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June 2021

Using a refereeing system based on Calciopoli – implications and press reaction.

By Tony Attwood

This is the third article in the series about the way in which PGMO is organised.   The first two articles published earlier today are…

Continuing from the above…

3:  What are the implications that arise from having a refereeing system utterly different from the other major leagues?

Certainly having a small number of referees in the PL has allowed the PL to operate a form of laissez faire refereeing which is much more relaxed that one gets in other major leagues in Europe.  You only have to compare the number of yellow and red cards in the PL to other leagues to see the difference.

I don’t want to divert from my main story but to give one example, the number of fouls called per game has been reported by various investigators and always the answer is the same: the Premier League is at the bottom of the list.  An analyses of the play (which is beyond the scope of this series) does not show that players in the PL are more likely to adhere by the rules, but rather than the referees let much more go.   Which means when our teams play in the Champions League, or when players who play in the PL play for England, they come up against an utterly different system.

But there is another implication here, and that is the lack of interest in this topic from the media.  In fact it is hard to think of anything that the media has said or written which suggests that there is something odd about refereeing in the PL.

Now we know from the Italian investigations after the lid was blown off their refereeing scandal, that the influencing of individuals by clubs went beyond referees, and incorporated TV companies, radio stations and newspapers.

We also know that there are many agreements between the TV companies on what to show and what not to show in games – to give the most obvious example, if there is any problem in the crowd, or if a supporter runs onto the pitch, TV cameras are under a contractual obligation not to show it or even mention it.  We can thus get (as for example when we played Coventry in the FA Cup) a situation where the TV just shows players milling around leaving the commentators talking about a “hold up in play”.

We also know that TV channels showing live games will cut away from time wasting and instead even show something as inane as a player walking towards the half way line, rather than, for example, catching footage of a goal keeper deliberately time wasting.

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As I have mentioned before, there used to be an open debate in the press in the UK about the way that TV covered football – it was certainly a point debated openly in the 1970s, but that too has gone, as has the virulent criticism of refereeing by commentators on radio such as Alan Green.   One can’t imagine he has changed his mind too much, rather it seems he was told to shut up on that topic.

4:  The response of the press

Of course a lack of interest from the media in refereeing decisions does not mean that there is something wrong, but when the startling differences between the set up of refereeing in other countries and in the Premier League are so huge, one might expect some interest or commentary.

But no, the opposite is the case.  On 27 February last year The Guardian published an article saying, “Premier League failures show it’s time to stop talking about referees” by 

Referees need help – not constant criticism”.  You see the same year after year – here’s just one from 2008: “Don’t blame referee for your own faults” (Daily Mail).

Now I think this is really interesting, because I can’t find a single article saying a referee was at fault, let alone one saying that PGMO is at fault, or indeed anyone saying anything negative about the referees apart from the Sun article which calculated referee errors this season (but didn’t go any further in criticising them).

Mind you the Guardian did point out in March 2016 that “Referees are contractually not allowed to talk to the media” so I suppose one argument could be that the media are hired by PGMO to do the arguing on their behalf – in favour of refs.

Such unanimity is unknown in any other aspect of journalism, aside perhaps from when the UK is at war with an overseas enemy, or when someone is arrested for a horrific crime.

But war, crime and referees, and the refs’  association as a no-go area for critical – it seems an awfully funny mix.  Why is it that no one single major news outlet will actually say, “hang on a minute, there is something odd going on with the way PGMO is organised?”

5: Who is believable?

On 8 August 2013 the general manager of PGMO did a Q and A session which was published on the Premier League’s web site which said,

The statistics from last season reveal that there was a considerable improvement in the lofty standards of refereeing in the Barclays Premier League. From offside calls hitting a 99% accuracy rate for the third season running to a 21% fall in red cards, refereeing proficiency hit a new high last term.

Later the same article says,

Major decisions were correct in 94% of instances…

Of course you might feel that this figure is correct and the figures produced by various referees on the Referee Decisions web site, or on Untold, are woefully inaccurate, but I have to say, those figures look extraordinarily high to me, and for me to believe them I’d need to see an analysis comparable with that given by Walter and Usama.  PGMO must have such analyses, and this raises another point.

As referees are doing so well, why not publish the detailed Untold-style analysis, and prove the point to us?

But when we add to the mix the fact that the refereeing model used in the PL is uniquely, among top leagues, one that is based on the Calciopoli era I have my doubts.

6: The questions remain…

1 – Why, alone among the big leagues, follow a set up that was implicated as part of the problem during the Calciopoli era?   Why not do as in the other major leagues and use a method that obviously has a lower likelihood of corruption?

