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February 2021

How to intimidate an official on the football pitch (and come to that, how to do it beforehand).

By Don McMahon

Everyone involved in football, professional or amateur, has been intimidated or seen such events happen to others during their years in the sport.

However, the art of intimidating the officials is something that has reached new heights and even influenced the FA and the PGMOL stuffed suits, to such a point that EPL officials regularly and consistently tolerate abuse. If that same abuse happened on the street to any of us, we would respond rather aggressively and certainly report it to the authorities.

So here goes, a simplified course on how to intimidate the officials!

1: The intimidation begins well before the official takes the field. When he or she receives their appointments for the week or month, depending on the league’s policy, they are likely to be happy to officiate certain teams (well behaved) and despair at officiating others (undisciplined). Sometimes, with particularly notorious teams, they may actually ask to be replaced by another official.

2: The intimidation could have begun even BEFORE that, as when the official(s) went to a discipline hearing, stated their facts and information based on their game report and then were told by the accused team’s manager and the player that they are liars or need glasses or were prejudiced or simply in error. The cherry on the sunday intimidation occurs when their own League management questions their report. ¨Are you SURE you saw player X punch player Y?¨ etc.

3: Having lived through that demeaning and distressing experience, the official now has to take the field with that very same team, often shortly after testifying in the discipline hearing. Players and managers have long memories and don’t willingly forgive officials who ¨screwed¨ them. Their behaviour on and off the field reflects that rather clearly.

4: When the official begins to prepare for the match, especially a tough one between two teams that have a history between them, then he or she begins to ¨worry¨ about how the game will turn out and what they will do IF it gets out of control. When I officiated in what we commonly called bad boy matches, I always made sure I knew where the escape routes were!

5: The official arrives at the field at least an hour before kick-off and checks the nets, field conditions etc. and then collects the player registrations and team sheets to confirm that all is correct. This is usually a fairly mundane event BUT if the officials find a discrepancy in the registrations and / or team sheets, then he or she has to point this out to the manager. This raises an already high temperature to the boiling point. IF , under the worst circumstances, the official refuses to allow a player to play……watch out! The other stress during this time is the comments that players make about the referee or assistants while they prepare for the match.

6: Once the teams take the field, the referee will usually call the opposing captains to the center-circle and explain how he or she tends to officiate. I would usually outline my free-kick philosophy (especially for quick free-kicks) and how to approach me if they had questions about a call. I would also warn them that they were the only ones allowed to speak to me unless I asked someone to do so, and that it must always be politely. I warned them that dissent, apparent or hidden, if noticed, would be cautioned, etc.

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7: The game is off and an offside is given to one team. The opposing manager screams from the sidelines, ¨that was no offside¨ and we are now battling our inner demons and doubts, regardless of whether we acknowledge that claim or not.

8: The assistant misses an important call (serious foul play) , which the referee was too far away to see, so the fouled player retaliates a minute or so later and is cautioned or ejected. Now the punished team begins to crowd both the referee and the erroneous assistant until they are patiently sent on their way. The poor linesman is shaken and the referee now has to calm them down and encourage them, without being too obvious to the spectators and players/managers.

9: Here comes the big call, a defender’s handball in the penalty area!!!! Almost immediately there is anger, surprise and subsequent intimidation from the punished team. And of course the fouled team joins in by encouraging the referee to get on with it. The kick is taken and scored so the game returns to the kick-off. All the way to the centre circle the ref hears mumbles and commentary of discontent……but not enough to really react but enough to bother them subconsciously.

10: Finally the game ends and the officials remain on the field while the players exit. As they walk past the managers, they get the LOOK from one or the other, or heaven forbid, both! They are tired and stressed and can’t wait until they get into the shower to wash off all the bitterness and rancour of the last 90 minutes. Sometimes there is a sliver lining in this, If one of the assistants if a female, BUT I won’t get into that just yet…no double entendre intended!

11:  We still have to return the registration cards and team sheets to the teams and we usually send the assistants to do that. I know it is a big cop out but hey, any port in a storm. We also have to safely leave the grounds and if we are taking public transport, get to the bus or train station. This is the time we all wish the league would provide a helicopter or at least a limo service!

12:  That evening we get a call from the League referee coordinator, who says that team X is appealing the match because the officials were;

a) incompetent,

b) biased,

c) unfit,

d) visually impaired,

e) bought,

f) wankers, etc.

