Why is the organisation that runs refereeing in the Premier League so utterly secretive when other top refereeing organisations are not?

By Tony Attwood

To put people into boxes, there are broadly three types of football fan.  Those who look at all the issues considered in the previous article about possible corruption in the Premier League and think, “this looks odd, there should be an investigation,” those who really don’t care about such matters and just like to get on with the support either at the game or from a distance, and those who reply to the points made in the last article by saying, “you’re just a conspiracy theorist”.

The problem with the last group is one that is prevalent throughout contemporary Britain, and I suspect in many other societies: the notion that answering an argument by a spot of name calling is actually a reasonable response.  If it were then all questions about anything happening on the planet could be dismissed as a conspiracy theory and we never would get to discuss (and therefore never discover) anything.

My opening position is quite different: I’m curious.   I like to look at things and ask questions as to why they are as they are.  Which probably means I should have been a physicist, but for most of us things never turn out how they should.  I studied psychology instead and got fascinated by the psychology of perception.  It’s just how things go.

For the people who love to respond to detailed points of view with one liners, the answer to my curiosity is “Curiosity killed the cat,” (except that with the increase in the number of mice with the toxoplasma parasite that should be “curiosity killed the mouse” – but that’s another tail) (Tale – geddit?).  (Mice with toxoplasma parasites chase cats’ tails, get eaten, the parasite enters the cat, the cat dies, other mice eat the remains, the parasite lives on.  But I suspect that is just a conspiracy theory.)

I digress.  I’m curious.  Not about everything, and I most certainly don’t experiment by trying everything, or even most things, but I often find myself wondering why x happens and what y is all about and whether the story z I’ve just read in a magazine is actually widely accepted as truth by others, or just another journalist flight of fancy.

So I am curious about things like…

  1. Why is the refereeing organisation that runs refereeing in the Premier League so utterly secretive unlike those in virtually every other country?  What benefit does this absolute and total secrecy give?
  2. Why is the number of referees working in the PL so small that refs get to officiate the same teams over and over and thus leave themselves open to accusations of match fixing?  If it is so that the refs get games every week and thus earn a decent salary, why not put the salaries up and charge the PL more for the service.  It is not as if the PL is poor.
  3. Why is the selection of referees so regionally biased?
  4. Why do we see what appear to me, and some other people, such strange behaviour by referees on pitches, allowing a certain type of foul from side A but not side B?
  5. Why are the rules applied in matches in the PL so different from the rules applied in European top leagues?
  6. Why is there no historic awareness of the fact that there was a huge match fixing scandal in Italy and there have been such scandals in England.  Are they really like the householder who says, “Oh you don’t get burglaries here, there is a very safe village,” and so never locks his front door?  Is that attitude right for a multi-billion pound industry?
  7. Why does PGMO pay its referees £50,000 on retirement on the provision that they never ever talk about refereeing to the media, and never write about it?  What is the benefit to referees, to football clubs, to football supporters or anyone else in this system existing?
  8. Why are the statistics that PGMO put out for a very short while so different from ours, and why then did they stop publishing them?
  9. Why don’t the clubs together revolt against this system and throw out PGMO and bring in a new body to run refereeing?
  10. Why are these questions never debated in the media?

I can offer all sorts of answers to these questions – but of course they are just my answers, no one else’s.  They can be laughed at, denounced, or agreed with, but the point I would make is that, to my mind at least, all ten questions are valid and need some sort of proper discussion.   And even when people do provide answers other than “you are just conspiracy theorists” they tend only to answer one or two of the questions, possibly in an attempt to keep it all very simple.

(Which then reminded me of the story we found in 2009 where the Sun state that Arsenal did not win the league because our players were too short.  The BBC picked up on the story and ran it later that day.  But on checking we found the basic fact was quite untrue.  Arsenal were not a particularly short or tall team.  Leaving aside whether size matters, the fact is Arsenal were not a short team).

