How a referee can bend a match to fix the result: the inside story

By Walter Broeckx

I think it must have been 7 or 8 years ago I wrote on Untold that if you  appointed me as the ref of a match between let us say Manchester United and a 3rd division team I maybe could force a win for the 3rd division team. I said “maybe” because it isn’t 100% sure. But if I were determined to force a result, as a ref I could use every trick in the book that a ref has to unbalance a team.

Now most people who are not referees would think that I would blow penalty after penalty for that imaginary 3rd division team. But no, that wouldn’t be the way to do it. Of course if the chance arises to blow a penalty for them I would do it. But that would not be the primary way of handling it.

No the way to tilt a match is to get under the skin of the players of one team. So how do you do that? Well that is rather easy. In fact it sometimes even happens when you don’t want to tilt the match at all. Because of the nature of the game and the psychology of the players you can do this in a simple way.

Sometimes you have a difficult start of the match. You (by accident) miss a foul from team A but see the same type of foul from team B. So team B will say: hey why didn’t you give the same foul seconds earlier. Now if this just a minor foul it could have no influence. But if the same thing happens again a few minutes later the players of team B might get a bit angry.

And if you keep on repeating that I can assure you that after some 15 minutes team B will start to show signs of displeasure and dissent towards the ref. That is a moment that can be very important in a match.

Because when a team starts to play not just against the opponents on the field but also is more worried about what the ref will do next to harm them… you are under their skin.

This can happen by accident. But this is a tactic you could use if you wanted to fix the match. And when you use it in a deliberate way you are tilting the field of play and it is the sort of thing that maybe some people will not notice it from the outside. Certainly those people who never consider that the referee can make mistakes, or those who only believe in honest mistakes might certainly miss what is going on.

Now of course the mistakes could be honest. But any ref with a bit of experience knows that this is a way of making players angry and getting them to lose their focus on what they should do: play football.

A result is that once players start to lose their focus and shift their focus on to the referees decisions…. then they virtually have lost the match. And once you lost the focus it is difficult to get it back.

I have in my referee career been in a position where I made honest mistakes where one team early in the match thought I was deliberately trying to harm them. When the players think you are trying to tilt the match they will start to argue with the ref and think every decision is wrong and against them. And as a result they will forget to play football.

When I felt that a team lost their focus and turned all their attention on my decisions I tried to tell them that they shouldn’t look at me if they didn’t want to lose. They should stop being so focussed on the refereeing of the match but should start playing football again.

If such a thing happens then I usually tried to talk with the captain at half time when going to the dressing room. If you explain it to the captain and they are receptive to what you are saying (and mostly they are), you can see a different team after the interval.

I know that if I were to be out on the field with the intention of really doing a team over, I could do it and make them lose their heads.  Indeed a quick way to counter the possible feelings a team has is to give a few soft fouls and let them feel that the other team also was punished. A few fouls that in normal circumstances would have passed like a slight push in the back without the team losing the ball. But just to show them that you are not after them or out to get them.

When I was sitting in the Emirates last Sunday I could see the Arsenal players losing their focus and getting more and more upset with the referee and his decisions. And this culminated with the not given foul on Özil and the following penalty.

You could feel it coming before that, (well at least I did), and then I could see the natural reaction of the players who were more looking at the referee than at the ball.   One could argue that professional players shouldn’t lose their head like that, but this is the normal human reaction when people feel badly treated.

Now I don’t know if referee Jones just had a bad day or if he was up to something more sinister. But when you look at our numbers and see he was the ref with the least errors and then to see him make a few remarkable decisions then it feels rather strange.

As if when Arsenal is on the field referees suddenly change and forget what they have been doing rather well in other matches, and make errors that they haven’t made in the other matches we covered from them.

Is it a coincidence? Well we can hope it is. The other explanation really looks too frightening. But then again…..with people like Mike Riley as the head of the referees…what can you expect?

Correct or not, one thing was for sure last Sunday. Jones was under the skin of the Arsenal players and even Özil who rarely protests could be seen shouting something (I think in German) against the ref. It takes a a fair bit of refereeing errors to make Özil lose his cool, but on Sunday Jones managed to do this.

Luckily a good calming down session at the interval managed to get our focus back on the football and our focus was back to beating the opposition and if possible the ref.