I could go on about intimidation, from the parents, spectators, league administrators, other referees, club management, in some cases the media, sometimes the national association warning you about your place on the national list and your risking a FIFA nomination,and so on but I think you’ll get the gist.

Now multiply this by a factor of one million when talking about professional referees. As one, I have had an entire jug of beer pored over my head while doing the line at a professional match, been offered all kinds of sugar and spice from over-amorous supporters of a professional team (talk about tempting!!!!), been hit by a battery (not an automobile one thank God) and if you don’t think that’s intimidating, think again, spat on by so many people while leaving a big stadium that I had to exit under an umbrella, threatened by an irate professional director of an international tournament with a fate worse than death, had to be escorted to my car by two WWF bodyguards bigger than a team bus,etc.

It takes solid mental strength and a resolute character to return to this type of challenge every week and I can tell you from experience that even the FIFA officials can succumb to intimidation when it is continuous or career threatening. So the next time you jump all over a kid in the middle of the field trying to do his or her best as a referee, cut them some slack…….and remember that in a civilized society, such abuse would NOT be tolerated outside the ground so why should it be tolerated inside?


Since it seems somehow relevant: the Insult of the Day (which appears on the home page each day) today really is lacking in politeness – Shakespeare certainly knew how to do it.

She sweats, a man may go over-shoes in the grime of it.  (Comedy of Errors)

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Anniversariesthe full index is to be found here  – today’s stories are on the home page

  • 12 April 1913 – Woolwich Arsenal 1 Derby 2, and so Arsenal were relegated for the only time in their entire history in front of a crowd of 4,000.  In fact they drew their final two games (including one away to Tottenham) but by then it was too late.
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25 comments to How to intimidate an official on the football pitch (and come to that, how to do it beforehand).

  • I must admit I never thought about this sort of thing until I started to get to know officials as a result of running Untold.

    And apart from the occasional abusive customer who told me that my company’s advertising services were useless because they hadn’t sold lots of product (fortunately a rare event, and one that was often explained by the fact that they had not told us about some problems the product had), that was it.

    Except now I see the abuse thrown out by commentators on this site either against other commentators, or against the writers, or against the site.

    What is it that makes people so abusive?

  • scully

    Clearly you guys have big issues with the standard of PL refereeing decisions, I note you have not highlighted the decisions that went for Arsenal last weekend, or is it a one way street?

  • WalterBroeckx

    1. our findings are not based on one off decisions. Our findings are based on years of analysing and reviewing referee decisions in the PL.
    2. Once the referee review of the West Ham match is done you will be able to look at each decision in the match.
    3. If you would have read more on this site you would find that in our reviews we also highlight decisions that go in favour of Arsenal. Be them in the minority. But that is not our fault. 😉 That is the fault of the referees as we usually find errors going against Arsenal being much higher in numbers than going for Arsenal.

    Talking about one way streets… what about Carroll being on the field after 5 minutes? Or after 47 minutes?

  • Andrew Crawshaw


    Our referee reviews call all decisions both for and against us. The numbers from the West Ham game will be aggregated into the totals. Up to the start of that game the headline numbers were – favouring Arsenal 5 : against Arsenal 93.

  • Usama Zaka

    Good read Don. Refereeing is a slowly becoming a neglected profession in England much likely due to the current state of football thanks to FA.

    My view is that at the higher level referees are just mere pawns used by the people with more power and authority above them to run their agenda on the field. I often think that maybe some referees even at the higher level are innocent in thought but guilty in action. And for this to happen it would mean that the referees are threatened by their higher-ups and their jobs are put on the line. Just my thoughts.

  • Andrew Crawshaw


    Sorry about that interruption from scully.

    Thank you for a really insightful article. I’m sure that some of the intimidation on the field could be dealt with be first warning teams that players other than the captain would be booked for pestering providing that any players then doing so were booked. It would only happen on one week before the message got through to everyone but the thickest of players.

    As a thought, with the increasing miniaturisation of cameras, would it be an advantage for referees to have one on a form of headband as a form of proof as to what they actually were looking at. Might help in the defence of did you see A punch B, it would also act as a recording of language towards the referee.

  • CB

    shows clearly that West Ham have the most net bad decisions made against them. Arsenal are 14th in the league for net wrong decisions against.

    Interesting, does it tally with Untold Arsenal?

    [as a minimum it will be interesting to see how the decisions tally with the referee report for the match]

  • CB

    Are you planning to debrief this article soon?

  • geekaybee

    Bring in big screen replays so that referees, linesmen, players, managers and spectators can get a multi-angled picture of what has occurred. We have the technology now so why should we have to wait years before it happens like goal line replays did ?