Indeed I am curious about the fact that I have never seen anyone put forward an answer to point one above at all.   And you’d think that with a dozen or so national newspapers around, all fighting for extra readership and extra revenue, one of them would raise that question.  But they don’t.

Is that because undermining the whole basis of a system is something never brings in more readers?  Is it because the press have a really cushy number just toddling along to games, interviewing managers and then making up stories?  Or is it because the League has said to the media, you’ll lose your licence to publish fixtures if you print stories that suggest that the ethics of the League are bent?

My view for what it is worth, is that there’s a combination of factors which keeps the questions about refereeing and the organisation that runs referees out of the media.  But at the top of the list is the belief by the media that readers, viewers and listeners are simple folk who don’t like complicated stories.

Just look at the stories day after day that surround football.  They are for the most part single issue stories relating to something quite simple.  The matches themselves, which are phenomenally complex affairs are reduced to 500 words.  The tracing of developments invariably comes down to one basic recent event.  The whole notion of announcing transfers that have not happened and will not happen as being worthy of news coverage is bizarre.  (We do our best to expose the insanity via the Sir Hardly Anyone tales, but we are pretty much on our own here).

And all this comes before the make-believe.  The invented story that I will never publish that had the press howling at the gates of Highbury on Mr Wenger’s first day in office, and which Man U then saw fit to have on a recording of Man U songs that the sold via their shop.  The invented story that Arsenal got more red and yellow cards than anyone else in the early days of Wenger’s reign.  The invented story in more recent years that Arsenal gets more injuries than anyone else.   The invented story that most transfers make a difference.  The myth that most managerial changes make a difference.  The Sun’s invented story about players’ height.

All of these inventions, when there is actually one huge story waiting to be investigated:

Why is the organisation that runs refereeing in the Premier League so utterly secretive when other top refereeing organisations in Europe are not? 


Recent Posts


Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle.  The books are

  • The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
  • Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.  By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
  • The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.

You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page




21 Replies to “Why is the organisation that runs refereeing in the Premier League so utterly secretive when other top refereeing organisations are not?”

  1. Answer: Because they are corrupt and have an agenda (alongside others) to manipulate football in the UK.

    I think “betting” has always been a part of the agenda, but other things like “hate campaigns” and purposely false news have become a part of it too.

    Now is also the “push” to cement the PL and UK football above all others, making it more attractive for managers and players to come to UK, but i suspect the other countries will soon do their own “thing” to lure players/managers back to their own shores making themselves more attractive for TV.

    Anyway, it’s war going on and as usual, big money is the catalyst.

  2. Questions 9 and 10 provide one possible answer to all it – the clubs do not revolt against the pgmob because in the reality of Divide and Rule they have secured a niche. They are a player. They have a club. They have a ground. They have some import – they in the fixtures. They have fans. Their colours are carried.

    A level playing field might place terrible demands upon them, both real and imagined. With the authority of the ref the paramount reality on the football pitch nothing is asked of them. Should the ref become a facilitator, the players and team to step forward, the game to be remembered because of its quality, the unimaginable takes over.

    England is a grotesquely unequal society in its wealth. It accepts, without protest, that the rich have the right to live longer than the poor. Social mobility is rigorously stratified. Divide and Rule describes it, Divide and Rule keeps it going.

    The pgmob have their niche.

    |Thanks for a great article Tony.

  3. Why do the retiring referees agree to the £50000 golden handcuffs deal when they could earn far more from a tabloid for an exposè? They are under no obligation to take this money when a more lucrative payday is out there.
    Could it be that there is nothing worth the media outlay? No dodgy ref tales and no corruption stories.
    Has Hackett given anything other than criticism and Howard Webb is an ex cop so should know criminal activity when he sees it.

  4. Graham Poll firmly criticises Riley for the current state of affairs, but he’s another one who could quite easily lift the lid if there was in fact anything worth revealing inside the bin.

  5. Time and and the truth , maybe via a conscientious whistle blower or most probably a disgruntled ex-employee , shall reveal all .

