The referees’ organisation: a blind, lame man shuffling backwards into a wasps’ nest.

By Tony Attwood

I’d never claim that Untold has changed the world, but we have highlighted a few issues over time which, when we started our campaign were never spoken of, and which now are everyday conversation.

And I think everyone involved on Untold – writers, commentators and the silent audience – can be proud of that. Changing the conversation is always the first step in the journey towards change.

Refereeing has for a while of course be one of our main topics, based as it is around a huge amount of data which reveals that

1. Referees make many more mistakes than the official figures show

2. The mistakes don’t all even out in the end and some teams are suffering extraordinarily as a result of the current situation.

3. The policy of keeping the numbers of top refs low but retirement age high, is dangerous and leads to more mistakes and a greater chance of bias.

4.  The policy of secrecy from PGMO, the organisation that runs the refs, is at the very best stunningly unhelpful, and at worst, complicit in making the situation get much worse.

I doubt that even Walter, when he started teaching all of us about the rules of the game, and how they were being misapplied, realised just how far this would go or how much influence his work would have.

So far we haven’t changed anything, but we have certainly opened up the debate and made this a topic that the press are very slowly starting to talk about.   They’ve always commented on referee errors in the past, but never once mentioned PGMO, and now they do.  And PGMO in a most fumbling and unconvincing way, is talking to a few journalists.

That one move is great, I think, because the more they talk, the more inept they appear, and the more the insanity of their position in general and their stats in particular, is revealed.

Meanwhile, the footballing authorities (most obviously the FA) are floundering in this new world where the referee is as much the centre of attention as the players and their ineptitude at running grassroots football.

So the decision to charge José Mourinho with misconduct was not unexpected.  Not because he should be charged, but because it is a case which the FA are ill-prepared to fight and that is the sort of battle they always take on.  The notion of a blind. lame man shuffling backwards into a wasps’ nest comes to mind as the best representation of the fight to come.

Mourinho claimed there was a “clear campaign” by “people, pundits, commentators and coaches from other teams” against Chelsea.   Fine.  So far, so much bollocks.

But then he said that the yellow card for Cesc Fàbregas for a dive was a scandal.  So the pondering dinosaur that is the FA have said that his remarks constitute improper conduct in that they allege or imply bias on the part of a referee or referees.

What makes this confrontation interesting is that Diego Costa and Willian were also booked for diving in the past month.  And on 26 December Branislav Ivanovic seemed to dive in a match against WHU.

Mourinho’s claim of a campaign against Chelsea is outside the remit of the FA, and that is what makes their action against him one of particular interest, because he will use the case to expound on his thesis that “People, pundits, commentators, coaches from other teams – they react with Chelsea in a way they don’t react to other teams. They put lots of pressure on the referee and the referee makes a mistake like this.”

The clever twist is that Mourinho is saying that it is not the referee’s fault – they are only human.  If found guilty, he can come out and say it again, and again.  If the FA charge him with saying “it is not the referee’s fault” they will look as stupid as they really are.

The other thing Mourinho does is speak sometimes of the need for a  “good, experienced referee” for a match.  This is an old trick and it is what Sir F got away with ahead of matches against Arsenal.

Managers are not allowed to speak of refs before a game.  Sir F used to get round this by speaking in generalised terms before the match and in detail after.   This built up to his infamous commentary on 3 January 1999 in the Sunday Times when he claimed Arsenal were responsible for “numerous fights on the pitch”.  It was the most blatant piece of public ref-fixing seen in public at that time.  (Ferguson claimed he apologised, and Wenger replied, “If he sent an apology it must have been by horse”.)

The issue has moved a long way since Sir F indulged in childish name calling in his regular attempt (often successful) to influence referees.  Now the press talk of the subject (the Independent recently spoke of “the country’s increasingly embattled referees” for example while Graham Poll called recent matches a “disastrous festive season,”) and that is what has changed.

Sp that paper is looking at the way in which Clattenburg has been treated by PGMO, since he refereed the football final of the 2012 Olympics.  They contrast what he is getting in relation to what Atkinson, the other Uefa elite ref on the rosta, is being asked to officiate.   They say, “there is an obvious conclusion to be drawn: the high-profile, headline games are not going to Clattenburg.”

