Chelsea complain, Man U complain. But hush, don’t talk about refs.

On the anniversary of one of the most bizarre referee performances of all time, I thought I’d look at whether the media has changed its stance of late.
By Tony Attwood
A lot of the problem about the debate concerning referees is the very curious way the media follow it up.
For example the BBC recent asked: Is Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho right when he says there is a campaign to influence referees’ decisions against his side?
What they did was then look at a handful of small incidents drawn from a tiny number of games, saying,
BBC Sport looks at games in which the Portuguese has complained about refereeing decisions but also at matches where opposition managers have criticised those that have gone in Chelsea’s favour.Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy told BBC ‘s Match of the Day that Chelsea might have been unlucky with diving incidents this season but that there was “no campaign”.

“I think that’s emotion getting the better of him,” Murphy said of Mourinho’s verdict.

And so we are back to “it all evens up in the end”.  Silly managers, and indeed silly foreign managers.
It is indeed sad to see the media retreat into this sort of “analysis” where they pick out individual incidents, rather than look at the whole game in detail, because Type II and Type III referee bias (both of which involve the ref in edging games one way or the other without trying to fix a particular result in each match) are far more subtle that this.
I’m interested in comments such as those coming from the BBC because one of the prime Untold campaigns that we have run virtually from the first article just over seven years ago, is the campaign to extend the public debate about referees, to extend recognition of the ways in which refereeing can go wrong – and to reveal how this problem is exacerbated or even aided by the decisions made by the body that runs professional refereeing: PGMO.
When Untold started refs were indeed criticised – but that criticism was generally focussed on their alleged incompetence.  A sort of “I can see it so why can’t he?” approach.
In those early days the referees’ organisation remained utterly quiet in response to any comments about refs, taking the view that the “it all evens out in the end” line that the media endlessly took was enough to keep the debate under control.
Untold always wanted to go further, pointing out some clubs were involved in systematic rule breaking that the refs did not deal with, (we talked about rotational fouling right from the start for example) and of course highlighting the fact that just because the league takes place in England does not mean that the corruption of refs is impossible.
In the past year I think things have moved on.  Not because too many managers or any of the media have been able to grasp our theory of the three types of corruption of refs, but because the media refuse to discuss the fact that the PGMO “97% of referee decisions are correct” is arrant nonsense.  It is not even a debating point.
But we have battled on and to be fair to the BBC they have considered our views in one investigation, and rather pleasingly Mr Wenger has mentioned our work twice.  But the rest… well the media seem to think the issues is too complex for the restricted intellect of their readers, viewers and listeners.
However the issue won’t go away.
Recently the Bolton manager had a bash at referee East for sending off Neil Danns for two yellows in the FA Cup, saying, “I thought he was rubbish” and then elaborating a little thereafter.
That quote comes from the Express, and it is a sign that they have no idea how to deal with referee issues that the “Related articles” tag underneath dealt with McCarthy’s injury, B Rodgers praising his side and Steven Gerrard.  Not one single link to a refereeing article.  
But Louis van Gaal has been charged by the Football Association with bringing the game into disrepute for comments he made after Manchester U’s draw at Cambridge.   Here the comment implied bias by Chris Foy, as van Gaal said, “Every aspect of a match is against us. We have to come here, the pitch isn’t so good, that can influence that you can play in another style. The opponents always give a lot more than they normally give and defending is always easier than attacking. Then you have seen the referee – it’s always the same. Everywhere I have coached these games, and I have coached them with other clubs, it’s always the same.”
Now that isn’t too bad really – he just says that refs change their style of play to accommodate the more rough and ready attitude in the lower leagues.  And I’d say that is true.  I’ve watched non-league and lower league football alongside watching Arsenal all my life, and there’s no doubt to me that different rules apply in different leagues.
But for me, what is different now is that different rules now also apply within the Premier League.  Some clubs are refereed in a totally different way from others.

Van G did however show that he was into the spirit of English by picking up on the old Arry stance saying, “I never say anything about the referee because it is a part of the match and I cannot influence the referee, but you will have to ask the referees why we don’t get penalties.”   (He’s still got to work on that – Arry’s best line was always, ‘As you know I never talk about referees but…’.”)

And the newspaper follow up to VG’s comments?   Manchester U have a lack of flair and don’t score many goals.

It was ever thus.

5 February 2011: Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4, this match went down as one of the most outrageous referee performances of all time – but was still the 8th out of 16 consecutive unbeaten matches.

