Why are so many referees from Manchester?

Why are so many referees from Manchester?

By Proudkev

Having studied the Premier league Select group of referees, I decided to conduct some research. Not something the media are strong on but I wanted to show them how to write articles based on fact.

At this point I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting referees are biased or that football results are being deliberately manipulated. Those are seen as extreme views, irrespective of whether or not there is evidence available to support that opinion. The point of this article is to highlight serious failings within the sport that affect integrity and honesty.  I believe I can prove that a system exists which CAN cause the manipulation of match results, whether deliberate or otherwise.

At the end of the day, fans of all clubs need to have comfort that the referee is going to be impartial. This cannot be guaranteed but you can minimise the chances by applying common sense and employing standard risk management techniques.  This is not asking for anything other than standard practice. But the FA and PGMOL have decided to be complete idiots and defy the laws of good practice and logic.

The geographic make up of the Select group does nothing to create impartiality or trust.  We have 18 referees to cover all Premier League games. Of this list, Lee Probert and Phil Dowd have not officiated this season due to injury and Michael Oliver is away at the FIFA U17 Wold Cup. The make-up of the select group can be broken down into geographic regions thus:

  1. Anthony Taylor Manchester, Lancashire
  2. Mike Jones Chester, Cheshire
  3. Lee Mason Bolton, Manchester
  4. Neil Swarbrick Preston, Lancashire
  5. Mike Dean Heswall, The Wirrel
  6. Phil Dowd Stoke, Staffordshire (Injured)
  7. Paul Tierney Wigan, Greater Manchester (on trial)

So of 18 referees we have SEVEN heralding from the Greater Manchester/Liverpool area. Despite the already unbalanced nature of the Select Group, what do they do? Yes they trial YET ANOTHER referee from the Manchester area, Paul Tierney.  You couldn’t make this up. Is that really healthy for the integrity of the Premier League?

The next geographic region to feature is Yorkshire, the County Town of Mike Riley. In Yorkshire we have FOUR referees: Martin Atkinson, Robert Madley, Jonathan Moss and Craig Pawson.

We have THREE from the Midlands;  Andre Marriner,  Kevin Friend from Leicester and Graham Scott

TWO from the furthest Northern reaches; Northumberland and County Durham, Michael Oliver and Mark Clattenburg:

Finally TWO from Wiltshire; Roger east and Lee Probert and that’s your lot.

None from London, the South East, the Home Counties or the South. The most densely populated regions have no referees with suitable ability to referee in the Premier League? Are we really expected to believe this. There is clearly a Northern bias in the selection of referees and that is unhealthy for a variety of reasons.

Should a match official referee his ‘home town’ team?

Now to be honest, I am not particularly bothered whether or not there are any London or Southern referees from an Arsenal fan perspective. It is totally irrelevant. However, common sense dictates that you need a diverse spread to avoid the possibility of ‘home town’ referees.

Why on earth would you put a referee into the position where he has to officiate a home team club? Isn’t it asking for trouble? It’s a valid point.

Let’s look at Anthony Taylor from Manchester

As you know, I was stunned that our game against Manchester United was going to be refereed by Anthony Taylor. Nothing personal but it was putting him in a difficult situation.

Now I am not suggesting the referee will be biased if he referees a team from his home town. But there is a risk he could be. Perhaps not deliberately biased but he could be based on a number of other factors. He will live locally. His children will attend the local school. Does he really want to upset the locals with a controversial last minute penalty? He will be influenced by the local media and may have friends and family who support the local team; even if he himself does not. There are just too many factors and red flags.

Personally, I find it incredible that Anthony Taylor, who lives 5 miles from Old Trafford was appointed to referee our game. Even more bizarre is that this was a game being played at the Emirates. Saving travel expenses by sharing the Manchester team bus may sound a great idea but the journey home may not be quite as much fun if you make a bad call.

There is no way based on a risk mitigation point of view, a referee should be appointed to referee a match involving his home town team.

Lets take this one step further. Should  this official referee a match that may influence the status of their ‘home town’ club?

I have to be honest and say that if I was refereeing a game Spurs needed to win to stay up and the opposition striker fell over the ball in the penalty area, I would give a penalty. I would. I would even dance around the pitch at the final whistle and throw my shirt into the ‘away’ end. Jeez, I would have the bottle of champagne uncorked and sprayed over my fellow officials, while the party poppers cover the crowd in a sea of coloured swirls. That’s without the lap of honour and a six inch cigar hanging from my mouth and the post game announcements I would be making on the PR system!

