By Tony Attwood
At the start of this month we published a really interesting article by Tim Charlesworth, “What’s going on with English refereeing“. Not only did it get a very high readership it also got over 100 comments – which is a particularly encouraging since Untold has pioneered this type of discussion.
Walter then wrote a reply
In the briefest of summaries, in the original article the argument was made that Arsenal’s style can mean that they are fouled more than they foul, and will be more unlucky with penalty shouts than their opponents. It was also suggested that if one watches home games in the ground but away games on TV then there seems to be a bias, but in effect it is just the regular home bias of referees that all teams suffer.
Walter’s reply pointed out the detailed analysis that had been carried out of the refereeing of Arsenal matches – with all the reviews done via a TV analysis, not least to be able to measure fully the claim that referees get 98% of decisions right. He also pointed out that when we were running the Referees Decisions web site we were using refs who nominated a whole range of clubs as the team they supported. Arsenal orientated refs were in the distinct minority.
I want to wrap this up with the point of view that I take.
Walter’s position is that of a ref – and he is doing what PGMO do, or ought to do. He is analysing the game from the perspective of the cameras, looking at accurate decisions and errors and from this looking at bias and/or incompetence. When undertaken over a large number of games we begin to get a clear picture.
My approach is quite different. What I do is look at the way refereeing is run in this country and then ask myself why it is organised this way. Is this approach helpful? Is it good for the game? If not why not?
In short I apply the conventional approach to review: observe, analyse, question. But what I observe is not the game, nor individual referees, but the organisation of the referees.
I’ve outlined before the issues that concern me when I observe the organisation of referees in the Premier League. In simple terms they are:
- The number of referees is too small thus meaning that if there were to be a biased ref in the league he would probably referee individual teams half a dozen times in the season – and thus enhance his influence.
- The culture of secrecy, meaning the PGMO web site was closed and there is no open debate with the organisation, or about the organisation.
- The bizarre figures claiming accuracy rates of 98% by referees.
- The culture of claiming everything is ok, just leave it all to us, and don’t question us which the media consistently buy into
- The resistance to change, as with the refusal to be involved in video replays
- The attempt to stifle commentaries by manages and others who question referee decisions.
- The payment of silence money to referees once they retire to reduce the number of referees who will speak out after their career in refereeing is over.
Each of these points has an important impact in my view, but the element of the analysis that intrigues me comes when we start asking why PGMO adopts each of these seven standpoints.
1: Having a small number of referees is clearly a huge risk, because if there is one dubious ref in the group, his influence is magnified. There is no good reason for not having more referees, and therefore the question, “Why do it like this?” is a major question – a question that is unanswered.
2: The culture of secrecy does not exist in many other countries. So what is the benefit to football of PGMO being so secret that it makes the Masons look like a “come all ye” event? I can’t see any benefit at all – except if there is something wrong with PGMO.
3: It is not just the odd 98% accuracy figure, which is quite unbelievable, but the issue of why publish it without any evidence. If I were to claim I were 16 feet tall, then quite reasonably you would want some serious evidence from me to prove it. But PGMO gives us none. Why make the claim? Why provide no evidence? I can only assume it was a diversionary tactic fed to a compliant media.
4: We live in a society where we have often been let down by leaders who have cheated on us, or been grossly incompetent. We’ve been led into a war to find non-existent weapons, we find that our councils and police forces have failed to protect children from abuse, we’ve had a political party run the state which claimed it would not try a top-down reform of our health services, and then immediately waste billions of pounds doing just that. Suspicion is therefore not just natural, it is healthy. We’ve had too many people say “trust me” and found we should not – only the criminal or the insane would say it now, but this is what PGMO says. Why? And why do they expect us to believe them?
5: Our society moves forwards due to the efforts of the positive, adventurous members of the community who wish to explore, not by the backward looking individuals who resist all change. So why are we allowing a backward looking secret society run refereeing in the Premier League? And why are they reactionary and secretive?
6: Why should managers be discouraged from questioning referees after a game? What is the benefit of refusing referees permission to explain decisions after a game? I can only think that silence is the best way of stopping some unacceptable questions being asked.
7: People are paid silence money at the end of a contract to stop them revealing trade secrets. Are there really trade secrets inside PGMO? The evidence suggests yes.
For myself when I ask these questions I can find no answer other than the fact that there is something to hide. Something very big to hide. Indeed if I only had concerns about two of these seven areas I would say there is something seriously wrong – but this type of decision making is deeply worrying, because there is no explanation.
And that is my point. Walter analyses match after match and finds some serious problems with the accuracy and consistency of decision making. I look at the way PGMO is run, and ask “why is it run like that?” and find some serious problems with the organisation’s decisions.
Put those two together and, in my personal view (and of course that is all it is), we have a problem. A problem that at the very least suggests that Type III match fixing (where the match is fixed to the benefit of a third party, not the two teams playing the game), could easily exist. That is enough, in my view, to cause serious concern.
So I am not saying match fixing exists, I am saying it could exist, and I am asking why the PGMO acts as it does. In short: what is the benefit of behaving like this?
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal