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June 2021

Who are the most fouled players? A clever way of forcing you to believe that the referees are always right.

By Tony Attwood

There is an article on the Telegraph web site at the moment with the headline “The top 20 most fouled Premier League players of the season – can you guess the No 1?”

It’s a beguiling idea – an analysis of which players are kicked to death and which don’t get the treatment.  Except there is a problem.

You see there is no definition given of what a foul is.    And the pretty pictures of players being savagely brought down, which surround the headline, stop us thinking about such things – we jump straight in and wonder how many players of our team are on the “most fouled” list.

But if we do think for a moment, an awkward question arises.  Are we counting actual real live fouls that video footage shows are fouls, or are we just thinking about the fouls that referees give.  And at once we can realise, of course, that we are thinking about the fouls that referees give.  That is obviously what is counted.

OK, that is all completely obvious, but behind this there is an implication.  Let us suppose that either through being bent or through incompetence, a substantial number of actual fouls are not given.  What then?  Would that change the figures?   The answer is almost certainly yes.  Certainly it would if referees have been bought by clubs and are indulging in match fixing, because in this case they would be giving more fouls than they ought against some players, and fewer than they ought against others.

Now of course in this case, the players would not be told by their manager “we’re all right today Mr Unfit-Plodder is refereeing us today and he’s on our side, so kick the hell out of anyone passing”.   But after ten minutes or so it is going to be clear to both sides that things are not as they should be, and the side with the referee working on their behalf will have players indulging in worse and worse tackles knowing that they are going to get away with almost anything.  The opposition will know that they are being penalised for anything and everything, and so be ever more cautious.

As for the referee who is just plain incompetent, one might hope he would give out free kicks for fouls at random.  Except that a ref who has managed to get to the PL level with such a range of incompetence is most likely to be influenced by referee chatter about who is and who is not a “dirty” player. So in order to try and make himself look more competent than he is, he will ape the behaviour of his more competent colleagues.  If Mr Perfect says “That Gabriel is a dirty player, and always up for a fight – you need to watch him,” then Mr Unfit-Plodder will look at every 50/50 occasion involving Gabriel and whistle against him.

Thus the Telegraph table of “The top 20 most fouled Premier League players of the season” makes the simple assumption that all referees are of a high quality, and none have been bought.

But the approach is more insidious than that, because most people will read the article without even realising that they are buying into the notion that “referees are accurate”.   In so doing, this notion is amplified and established more firmly in the brains of the readers.

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So is there any reason to believe that referees are uneven when it comes to saying what is a foul and what is not?

Certainly the two in-depth analyses of refereeing that we have been involved in reveal that there is.  The first was the series of reviews in Referees Decisions in which referees who had no association with Untold Arsenal, nor with Arsenal FC by way of supporting the club, monitored matches on TV, and recorded their decisions, and compared them with the referee on the field of play.  The conclusion throughout was that the level of refereeing in the PL was poor.

Then there was our analysis of the first 160 games of the current season, which is presented with video evidence.   Each and every incident is considered and reconsidered looking at the video evidence and compared with the referee’s decision, and here the referees have again been found to be seriously wanting.

Now this approach has been objected to by some who say that because it was undertaken by Arsenal supporters, the reviews cannot be taken seriously.   There are three reasons to dismiss this view.  One is that the video evidence is there and anyone can go back over the analysis and point out the errors of the reviewers.  The question then is, are the reviewers accurate or not?  No one has done a re-analysis of the data and come to different conclusions overall.

Another reason to dismiss the doubts about this view, is that the Referee Decisions reviews came out with broadly similar conclusions to those reached in the analysis of 160 games at the start of this season.  The third is that in games not involving Arsenal non-even multiple errors were found as they were in Arsenal games.

Thus all the evidence we have suggests that any analysis of events on a PL pitch which take the referee’s view as the basis for the statistics are likely to be faulty.   Often significantly so.

There is one further point to consider here: the role of PGMO – the organisation that runs PL refereeing.

When one sees an organisation that is obviously open, which willingly receives public scrutiny and answers it, and which is happy to show its workings to the wider world, one is more likely to believe what that organisation says.  When one sees an organisation that is closed to public scrutiny, one is less likely to believe the organisation.  Organisations that are secret, are secret for a reason, and it is quite hard to understand why PGMO is so secret if it has nothing to hide.

