Why we should be deeply worried about refereeing in the Premier League

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The culture of secrecy, meaning the PGMO web site was closed and there is no open debate with the organisation, or about the organisation.
  3. The bizarre figures claiming accuracy rates of 98% by referees.
  4. The culture of claiming everything is ok, just leave it all to us, and don’t question us which the media consistently buy into
  5. The resistance to change, as with the refusal to be involved in video replays
  6. The attempt to stifle commentaries by manages and others who question referee decisions.
  7. 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

34 Replies to “Why we should be deeply worried about refereeing in the Premier League”

  1. I wonder if it has to do with english air…..
    I mean, I watched England – Switzerland.
    1st goal, the action starts with what looks a clear offside of an english palyer on the right side overlooked.
    As for Mr Rooneys free gift in form of a penalty which I am at pains to see…that too was not the right decision
    However the ref were not english, were they ?

    So ? English air ? English weather ? Something in the tea ? in the water ?!?!

  2. Another excellent, thought provoking piece, thank you. Now that you have opened my eyes to a subject that is clearly far more important than I had realised, can you provide a précis on how how equivalent organisations work in foreign leagues, purely to provide a reference point for me to compare us with? I must say that it seems many like me have been sleepwalking past this for years, with familiarity providing a trust it didn’t deserve. Thank you, I look forward to the coming storm!

  3. Meanwhile I sit here in a state of near-terror waiting for Atkinson to be appointed to our game at Chelsea on Saturday…

  4. Pete

    Yep. And how f***ed up is that!

    Let’s look at some facts ; we had him last year for same match; we’ve had him already this year (so it would make it 2 out of 6. Bonkers); he made an awful decision in last year’s game against us (which he should have been reprimanded for); he played 5 minutes injury time against West Ham this year when two injury incidents alone accounted for nearly 5 minutes (injury time was closer to ten-again he should have been reprimanded for that.

    yet, with good reason, we expect him to be reffing the game.

    I picked up last year that one of the refs, Marriner I think, didn’t ref a Utd game for well over two years- between the 1-0 Everton loss 1st game of season in Fergie’s last year and a game late on last season (Everton again, i think, and another loss).

    Saw at same time Utd’s record with Marriner is unusually poor, but i remembered most of the games, no controversial decsions and Utd had deserved to lose when they did. Point is, one of the main refs, who had an unusual win/loss ratio with Utd, was kept away from Utd for a long time. With us, if we have a ref who is noticeably poor in our games…he is then chosen to ref us way more than the average or than, for the reasons Tony mentions, is sensible.

    Atkinson would be really pushing it- you’d need to make the argument, though they of course don’t feel the need to show their workings, that he is exceptionally good in this fixture, amazingly good, the best man for the job, yet as we know that’s the opposite of the truth- nonetheless i expect it.

    Atkinson, Dean or Taylor- it will surely be one of those 3.

  5. Well finally observed my concerns thus far, i mean talking the EPL generally i feel the level of refereeing has really deteriorated. Its literally been 5 games into the new season and already we have many talking points. Am not sure if the reasons given above should impact on the actual performance of an official on matchday but am well sure that clubs will pay the price at end of the day. look at Arsenal at the moment against Liverpool,Newcastle,Stoke city penalties not given affect goal count and to think that players barely protest is just astonishing

  6. I work on the basis that wherever there are large sums of money there is corruption. Not a single instance of that not being the case all through history.
    The exact nature of the corruption is not clear (yet) but I have my views as we all do.

    I did not know that refs were paid (hush) money when they retire.. do you have a link for this that provides more information?

  7. @WA

    Well, that’s better than Atkinson.

    If I remember right, I thought he pulled the old trick with the Wilshere injury last year of looking away swiftly when he saw what type of contact Mcnair was about to make, so I have us as being a bit safer than with Atkinson, but not by too much.

  8. Jayram,

    I quot from this article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/referee-mark-halsey-hits-back-following-criticism-over-autobiography-8822853.html

    “The Premier League has decided not to respond to the revelations from Halsey, among others that the organisation wanted him out soon after he returned following a battle with throat cancer. He retired at the end of last season forgoing the £50,000 that all the top-flight referees are paid at the end of their careers, which is also accepted as a contract not to disclose the details of their working lives.”