2 – Why is the only commentary we see on referees in the mainstream media one saying that we should talk about them less?  Why does no one express a different view?  It seems very, very unusual for a newspaper not to seize on an opportunity to get known for running a different line.

3- Why is PGMO so inward looking and secretive?  Why does it not engage more with the fans?

I remain deeply suspicious of PGMO.   And even if you don’t agree with all the arguments here, the simple fact that we have now shown that PGMO deliberately uses the model that led to the Calciopoli scandal should suggest something is wrong.

7: But is this proof?

Each time we have brought up this issue we have had people who say, things like, “if you have evidence, present it to the authorities, or else shut up,” or the variant, “you won’t have proof until you have recordings of conversations fixing games.”

These are points of views, but not views that I share.  Clearly a small organisation like Untold, even one that has the readership of the size we have, can’t mount a covert phone tapping operation in the way that the Italian authorities did (it would in fact be illegal under UK law). Such investigations need to be carried out by the authorities, if they have a mind to do it.

All we can do is say that this situation does look very dubious indeed, and as always, invite PGMO to come back and explain why it acts like it does.  The fact that they never do this just adds to my frustration over the affair, but does not take away the main point.

If you see something that looks to you very dubious and possibly corrupt, you have the choice of saying nothing, or of saying, “look I don’t have firm evidence, but this does look very strange to me.”  The other party can then either respond and a debate can happen, or they can hide away and say nothing.

If a man is spotted by a police office lurking by a jewellers shop with a bag of equipment such as drills and cutting tools, explosives, the police officer might at least challenge the man.  If the man explains that he works for a company developing a new building site near by and was simply on his way home and decided to look for a ring for his girlfriend, he might still be asked to accompany the officer to the station, so his story can be checked out.

And in a sense this is what I am suggesting the media ought to be doing vis a vis the PGMO.  They should be checking out the story.

That is what I think Untold has been doing all the time: highlighting a dubious situation, and inviting PGMO to reply through a medium of their choice, while inviting the media to take a look too.  The fact that they will not reply seems a little curious to me and reflects poorly on the media, as much as the whole situation of using the old Italian model of refereeing reflects badly on PGMO.

If I were running the PL I think I might invite the PGMO in to explain.  If I were the editor of a national newspaper, I think I’d ask the sports editor into my office to explain.  If I were a fan (which of course I am) I’d be totally pissed off.

Recent Posts

From the ancient days when newspapers held football to account…

  • 30 May 1960: The Times published a long piece denouncing the inauguration of the Football League Cup which replaced the Southern Floodlit Cup.  Despite winning the SFC the previous season, Arsenal declined to be part of the League Cup.


20 comments to Using a refereeing system based on Calciopoli – implications and press reaction.

  • virg

    Thanks for publishing.

  • Andy Mack

    I suspect the people that should be looking into this (the press) are more worried about losing their access to the clubs by ‘pissing off’ the PGMO and therefore the PL than they are in finding a story which could lead to bad publicity for the PL.
    If they found any irregularities without finding firm proof of corruption then no one would be especially interested but the PL would still hold the grudge against the journalist which could cause problems for them.
    Whereas although actual proof of corruption would create a short term media frenzy, the likely mid-long term effects would be to reduce interest in the PL and reduce many ‘football journalist’ job prospects on this gravy train.

  • WalterBroeckx

    And as we know for fact that individual referees are/have been reading Untold and our referee reviews in the past and they talked about it with each other and mailed to each other about it we can deduct that the PGMO knows about us and has read us.
    So they could answer us. Even in private and show us their evidence.
    We might even agree on not publishing it if they would ask not to publish it. Well I would consider such a thing, don’t know about Tony. 😉
    So they know about us, know about our questions but remain silent. Why???

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    I had an interesting conversation with someone sitting in front of me at halftime a few games ago. He asked me what my ‘thing’ about referees was and I told him. He claimed to have access to the PGMO figures but said that it was impossible to pass them on to anyone outside the PGMO. He also claimed to know Mike Riley on a personal basis and that he was completely honest and above board. I even offered to go over one of our referee reviews privately with him on a not for publication basis.

    He seemed as cross as me when another of our players was fouled in the penaltiy area in the second half but then quietly accepted the ref as being correct when the inevitable non penalty decision was given.

    I know I trust my eyes when I see things, he clearly didn’t trust his.

  • Pat

    Three very interesting articles. Thanks, Tony and team. Hope someone takes note.