So who is to blame for this geographical mockery and the appointments of referees. Mike Riley?

Well here is the thing. The blame for the Geographical bias can be laid at the feet of Neale Barry, a former referee from Scunthorpe. He is Head of Senior Referee Development at the FA. He has known for years that there is a problem in the development and promotion of referees from the Southern regions but has done nothing about it.

The evidence I have seen suggests to me priority is being given to the Northern regions, in particular the North West. The fact there was already a known issue, yet they still promote another referee from Lancashire highlights this fact.

Appointments for games is different.

The sole responsibility for this incompetence is Mike Riley. Yes he can only work with then referees he has on the Select Group but this does not means he cannot set a clear criteria for appointments. I always wondered how such an incompetent and easily intimidated referee like him was promoted to that top job. I suspect it is because he is weak and will therefore go along with whatever the FA want him to do. Just a guess on my part. But you know the saying; if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

But until the FA and PGMOL are made to account for their actions nothing will change. We will still see Manchester or Liverpool based referees officiating our games.  Self confessed Liverpool fan Mike Dean will still be doing everything he can to take points from us so his team can challenge Arsenal  for that Champions League place.

So if you  thought the Manchester United/Liverpool bias just existed in the TV studios, you were wrong.

And this is why I believe Arsenal never seem to catch a break. Appreciate your views.


More of today’s anniversaries:

  • 26 October 1903.  Arsenal won their 8th match in a row from the start of the season beating Leicester Fosse 8-0
  • 26 October 1914: The Arsenal Football Club Limited was proclaimed for first time on masthead of the programme for the Football League v The Southern League at Highbury

On the Arsenal history site, perhaps the most complete analysis of what happened in Herbert Chapman’s first season that has ever been published.

And don’t forget the Untold Books

The Untold Books

35 Replies to “Why are so many referees from Manchester?”

  1. Crazy stuff and can only add to the perception of bias that comes from looking at the poor decisions the referees under Mike Riley make, against Arsenal.

    Arsenal would likely be top of the league if Mike Dean had sent off Costa and Gabriel had stayed on, as the FA decided. How is the FA taking that into account?

  2. Seriously, anyone reading this from Africa will generally assume you are describing something going on in the third division of the Nigerian league. But to be frank, it doesn’t even exist remotely close to this in Nigeria where geography is neglected to appoint match officials.

  3. I really find it hard to believe that there zero refs in the league from London, the capital of England. But that’s a fact as Kev has just mentioned.

    The works and systems setup by FA and Pgmob are like a black hole, such that the more we try to inspect and look into it, the bigger it gets.

  4. An excellent article exploring one of the PGMO’s many shortcomings.

    When taken into account along with the high level of wrong and detrimental decisions that Arsenal suffer in match after match, the wrong and favourable decisions shown to other teams, the is a major question for the PGMO and FA to answer.

    Further, why does the composition of the elite group not reflect the many cultures within the nation?

    Re Dean – any developments in the petition? It would be an awful shame if 100,000+ signitures were wasted.

  5. The PIGMOB are certainly culpable when considering that 7 of the 18 officials are from the North-West. If such manipulation of circumstances can be condoned by the FA and the EPL, then imagine what Riley can get away with under the table so to speak!
    It is hard to believe that there aren’t any select referees available from the London area or from the south of England! Is it a referee development issue or simply a willful blindness to available talent on the PIGMOB’s part?
    Where I come from, we have an excellent distribution of officials from all over the country and our 7 FIFA officials are truly representative of Football’s diversity.

  6. OMG.

    PGMOL can only promote those referees offered to them for promotion based on results.

    As the article states, the fault is with the FA. They know there is a problem and that there has been for years but they have done nothing about it. Like you I cannot believe the only ‘good’ referees are from the North, it beggars belief.

    The FA will claim that promotion cannot be done based on Geogrpahy but omust be done on ability. I find that difficult to accept.

    It cannot be right that Premier League teams have a less than 1 in 3 chance of having a referee who lives 40 odd miles from Manchester.

    However PGMOL (Mike Riley) can be blamed for the allocation of referees. For Anthony Taylor, who lives 5 miles or so from Old Trafford, to officiate a Manchester United game seems wrong. Not necessarily because he will be biased but because he will have influences that may affect his decison making.

    This cannot be acceptable.

  7. Great work Proudkev!

    Excellent job correctly showing the lack of geographic diversity in the list of Select Group Referees! To make it worse there does not even seem to be any coming up in the pipelines either based on this list I found of the National Group Referees.


    There are however 9 potential assistant referees from London:

    Atkin, Ryan
    BUSHELL, David
    DAVIES, Neil
    DEGNARAIN, Ashvin
    FOLEY, Matt
    HOWARD, Paul
    HYDE, Robert
    O’BRIEN, John
    PURKISS, Sam

    So maybe in the future we’ll actually get correct offside decisions unlike what happened at Liverpool!

  8. Hmmmm F A have to look into that referees of a thing. Why are those referees so biased? They always go against arsenal most especially Mike Dean.

  9. It’s strange that they can’t promote any from the National Group where there are 18 from the South including Wiltshire (which I consider the South). So there’s no shortage, but still none from London.

  10. I was actually a little quick to judge in my comment that’s awaiting moderation. Even though there are no National Group referees from London, there are 17 referees from South England or nearby:

    BERRY, CJ (Carl) – Surrey
    BREAKSPEAR, C (Charles) – Surrey
    COLLINS, LM (Lee) – Surrey
    SHELDRAKE, D (Darren) – Surrey
    WARD, GL (Gavin) – Surrey

    WILLIAMSON, IG, (Iain) – Berkshire (southeast England)

    BULL, M (Michael) – Essex
    GRAHAM F (Fred) – Essex
    KINSELEY, N (Nick) – Essex

    ROBINSON, T (Tim) – West Sussex

    DAVIES, A (Andy) – Hampshire
    STROUD, KP (Keith) – Hampshire

    HILL, K (Keith) – Hertfordshire
    RUSSELL, MP (Mick) – Hertfordshire

    HORWOOD, G (Graham) – Bedfordshire

    JOHNSON, K (Kevin) – Somerset

    LININGTON, JJ (James) – Isle of Wight

    But if they’ll actually make it up to the Select Group under Mike Riley, is another question entirely.

  11. Arsenal fined £60k for being honest in Callum Chambers transfer. FA are in dire straits financially & morally. They have not proved corrupt transaction on Arsenals part, just accepted Arsenals honesty & still fined Arsenal. The agent was unregistered – not Arsenals fault! The FA should punish themselves for allowing an England player to use an unregistered agent. The ‘agent’ gets away with half the fine Arsenal got. In reality the ‘agent’ should have lost all the agents fee & the FA should refund Arsenal for costs.

  12. Excellent stuff Proud Kev. Yes, it is worrying, as are just about all aspects of Riley being in his current job, he is clearly not fit for purpose, but I am sure he is there because it suits agendas.
    Maybe some see Manchester as the true heartland of English football and want success up there….or even brand enhancement, as Mr Scudamore hinted in the case of needing a strong Utd.
    We should have more London and SE refs, but with out luck, they would be closet Spuds who pretend to support Stevenage, as some allege of Taylor, that his support for Altrincham is just too convenient to mask his true affections

  13. Thanks Mandy.

    As I said, it isn’t so much that referees may support their home town club but more about the outside influences. Manchester is dominated by the two big clubs. In London there is more competition and more diversity.

    A referee living in Manchester will have family that almost certainly supports one of those clubs. Media intensity is around those two clubs and there is just too many factors that can affect impartiality – whether deliberate or otherwise.

    Premier League clubs have a less than 1 in 3 chance of getting a referee from the Manchester. And they have just promoted another, this time from Wigan. It’s incredibly stupid. I guarantee that if referees were all from the South there would be uproar.

  14. Great stuff Proudkev.. Now, unlike the ref reviews, which are quite difficult to evaluate, this is an easily verifiable fact- and one that receives zero attention in the press.

    Try googling “why is no premier league referee from London”- not a single article (in the first two pages at least) relevant to the issue comes up. (As a side note, that would have been a better option for a heading, for search engine optimization. :D) This is an issue that deserves attention and full credit to Untold for bringing this to the fore.

    And one from Devon as well, if you include the South West. Yes, the football league looks far more balanced geographically and hence it is certainly not a problem that is present in the lower levels. It would be interesting to know how promotions happen in their world…

  15. The earlier all those sectional delayed referees promotions and game officiating allocation imbalances are corrected sooner than later, the better it’ll be for the game of professional football in England in particular and in general elsewhere emulation wise. I suspect referee Anthony Taylor was deliberately appointed for Arsenal vs Man Utd Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium to favour Man Utd in his decision making. But Arsenal were so fast and highly professional with their game that referee Anthony Taylor had no choise but to surrendered.

  16. proudkev – great post. The PGMO is only a part of the FA corruption. Their expenditure & methods need investigating. There is too much at stake for the game in England.

  17. I have no doubt that Mike Riley was got at for our 50th game. Also by appointing Anthony Taylor to referee the game at the Emirates he has further shown he cannot be trusted. However, Near Barry at the Fa is responsible for their being no southern referees put forward for the,Select Group.

    Personally, I think there should be a league table for referees with promotion relegation. That is one way of adding some accountability. Because Mike Dean proved they can make bad calls that affect games without any punishment.

  18. When an aging tree is rotten close to its base and all the way to the top – hopeless pruning it…HOPELESS. One rips it out and plants a new fresh young tree in order to bare fruit!!

  19. @Proudkev
    Difficult one this. Really the problem is trying to attract someone to be a referee, from all part of the country, not just the North West and ensure that a fair share of them get up to the required skill for the Premier League. PGMOL can not discriminate in appointing a referee whether in the negative or positive sense. To deny someone an opportunity because they are from the Wiral is wrong and illegal.

    Difficult to prove that there is anything more behind it other than poor training and selection. They need to work out ho to make it attractive.

  20. I suppose we have to look at this in a fair way. We have to remember hwo young we were when we started supporting the Mighty Gunners – 6 – 7 years old? So it’s quite feasible that some of us might have chosen refereeing as a profession some 20 years later. The same could be said of younsters growing up in the north-west I guess!

    The issue though, is the way the current crop are managed by PGMOL.

    By far the “best” two referees are Clattenburg and Oliver. They are from the north east. Are they allowed to officiate either Newcastle or Sunderland games? Maybe not. So by the same token, the “North-West” set should not be refereeing games involving the four clubs from Manchester and Liverpool.

    Unfortunately, we as supporters cannot really object to referee appointments, unless we are subjected to deliberate biased officiating, such as the Dean effort against Chelsea, and to a lesser extent, Mason’s “shambles” against Everton. We’ve tried as a group of supporters to bring Dean to task – it appears to have been a failed effort as he didn’t even receive a reprimand.

    I’d like to know how often we get Clattenburg or Oliver, compared to Mike “Shit” Dean, for example. It’s also interesting that Michael Oliver is away on underage international duty – why not choose one of the NW brigade?

    To put this all into persepective, there are Newcastle fans who genuinely believe that Phil Dowd is an Arsenal fan and favours us constantly.

    That’s their opinion and they are entitled to it, even though we know differently!

  21. Gooner S”
    To deny someone an opportunity because they are from the Wiral is wrong and illegal.Difficult to prove that there is anything more behind it other than poor training and selection. They need to work out ho to make it attractive”.

    Morning. As I said there are two issues here:

    1. The FA. Why is it that the only referees worthy of promotion to the Select Group are from the North? If this is based on ability and therefore atraining issue, why has nothing been done about it? I have it on good authority that Neale Barry has been aware of this problem for a number of years but he has decided to do nothing about it.

    2. PGMOL. It is Mike Riley who appoints referee for matches. Why does he appoint a Manachester referee for a match involving a Manchester team in London?

    Whatever reasoning you apply, it is wrong. 17 out of 19 referees from North of the Watford gap? None from London, Home Counties, South East, South despite that region being the most concentrated.

    A less than 1 in 3 chance of any team getting a referee from Manchester for their game?

    As Norman has said, the appointments from Mike Riley are very poor, why do we get certain referees more than others?

    The point I am making is that whilst it is possible referees have the intention to be fair and partial, excluding Mike Dean, they cannot possibly be. There are too many outside influences created by regionality; local media, peer pressure, family, schooling etc. Are you really going to risk the wrath of your neighbours or your kids friends by giving that last minute penalty to a London club against Manchester United? In my opinion to mitigate any risk you cannot have home town referees acting as match officials. But thats what we have on a regular basis due to the ratios.

  22. ProudKev,

    very intersting angle you brought in there.
    I was wondering, thinking back about Fergie time, how long this tendency was going back trough the years…..and if northern refs were pore prone to award fergie time than others…after all, it would make sense

    Furthermore, considering the gazilions the Premier League is generating as revenue, to hear that a ref takes a team bus to save on transportation costs…..this is just unreal.

    Keep up digging and unearthing interesting stuff !



  23. Plenty of retired refs are from the South. Things only started to go really skew-whiff when Riley took charge.

    I did ask a recently retired PL ref this very question (and posted on it a year or so ago I think) and he said something along the lines of:

    The “Northern Style” of refereeing is more focused on “game management” (i.e. allowing players to get away with more – my interpretation!) while the “Southern Style” is more technical. I.e. the rules say give a yellow for x offence – and that is what happens.

    As the powers that be are northerners that is the style they prefer.

    Do I believe this? Not sure. But it may be a contributory factor.

    But there is so much rotten with PIGMOB – this is just one aspect.

  24. Proudkev

    You mention a league table for refs and, if I remember rightly from Graham Poll’s book, effectively there is.

    They have a system in place where an assessor ranks their performance each game and, again if I remember right, this then determines their chances of getting to do top games and showpiece occasions. They actually have their own league table based on their average rating.

    It’s the key to the whole thing for me. Open that up, even if only at the end of each year, and everything looks remarkably different.

    During a match, a bad or inexplicable decision has the large mitigation of the difficulty of the job for a referee- one view, instantaneous decisions, the pressure ; however, this does not apply to the assessors (apart from where they take the difficulties of the ref’s job into account). Effectively, then, it is the assessments which are the real deal, pure PGMOL, if you like.

    Imagine knowing what the assessor made of game 50? There are two possibilities : a good or even reasonable score (which would definitively prove they are 100% untrustworthy and unfit for the job); or a score worthy of the performance (i.e as bad a score as a ref can get. Which would again leave questions about their trustworthiness as he was later given the top job). Dean’s for the recent Chelsea game would also be extremely interesting. We know that, unlike Mason’s supposed horror show against Palace, it did not trigger temporary demotion.

    We can only surmise the sort of things those assessments say, based on the regularity the refs get games and the games-big, medium, smaller- they are given. Safe to say someone who gets given semis and finals, lots of games and the biggest matches has been scoring well and is high up the ref leaderboard.

    Now please someone go ahead and join me in having read Poll’s book. My ‘if I remember rightly’ annoys me and I can’t go and read Poll’s book a second time!

    There are some real nuggets in there for us which you will not ever get from a press whose incuriosity over the deeper workings of pgmol is near total.

  25. Rich.
    There is a league table but everything is kept secret squirrel.

    We need to also recognise the different roles the FA and PGMOL play.

    1. The training and promotion of referees is run by the FA. PGMOL have no say over this.

    2.The allocation of referees for games is down to PGMOL.

    So the blame for the fact that we have so many Northern referees and for the Southern referees not being up to standard (I need to be convinced on this) is down to the FA nothing to do with PGMOL.

    Neale Barry is reponsible for this at the FA we need to hear from him.

    As far as Mike Riley is concerned, how that bloke is head of PGMOL and allowed to select referees for games is beyond me. He was weak, easily intimidated and has still to answer questions about his one sided performance in the 50th game at Old Trafford. That game for me is when I first started to sense something did not smell right.

  26. I’m pretty certain Blind Mike Dean is from liverpoo (The Wirrel) rather than Manchester but it doesn’t reduce the ludicrous Northern bias in general and Manchester in particular.

  27. Hi, I posted the above before I’d finished reading. You really shouldn’t group Liverpoo and Manchester as they are different, even though they’re only 30 odd mile apart.

    2 points;
    1) Jerry, the refs you mention from Surrey could easily be ManU or Chelsea fans anyway.
    2) No mention of refs from the South West…. Maybe a Cornish accent wouldn’t work so well in the pitch if he needs to have some authority 😀 (just a joke!!!)

  28. I would suggest that Untold sends Neale Barry a copy of the message and request a reply to Proudkev’s question regarding promotion to the elite panel. Hopefully you would be able to get copies of the league as referred to above. It would hopefully show the ratings for the refs from the South and also how Mike Dean has been rated (could this be interesting????)

  29. Andy Mack:

    “Blind Dean” – I like that!

    Your point about the biases by location is also spot on.

    How many of us Gooners are from outside London – or even the south?

    However, it doesn’t excuse PGMOL for their allocations – or “Blind Dean” for his incompetence!

  30. BTW, there are some very good referees outside the Premier League.

    Andy D’urso is an excellent referee whose crime was to give a penalty against Man Utd at Old Toilet.

    Funny that (NOT)!

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