When one also recognises that the PGMO is based on the organisational structure that was used in Italy in 2006 and which was in a major way responsible for the match fixing that took place at that time, one doubts further.

PGMO endlessly claim that referees get 98% of their decisions right.  We found this hard to believe for a long time, until it was made clear that PGMO were counting every event on the pitch.  So a goal kick is taken.  Is it taken from within the right zone.  Yes?  One correct decision.   Did the ball go out of the penalty area before being touched again?  Yes, another correct decision.  There’s a throw in.  Did the player have both hands on the ball? Yes.  Another correct decision.

Do that enough and you get lots of little correct decisions, to make up your 98% accuracy level.  It’s a true statistic.  Referees do get 98% of decisions right.  But it is a meaningless statistic, because most of those decisions are never questionable.

So the Telegraph asks, “The top 20 most fouled Premier League players of the season – can you guess the No 1?”

What we should ask is, “how are you counting the fouls?” and then “why are you counting them this way?”   In this case I think they are counting referee given fouls, which leads me to ask, “given all the evidence now being accumulated, what on earth makes you think that the number of fouls given against players by referees in the PL has anything to do with the number of fouls committed?”

That last, is probably the most interesting question of all and the answer says quite a lot about the Telegraph’s close relationship with PGMO.

 There is more about our work in “160 games analysed”

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18 comments to Who are the most fouled players? A clever way of forcing you to believe that the referees are always right.

  • Nitram

    Love him or hate him, I think Giroud is massively under protected by referees.

    It appears to me defenders are given the freedom of the park to foul him at will, without fear of punishment.

    Also, he never seems to get anything like the penalties he should.

    Not only that, but conversely he often gets pulled up for the slightest contact on an opponent.

    He could be top of the list, he definitely should be on it, but I bet he’s nowhere near it.

  • Norman14

    I got a letter from my MP today, saying she has written to Tracy Crouch and enclosed my correspondence. I will be advised of any reply from Ms Crouch.

    Not sure what happens now – maybe have to wait till parliament re-convenes after the election.

  • Gord

    OT: Tax problems has commented on issues at TheRegister a number of times. They seem to be quite competent (Out-Law is a branch of a law firm).

    They do have a comment on the tax issue, and that article references another recent article by them on image rights and HMRC.

  • Chris

    well we’re 5 points from 4th with a game in hand….and 6 from 3rd with 2 games…
    this end of the season is going to be some cliffhanger…

  • Gord

    I see the MoanU-ManC game ended scoreless. Felli-elbows got a red, and ashley young was on for an entire 0 minutes at the end, and managed to not be carded for diving in all that time.

    I think 0-0 was about the best we could have hoped for. Now watch Walter come along and suggest something else would have been better. 🙂

  • Nitram


    Problem is:

    Spurs away.

    Man Utd at home.

    Sorry, but I cant see us getting anything from those 2 games.

    Even though Spurs are getting favourable refereeing there is no doubt they are a very solid team and are brimming with confidence. Those factors suggest to me a very difficult game on Sunday. As I say, I just cant see us coming away with anything.

    United are no great shakes, but as they showed tonight, in the best tradition of a Mourihno team they do know how to park the bus. So unfortunately I think a point is the best we can hope for, but alas with the expected favours United will get I cant even see that.

    Then it’s Southampton and Stoke away.

    Never easy places to go.

    So overall if we got 4 draws from those games that wouldn’t be a bad return under normal circumstances, but this isn’t normal circumstances and 4 points wouldn’t be enough for a top 4 spot.

    But as I say, I think it’s unlikely we’ll get that.

    That is one tough run of matches.

  • Al

    So wanyama committed two reckless tackles that were so dangerous that potchetino had to sub him off at half-time to protect him, but moss didn’t send him off? Hmmm, I wonder who the next team he will face is.. and I’m sure he will be back to his thuggery best in that match and will still not get sent off. However I can foresee him getting sent off for something less dangerous in subsequent matches after the next match.

    In other news the daily mail is reporting ‘Wenger to meet again with Anthony Taylor a ref he branded “dishonest” after the Burnley encounter….’

