By Tony Attwood
Since our two reviews of referee decisions across the first 160 Premier League games of this season, complete with the links to video evidence the PGMO (the highly secret organisation that runs refereeing using the approach that led to the Italian refereeing scandal of 2006) has been preparing to make a riposte.
When we first ran stories about the development of video technology in European leagues, comparing this move with the total lack of action in the Premier League, the PGMO responded with two rather feeble press releases which the Daily Telegraph dutifully published.
However the Telegraph has since seen the way the wind is blowing over referees, and with other newspapers picking up on the idea that all is not well in the world of refereeing the PGMO have clearly needed another outlet for their views.
In choosing Sky Sports they have picked a safe bet. Sky pundits only ever criticise a referee with a chuckle, along the lines that the ref got it wrong by well, we can all make mistakes, and anyway, did you see Merse drive up the motorway fast asleep? That sort of thing.
The rest of the time, to protect its investment in PL games it not only will not hold back in challenging the competence of referees, it consistently manipulates images to change the context of the game – the obvious being in terms of time wasting, and the refusal to measure the amount of stoppage time independently of the referee, which of course they could easily do.
So Sky Sports it is for the PGMO, and the broadcaster has done the secret society proud, claiming (without any resource to the sort of video evidence that Untold provided) that “Premier League referee makes around 245 decisions per game”.
They then remove 45 technical decisions (is it a goal kick or corner, that sort of thing) and then say the rest (a nicely rounded 200 decisions) relate to judging physical contact and disciplinary actions. According to them in around 17% of cases action is taken, and in 83% no action is taken.
And then we have it…
In total, refs make around five errors per game, meaning they are right 98 per cent of the time.
Having made the announcement (without any of the sort of detailed analysis that each of our referee reviews gives, the rest of the press release is about being fit, attitudes towards referees, the great work the PGMO (now suddenly renamed PGMOL once more) does, and how the game has changed.
But it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realise what an absolute misuse of statistics that is, because the figures clock up events which no normal person would ever consider a “decision”. For example, if I run a bath I test the water before I get in. That’s a decision in PGMOL talk. I don’t stick my hand under the hot tap while it is running, because I know that the hot water in my house is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody hot. But for PGMOL that decision not to risk a scalding, would be a “decision”. I don’t put my hand under the tap, one more correct decision for Mr Attwood.
So the player at the start of the match kicks the ball from the centre spot. The referee notices he has kicked it. Not sat on it. Not licked it with his tongue. Not picked it up and tried a drop goal in the style of rugby. He kicks it. Good. That obeys the rules. The game continues. One correct decision.
OK those are extreme cases, but consider the average throw in. Although some throw ins are contested, most are utterly obvious in terms of which side should take it. And the ref gets that right. More accurate decisions.
But that leads on to a very odd area: where should the throw in be taken from? Watch any match and I bet you a 25p cup of coffee from a transport cafe of your choice, that almost all throw ins are taken from the wrong position. What the referee does is allow leeway in order to avoid annoying the players and the fans, and to keep the game moving. When the ref does point out that the player is in the wrong position then it is rare for the ref to point out exactly where the throw in should be: the referee instead waves the player back in a rather vague manner, the player moves ten paces back and then takes a nine step run up.
You can quickly see how the 98% figure could be defended. On the basis that every event in the match is a decision, yes the referee might well get 98% right (although actually when I start thinking about Law 15, with its rule that the player must
- throw the ball with both hands from behind and over the head from the point where it left the field of play
I quickly reach the view that 99% of throw ins are not taken from the right place.
Now ok, you can say the referee is showing a bit of common sense, and that’s fine – but once you start taking odd elements of the Laws and interpreting them with common sense rather than the letter of the law, then the statistics need to reflect this.
So what we have now is that we can see that a huge percentage of the decisions that referees take are obvious: as when it’s a goal kick because a forward shot over the bar and no defender was nearby. No one appeals, no one sees it differently. But it counts towards the 98%.
And then we have the decisions which are approximations to the Laws. Personally I don’t really think it matters too much if the player is three feet from where the ball went out when he/she takes a throw in. But once one acknowledge approximations the whole point about measuring levels of accuracy vanishes.
Then if we bring in time wasting by goalkeepers – what happens to the 98% accuracy level?
It is, in fact a propaganda exercise by PGMO(L) and as is normal with that organisation, it is handled quite ineptly. Meanwhile Sky, like BT Sport, employ ex referees to comment on refereeing decisions primarily to uphold the quality of their product – they know people will switch off if it becomes clear that matches are not ruled with the 98% accuracy level.
But at least we can be grateful for the fact that none of the newspapers ran the story.
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