against us. The BBC and the media may well be picking up on this but I still have no faith that we’ll end up being treated any differently by them.”

    As much as it does seem like a little more attention is being given to the appalling standard of Refereeing in this Country, I would remain very sceptical as to whether there is any real resolve in addressing the issue, and I doubt there’s ANY resolve at all behind addressing the issues we face at Arsenal in particular.

    Sorry to be so sceptical but as Goonermicky worryingly points out, the very first decision put under the microscope by the BBC is a decision that supposedly went our way, and when you consider the amount that have gone against us I think that’s pretty telling don’t you?

  29. Mark

    An A+ from me as well.

    I have been saying for years now, as have a few other regular Untolders, that the Refereeing debacle of incompetence and bias is media driven.

    It’s obvious it’s money driven, but the specifics of the whys and wherefores are much trickier to nail down, but that Mark, is as good a stab at making sense of it as I’ve read.

    Well done sir.

  30. a BIG SHOUT to UA for staying with this, despite the storm of words from those that believe otherwise.
    Especially Walter…well done mate!

  31. Walter, Tony et el

    Despite my continued scepticism as to what, if anything, will come of this increased questioning of our Referees competence, I would still like to add my gratitude and express my admiration for all your hard work and sheer bloody minded refusal to give up on this.

    I really hope you and your eternal optimism is well founded, and my doubts are not.

    Whatever the out come it’s still great work guys.

  32. Mark – Don’t be so confident that there is no malign gambling-related influence. Check out Football is Fixed/Omerta blogs and you will become very depressed!

  33. If Riley were to leave whose responsibility is it to select a replacement. Who decided on Riley when he replaced Hackett.

  34. @ mick 4:46

    As far as who appointed Riley, my money is on a red nosed scotsman!! Whoever it was though, he was certainly rewarded for something and the most blindingly obvious thing Riley ever did was show undivided loayalty to one club.

  35. Everyone can now see Riley is unfit to lead the PGMO, but like mick says, who will replace him? Dean? Webb? The problem is much more than just the man at the top.

    All this recent attention to refs, and still Arsenal are never mentioned. You’ll hear about all the bad decisions that went against other clubs, but you’ll never hear about Arsenal. I’m still fuming over the utter silence in the media about the Stoke-Arsenal game, where Taylor gave one of the worst performances I can remember. And yet they couldn’t stop (and still haven’t stopped yet) going on about how Hazard was treated in the Stoke-Chelsea game.

    It’s a good start that the refs are being mentioned, but it’s not enough. Like Andrew said, there are many other refs that are doing badly, besides the ones mentioned by Hackett.

    As for why this is happening, it’s the same cause of all such things: money. As has been pointed out, the illegal betting market is absolutely massive, and th idea that it has influenced referees in the Italian and German leagues, in international football including the world cup, but has left the richest league in the world, the Premier League, untouched is a bit fanciful.

    The other aspect, in my opinion, is that the PGMO seems to think football is all about entertainment, and it’s their job to keep the millions of viewers around the world entertained. So they always want drama to keep people talking about the Premier League, to keep people ‘tuned in’ to catch the latest drama, as though football was a soap opera. So they have their ‘narratives’, that Arsenal are soft and “don’t like it up ’em”, that fold against the tough teams. SAand then they had Chelsea repeating the Unbeaten season, and since that came crumbling down, it looks like they want a tight race between the oilers. They want dramatic big decisions that people will talk about, and turn on their tellies to see the latest scandal. They want more viewers of ‘the greatest league in the world’. It seems a fair game is last on their list.

    And since money is the cause of all this, it’s not so far fetched that the oilers could have influenced things. Of course, I am just speculating, but the fierce secrecy and dictatorial nature of the PGMO, and the relative media silence (which may slowly be changing), only leads to speculation.

    Anyway, if you don’t mind, I found the BBC article where they interview Walter, if anyone’s interested.

  36. I love this site, I’ve been telling friends and associates for years that match management has been happening and that the FA is a business and Man Utd was their biggest product so it makes perfect sense to keep the punters happy by keeping them successful, obviously I was laughed out of court so to speak.
    Also though can’t help but wonder on the agenda of now sudden bashing the PGMO or refs in general, as stated earlier by others I don’t trust any of them coming out now with this “since Christmas” bs, would love to know the end game or views on where people think this is headed.

  37. I have followed Untold Arsenal for about 2 years now, though quietly, but I do feel I must extend my support by stating that the referee reviews and the statistics on referee bias are the most staggering, the most substantial pieces of writing I’ve read on football yet.

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