  • omgarsenal

    Geekaybee…….good suggestion, but of course this is another source of intimidation for EPL officials, as EVERYONE in the stadium would become instant referees and have a much better view (slow motion) than the referee himself.
    I would have no problem with my decisions being publicly viewed BUT I am not sure some of our EPL officials could live with it. Imagine IF Riley’s calls in match 49 (MU versus AFC)would have been seen on a bigscreen by thousands! His calls would have changed a great deal!
    Scully…..why go off topic when everyone else stays on topic….oh wait, you are a WestHam fanboy and feel you are entitled to say whatever you want, no matter how ridiculous it is. Tony’s answer sums it up perfectly!

  • omgarsenal

    CB…..wait until the season is over and I am sure Tony will do a fair review, in the interim go to and watch Adrian Clark’s game analysis for each match….he is a genius at breaking down tactics, key points and player success/failures on the field!

  • omgarsenal

    Andrew…..the idea has merit BUT any official will tell you that we perspire enormously in most matches and a headband would only exacerbate this. As well, the field of vision of a headband camera is too limited to be practical. The other thing is that we’d all look like Welsh miners out there and while we are not fashion icons, we do avoid trying to be the centre of attention when possible. I doubt the FA or FIFA would allow this and I doubt EPL officials would support it. They might permit some other form of on person video technology that was more subtle, like the police use in some US cities.

  • Gord

    Just in terms of the consumer market, yes cameras are getting small. Raspberry Pi is probably a good place to look for an example. It seems that there will be a switch from the original CCD sensor to something else in the near future.

    But, if we put a camera on the forehead of a referee, do we use a fisheye lens in order to sample the range of angles that we could be looking in? Do we put EMG sensors on muscles in the vicinity of the eye socket, so that we can measure what direction the eyes are pointed in?

    Either with an array of ordinary cameras, or a fisheye lens, there is no guarantee that what the referee is tracking is close to the center of vision we are measuring.

    Outside of issues above, what happens if we hit a referee in the head with a ball? You don’t want the referee getting injured.

    In terms of TV coverage, we could measure the direction perpendicular to the forehead of the referee, to guess at which direction the referee is facing. There are still the issues of where the eyes are directed, and if the incident is centre of vision or not. I don’t think the TV cameras have enough resolution to determine where the eyes on the face are directed.

    There are games a person can play with sound and how we localise it. If players are all instrumented for location, we can continuously calculate the distances between a player and all competitors. If a player had an opposition player within 1m, a sound could be generated that would locate to where the approach was happening. If the closing distance was high, it is likely that a referee would not see any incident unless they were already looking in that direction.

    I think it makes more sense to wire up referees (and some special “fans”) with lie detector type equipment. Note the times when these people are “recognizing” that something is happening. We then need to find out what these people are reacting to.

  • omgarsenal

    Tony….abusers are bullies and bullying behaviour reflects the societal norm for most male aggression. You don’t see many identified female posters here trying to abuse others, it is not their go to strategy.
    My continuing conviction is that our posters who abuse here and in the stands, and on the amateur playing fields and in the EPL are encouraged by the results they get. A referee or assistant who has been aggressed and bullied by a parent,manager,player or whatever is intimidated and conditioned to avoid being abused again, so he or she , especially younger referees, will avoid controversial or difficult decisions and go with either not giving a difficult decision or favouring the more mouthy,abusive team in order to avoid trouble.
    Ask Walter about what we officials call the moment of truth and you’ll understand how difficult it is to make the tough but fair call. When the referee in WestHam’s previous game sent Kouyate off and then saw his decision reversed, he likely said to himself…screw this….next time I won’t eject a player, a yellow card will do or I’ll ignore it totally.

  • Ando

    I wonder… apparently, PIGMOB officials must agree a “no-tell” clause in their contract which, if they break it, causes them to forfeit a £50k payoff on retirement. Is that right and is that £50k a one-off or per year?

    If it is a one-off, would crowd funding be a suitable way of raising such a sum ( or even larger as an inducement) to compensate any retired official who decided to come clean?

    I’ve had a look at and they seem to detect a pattern that puts the Hammers at the bottom of the list of favourable/unfavourable major decisions and the Gunners at 14th. Man U and LCFC come out top – surprise, surprise.

    So, it seems that fans of other clubs (except ManU and LCFC, for obvious reasons!) may be interested in subscribing to a fund to tempt a disgruntled former employees of Riley’s Reprobates to “blow the whistle” (pun intended).