    Interesting point, Andrew. It is a pity so many people bow to a ‘higher power’ on matters like this rather than trusting the evidence of their own eyes and their own intelligence.

  • Ken1945

    When I was a referee (grade 3), a club reported me for what they considered bad decisions, I was asked to give my thoughts on the matter.
    At no time was the club believed before me and I actually refereed the team in question the following week in a cup semi-final!
    The club was informed of the outcome of my meeting with the referees association and no more was heard of the matter.
    What I am leading up to is this: Does any club have the right to officially report a referee in the premier league?
    If they do, then why haven’t Arsenal done so before now?
    I am completely with Untold for producing these facts, but the silence from the premier league clubs is worrying.
    Why wasn’t the referee fined for his admitted mistakes at the recent battle between Chelski and the Spuds
    Instead he is given the cup final and then the Champions League final!
    What about the Chelski Arsenal game where Dean got all the big decisions wrong, the real culprit banned and yet (as far as I know) no official protest from either club?
    As long as the clubs continue to allow this to go on, the referees will continue be above the law.

  • Zedsaunt


    It’s a point I keep returning to trying to work out the ‘why’ of the PGMOB – why are they allowed to straddle the space between the EPL and the FA and, simultaneously, in the embodiment of that space, be the sole arbiters of a contest between two teams, each team costing millions?

    Where do we find the sense behind this? Who are the FA? The control of sport appears to be tied in to a continuous slush fund of TV money, sold to the TV as rights, and upheld by a quasi-legal status, yet there is nothing in the control of sport that ties that control to a country, a declaration of independence, an entity existing on the planet as a geographical identity.

    It floats. A carpet, yet below that carpet, still governed by the same rules of the quasi-legal authority, the EPL, the FA, allow the PGMOB to exercise an interpretation of the game’s rules different fron the interpretation of the rules found elsewhere, as we find out everytime we play outside England.

    The EPL is the greatest league on the planet!!! The EPL is massive entertainment!!! After reading these articles – many thanks for them, as ever – maybe the EPL is this island’s contribution to world sport, a cage, the key in the hands of the ref.

  • Why?
    The only conclusion I can come close to is that between the PMGO the Media and the FA somethings are horribly wrong. Whatever is happening it seems they may be all complicated and that is a sad state of affairs in the EPL. To have a refereeing body that answer’s to no one but themselves is totally wrong. It’s very secretive and the £50,000 for not writing or speaking of your time as a referee stinks to high heaven, it’s the PMGO not MI5 or MI6. The money flowing around the game is also one of the answers and clubs may not want to rock the.boat as the Italian Type lll may also be a deterrent. It all leaves a very bad smell and people are entitled to their own opinion ask am but this I can truly say hand on heart that I believe it to be if corrupt because I have seen with my own eyes season after season just what they have done to my club and it’s rotten and disgusting just like those who run it.

  • Mandy Dodd

    It is all very hard to explain, but I do wonder if the pgmol/EPL/FA were seen by the world to be manipulated by a humble football manager…Fergie, and others, even more powerful saw how easily they could be bossed as a result.
    Some, still in power may have done things that compromised themselves and their respective, organisations, even if they didn’t set out to corrupt, they were bullied, showed weakness, compromised themselves, and are now at the ,erect of forces that dwarf Fergie in power, and maybe even unpleasantness.
    Some of the money on the game comes from money launderers, bent bookies, bent agents, bent FIFA and UEFA figures, organised crime. If you compromise yourself in the eyes of such people, it is very hard to extract yourself. There will be substantial rewards, but massive pressures to maintain the status quo.
    But , if such things have gone on, one day, somebody ….disgruntled, mistreated, jealous…..will spill the beans , in even the tightest of ships. And the media will then, and perhaps only then, turn. But there will be no winners, this will wreck this league, and I am sure all concerned, including those who run our club know this.
    Riley, honest and above board……made me laugh….has this person recently seen the utube footage of a certain game in Manchester a few years back?

  • para

    Thumbs up.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A big LIKE from me. Still praying for a whistleblower of a ‘Deep throat’ type to spill the beans . So some secret and personal ‘exchanges ‘ wrongly sent or received by the wrong/right party .
    What fun we shall all have

  • WalterBroeckx

    If anyone can say after match 50 that Riley is honest and above board…. well then I am speechless. If that were a dozen “honest mistakes” all by coincidence against Arsenal….. then he should have resigned as a referee after that match and leave football for the rest of his life. That is what a real honest man would have done if he had looked back at that match and what he had done or failed to do. Because if that was honest he was not capable and not worthy of being a ref at that level. I think most Sunday morning pub league refs would have done better than Riley did in match 50.

    But by continuing as a referee and taking up the post he has at the PGMO he dismissed himself the claim of being honest and above board.

  • finsbury

    i found a ream of gibberish by well known hack dwarf attempting to argue against the data presented in the previous article? Warning: the Presstitute cannot produce anything other then Opinion to support his counter factual conjecture. The following is no better an effort then any troll attempting and failing to troll this article:

    “In the last however many years — could be 10, could be 20, it’s hard to say — football has become increasingly obsessed with the man in the middle. It is an article of faith for many now that not only are games just as likely to be won and lost by referees as they are by players, but that officials are getting worse. Standards are slipping. It is almost universally accepted. But then a lot of universally accepted things are nonsense, and this is no different.

    Instead of things getting worse, there is an optical illusion at play here. It is best expressed as an equation. There are more football matches on television now than ever before. There are more cameras at each of those games, many of them functioning in slow motion. There are more pundits watching those cameras, each of them analysing the game’s key incidents, and more people writing about what happened”

    Written by football hack Rory Smith? The same hack who got paid by the AAA to talk to them? Now you know why they regurgitate such weak confer factual memes. Hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. Paying people to tell you what to think.
    who could imagine a football writer in 2016 calling for more help and protection for officials (um, more officials?) given what we all know happens in the world of professional sport? Like Rugby Football? Smith here is attempting (& failing!) to do the opposite. It is strange behaviours or a “sports fan”. Perchance any replays?
    You can all read one of Smith’s colleagues in the guardian this weekend confirming that a FUFA official was told by the third official to send of Zidane in the 2006 final after he saw a replay – so officials can use replays when they feel like it, when they are in ‘the mood’ but no, that’s not been a story any football hack had felt that football fans deserve to hear. Smith’s words are not just counter factual and disingenuous, they are clearly are written by someone who doesn’t care about sport?

    To repeat: the AAA pay these people to talk to them.
    You couldn’t make it up.

  • Jambug

    As has already been said, 3 very enlightening and some what worrying articles.

    But alas I fear no matter how much effort the good people at Untold do to highlight some of the deeply worrying aspects of football, it will make no difference what so ever, unless, at least to begin with, 2 things change.

    1) The main stream media take a serious interest in exposing these issues.

    2) The apathy of the general footballing public is overcome.

    Personally I think 2 would follow 1, but is 1 EVER likely to happen. No chance.

    Over the recent weeks Untold has published fantastic articles regarding:

    a) FIFA’s backtracking on any semblance of progress they had made to combat fraud/bribery (you name it really) by employing a process of self policing.

    b) Uefa setting there own drugs rules.

    c) And of course the many worrying aspects of PGMO and how the referees are organised, as well as how they perform of course.

    But, as I say, until the mainstream media pick up on all this I’m very much afraid, if you can excuse the term, we are just ‘pissing in to the wind’.

    Working within earshot of Selhurst park I work amongst a lot of Palace fans, and of course Selhurst being a suburb of London there is a lot of United fans too, obviously !

    I asked the question that’s been posed on here. That being, why did Clattengerg referee the CL final in a completely different way to the FA cup final?

    –“Well it was United wasn’t it?”

    Well yes I said, but is that good enough?

    –“Well not really, but what can you do?”

    And that’s the point. They know it goes own but do they really care? I mean REALLY care?

    No they don’t. It’s been forever this way and this way it will stay. Some even bought up the old chestnut that “All the BIG teams get favoured”, which includes us of course.

    I made the foolish error of broadening the debate to bring in the wider problems highlighted above.

    It took all of 30 seconds before they all glazed over. They do NOT give a shit.

    Or am I wrong?

    Do any of you, the UA regulars that are so passionate about these subjects get a different reaction when you broach these subjects with your footballing mates?

    Or do you just not bother because you know the response you’ll get?

    I’d be interested to know, is it just the good folk of Croydon who are so apathetic, or is it indeed, as I suspect, a Nationwide condition?

  • Andy Mack

    Ken, there are strict procedures for complaints. Complain about your Bank, Insurance or whatever, and you may finally get a reasonable ‘correction’ of whatever you’re complaining about but only if you do it correctly. As I understand it, a club is only allowed to complain in the first instance to the PMGO and if that fails then take it to the PL, and I think their penultimate step is the FA before going to UEFA.
    The operations involved their don’t exactly inspire confidence do they?

    Football clubs aren’t allowed to go to their countries legal systems and governments aren’t allowed to interfere with the sport it’s self (beyond things like ABH or corruption/tax evasion) as restated by Fifa some time back when an African Government was interfering with it’s national team and was warned it would be excluded from a tournament unless the government stepped away.

