1984: it is forbidden to talk about referees. Part 2 – why it is wrong to stay silent

By Walter Broeckx

First article on this can be found here

In the previous article I looked at how one journalist in the Guardian was arguing that no one should be criticising referees.

Continuing to look at that article I have to go to his words on saying that referees are needed just as crossbars and corner flags. And of course he is right. Without a ref, crossbars and corner flags there is no match. That is written down in the laws of the game. But by throwing them in one sentence he sure is messing things up in a very bad way.

We have shown on Untold by analysing more than 500 PL matches in the PL that we can see some strange patterns in some referee performances. Leading us to start from judging decisions on to being able to find strange patterns. And thus leading us to find some referees being kind to some teams and being unkind to other teams. This is based on more than ten thousands of decisions and still counting. Not just on gut feelings. No, each decisions has its weight in the whole of our findings.

So we can say that for most refs that some teams can do no wrong and that some players can do no wrong while others can only do wrong, based on our numbers and analysis of those numbers. So we can say that ref X will be glad to allow player Y to do something that others are not allowed.

But for the crossbar it doesn’t matter who is shooting the ball against it. It doesn’t matter for a crossbar if it is Rooney or Alexis or Hazard whose shot is hitting it. It will bounce it back in one direction or another according to the laws of physics or the laws of motion or gravity or whatever plays a part in the movement of an object flying on a football field. The crossbar is free of any prejudice or bias.

Alas referees are not! They have grown up as kids, supported a football team as most kids who love football do and take this in their baggage when they travel to a match. Unknowingly maybe but they have it somewhere in there subconscious and it can influence their decisions at any moment in the match.

So to compare referees with crossbars is just wrong and stupid.

Moving on to what the writer of the Guardian is saying about us not speaking about referees anymore and how that will improve the referees and how it will improve the PL teams when playing in Europe, is a very strange link.

In a way the article shows that there actually is a link between the performances of the referees and the way PL teams do in European football. And that has been a thing I have said on more than one occasion. I am not going to repeat all the articles I have written about it but regular readers will know that I have said that having to change the way games are refereed in the PL and then in the CL is sometimes confusing for PL players as things that are unpunished in the PL are suddenly being punished even with red cards. While in the PL sometimes (according to the bias of the referee) not even fouls are given, let alone a yellow card.

That will have a bigger influence than people criticising referees for not doing their jobs in the PL.

Let me give an example. Ferdinand not being called a foul when he went in with his studs on the chest of Sagna at Old Trafford and Nani for doing the same against Real Madrid. Nani got correctly send off, Ferdinand didn’t even get a foul called against him despite the shirt of Sagna being ripped apart from the studs of Ferdinand.

So how would not talking about that Ferdinand incident help the teams in Europe? In fact I bet Mr. Ronay didn’t talk about this non-incident at all. They should have talked about it because then Nani probably would have retreated from pushing his studs into the chest as is allowed in the PL by PL referees,  against a player of Real Madrid in the CL.

The thing is that the media takes the wrong incidents to talk about.  They base their judgement on referee matters not by using the laws of the game but by looking at which team benefited from the decision.  To stay on my example: Oh, United gained from Ferdinand not being red carded so lets shut up. Oh, Nani got send off and United lost in the CL from Real Madrid so lets whine about that foreign ref that has no respect for our local tradition of giving decisions in favour of United.

In the book 1984 it was the government and the media that determined what we should think and what could be said or spoken about by the people in the street, their house, the bus, …. In fact that is what Mr. Ronay is asking: it is the same.

Don’t speak about the referees is what the PGMO wants us to do. Because that way they can carry on and can never be questioned. So it looks as if the Guardian has just taken the side of the PGMO once again (they have previous on this if I remember correctly). In fact I think it could have been written by Mike Riley in person. If the media don’t question referee decisions, then they will not question the head of the referees. Now that would come in handy for him, wouldn’t it?