My point is not that the Independent is necessarily right in the line it is taking, but rather to marvel in the fact that it is following a story about refs at all.  This wouldn’t have happened when Untold first starting digging into the murky world of referees.  Hell, it wouldn’t have happened 18 months ago.

The Indy has tried to talk to PGMO, and received simplistic answers as you would expect from such a bunch of secretive secret people working in absolute secrecy.

But in the midst of the piece they note that, “Clattenburg’s style is different to the conventional approach, and he has not always toed the company line.”  Now that notion of a “company line” is more interesting.  Let’s see where they go with that.

So there, just for once, we have a hint that the press are starting to get aware of the deep dark pool that they are dipping their little toes into.

And they are even picking up on the contrasts, as with, “Poll described the current situation as the ‘worst performance level that I can remember’. PGMO would disagree and in these pages, Webb, now the technical director, said that their data gives correct decisions at 98.4 per cent – almost identical to the same stage last year.”

They are not picking sides, but the fact they even made the point is a huge step forwards.

We may hope for more fireworks to come.

Classic Untold

Amending reality, how Sky gives us a version but not what really happened

Suddenly our video ref story gets into the press along with the usual fantasy statistics

23 Replies to “The referees’ organisation: a blind, lame man shuffling backwards into a wasps’ nest.”

  1. ” they will look as stupid as they really are.”

    They do, they do, they already do look as stupid as they are.

    The PM… can’t see that their insular conduct makes them look stupid.

    The PM seems to think it is above the Law for eternity but the day will come as it always does when Humpty Dumpty will fall off his wall.

  2. Indeed Bob, interesting.
    The big flaw is of course they base all their numbers on the assumption that the ref never makes mistakes….. as in their numbers each decision from the ref is supposed to be correct. We know this is not the case.

  3. The Telegraph ‘analysis’ ignores the fact that when a ‘big’ team is losing the (smaller team?)opposition is more likely to time waste and therefore prompt the ref to add time to compensate. Against Arsenal most teams time waste from the first minute.
    The article also falls into the trap of shoe-horning in the view (unsupported by data) that the Arsenal defence is one-eyed and inferior. Actual data says that Arsenal have one of the better defensive records on the EPL and also that they try to win the ball back further up the field than most others. If they give away fouls it’s a long way from their goal – a strategy designed to reduce the number of set piece balls that can be put into our box which itself reduces the chances of giving away further fouls near our goal.
    If you are going to base an article on data then don’t ignore other data and certainly don’t throw in unsupportable ‘received wisdom’.

  4. What I find a trifle irritating these days is exactly the opposite of what the arrogant Ferguson used to do.
    A few days before a game, opposing managers pour praise on the opposition, saying how much respect they have over the way they have progressed in difficult circumstances…blah, blah, blah.
    Even Arsene does this himself….
    It’s as though the managers want to soften up the opposition by implying they are nice guys before a ball is kicked.

  5. Untold have exposed patterns of ref behaviour and decision making in the EPL that the EPL & FA are uncomfortable with- they would prefer that no-one is looking at this and that their bland platitudes are just swallowed by the public without question. That does not suggest that football in England is healthy.
    I have to say though that Refs are not the reason that AFC are where they are.

  6. Moaning Mourinho did not have much to say about the assault by Cahill on Sanchez or the kick and stamp by Terry on Kane. It is apparent the scheming Mourinho thinks he can manipulate the refs they way he perhaps believes someone did in the past.

    Riley and the PGMO are starting to look more and more isolated – as they try to escape the increasing clamor. What they will find is that when the posse closes in, those nice people in the FA who are partly responsible for the ref mess will be absent – probably on their own escape route!

  7. Can someone explain how this PGMO monster works.
    Who originally set up the PGMO?
    Are PGMO answerable to the FA or Premier League?
    If PGMO are employed/contracted to/hired by the Premier League then presumably their contract could be ended or cancelled/not renewed or is it not as simple as that.
    Whoever is responsible for creating PGMO has created a seemingly indestructble entity answerable to no-one.

  8. Egorinio has come out with a vow of silence. GREAT NEWS and long may that continue. now we can have some sanity.

  9. If there were anti Arsenal agenda or agendas against other teams or corruption in the PGMO. To the extent suggested on here that one of these investagative jounalists or organisations wouldn’t have run with it.