But alas the days of excellent refereeing we have seen at the start of the season seems to have gone….Certainly since we have gone in to the title race… but that might be a coincidence of course….


22 Replies to “How a referee can bend a match to fix the result: the inside story”

  1. Very interesting read Walter.

    One thing I noticed during the match is that… Koscienly who is by far the most calm, composed and well disciplined player in the league when it comes to the behaviour and respect towards officals… looked irritated and frustrated with the decisions made.

  2. It does make you wonder about “certain” refereeing decisions over the last couple of weeks, even the referee at the PSG game made some howlers.Is it just that referees aren’t as good anymore?, are they being promoted too soon? or are they as bent as the 3 Bob note.Having watched all the matches so far this season I tend to believe it might be a mixture of all three.But there have been some really dodgy decisions being made by referees which bends me towards option 3 a lot more.
    The police and the governmment have civilian oversight, where’s football’s and the PGMOL’s ?.
    Something has to be done to look at the Pgmol and the Football Association as to why there has been no active investigation into years of allegations.
    And lastly , you’d think the betting firms would be up in arms, after all they stand to lose money if matches are fixed, yet not a peep put of them, that seems just as strange to me also.

  3. I saw the Oezil incident but couldn’t see what happened. It seemed that he was trying to shield the ball and then the next second he was on his Arse. Was he pulled over?

  4. “When I felt that a team lost their focus and turned all their attention on my decisions I tried to tell them that they shouldn’t look at me if they didn’t want to lose. They should stop being so focussed on the refereeing of the match but should start playing football again.”

    No matter how well intentioned this sort of comment might be considered inappropriate ,especially the “if you don’t want to lose ,don’t look at me ”
    part of the above statement.

    Coaching instructions, which clearly what that is, is up to the managers and coaches and not up to the referees.

    In all my years of playing proffesional football and otherwise, I have never heard a ref say that to my team no matter how many calls went against us.

  5. Since November 2004 it has been clear to me, in order for Arsenal to win the Premiership, they have to beat the opposing team, some referees and even some linesmen too. On Sunday against Bournemouth, they were awarded a penalty which wasn’t a penalty, straight after Arsenal should have had a free kick on the edge of Bournemouth’s penalty area, with a red card for stopping a goal scoring opportunity. In the second half, Bournemouth’s captain should have been sent off for a second yellow.
    I obviously do not know what the referee sees in any given situation during an Arsenal match. What I do know is this, that every season, there are several Arsenal games, where if and I repeat if, a referee had placed a bet on Arsenal to lose or draw a game they should win quite comfortably. Or if the referee had accepted a brown envelope full of cash to ensure Arsenal don’t win, they would not have been more unfair towards Arsenal.
    Maybe it’s just bad luck, or Maybe, Arsenal just don’t get involved with bookmakers and offer brown envelopes to referees.

  6. when Kos is frustrated, its the opposing forwards who get the wrath. a smart no nonsense tackle and usually he does get a yellow for it.

  7. I think this article will undoubtedly helped the Gunners to know some hidden agendas in some referees minds when referring in an Arsenal match in any competition when they read it. And try by all means to guide against fallen into the referee’s hidden cynical motive hand by not losing their focus on the playing of the match. but totally focused on the execution of the game at their hands.

    This focusing on their match has been what I’ve been hammering at to the Gunners, because this is one of the essential ingredients to beat any cynical or divisive ploy of the referee trying to do against them in a match.

    In the light of the aforesaid, I implore the Gunners to totally focused on their game in their ELC match against the could be a hard nut to crack Southampton team at the Ems tomorrow night.

  8. He definitely was tilting the pitch. I did wonder during the game if I had seen him get very low scores in ref reviews from last season, coz he was being so bad and blatantly one-sided either he had to be really poor or something was going on. And now finding out that he had good scores last season just confirms something was afoot.

    Seen an article on BBC talking about how Arsenal managed to have the best calendar year wins for 2015, in all of Europe’s top four leagues (sadly this is being announced a year late). Our run of 19 unbeaten is also our longest since 2007. They’re tipping us to do the calendar year thing again this year, with just four weeks of PL football remaining.

  9. Al

    I posted something having to do with this a while ago. It is part of my November slump project, which I am still working on. But, I can do any continuous thing with the data going back to 1996 when Wenger began.

    If I didn’t write anything, I will try to get something out soon (next week most likely). But generating the sum of points over the last 38 EPL games, starting from the finish of 1996/97 and going forward week by week was what I think I had.