  9. I had checked an hour or so ago, and missed seeing the update. Here is the full appointments:

    Saturday 19 September 2015
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    15:00 Aston Villa – West Brom _Martin Atkinson _M Mullarkey S Child _ _A Taylor
    15:00 Bournemouth – Sunderland Kevin Friend _ _ E Smart _ _ M Wilkes _ D Deadman
    12:45 Chelsea – Arsenal _ _ _ _Mike Dean _ _ _ _S Long _ _ _S Burt _ _ M Oliver
    17:30 Man City – West Ham _ _ _Robert Madley _ _M McDonough M Perry _ _C Pawson
    15:00 Newcastle – Watford _ _ _Roger East _ _ _ A Garratt _ D Cann _ _ M Brown
    15:00 Stoke – Leicester _ _ _ _Andre Marriner _ D Bryan _ _ S Ledger _ T Harrington
    15:00 Swansea – Everton _ _ _ _Stuart Attwell _ A Holmes _ _R West _ _ J Moss
    Sunday 20 September 2015
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    16:00 Liverpool – Norwich _ _ _Anthony Taylor _ P Kirkup _ _A Halliday A Marriner
    16:00 Southampton – Man Utd _ _Mark Clattenburg S Beck _ _ _J Collin _ K Friend
    13:30 Spurs – Crystal Palace _ Michael Oliver _ G Beswick _ H Lennard _L Mason

  10. Info I gave earlier about Marriner was wrong. It was only about a year and half (Dec 13, April 15) he didn’t do one of their games.. Fair old gap but not as much as I thought.

    There’s hope we won’t see Atkinson till halfway through 16-17!

  11. The Pgmo are a toxin body that have been poisoning the game of football they professed to be regulating. What are they regulating? Injustice and unfairness? The football Clubs & their managers are no more the ones that decide the outcome of a football match. But the Pgmo are the ones that are deciding it. Being the electoral officers that they are, they’ve been mis-applying the laws & the tenets of the games crookingly to pre-elect which team will be the Premier League Champions. From all indications, the Pgmo have elected Man City as the 2014/15 Premier League Champions elects. Arsenal would have been 2nd in the table with 12 points at close of last Saturday & Sunday games, hotly pursuing Man City. But a daylight robbery by a Pgmo linesman’s flag, robbed Arsenal 2 valuable points at the Emirates Stadium in match day no3. And Crystal Palace was denied a spot kick on Saturday to allow Man City to continue to get rigged points as the votings continues. I think it’s about time the FA call the Pgmo to order to stop them making the game of football that will love dearly to watch a mockery. How about training some policemen of the Scotland Yard as referees, since they are re-known for their discipline and dispensing of correct justice? I think the FA should look into that angle as a possibility.

  12. Good article Tony.

    We could add to the points noted above that the methodology of referee selection for each EPL match remains unclear and that the refusal of the PGMO to introduce technology to ensure decisions are correct would befog the minds of all honest and sane persons.

    These two points have been discussed many times before, but when added to the 7 points in the article it becomes hard to find any sensible reason for the PGMO behaviour.

    Sometimes when people have something to hide, the information to be hidden is carefully restricted to as few as possible – reducing the risk of an unfortunate leak.

    One thing that is being hidden is the true figure for the number of correct decisions – somewhere between 60 & 80% depending on the ref. The corresponding ref post match debriefing/report also disappears. Is this secrecy an attempt to cover up incompetence, or is there something more sinister? If the PGMO lies about the accuracy of the decisions, what else are they prepared to lie about?

    What about our wonderful media/press? These are the guys who leave no stone unturned to concoct a story, bug selected individuals’ phones – all in the interest of “getting it all out in the open” – who repeatedly ignore the ref errors and inconsistencies every match – never mind evidence for bias. All this in an industry in which large amounts of money can change hands in a very uncontrolled way. Is there not a big big true story waiting for them, but then who in the media wants to release a true story?

    And back at the sharp end – Arsenal, arguably run better than any other club, particularly suffer every match from the PGMO incompetents – and from the media retards – why?

