The three ways of fixing matches in the Premier League

By Tony Attwood

The oldest, one might almost say, the traditional way of match fixing, was established by Liverpool and Manchester United at the end of the 1914/15 season.    Yes, 100 years ago this season.

Manchester United were looking likely to be relegated while Liverpool were comfortably placed mid-table.  So the two clubs worked together to fix the result of their final match against each other, to ensure that Man U got the point that they needed to escape relegation, while sending Chelsea down by one point.

The fixing was crudely done and obvious to anyone watching, and it is to the eternal shame of the League that they did not expel both clubs at once.    But when football resumed after the war there was still an outcry on behalf of Chelsea and they were re-instated in the league.

The trouble with this sort of fixing (we’ll call it Type I match fixing) is that it involves a number of players and anyone who refuses to take part is likely to engage in some whistle-blowing of his own.

A variation of this approach was seen in 1964 when players were revealed to have been involved for years in fixing the results of games on which bets had been placed.  Ten players were imprisoned.

Again there was the same problem for the fixers – too many people involved.  And here there was another problem – for the football pools companies that took the bets began to get suspicious too.

So the second way of fixing matches arose.  It has nothing to do with gambling and was invented to allow clubs to influence referees so that they would get better results.  A draw might turn into a win through the award of a dubious penalty five minutes from time – that sort of thing.  This is Type II match fixing.

There have been no prosecutions in the UK over this style of match fixing, although there have been several periods where statisticians have noted the number of times a particular team got a dodgy penalty or were allowed an offside goal near the end of matches seems strangely high.

But in Italy Type II match fixing became commonplace and had its own title, Calciopoli.  Over time this grew, until eventually it had the same problem that the more primitive buying of players approach (Type I match fixing) had – too many people became involved – including people running TV showings of games.

However Type II match fixing (Calciopoli) has a huge advantage over Type I in that no one is trying to fix a particular match.  The bought officials are simply engaged in edging one team forwards throughout the season.  If that team’s result on that day can’t be fixed, it is left and the ref tries again another day.

Type III match fixing is a further refinement, for it involves a club that wants to influence a referee in their own favour, focussing more on its rivals than on their own results.

What has helped Type III match fixing is the fact that the outcome at the top of the league has been very predictable for years.  In effect Team X might just say, “we want a top four slot” and asks the bought refs to give no help to Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham or Liverpool.

Then as the season goes on it is clear that Everton and Liverpool are not going to be a challenge for the top four, so the orders change – just focus on Arsenal and Tottenham.   Southampton are on the rise – ok, bring them into the frame, and do them no favours.

This makes it very hard to pick up these patterns.  Especially since, if Arsenal are playing and knock in three goals in the first 60 minutes which cannot be disputed, the ref will become very even handed thereafter thus revealing no bias.  For once he has a fine game.

Now add in the fact that there can be several clubs engaged in Type III match fixing (there were five involved in Calciopoli) and we can see that all sorts of strange situations can happen.  Some of these cancel each other, but that is not the point.  The point is that there is match fixing taking place.

What to do to stop it?

I haven’t proved that this type of match fixing goes on.  What I have said is that it is possible, and it has happened in at least one top league, and when it happens it is very hard to spot.  So, it would make sense to take steps to ensure that it can’t happen – even if there is no clear evidence that it is happening.

These steps would involve:

a) Having enough refs in the Premier League so that no ref ever referees the same club more than twice.

b) A balance of young and old refs so that the older hands can spot strange behaviour from youngsters, and youngsters who suddenly find they are being approached, can go to the authorities.

c) An openness about refereeing, without any attempt to gag them at the end of their careers by paying them large bonuses in return for silence.  Indeed the opposite of a gag should be in place – so match fixers can never be sure that their secret will be safe.

d) An open analysis of each referee’s decisions in each match, so that the referee’s organisation can say, “this is how many decisions were right, and here is the evidence”.  In that way patterns would emerge readily.

e) Video refereeing, which would ensure that dubious decisions are instantly reviewed by others.

f) Overseas refs who are unlikely to be bought up because the clubs doing the fixing will find it harder to see if they are corruptible or not.

You don’t need all of that, but we have none of that, so we struggle on thinking, “we can’t prove Type III Match Fixing exists, but we can say, none of the checks and balances that would help stop it are in place”.

And that is what makes Type III Match Fixing so worrying.  It is not hard to build a system that makes it very difficult to implement.  But PGMO just utterly refuses to do it.


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17 Replies to “The three ways of fixing matches in the Premier League”

  1. The last word of the article is the critical word Tony. Indeed, your implied question is clearly, if the PGMO specifically choose not to protect against it, one might reasonably infer that this is bacause they don’t actually want to. My point, however, is pointless, since you and most UA readers know this anyway. Just felt I should add weight to the glaringly obvious.

    I do wonder though, if Type III fixing was at some point proven might it actually lead to certain retired managers/clubs being stripped of honours or clubs who are highly marketable being thrown out of the league………well I never, I think I may have spotted one possible reason why Type III might actually exist in the EPL. Sorry, yet more old news……….