When most media are starting to question the quality of the referees a bit more (finally after Untold has done their part of the job in a very professional way for amateur writers for many years), when former referees are more and more openly criticising the standard of refereeing in the PL, then Mr. Ronay from the Guardian comes up with : “let’s no longer talk about referees and suddenly things will improve article.”

Maybe if we no longer talk about bad bankers and before we know it all our bankers will become good, honest man who will not risk our entire economy and bankrupt the whole system in order to get them extra bonuses for taking outrageous risks with our money.  Yeah that’s the idea.

Or let us no longer talk about corrupt politicians. And before we know it no politician will be corrupt anymore. Yeah lets just stop checking their activities and suddenly they turn in to saints.  Would Mr. Ronay believe those two last examples? Of course not. Nobody would.

But yet he believes it would work for referees who work in a business that is one of the industries where enormous amounts of money goes around with referees who earn nickels and dimes compared to the rest. In fact we should keep a very close eye on every decisions a referee makes to make sure that there will be no corruption. And giving referees and fixers a free pass by instilling a ‘you shall not speak about them’ is the most stupid thing I have ever heard.

Mr. Ronay is saying that we should do an “1984” on referees and make them unspeakable. Sorry, Mr. Ronay but I don’t think Untold will obey to your demand. The thought police may be already here but luckily not yet for referees. But I can understand Mike Riley wanting to  have a kind of thought police to stop us from talking and analysing referee decisions.

Mr. Ronay clearly acknowledges there is something wrong but the only way out he sees is to stick our heads in the sand and accept it. Luckily for us mankind in all its history never had such a fatalistic approach to bad things happening but went on the search to find solutions and to overcome those bad things. I do think that might once again be the best way forward to solving the referee crisis we are facing.


Today’s anniversaries include... moving to Highbury, white sleeves, beating Tottenham, beating Milan.

  • 4 March 1913:  Henry Norris finally confirmed Woolwich Arsenal were moving to a ground in Gillespie Road, Islington.    See also here.
  • 4 March 1933: Arsenal played their  first game with the white sleeved shirts based on an idea by Tom Webster, but lost to Liverpool.
  • 4 March 1987: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 2.  League Cup semi-replay.  Clive Allen put Tottenham ahead in all three of the “one nil down, two one up” semi-final games. Ian Allinson scores the first and Rocastle scored in injury time.
  • 4 March 2008: Arsenal became the first English team to beat Milan in the San Siro thanks to a Fabregas free kick.

Untold Arsenal

15 Replies to “1984: it is forbidden to talk about referees. Part 2 – why it is wrong to stay silent”

  1. Walter

    I think you’ve really, really missed the humour of Barney Ronay’s tongue in cheek article.
    Having said that we mustn’t take it literally and shut up about current refereeing standards.

  2. 1984, 1984, the blueprint for life today as we know it. Sad that many do not even realise that it is so.
    I’ve always wondered why the rules are carried out differently in CL. This really needs to be addressed, else we are soon going to have, UK football, European football and World football(probably US football too) all developing their own rule set.

    With all this “non critising” it is no wonder that there are so many bad refs, makes sense to most of us, but alas the “masters” of these organisations hired are not capable of sense it seems, or the “job description” does not include being fair and non prejudiced.

  3. Sadly, the media just face on mindless gossip and imminent stories they can write without the threat of legal action. And to make matters worse, they have a long history of cover ups….Hillsborough, Jimmy Saville….every one I knew was aware exactly what he was, yet the media fawned on him.
    Still think Riley has had it though, someone will get to a current or ex ref. If you are trying to cover up a corruption, you need people better at it than mike Riley.

  4. Agree with all this but, per the previous thread, was amused to see Jon Moss award Villa a last minute decisive penalty AGAINST West Brom last night! Although from what I heard (I haven’t seen it) it was pretty blatant.