    I know someone will soon be round here to say it’s all conspiracy lunacy, bla bla bla.. and yes, I understand. See, I used to be surprised, and wonder, if those that fail to see the obvious bias against Arsenal, as in the two cases above, were being genuine in their beliefs there was no bias. Or if they were just choosing not to see what they didn’t want to see. But after seeing the mess that’s unfolding in the US (trump’s sheer incompetence, blatant corruption and nepotism, the shocking hypocrisy & double standards, the mind-boggling ignorance, all the lying… – I mean he’s managed to turn the world’s strongest democracy into a totalitarian state in record time) and how some choose to turn a complete blind eye to all that, shows we are truly blessed with some special individuals who live amongst us in this world. Really special lot. Trump could shoot someone live on TV, brand it fake news or blame Obama, and his base will still believe him. Trump’s presidency, although not related in any way to football, has really opened my eyes to how some human beings function.

    I thank his presidency, despite How utterly revolting and all the potential it has to destabilise this world for good, for providing some answers to how certain groups or people’s minds are wired and to understand how they think. I’m never wasting my time ever again arguing about football, or any other topic for that matter, again with such people. It’s a total waste of my precious time, which I’ll never get back. They only believe what they want to believe, and no amount of arguing, persuasions or whatever facts you present to them will change them.

    So yeah, I fully expect to see wanyama butchering our players this weekend without any repercussions, and they’ll still blame Wenger for the fallout/consequences. I think to maintain my sanity I’ll avoid watching, and just learn of the result later on.

  • Al

    The daily mail report on Wenger and Taylor is referring to the fa cup final by the way.

  • JimB


    My guess is that you didn’t see the Wanyama tackles last night. Or, for that matter, much of Wanyama generally this season.

    Words like “dangerous”, “thuggery” and “butchering” are very colourful and emotive, certainly. They’re also, in the context that you used them, risible, hyperbolic, paranoid, hysterical and plain inaccurate.

  • para

    I must admit that it looks, on current form, to be a horrible next 2 games, our biggest enemies. (One (mister p) even was assistant to the other (mister m), and neither of them liked that much by Arsenal).

    I also do not have much hope of winning both, and i guarantee that if Arsenal were to do so,

    “There will be peace in the valley(emirates)” to quote a tune i heard long ago.

    Still, Arsenal has been known to surprise us. Let’s all hope for a massive surprise from them in the next times. 🙂

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I’d guess that the most fouled player would be a local , a press favourite , and who falls regularly over at the merest hint of an impending ‘brush’ with an opponent ?
    Probably would had been kicked out of his school’s diving team for over elaborated stimulation .
    Did I win ?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Heart warming tale –

    Lady : ” Doctor , I’m sick !Everything is spinning and my heart is burning .”

    The man replies : “Madam , first , I’m not a doctor ; I’m a bartender . Second , you are not sick , you’re drunk. And third , your heart is not burning , your left boob is in the ashtray !”

    ( Those of you who may be offended by this joke , could always retell it by replacing the ashtray with a bowl of hot soup , or spicy Tom Yum ,Wasabi , or any hot chillie dish . )

  • Brickfields Gunners

    The Brickfields Gunners Blog vehemently denies that the violence at last week’s semi-final was caused by disgruntled fans .

    “There was not even a single disgruntled Arsenal fan at the stadium , as far as I could see from the comfort of my home on my 55′ tv .” , says he. “Probably it was **** f*ckers waving their stupid banners that might have provoked and pissed off the Man City fans!”

  • Damonstroble

    How can you write an article like this that directly cites a specific Telegraph article and not supply the link to it?

    Shabby blogging at best. At worst, a deliberate attempt to not provide evidence. Which it please?

  • Damon… If you find Untold shabby, then it is perhaps best if you don’t read the site any more.

  • Damonstroble

    Can’t you just stick a link up to the article please?

    For a site that claims to be based on facts with evidence, I’d just like a link to what you mention to see the facts for myself


  • Mubi

    I totally agree. And i wonder what the aim of the article is. To moan that arsenal didn’t dominate the most fouled list or to complain that every such list is useless since its based on inaccurate refereeing, but then again if the latter was the case, you would have to consider all those articles on untold celebrating arsenal as top or near top of the Fair play table as useless, since they are also based on the “inaccurate refereeing”

  • I am really sorry you don’t get the point of the article, but the theme has been spelled out many times before. All media seek to control the agenda of the news – deciding what is news and what is not. Then having done that they report the news in their own way, thus leading to a double bias. The Telegraph does not admit that it is possible that there might be something wrong with refereeing, and do it in a subtle way as per the article cited here.