    And why was Riley – a grossly incompetent ref, who disgraced himself in the Invinciples 50 match, appointed as head of the PGMO? In that match Riley, in a most cowardly manner, allowed the MU thugs free reign. Was he under orders? Is he still following orders – or is he solely responsible for the PGMO incompetents?

  13. Tony, what you are contributing to the development of football will be told to generations yet unborn. Keep up the good work. PGMO won’t be able to maintain their status quo if you continue asking these questions.

    Walter, I think you are too kind to offer a genuine response to jayramfootball querry.

    @jayramfootball, I sincerely do not expect to see you on this site again. At least not until we drop a point.

  14. Excellent Tony!!

    I sure think that you can not write enough about this ridiculous set-up called PGMO.

    The 7 points you have brought up again in this article (now expanded) – if repeated enough times may get through into some lesser scull 🙂

  15. If PGMOB were not going to appoint Atkinson – in fear of being blatantly obvious, surely their next best option must be Dean!!

    I repeat PGMOB will distribute the points this season to their pets more then any other season to date!

  16. Until video reviews are in place to guarantee as much as possible that “big” decisions are correct, then I will maintain that the status quo is used to influence the outcome of matches and league titles, why else would you not want the correct decision…

  17. Oh and completely agree that keeping the secret society to minimum manning makes it easier to keep its secrets, and again add an element of control the league.

  18. Sorry, in my comment, I ment to write 2015/16 elects, and not 2014/15 as I’ve written.

  19. Haha ? @Damilare. I suspect that something noteworthy will reveal itself eventually coz Dean is just next inline to Atkinson. So lesser of two evils…Fair? Don’t reply that. Ask the PGMOl.

  20. Bjt agree on Riley. He was not made referees chief because he was great ref, is a great communicator or good with the media, he is clearly none of these things. But as you point out, he has shown he can be leant on. Whether he or his charges directly gets paid for certain things, who knows, I would imagine Riley,might do quite a lot for the power alone making him a cheap date. But one day, some insider will break ranks, as has happened with FIFA and it will all spill open.

  21. There is one other point that I consider important. The ethnic mix of officials is screaming because of its absence. Where are the Asian, African & other European officials that were UK born? Even if they were not UK born where are they? Why is racism allowed in this sporting organisation?

    While I dispise Riley for his contribution to Reyes leaving Arsenal, I also dispise the FA for their cold blooded racist & sexist attitude towards recruitment & appointments.

    The media will avoid all criticism of the corrupt practices that the FA partake in unless it is brought up by a whistle blower.

  22. Just as further action and indictments are on the way to FIFA , let us hope that it also filters down to the FAs and MOST especially the PGMO .Should make a very interesting read.

  23. @ apo Armani – September 15, 2015 at 7:58 am – Bound to happen, Loretta Lynch MOB Vs PGMOB !

  24. Great article Tony. I think the three articles and associated discussions have been excellent. I can’t really disagree with a word in this article, and actually I think the opinions of the three of us are closer than you might first think. I certainly agree that there is a major problem with refereeing in England and that the PMGO flaws you highlight are valid. I even concede that a refereeing conspiracy against Arsenal cannot be ruled out on the evidence available. However, I still think conspiracy is unlikely, and the evidence is weak. A failure of our team, in recent years, to adapt to refereeing conditions seems more likely. Some kind of pro-North-West and pro-Man-U influence on PMGO seem less far fetched, and quite consistent with the evidence. ‘Type III match fixing’ seems like a strong description of this kind of bias, but I can see your point.

    Interestingly, our team does now seem to be adapting to the prevailing refereeing conditions. The introduction of Coquelin, and the ‘bulking up’ of Ozil and Walcott all suggest an adaptation to the physical style of play that referees are allowing. Our defensive players seem to be making more use of the ‘sly shirt-tug’, the ‘borderline-obstruction’ and the heavy tackle. Personally, I don’t really agree with this style of refereeing, and I don’t really like the physical style of play. It disadvantages PL players in Europe and international football. However, it is the reality of the Premier League, and I would far rather see our team adapt to it, than nurse a sense of principled, but pointless, injustice. I think the team is maturing, adapting to the prevailing style of refereeing and generally toughening up. It’s a shame that this is necessary, but lets take Muhammad to the mountain rather than expect the mountain to come to Muhammad.