  5. Pete,
    I just seen it and he had no other option to give a penalty. It was really blatant.

  6. I have seen an interview of Mr Cantona on the Swiss French television : http://www.rts.ch/play/tv/pardonnez-moi/video/eric-cantona?id=6581169

    At the end the question comes about the difference in football between Europe and PL
    He goes as far as to admit refereeing is not the same….see starting minute 20:00 he addresses the issue.

    However he is not talking about match fixing, just differences, and thinks they do have an impact in international games.

    PS : interview is in french

  7. I just commented on the article saying that logic should be extended to not reporting anything about Taliban. They feed on media frenzy and fear factor in the people despite the chances of someone in the west dying from Taliban attack is less than that of dying through a lightning strike. Imagine if the media stops reporting all terrorism incidents as such. For example, say “Mad man attacks random passerby” instead of Taliban inspired terrorist kills soldier Rigby. Would make them pretty miserable, wouldn’t it? Media boycott may not work in improving refereeing, but it would certainly help in the Global War against Terror!

  8. I am intrigued by the suggestion that there is one set of laws but two totally different interpretations and officiating between EPL and European games.

    My website navigating skills are not adequate (nor is my memory!) but do we do referees reports on Arsenal European matches? And perhaps checking English referees performances in EPL and Europe would highlight a very interesting difference in performance and bias which would help with the point Walter is making here.

    I am very sensitive to Walter’s home circumstances making extra tasks very difficult for him but is there anyone else involved in our referee watch who could help research this area of referee performance?

  9. with regards to how manure were treated by refs in the EPL compared to in Europe, I always felt that’s one of the reasons they underachieved in Europe, as it must of been frustrating to do as you wont one week, then get pulled up in Europe.
    I’ve also always pointed out the anomaly, the manure players get more red cards for the countrys than Arsenal players, hence Beckham & Rooney, would get away with kicks and elbows that would go ‘unseen’ in the EPL yet an international ref would then send off said player.

  10. @Walter – excellent piece and a very good reference. 🙂

    One thing came across my mind and that’s how the referees affect the destinies of the individuals. I won’t go too far to mention people who don’t get any money on betting because of the referees’ screw-up. How about the goal bonus that penalty takers – e.g. Mikel Arteta – didn’t get because the ref hadn’t awarded the penalty when he should have had. If, say, a goal-bonus in Arteta’s contract is set on 10.000 pounds, his penalty record in Arsenal stands at 8/9 (88.89%), we could conclude that Arteta was robbed by the referee for at least 8.888,89 pounds.

    There was a rather funny yet sour story from 1966-67 when Dinamo Zagreb won the Fairs Cup. On the route to the final against Leeds they had beaten – among the others – Juventus Turin. In the first leg played in Turin Dinamo had a 2:1 lead. They had a chance to score their third goal of the game and probably kill off the tie. However, their striker was fouled in the box but the referee didn’t want to put The Old Lady in a difficult situation against (back then) some Yugoslavian club. Juventus scored an equalizer and the game ended 2:2.

    Back in Zagreb, the aforementioned striker was called by the Dinamo president in his office. “You are fined because you failed to score from the promising position. You could have secured our progress to the next round.” The striker was confused. “But, comrade President, it was a penalty.” The president Ivan Šibl, dead-pan, called his secretary to come to the office. “Comrade Secretary, was there a penalty awarded for us in Turin against Juventus?” “No, comrade President, there was none”, the secretary replied. Šibl turned again to his striker: “You see, there was no penalty. Therefore, your fine stands!” (The story did get a happy-ending as Dinamo knocked Juventus out of the competition with a 3:0 victory in Zagreb but nevertheless.)

  11. Brilliant article. And very funny too. 🙂

    The Manchester Grunt is a nasty little rag in my humble and insignificant opinion.

  12. Are IFAB (AKA Scudamore and pals) waiting for AW to retire before they will allow replays etc.? 😉

  13. I watched motd and in every game that the was a wrong penalty disscission not given by the officials was discussed at length except ours I wonder why.

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