    Easier to see as a picture, but there is no easy way to put pictures on Untold.

  10. Walter, I fully agree with your comments. I would also add that the malign presence of some referees e.g. Dean, will probably have our team on edge even before the start of the match. It must be hard for the players to play normally when the bandit in black has previous.

    Add to that – once the match starts and wrong major decisions start, it must be horrible for the players – but on the whole our guys seem to respond quite well – and it is essential that they do so – the only way they can win is to keep their cool, concentrate and play their football – despite the bandit in black.

  11. This crop of players seem more aware of the injustice being perpetrated upon them , but they look like being more resilient and more than capable of taking care of affairs .

  12. I think the reason our guys seem to respond quite well is that they must realize that something is going on and that there isn’t much they can do about it.

  13. For the last few seasons, it is clear that in the great majority of our matches, we have to cope with the additional burdens of bad refereeing. They can’t all be so incompetent so much of the time, so it must be institutional bias. On the rare occasions we get a fair ref performance, it is cause for comment in itself.

    In matches not involving Arsenal, Dean, in particular, has shown that he is a competent referee, so there must be a sinister explanation for his performances in our games.

  14. Joe you ask about betting firms. It’s not Paddy or Ladbrooke you should be looking at but in the far east. That’s where the influence comes from.

  15. Excellent article, Walter.

    If a referee is letting too much go or being overly strict, it may annoy you or put your team at a disadvantage, but you know where you stand and can adapt to it…if it is done even-handedly.

    If you are convinced this isn’t the case, playing your normal game must be extremely difficult. If it really isn’t the case, playing a normal game isn’t even a good option; you have to somehow accept the need to be extra clean while knowing your opponent can get away with things. It’s noticeable and laudable how Coquelin has been able to cut down drastically on his fouls while still doing good work.

    He competed well against Spurs midfield, for instance, while surely knowing if he gave a single opportunity for a yellow then it would duly arrive. I don’t recall a single foul from him. Unfortunately, this meant that in the situation where Dembele ran at us Coquelin didn’t make the foul a defensive midfielder would make there 9 times out of ten.

    He knew it would mean a booking early in second half and that he wouldn’t be able to risk anything resembling a foul afterwards. Spurs players meanwhile would know they could make that foul, perhaps escape a booking, and then make fouls afterwards even if they were booked, with little threat of a second yellow.

    That’s generally the environment we play our football in. It’s why I feel we need to be about 5-10% better than the rest of the league in order to win the title.

    The players do a good job of coping in those circumstances. It got to us first half this week, though, as you said. Ozil looked especially affected as the first half wore on. I think it was him who barged into the back of an opponent long after the ball had gone in a sign of frustration you rarely see from us.

    Walter, maybe you can confirm that refs are given specific instructions to try slow themselves down and buy some time when considering any penalty claim. I hear the whistle went this time before the Bournemouth player was even done with his acrobatics. The Spurs pen also seemed to be given at lightening speed. Over time, it seems reasonable to think any ref should be able to develop that skill of half-stopping when there’s a claim inside the box and giving themselves a vital second to think it over : a pen? Really? Are you sure?

    Knowing the average time it takes before the whistle for pens in our favour vs against would be fun. I suspect they are very different. One testifying to thought, delay and… reluctance (or maybe a pain in the ass linesman getting involved), the other done with great haste, as though they are primed and ready the whole while, waiting for a chance to arrive.

  16. I think they have training like you see when they are portraying US FBI agents training entering a mock scene of conflict where characters pop up and they shoot the bad guys and hold fire when it is a benign character/member of the public.

    Must have special sessions for our away kits.

  17. I think they have training like you see when they are portraying US FBI agents training entering a mock scene of conflict where characters pop up and they shoot the bad guys and hold fire when it is a benign character/member of the public.

    Must have special sessions for our away kits.

  18. @ bjtgooner

    Exactly. And part of the reason teams under Fergie did so well. They knew they had carte blanche to do what they liked when certain refs went to OT……hence the song is “49” undefeated. It should have been more

  19. Now here’s a thought…

    FA CEO Glenn has said he “doubts” there was an FA cover up over child abuse in football.

    Hasn’t the fact that 350+ players have said differently over the past week, proven otherwise?

Comments are closed.