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    Ando and others

    Another interesting point worth mentioning re Claretandhugh findings for ref decisions i was surprised to see that
    Leicester got the most favourable wrong drcisions #15 and Arsenal getting the highest no of wrong Against 1decision #13.

    A completely neutral site supplementing UA stance that Leicester getting the most favourable decision and Arsenal getting the most against ref decisions.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    I have excluded west ham in the above stat as Claretnhugb being West ham fan site there numbers r skewed.

  • Gord


    What is a better approach, is to look at their West Ham data, and see if it is statistically different from other teams. It is not fair to just delete data on an assumption.

    Lots of people in statistics will make use of things like Chauvenet’s Criteria, to look for the presence of suspect data. They will then improperly delete data.

    You are doing something similar, except instead of examining the data, you are just assuming it is bad. It is better in the long run to correct bad data (and increase its error in doing so), than to delete it. Mind you, it isn’t always possible to correct data.

  • Ando

    Well Ok but, in fairness, this is an Arsenal site and so an equal accusation may be levelled at Untold..and often is.
    I haven’t seen the detailed analysis of the West Ham site, I’m not sure they make it available like Tony & Walter do.
    But surely the point is that a different team’s supporters are observing a phenomenon which, to be perfectly logical, only suggests that Untold’s stance on unseen influences on the men in black is more likely to be true.
    Or are you just winding us up?

  • Menace

    What upsets me is naive stupidity. When the site clearly states its position & some idiot posts a comment totally against the position of the site. If the comment is reasonably qualified I can accept it, but generally there are idiots who just grate on the senses.

    The passion of support for the club & all within it, can drive intolerance to anger & with it abuse. However, loss of temper is a sign of weakness. So it is easy to manipulate a person who has lost his/her temper because of their weak state.

  • Al

    Not sure if anyone had flagged this up earlier, but kinda surprised by this article from the mirror saying Leicester’s huge number of penalties could explain why they’re top, and that referees might be siding with them a little. It seems to me the author is trying to point out there’s definitely something wrong with Leicester being at the top. But in order not to cause a fuss the author puts it in a mild-mannered, joking sort of way.

    I think it shows most level-headed people can see that without a helping hand Leicester simply wouldn’t be where they are. Unfortunately not everyone is able to analysis things that far, today I even had an argument with a friend who says they’re an Arsenal, who was saying Leicester deserve to be where they’re. Needless to say, he has gone down in my estimation (I can only conclude that anyone that can not see the obvious pgmob machinations has got to be thick, friend or not).

  • Al

    The link again, here

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Another gem , Don . Thanks and well done .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I’m sure that this season will be often talked about or regularly referred to for a long time to come .
    ‘Coincidence when traced far back enough , becomes the inevitable .’

  • Gord

    I never looked at this “West Ham” data. Let’s make something up.

    Just off the top of my head, I made 18 numbers that are close to 25, one number that is small and one number that is about 100 too big. 25,23,28,24,27, 22,26,21,31,23, 29,24,28,18,26, 23,33,22,5,122

    Short of a typo, this totals 580. If I subtract 105 and divide by 19 (475), I get 25 dead on, which is kind of what I was hoping for.

    Let’s say the source for the data says that they seen 480 events, and then provide the table of numbers I made up. The table of numbers I made up, totals 580, not 480. You could ignore the one bad data point. You could spread the error over all data points. But this really looks like a transcription error, and we would be justified in changing 122 to 22, as long as we report what we are doing.

    Without changing that “bad” data point, it looks like we might have samples from 3 different populations: one with a mean near 25, one with a mean over 100, and one with a mean near 0. And the next step is to examine how likely it is to see either 5 or 122, from a distribution consistent with the other 18 numbers.

    If we do edit the point (and report the edit), we have a single “outlier” and 19 points from a common distribution. We still need to see how likely it is that this “outlier” is from a different distribution.

    Ignoring the 5, the sum of the squared deviations from 25 is 246, or a mean square deviation of just under 13. If this “random deviates” were from a Poisson distribution (we are counting things, and Poisson is usually first choice) we would expect a mean square deviation of about 25 (same as the mean). As 13 is probably significantly different from 25, we would say that our observed distribution is under-dispersed compared to a Poisson. And a likely distribution to check at that point is a Binomial distribution.

    But, it kind of looks like this 5 number is something like 5.5 standard deviations off the mean, which is usually an unlikely observation.