    With the latest and daily news of wrongdoers , I ‘m hopeful that that cracks will appear and the truth be told .

    Am patient enough to wait for said revelations , as I ‘ m patiently awaiting the declassification of the documents of the JFK assassination and cover up. And also those of Robert Kennedy , Martin Luther King , and the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa and Lord Lucan ( http://www.lordlucan.com/ ) amongst others .

  6. Serge

    Maybe the impeccable honesty of cops and ex cops is a reason why Murdoch loved to find them official and unofficial jobs in his organisation. Police quite liked to bring in people from the other direction to top posts in their media department,too.

    7. Makes you wonder how Dermot Gallagher comes into that, Tony.

    Is he a rule breaker ,and forfeiter of the pay-off, or is he still in the pgmol good books, with approval for his media work?

    It seems quite clear it is the latter, as the following is from the pgmol section on the premier league website.

    “11. Media
    We’ve expanded this greatly in recent years and work closely with Premier League rights holders to give guidance on Law and former Select Group referees like Dermot Gallagher and Alan Wiley regularly appear on Sky and BBC to explain decision-making. We also hold briefings with journalists on Law because when decisions made in a match can be such a large part of their work it’s incredibly important they understand so they’re calling things appropriately for viewers and readers.”

    So…talking to the media isn’t outright banned, and they endorse his work with the media. The plot thickens a little with that. How on earth is the contract worded? What counts as ok media work, and what doesn’t?

    Do Pgmol just know good old Dermot will never do anything to cause them harm, while Poll could or does? Is Gallagher perhaps still receiving money from Pgmol to help educate Sky and its viewers with his objective views?

  7. If a former PMGOL ref went to the media with the ‘inside story’ of the PMGOL, would any of the media publish it?

    I doubt it. which is why the cheap price of £50 000 is paid for silence. The is no media demand for the truth about the PMGOL.

    If there was the price of silence would be a lot more.

  8. ”No media demand for the truth about the PMGOL” because the truth would upset the applecart. Everyone has their place and everyone plays by the rules.

  9. The referee world is a closed organisation. And referees tend to stick together and support each other even when decisions were completely wrong. I have seen this so many times…

    But there are a few countries in which referees explain their decisions in the media. Sometimes even just after the match. I have seen this in Holland and in Germany I think they DFB releases clips and explain decisions or admit errors were made by the ref.
    They did so in Belgium also but don’t know if they still do for the moment.

    I think in England they lean to the secretive way of doing things. Why? Well I really would like to know. Is there something to hide?

  10. What we also must not forget is that a referee that has been part of the system for 15-20 years will not easily come out with what goes wrong.
    Because if he does so… he will have to ask the question: why didn’t you come up with this earlier? Why wait so long?
    And the answer is: once you are in the system you go along as it will help your career.
    And most referees are very ambitious and they want to do the best matches, the top matches, they want a Fifa badge…. and to reach that… they will swallow anything that is needed. And once the bitter taste is gone and the reward is in the bag… you just do further and further because there is no real way out. Unless you would stop with refereeing when being on the top and come up with evidence that is written on paper.

    But that is part of the problem. No referee organisation will write a letter to refs saying: You got do favour team X. Or you have to give decisions against team Y. They are not that stupid to do this as they know that will be the end.
    No those messages are given in a more subtle way of course.

    They will make sure they will not get caught unless someone tapes private conversations. And even then things will be said in a indirect way. A ref that defeated the team that should lose will get praise and understanding even for his most blatant errors in that match. And when his errors gave points to a team that shouldn’t have won points they will give him a hard time and threaten that he might lose his badge if he continues to perform like that. A smart referee will quickly understand who to upset and certainly who not to upset. And that goes for managers and referee leaders of course…

  11. One of the most important questions isn’t covered by the list : what reason is there for the clubs not to push for the best refereeing set-up possible?