  2. Tony, it seems to me that the PGMOL as currently constituted are part of the problem. So far this season 20 referees have appeared in the Premier League.
    Andre Marriner, 10 games
    Anthony Taylor, 18 games
    Chris Foy, 13 games
    Craig Pawson, 16 games
    Graham Scott, 1 game (Burnley v Villa)
    Jonathan Moss, 17 games
    Keith Stroud, 1 game (Palace v Leicester)
    Kevin Friend, 14 games
    Lee Mason, 14 games
    Mark Clattenberg, 13 games
    Martin Atkinson, 18 games
    Michael Oliver, 18 games
    Mike Dean, 17 games
    Mike Jones, 13 games
    Neil Swarbrick, 13 games
    Paul Tierney, 1 game (Swansea v West Brom)
    Phil Dowd, 17 games
    Robert Madley, 6 games
    Roger East, 7 games
    Stuart Attwell, 1 game (Leicester v West Brom)
    The PGMO are clearly trying to set up a claim that they have sufficient referees by giving single matches to a number of ‘new faces”. The fact remains that Messrs Scott, Stroud, Tierney, Madley, East and Attwell between them have done fewer games than any of Taylor, Atkinson or Oliver. Effectively the PGMO working with 15 referees. To ensure that no team has any referee more than twice in a season a minimum number of 23 referees should be available19 plus 15% (to allow for sickness, unavailability due to conflicts of interest, sickness or other commitments). Mind you thinking about it with the current skewed geographical locations of the current referees the number should probably be higher still.

  3. A very coherent summation of points you have previously made. So many of your points have been plagiarized…uh hem…borrowed…it is a wonder that when you write something so clear as this that others don’t pick up on it.

  4. It is interesting to note that other websites are now picking up on referee issues. Lee Hurley in the Daily Canon (formerly LadyArse) is the latest with a referee preview piece.

  5. The challenge to find evidence of any type 3 match fixing would be to make a comprehensive study of controversial incidents each week in all games involving the top 6/8 teams; or at least the prime suspects and the likely victims. Identifying where controversial incidents favour or disfavour teams over the course of a season could provide the circumstantial evidence to pique curiosity if the difference between Team A, and teams B,C,D is significant.

  6. If the suspicion on match fixings in the Premier League games are there existing in the dark. The search light must be unleashed on it to see and fish out the devils that might be residing in our beautiful game. And remove any ugliness in it to stop making our game a mockery. Let me seize this time on this website to appeal to the boss to please sign one more player – a striker (Mandzukic 28)? On loan with the remaing £5m from his Jan’ transfer kitty that is still with him I shouid beleive. What has happened now within our 4 strikers with only 2 of them will be available for selection to face Aston Villa, has shown us clearly that we need a back up in our striker department for the rest of the season. I sincerely hope the boss will see light in my suggestion and make a successful bidding in the market in the remaning 4 days of the Jan’ transfer window to close.

  7. if there ever arises a need as a result of this trend a probe into how clubs gets there three point intact with whatever manner of manipulation,and a punishment of stripping them of thier medal is attached,then i guess Man U will be made to sweat…I have concern for Fergie too,if thos turns out thos way..

  8. Arsenal play Crewe in the Youth FA Cup some time soon. I just seen a news article that ManCity defeated Stoke in the other side of the quarter final draw. So it will be either us or Crewe, that play ManCity in the quarter final.

  9. ManCity will be home in that quarter final. On the other side, Liverpool lost to Birmingham City.

    That is Youth FA Cup stuff.

  10. Thanks Tony. It is depressing to see how bad things could be. I’m fairly sure Type 3 exists. Probably Type 2 as well. There was that suspicious Dortmund – Malaga game a while ago which comes to mind immediately. Just to screw Malaga over at the end. Maybe.

  11. Think type three is everywhere in this league, started by Fergie and brand conscious administrators. I used to think the plan was to get Arsenal out of the top four, but now I wonder if a top four place is the reward for silence from our execs. We seem to get a few months whereby we get absolutely nothing from the refs, depending on our position in the league….does it statistically abate when we become less of a threat to the chosen teams?
    On the subject of chosen teams , wonder if our west London friends have pushed their luck….and prove ledges position a bit too far lately?

  12. Given the status and importance of football in England-the huge amounts of money wafting around the game- the opportunity for corruption is clear. The lack of transparency and accountability of the PGMOL inevitably gives rise to speculation about corruption.

    If referees were a public service in England- they would be rigorously regulated.
    I suggest that an organisation like OFSTED should regulate referees and especially the PGMOL..

  13. Well stated Tony! I would add one more idea to make it harder to do any of the three types with refs. Add a random appointment of the team of refs at the start of the game. If a crew of 5 or 6 went to a game not knowing if they would run lines, be the fourth official or be the ref on the pitch, then they randomly assigned the duties it would be harder to manipulate.

    I think the over all officiating could be made better with two on the field officials and this could be done at all levels of the game. Video replay could help at the higher levels. Also if you gave the fourth official time keeping duties it would reduce the pressure on the field ref.

  14. Thanks for the excellent analysis and consistent fight to bring this thorny issue of ref bias to the core. Of late, we are getting penalties given in our favor which wasn’t the case early on in the season. Does this mean the tide is changing in our favor or is it jst lady luck smiling upon us on those particular days? secondly, how do you foresee the Mou Vs PGMO stiff ending? As mentioned, you have helped put a lot of issues in perspective for me. Keep up the good work. I live for the day when ths will all blow up, it might take a long time but eventually it will go bust.

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