Untold Arsenal

37 Replies to “Chelsea complain, Man U complain. But hush, don’t talk about refs.”

  1. It’s all Mourinho genuine habits. From England to Italy, to Spain then back to England. The world seems to have conspiracy against his team, when things are goin’ wrong for them. In my country, there’s a metaphor : Like fences eaten the plants. Mean, they got shot by their own gun. Chelsea’s players love to dive, many of them were success. Today, the refs have learn this, so they won’t buy it, even if it’s true. LOL!!!

  2. Referees are “professionals” earning a purported £80,000 a year. They get paid by the F.A. who get their money from the clubs, who get their money from the fans. So we should be able to debate, criticize and praise these guys and also have a forum where we can ask them why/how they made their decisions. Having Riley in charge of the refs is like having Fergie in charge of Manu,say it enough times and people will believe it even when it’s obviously not.

  3. Until I saw the first comment i thought this was a great article — its not about Chelsea or arsenal or Man United, the fact is refs are inconsistent from game to game and between themselves. Everyone knows this and can see it clearly every game, just like every supporter knows that their club has favorite refs who they usually win under. Chelsea are exactly the same.
    As for the managers a lot of their criticism of refs is to disguise poor performances so they’re not good guides really even if they’re correct. Its also clear that certain ref’s are far too connected, rightly or wrongly, in people’s minds with certain clubs. Nor do the fans contribute much because they are far too tribal a lot of them can’t even know the difference between going down easy and a dive and speak as if they’re the same thing. This dilutes the debate and lets the ref’s off the hook. Plus the presence of ex ref’s in the press settling old scores and bashing current refs for issues anyone could have bashed them for in their time doesn’t help. Altogether its an insoluble problem which won’t get better until the FA is reformed. Anyway good article.

  4. Maureen didn’t blame the ref when Cahill should have been sent off for the tackle on Alexis.

    Or when Atkinson didn’t point to the spot when Fabregas blocked our shot with an arm.

    Or when the same thing happened against Liverpool at Anfield when Chavs won 2:1.


  5. That’s a very good point, ken lock. I never realised it was the supporters that actually paid, indirectly, the refs and the PGMO. I wonder if any of the hacks will pick this up. Even if they do, they’ll probably dismiss it as irrelevant.

    But anyway: “Chelsea might have been unlucky with diving incidents this season”! Really? Chelsea unlucky? I thought the consensus was they were lucky to get away with all the diving they have been doing. Blimey, it’s 1984 all over again. “Say it enough times and people will believe it even when it’s obviously not”, as ken says above.

  6. Top Referees are continually under scrutiny, criticised and lambasted when they get things wrong. With instant replays millions of fans can judge and slate referees when they get it wrong. The most important person making these decisions is very often the last to know what actually went on. With players and managers effectively cheating in the name of professionalism it makes the job even more difficult. Having said that not enough is done by the controlling bodies to improve standards and wipe out so called bias.

  7. Just a quick off topic post.

    From John Cross of the Mirror

    I would give Arsenal’s transfer window 7/10.

    They plugged the defensive gap with Gabriel and added the defender they really needed as the squad was woefully short. But I still think they are short in defensive midfield. Also, I wonder whether they are short of numbers in attack.

    They’ve let three go out on loan in Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. If Olivier Giroud gets injured then it’s down to Danny Welbeck who has been injured. Sanchez has not been as effective through the middle. Theo Walcott is only just coming back from injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out injured. Chuba Akpom is now getting chances. I think one injury and Arsenal look short, not just from the starting XI but options from the bench.

    But overall, the Gabriel signing made it a good window.

    the guy is up there with Robbie Savage and Andy Townsend for Arsenal hating stupidity.

  8. I was with you right up until the ‘thoroughly evil concept’ part, I hope that was merely a demonstration of how dumb you sound when you take a complex debate and make sweeping generalisations, much like the footballing authorities do; taking a potshot at religions is probably a misjudged way to do it though.

  9. Managers and players ought to be able to say exactly what they like about officials, as long as they obey the law of the land regarding slander.

    Those who came out with outlandish views would soon be ignored, I do not like to see managers etc trying to act like politicians (we have enough avoidance of the question there thanks).

    It is shameful that managers are required to give interviews within half an hour of the game ending, a more appropriate time would be during the next day.

  10. The main thing is that the refs seem to have been elevated to a status that is being unquestionable and unanswerable to anyone else but the PGMO.