    They wouldn’t care about reputations or who is going to be exposed and would love to have a story that big. Corruption in the FA or PGMO they would be all over it.

  10. The issue of refereeing bias is far too complex for any football journalists to understand never mind report on they simply just repeat whatever the ‘experts’ on sky sports tell them to say. And sky will never highlight because it will damage their brand and they’ll lose money its far easier to discuss why a manager didnt sign a player who never might never hav any intention of coming to said club

  11. The Telegraph analysis looks quite awful, and it is by a journalist who Untold has locked horns with before. I’ll try and do a piece about it later today.

  12. @nicky
    Second that.

    The fact that “experienced” refs are shuffled to manage the “big” games suggests their is no fairness in the PL. ALL teams are fighting to make their way, and doing this puts a stigma on the “smaller” teams. Refs should be assigned to a game as it comes out of the hat, no changing around to suit TV(would probably be a better game anyway), bloated managers or any others except in a real emergency(sickness, accident etc).

  13. mick, there’s a wikipedia PGMO page. Not sure how truthful it is, but it gives some info on it’s make-up.

  14. Thanks for the quotes from the Independent, Tony. Interesting that they are highlighting this question of favouritism (Atkinson rather than Clattenburg) based clearly on factors other than competence.

    Please keep us up to date on anything else you pick up about the ‘company line’.

  15. The early part of that Telegraph article eerily reads like it is directed at Untold. Or perhaps I just spend too much time here 😛

  16. …a blind , lame man shuffling backwards into a wasps’ nest …trapped within a fence of nettles , of his own making !

  17. I wonder if Brickfields has ever posted something like this? 🙂

    So there once was this wasp that lived in a jungle. This was not your ordinary wasp though-he was smart, philosophical even. One day he finally got fed up with his repetitive, insignificant life and decided that he would leave his hive, his family, his entire close-knit wasp community and he would go out into the world and make something of himself, just like the humans do. So the wasp enrolls in school, and passes with flying colours. Remember, this is a very smart wasp. He gets his high school diploma in a little under 3 years, with a 4.0 GPA and all that snazz. After high school, believe it or not, the wasp gets accepted to Harvard. Harvard! This too proves to be no challenge for our hero, as he graduates in just two years, again a 4.0, on the Dean’s list, and all that snazz. Not to mention all the clubs and sports he was in-the newspaper, rowing, student government-and the fact that he was by far the most popular student on campus. Even his professors looked up to him.

    He goes on to get two PhDs, and when he finishes his education, the wasp faces a bit of a dilemma. How does he apply his knowledge now? Where does he go from here? He decides to try out politics. After all, he was popular throughout school, did well in Harvard government. So he runs for mayor, and wins in a landslide. He greatly reforms the city, fixing virtually all its major problems. He runs for governor and again wins in a landslide. Two years later, the presidential election was coming up, and the wasp decides he might as well go for it.

    Of course, he wins in the largest landslide in US presidential history. His presidency goes exceedingly well-he is loved by all parties, and has the highest approval ratings in history. He also finds the cures for cancer, AIDS, and broken hearts while in the White House. After 8 years (yes, of course he was reelected) the time has come for him to leave his office. Even his successor his saddened by the wasp’s departure, but they all know it’s what must be done. Back at his vacation home in California his first day after leaving office, the wasp looks back on his long and fruitful life. He realizes that he hasn’t been back to his hive at all since that first day he left. He suddenly feels a twang of guilt as he realizes how much he misses his parents and his little brother. So he heads back to the hive, looking more worn out than he remembers. He goes inside and greets his family, who are overjoyed at the sight of him. He talks about how his life has gone as his family listens in wonderment. Eventually he decides he is thirsty, so he decides to visit the old watering hole he remembered. Once he gets there though, there’s an extremely long line. He decides it’s worth the wait, so gets in line. One hour. Two hours. This is the slowest moving line he’s ever seen! Eventually he calculates that it could be a few days before he gets to the front of the line, so decides it’s not worth it. He decides to go get some cider to drink instead, but waddya know, another huge line of people waiting for cider! He remembers one other drinking area that never had a long line-fruit punch! So he decides to go get punch. He arrives, and lo and behold, there’s no punch line.

    Thanks to some anonymous redit.

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