    I’m not 100% on these details but my understanding is that Pgmol has to choose its referees from those who come through the FA system. Meaning that the only new referees now and in the future are produced by the FA and only then, should they have risen far enough, do PGMOL decide if they are worthy of promotion.

    The obvious issue with this being that the FA are strapped for cash and so cannot produce the optimum system for achieving the goal of producing as many good new referees as possible.

    Isn’t that an implausibly weird thing to be happening when we have the richest league there has ever been in the world? So what reason could there possibly be for all the relevant stakeholders not to address this? It would surely be tremendously easy and uncontroversial to divert, say, 1% of the money from the new tv deal in this direction.

    So, why do the stakeholders not want this. Scudamore, the tv companies, and the clubs themselves, why are they not all unanimous that the only sensible thing to do as they swim in unprecedented wealth is to provide the best possible platform for the production of top referees?

    The conclusion seems inescapable that they are not particularly concerned with achieving this aim or even that they find it undesirable. But why?

    Scudamore and the television companies can perhaps be explained away purely in monetary terms- the product is excelling, don’t change a winning formula.

    But what about the clubs? Managers point to mistakes on a weekly basis and ask for improvements to be made but are they really so short-sighted so as not to think about structural changes which, logically, are bound to lead to a better situation in the future, maybe very soon….or are they nearly unanimous in calculating this system works quite well for them and they’d rather not interfere with it?

    A cynic would say the golden rule is that you cannot have too many clubs being too unhappy for too long or they will demand change. Especially important is to make sure that all, or most, of the most powerful clubs are happy enough.

    Maybe you can afford to shit on one of them- heck, that could even strengthen the tacit approval of other big guns- but two or three is pushing it for anything longer than a season.

  12. where there is a vacuum of information, it is very easy to assume a conspiracy, corruption or a covered up cockup. And since we are dealing with something as fundamentally flawed as the human race and the regulatory bodies that run our lives, it is even more easy to validate such assumptions.
    The PGMOL could easily reduce their vulnerability to such suspicions, but Mike Riley is not that kind of guy.
    The fact that such a poor, acquiescent to power type of referee, an even worse communicator holds such a post leads to grave suspicions that his flaws suit those who run Mike Riley.
    They are playing a dangerous game, if there is corruption and bias, it will eventually out, and will seriously disrupt the money, image and game in this country. Alternatively, maybe they are so far down the road, they cannot get out of it?

  13. Conspiracy theories are very dangerous, next they will tell us that a prominent referee was involved with a betting company. Perhaps they will also allege that that the same referee sees Arsenal players as fair game for their opponents to commit career threatening tackles on. They could even make up that as a result of this, once the Arsenal players realise the referee is not protecting them, they would have a word with their opponents. The opponent would then fall down as they had been head-butted, which would result in a straight red card for the Arsenal player warning an opponent not to go in so heavy again.
    They might even allege that another referee used his building firm to pave the driveway of a prominent Football club Chairman’s house.
    They would also allege that there is rampant tax-evasion in this country, and you can get away with it if you have enough money!
    What a load of Tosh!

  14. What claims Julian, let us be forever thankful we dont live in a country where such things go on.
    Whatever next….Royals….and our countrys fine upstanding church not paying all they should be in tax, a recent PM helping tyrants overcome their image problems, unpleasant and criminal activities covered up by our wonderful world envied broadcasting service, managers selecting referees for his teams games and pet dogs implicated in tax evasion.
    But should such things ever come to pass, we can be sure, and thankful, with our fine journalistic institutions, the media would be onto it all straight away.

  15. this question is off topic but i was wondering why do Leicester keep on getting decisions by referees take a case example of their game with Saints two clear handballs one a sending off incident and nothing given, what of the game with Arsenal the annoyingly and continuously fouled arsenal and run away with murder and were gifted a penalty
    Swansea game they scored from a blatant foul. It is the small details that makes one loose or win the league. And is it by chance that they Leicester have been awarded the most penalties
    just wondering

  16. The Pgmo are operating under the covers of darkness like the devil to enabled them be secretive so that their shady works and doings will be hidden from public knowledge.