    As Ken Lock says, “we should be able to debate, criticize and praise these guys and also have a forum where we can ask them why/how they made their decisions.”

    And more importantly, good refs should be rewarded, through a system like a Referee Cup that can be won by a ref at the end of the season according to their performance. A ref league table in the PL, and soon the championship will have the same thing, causing refs to get promoted to PL and so on.

  11. Ban managers talking to the press immediately after games but make it mandatory for the ref to do so.

    Managers get too emotional and protective of their team. Refs are paid to be logical and unemtional and why the hell shouldn’t they have to justify their decisions?

    @ ken lock – I couldn’t agree more it is the fans that pay their wages. In that context, what appalled me yesterday though was an interview I heard with Mino Raiola, the football agent who is challenging Blatter for the FIFA presidency. When asked yesterday if he thought he was an appropriate person to lead world football, he justified his candidacy by saying something like “Of course. As an agent I have a lot to do with players and after all the game is all about the players”. FFS has everyone forgotten who pays the wages of everbody in the game!!!

  12. When this current team gets near to it’s end, AW is going to be hailed as the greatest manager/coach of all time. This team is another recipe carefully put together by AW, where the ingredients have now been mixed together.
    Sure there were hiccups as some ingredients were unavailable, injured or not (yet)suitable for the moment, but this team is on the way now, and not before time with CL games coming up soon.
    With a little luck and well, a sort of rotation, we should be able to see the season out with few if only minor injuries. It is great when a team grows like an organism, it produces extraordinary things, takes just a little longer sometimes. Good is that we can now afford to buy any ingredient we, well meant to say, AW deems suitable for Arsenal.

  13. Buddha9 – ” just like every supporter knows that their club has favorite refs who they usually win under.”

    Can someone help me? I’m struggling to think of a ref who Arsenal usually win under? Nope. No one.

  14. @Pete,

    yeah, I had a tough time trying to figure out which ref we actually usually win under. Interesting out of the current refs, we only have a higher winning percentage with Chris Foy (79%), Andre Marriner (68%), and Mark Clattenburg (win % is 60%). Our Average Win percentage since Arsene Wenger took over is 58%.

    Past referees we had higher win percentages with include Alan Wiley (Left 2010 at age 50)
    Dermot Gallagher (Left 2007 at age 49)
    Steve Bennett (Left 2010 at age 49)
    Steve Dunn (Left 2005 at age 47)
    Graham Barber (Left 2004 at age 45)
    Rob Styles (Left 2009 at age 45)
    David Elleray (Left 2003 at Age 48)
    Peter Jones (Left 2002 at Age 48)
    Mark Halsey (62%, Left 2013 at Age 51)

    Interesting most of them never reffed after age 50 and left in the 04/05 or 2010 (Maybe due to a change in guard).

    Ref stats from

  15. buddha9

    “just like every supporter knows that their club has favorite refs”

    Dozens and dozens of Refereeing reviews on UA suggest otherwise.

    Never mind, if you could just show us the evidence you have to back up that statement I’d be more than willing to re evaluate my opinion of untolds reviews.

    Until then on the other hand…….

  16. budha 9
    here’s a simple challenge for you: Name the referee who, in your opinion, would favour Arsenal in any game. Then Untold could look into it and prove your point. Over to you sir!!

  17. Checking the Barclays Premier League site, it would seem the fans contribution is – minute!

    Formed in 2001 to improve refereeing standards, the PGMOL group officiate across all the Premier League, Football League and FA Competitions – all three organisations fund it.

    The major slice of revenue must be English Premier League, with the broadcasting revenues and of course the transfer fees levies.

  18. Notoverthehill,
    yes,but who funds those groups you mention? If the football fan did not go to any matches, where would the money come from? Why would sponsors,advertiserstelevision or broadcasters put money in to a dying sport? Finally, there would beno transfers, so the game would die.
    It is the supporter paying his hard earnt cash who keeps this game running and, as such, we should be able to have our say in all matters concerning it.

  19. Van Gaal has not uttered a word about refs all season despite some horrendous performances and decisions, yet look at the response when he makes a passing comment whilst referring to other issues. United have not had a penalty all season and since the PL began, are below the mid-table in terms of penalties given. This is a bit strange considering for 20-odd years were serial title winners and therefore you’d think they spend a fair bit of time in the oppo box. Contrast with Liverpool who are predictably riding high at the top of the table (the penalty table, of course) with serial divers Gerrard and Suarez etc throwing themselves to ground as soon as the 18 yard line approaches. With 5673 ex-players in the media putting pressure on refs when Ashley Young does the same thing twice in his United career whilst totally ignoring the weekly gift from refs that their ex-club enjoys, is it any wonder there is a huge imbalance here and the silence is deafening? Fact is, refs are terrified of giving anything to United knowing the media fallout to come.

  20. What most of you guys have done is simply prove my point that nothing can be done to improve the refs because fans are just too tribal to actually set aside their differences, lift their eyes and see what is at stake. In which case the situation will continue going from bad to worse. As for which refs favor Arsenal how would I know? I’m a Chelsea fan but i do know that under certain refs we have a much easier passage to winning games than under others and I’m sure that’s the case with arsenal and indeed most clubs.

  21. Buddah9

    Tribalism is a good word. And it probably applies.

    Untold Arsenal has data about apparent bias by referees going back for many years. Most of it is games that involved Arsenal. Some of it is for any EPL team.

    In reading Untold (and occassionally writing comments and what not), it is not apparent that any other team is doing something similar.

    If nobody was doing anything, the obvious assumption is that the easy passage for some referees is at the same level for all teams. And people will go on to talk about level playing fields and so on.

    That isn’t the situation. UntoldArsenal has been assessing referees for a while. Someplace on UA today (it is 5:19pm Feb 5 where I live), it was mentioned that the best bias we had observed is 50%. 50% of the wrong calls made benefitted the opposition. The best bias we observe, is the bias one expects after averaging over all referees.

    The only way the best bias equals what is expected, is if all bias is the same. And that is not true. UA has seen games where all of the wrong calls favour one team, the opposition.

    Which means that it cannot all average out at the end.

    How do we move on?

    Other teams need to start assessing referees. And this doesn’t mean evaluating all the calls that were made during the game. You (your accessors) need to find all the things that should have been called. Your accessors cannot be afraid of saying one of your players fouled, should have been cautioned, should have been ejected, should have given away a penalty, should not have scored.

    What one expects, is the two assessments end up being close to the same.

    Then a person can start comparing bias for and against teams. And we will find, it is not a level playing field. It does not even out at the end.

    Improving referees.

    If all of the cameras filming a football game are running at 24 fps, I don’t think adding video playback is going to help appreciably. Lots of people think it will help. I think you need at least 96 fps. The fastest things of interest in a football game are about 100 mph, which is about 44 meters per second. At 96 fps, this means about 0.45 meters per frame. This isn’t fast enough to catch things involving players kicking each other, but it catches a lot of things. If we go up to 384 fps (16 times broadcast frame rates), we should be able to start to image the fastest leg/leg collisions.

    In terms of referee assessment (and debriefing) by a responsible agency (which means the PGMO couldn’t do it), I think what people should aim for is a set of 3 simulation chambers similar to flight simulators for air force pilots worldwide. This paragraph could get huge.

    I think having an array of microphones around the field, and software listening for sets of certain sounds, might be useful. How does a person get this information to the referee? I think it is important for the referee to use their hearing, so having them wear headphones may not work.

  22. Some of the comments here are so funny to me ,especially by fans of other clubs , but they apparently aren’t meant to be by intention ! Thanks for the laughs though .
    So in the same vein ,… Always Behind

    A man playing on a new golf course got confused as to what hole he was on. He saw a lady playing ahead of him. He walked up to her and asked if she knew what hole he was playing. She replied, “I’m on the 7th hole, and you’re a hole behind me, so you must be on the 6th hole.” He thanked her and went back to his golf.

    On the back nine, the same thing happened, and he approached the lady again with the same request. She said, “I’m on the 14th, you are a hole behind me, so you must be on the 13th.” Once again he thanked her.

    He finished his round and went into the club house and saw the lady sitting at the end of the bar. He went up to her and said, “Let me buy you a drink to show my appreciation for your help.” He started a conversation and asked her what kind of work she did. She said she was in sales, and he said he was in sales also. He asked what she sold.

    She replied, “If I told you, you would only laugh.”

    “No, I wouldn’t,” he said.

    She said, “I sell tampons.”

    With that he fell on the floor laughing so hard.

    She said, “See, I knew you would laugh.”

    “That’s not what I’m laughing at,” he replied. “I’m a toilet paper salesman, so I’m STILL one hole behind you!”

  23. And with ole ‘Arry gone , how many English managers are there still in the EPL ? Will a suitable qualified and equally talented fellow Englishman replace him ?
    A valid point to ponder !

  24. Ho ho buddha9, very good. It all evens out in the end. Okey dokey, pal. I don’t understand your point “nothing can be done to improve the refs because fans are just too tribal”. Refereeing can’t be improved because fans support their club too much? Come again guvna? The obvious and easy way to do it is to use television replays (to repeat points Gord has made), which would only take a matter of seconds to get slow-motion replays from several angles. If you read Untold regularly you’ll know they’ve made many other suggestions on how to make refereeing fairer, such as increasing the number of refs, getting a broader geographical distribution of refs, etc.

    Your assumption that every team gets good and bad calls against them, and that it all evens out in the en, is just a guess, and is not based on any evidence to support it. If you follow Untold you’ll know they’ve been doing referee reviews for years, using qualified refs and all in the open. A very large mass of data has been gathered to show that it does not in fact all even out. Of course you can dispute the evidence that has been gathered, just start doing your own referee reviews with qualified refs and publishing your results openly so everyone can criticise them. That’s how science works.

  25. Thanks Gord nice points — incidentally I’ve assumed that it evens out in the end and even if it did that doesn’t excuse poor referring. Also i’ve seen the data collected on that site you talk about and I wish someone on a chelsea site would do something similar indeed I wish every fan site for every club would — my main objection to video replays is: 1 they slow the game down and take all the excitement out of it, rugby league is great eg of this as is cricket. 2 slow mo is not real time regardless of what Sky think. 3 it takes over the game, when rugby league introduced it it was just for tries, then it became for off side then for something else etc, etc. 4 it allows the refs to remain bad.
    Thinking about this i believe that the only way to improve is for english refs to ref like continentals and be as heavy as them on any form of contact. I know lots of people will yell its not the english way, we like a physical game etc but this is precisely the grey area that creates all this inconsistency that drives everyone crazy — for all the chat about how pedantic european refs are there is much more consistency in european games than in england i think because the boundaries are clearer. It could be different in national leagues in europe i don’t know, but something needs fixing because english refs are getting worse year on year.

  26. buddha9

    A simple,

    Yep I was just guessing and haven’t really got a clue as to whether it ‘all evens out in the end’ and I really should of had some evidence to back myself before making such a crass statement.

    would of sufficed.

  27. On referees.

    Did anybody watch the African Cup of nations quarter final between Tunisia and Equitorial New Guinea?

    The match was played in New Guinea, a team that got into the finals through the back door and ended up playing at home. Tunisia were one of teh tournaments favourites and New Guinea one of the lowest ranked teams.

    To cut to the chase. Tunia one nill up in last minute of extra time. New Guiea player falls over in the box and somehow the referee awards a penalty. They equalise. Tunisia not happy but then the real fun starts. The 30 minutes of extra time was one of the most one sided refereeing performances I have witnessed, since Riley in our 50th game. My wife was watching with me, she siad ‘this refs bent’ or words to that effect. the Tunisian players during the 30 mins were bemused.

    After penalties, New Guinea went through.

    24 hours later and it is announced on SKY that the referee has been banned for 6 months. They didnt hang around, they banned him immediately.

    Doesn’t help Tunisia and their players who may never play in another tournament.

    In this Country, the chance of a PL referee receiving a 6 month ban for a bad/biased performance is nil. In fact, we would promote them to become head of referees!!

  28. To cut to the chase. Tunisia one nill up in last minute of NORMAL time. (not extra time-sorry).

  29. buddha

    No probs, we all do it.

    Mine, and a few other Untold regulars take on this is that Referees are not inherently cheats but are simply following an agenda set out by the media, who are in reality there judge and jury. The long and short of it is there job depends on how they are judged on MOTD, Sky Sports/BTSport Talkshite and the red tops.

    My solution.

    A European pool of Referees that are NOT allowed to Referee in there home Country.

    They are run by a European panel of ex refs and players.

    This would result in an enormous pool of referees. You may not see the same referee for years.

    With the amount of money sloshing about in football this would easily be affordable.

    The miniscule pool of referees we currently have is ridiculous and a recipe for disaster, leading to the kind of incompetent, biased refereeing we see.

    And all this nonsense we hear peddled by PGMOL and swallowed by the media, that our Referees are the best in the World is pure fantasy.

    All I know is it couldn’t be any worse.

  30. Wonder who will be the first club where the supporters collectively sue PGMOL for Malfeasance?

  31. that would work Jambug — raise english standards as well — i also reckon they should be banned from slow mo replays of tackles –its not real time, its art!

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