    It’s not allowed by clubs to make public negative remarks about officials or about the governing bodies, and we’ve seen clubs and managers fined for doing so.
    I’m pretty certain that much more bullying of the clubs goes on behind the scenes by the PL/FA, which they have to endure both legally and financially.

    So each game report done by the club (I assume by the manager and his team) would I’m certain be depressing reading for the PMGO/PL if they actually read it but I doubt they ever do.

  • Jambug


    “What about the Chelski Arsenal game where Dean got all the big decisions wrong, the real culprit banned and yet (as far as I know) no official protest from either club?”

    I believe there was a small protest, at least in the media, that came from Chelsea.

    But about the Ref? Not a chance.

    I think by now this was the 3rd or 4th time that Costa had been ‘retrospectively’ red carded.

    Chelsea being Chelsea, didn’t see it that Costa, and in turn Chelsea, had got away without having to play with 10 men on numerous occasions. No of course not. Apparently it was they who where being wronged because Costa was being ‘picked on’ with these retrospective cards.

  • I think the clubs can protest but only behind closed doors. They are not allowed to go public with objections to the officiating. Any time a manager goes public he is usually fined by the FA.

    The point about the media and discussion of the refs is valid. The ESPN pundits talk about refs in the MLS very openly and often. These same pundits never talk about refs in the EPL in the same way. This will happen in a week where there was clear evidence of refs influencing the out come in the EPL and were there was controversy in the MLS. Two different leagues but the same pundits. After seening this several times I can only suspect that ESPN pundits have a gag order regarding officiating in the EPL but are free to comment in the MLS.

  • Ken1945

    Thanks Andy Mack and Jambug:
    There is one so-called Arsenal fan who could get the press media to look further at this….if only he wasn’t on a crusade against Arsene.
    Yes our own Piers Morgan.
    On the issue of Riley and that game, I was told that he does admit he made mistakes. A friend told me he saw him speaking at a function and was asked about this match and admitted it. True or not I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice just to ask him?
    Another little fact about my reffing days…we were told that any really offensive swearing (f** or c*** etc) was an automatic sending off. Players were then fined anything from £25 to £50 and banned for three games. These were normal working guys and I felt bad when seeing their punishment handed out. Just imagine how much Rooney would be out of pocket and how many games he would have missed if Riley instructed the “elite” referees to automatically do the same?
    Again, one rule for the rich etc etc

  • norman14

    I think that the ONE honest investigative reporter, Andrew Jennings, is probably both physically and mentally knackered following his years of working against FIFA.

    Perhaps he could be persuaded, but as he has not already hinted at any domestic investigation, I’d think it’s most doubtful; after all, he is now into his 70’s.

  • Gord

    In the News

    Daily Star has a story about why Andries Jonker joined Arsenal:

    While not directly about refereeing, TheRegister has an article about Brexit which to me reads almost the same as PGMO.

    NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and NIH (Not Invented Here) are part of it. You will NOT bring that foreign thing into MY sphere of influence. You must use things that originated here.

    > Often, it seems like places outside of London and Oxbridge don’t even exist, and you either have to be based there, or at least have studied there at some stage. The acceptance of this status quo is deeply rooted in British society.

    And this is different from PGMO only taking northerners in what way?

    > Speaking of Empire. Something that I’ve never quite understood: How do you justify colonising from Cape to Cairo? I’m just asking, as nowadays you seem to hold quite strong views about foreigners and that they should stay in their home countries. Pesky migrants.

    This is echoed by the public and medja of foreigners in football.

    > Sadly, it’s not just the uneducated English Defense League, Britain First or their UKIP brethren who’re saying that. It’s your government, who use cheap rightwing messages to appease the masses. Is it to distract from their own mistakes, as the fault for the misery of the working class lies deeply embedded in the British culture and the British governments of the past 30 years?

    The government is not going to fix football. Heck, it can’t even fix itself. How many elections need to go by before the public can vote in reasonable people?

    > I remember a case when an English plumber left a gaping hole in our cistern to accommodate an ill-fitting mechanism, a solution considered “not good, but what can you do…” by most of our British friends.

    What do you mean, officiate football as laid out in the rules? We’ve been doing it this way since the game began, and we will continue to play like neanderthal.

    But you invented football. Everyone should be following your example.

    No, football might have been invented in England, it was not invented by English. As far as I know, football was invented by a bunch of Italians who happened to be in the area 2000 years ago.