  25. Tim Charlesworth
    September 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm
    While your comment makes sense & is probably the favoured way to go, it allows for wrong to look like its right. Is that how the young footballers should be taught?

    The Laws are being abused. The game is being slaughtered. It cannot be allowed to continue because of illegitimate success. Chasing money is not why football is played. It is the ‘peoples game’ & the people should have it back.

  26. Tim Charlesworth.

    I’m close to some of your thinking, but on other things very far apart.

    Take the issue of bulking up, and the wider suggestion of there being a way we can adapt for the most part to anything that is amiss or plain wrong. It’s an attitude which is quite common about Wenger and his media dealings- if he just does this, and often Mourinho or Ferguson stuff is put forward, then it will have these positive effects, i.e the same behaviour as these other managers would have the same results.

    Both things rely on the other people in question- referees,media- being consistent in their behaviour and not actually having anything against the club. Laying aside whether we want to ‘join em to beat em’, success or failure of those adaptions relies on those other entities not being too bad after all, a different way of seeing things perhaps, but one which we can understand and then conform with to gain an advantage (or lessen disadvantages). I don’t think the real situation is anything like as rosy as that.

    Coquelin was a neat little example. That game occurred right in the middle of a campaign, largely spontaneous perhaps, to characterise our players as too weak these days, without enough strength or fight. Yet look at the uproar when a guy on a booking already, pushes an opponent lightly in the back, or commits an absolutely routine foul which was no where near a yellow.

    An illustration to me that it is something of a rigged game- we’re weaklings not to fight, yet show a little aggression and, bam, he had to go. I fully believe we’d see the same thing on a bigger scale if we were to try meet fire with fire. If we went around kicking as Stoke do, or Utd have done in the past, or Chelsea, referees would rarely if ever show the leniency which is commonplace for those other teams.

    Belief, opinion, etc can sound wishy washy and without substance, but the true result of the non-dismissal of Coquelin is actually visible as hard evidence : Mason has been dropped for the next four rounds of premier league fixtures.

    Finally, some bulking up might be sensible and help us cope with physical games, but it always has to be remembered that all the extra power and muscle feasible would be no help whatsoever in the situations which have scarred this fans heart and changed the experience of watching Arsenal for the worst : the killer fouls can arrive at almost any moment, and our players can do nothing to protect themselves.

    Coquelin is one tough and clever customer, but if someone goes for him as Smith went for Diaby, can he protect himself? No. Do all footballers know in the back of their minds that if they make a Smith tackle on our players, 3 games is almost certainly all they’ll miss? Yes

    If you are to try play honest good football, concentrating on the ball and your touch, you are so often entirely vulnerable to reckless assaults. They might not occur that often, but they’ve occurred to us at a rate way outside that of the rest of the league, sometimes with awful consequences, and been dealt with shamefully by those entrusted with protecting footballers.

    We have no protection against that and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to adapt to it,really. Less technicians out there would help, maybe, and in darker vengeful times I’ve considered we would be better off pursuing Nzonzis and even…Jedinaks, even if it meant lessening our probability of success, just so we can have less chance of being caught (nzonzis and Jedinaks are rarely as exposed, because they don’t use the ball in the same way, as Ozil, cazorla, Ramsey, etc), and can even up the odds (i.e if someone’s getting hurt out here, it might be one of your lot).

    Those moments pass, though, and I end up reflecting that such a plan is very flawed, given refs tend to be eager to jump on chances to book or send off our players (that problem from the start about consistency etc, and relying on them not being so bad after all).

    I understand all this sounds defeatist, which is a less attractive proposition than your take, which has plenty of positivity to it, but, heck, I think what I’ve witnessed in the last ten years justifies it.

    Let’s see how Saturday goes. Jose will only know one way to deal with this situation. He will calculate that fouls, right up to dangerous ones like Cahill’s last year, give him the best chance of the result he wants. He will only calculate this if he believes the referee will accommodate his plan.

    Over to Mike Dean. Will he succeed where his boss, who selected him for this game, failed so spectacularly a decade ago?

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