    But unfortunately for the Pgmo, there is nothing hidden under the Sun that shall not be revealed. In as much secretive the Pgmo have become, some people like the Untold Arsenalmedia and others have decided to use touch lights, night goggles and infra-red devices to light at the Pgmo and search them to reveal them out of where they’ve been hiding in the dark places for their devilish acts to be seen by people who bothered to know about the Pgmo and their FA collaborators shady actions.

    The FA deliberately overturned Cheikhou Kayoute’s Red Card he got in the Palace game so as to allow Kayoute to be available against Arsenal tomorrow. I’ve rewatched the highlights of that rough tackle incident that led to referee Mark Clantenburg to send off Cheikhou Kayoute with a straight Red Card. The Palace player was lucky to have escaped haven his foot or feet broken or even picked up an ACL. So, what is Selven Bilic talking about to have said, he didn’t believe the tackle was a even a foul in the first place? WHFC 0-5 AFC @ FT 90m +.

  17. The answer probably lies with supporters by:

    1. Giving up season tickets
    2. Not attending games
    3. Giving up TV subscriptions
    4. Organise a petition to the government to investigate PGMOL, TV, Betting Agencies and the media

    A couple of years of lost revenue and the clubs will soon be on the warpath.

  18. When you see a ref actually celebrate one teams goal scoring on the pitch and the blatant wrong decision’s being made again and again in favour of one team over another in a live televised broadcast you get the clear message that they think they can do what they like and do not have to answer to anyone at all.
    In the global world of football the smell of corruption sticks to high heaven but the EPL are also well I merged. No organisation should be so secretive when so much money is involved, nor have the power to tilt a game in one teams favour
    When this story breaks and it will because the truth will out eventually and when one comes forward you can bet that more will follow. £50.000 will look like chicken feed because the story being football that is loved around the world will be massive selling millions of papers and then the TV companies getting involved.
    Things right now are being leaked with the promise of much more to come. It’s all starting of like a small snowball rolling down a snow filled hill and it will get bigger and gather momentum and the people who are the core base of football IE the supporters will be treated the way they always should have been treated by the truth being told and the truth of each decision that a ref makes out on that pitch is the very least we expect. Yes they can make honest mistakes and that’s OK as long as they are honest as that is all we are looking for.

  19. Why do the clubs not push for the best possible officiating? I think some clubs do but I think other clubs do the opposite. Manu under Fergie benefited from the bent officiating so they protect it. So when the subject comes up at meetings between the clubs there are some pushing for improvements and other voices praising the status quo. I am sure there is “politicing” that goes on with some clubs trying to get other clubs to support the status quo and other clubs advocating change. At this point the EPL clubs don’t seem to want change or those who want it don’t have the votes to get changes. The various clubs that make up the league have different priorities. Clearly improving the officiating is not one that the majority of the clubs want. I think the majority of the clubs are just trying to survive, stay up, stay solvent. Some hope they get “lucky” some season like Leicester this year. They know sometimes they are “unlucky” in a season but most likely don’t see the “bentness” of the refs season after season in the same way as Arsenal. For example a few years ago Liverpool experienced bias from the refs for a season. But the next season they did not. So they conclude the bad season was just random. But Arsenal sees a pattern that has developed and been sustained for over 10 seasons! Clearly not chance! So Liverpool dismisses the concerns about the refs as do most of the other clubs because they are not on the end of bad and biased officiating consistently. So they fall into line behind Manu/Fergie during his time. It is not so clear who is leading things now but I think there are clubs that clearly do not want change. I think the system was trying to help Chelsea this year but they played so badly the first part of the season the refs could not save them (they did give them 6 points off Arsenal). Clearly the system is helping Leicester and maybe even helping more because clubs like Manu (not really in the running due to poor play) or Mancity (not really in the running due to poor play) would rather see Leicester win than Gunners or Spurs.

  20. This controversies make football sweet…without them football would be so flat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *