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.
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.