Germany teetering on the brink of potential referee crisis. “Never lose control of your referees”.

by Tony Attwood

Headlines from German and French language papers about the current football crisis in Germany give a warning of the path that they might be tempted to follow

  • The German Football League calls for a new order of referee structure in Germany after the recent chaos.
  • An independent organization of refereeing should solve the problems that have arisen so far.
  • Despite the dismissal of Hellmut Krug as a project manager, the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) wants to stick with the video evidence.
The general conclusion is that after the problems of bullying by senior referees, and tampering with the video evidence, a reorganisation of refereeing in the Bundesliga is inevitable. “The pilot phase of the video assistant has constantly revealed problems that have long existed in some parts of the organisation of refereeing and now finally need to be resolved,” said DFL President Reinhard Rauball on Tuesday.  (And that is an interesting point: it is not primarily a problem with the video system, but the way some senior officials are seeking to tamper with it to protect their own interests.)

The German Football Association (DFB) must “as soon as possible, set up an independent organisation of refereeing with the involvement of the DFL”, says a DFL letter. “Lack of clarity in areas of responsibility and personal disputes should not interfere with this meaningful move.”

But the letter goes on to say: “Only if players, coaches, clubs and spectators can understand the processes and rule interpretations as well as their use, is it possible to gain the necessary acceptance for a meaningful innovation.”

This is where we need to pause with this talk of an “independent organisation of refereeing” because that is exactly what the Premier League has got.  The PGMO.

Of course I don’t know how independent it really is of the Premier League, but it certainly acts like a totally independent body – and that is the problem.   Because the PGMO as an independent body has gone down its own route, doing its own thing, setting rules about what referees should and should not do, offering bribes to ex-referees not to publish memoirs or talk to the media, and becoming a secret society that has no face towards the media and the footballing public.

I know it is an argument I have expressed here 1000 times before, but still people come on this site saying things such as “Do you seriously believe Arsenal lost this match because the ref is bent?”

And that is not the point I am trying to make.  My point is primarily that we do see a lot of very curious refereeing decisions (just read the reviews of the first 160 games of last season which come complete with video evidence).

The question that I then want to ask is ” Why do we have so many referee errors?”  Is it because refs make lots of bad decisions just because they are not able to make the right decisions all the time (because they are incompetent, because the game moves too fast etc etc) or is it because something nefarious is going on?

There is also the fact that PGMO employs few referees compared to the top leagues in other countries.  This raises a potential danger, in that it means that a team like Arsenal can get the same referee six or eight times in a season.   This does not automatically mean the referee is bent, but it means that if the ref were to be bent his influence could be dramatic, since if he were being bribed to fix matches against Arsenal, then instead of having a maximum of two chances to go about his dirty work, he might have six or eight chances in a season.

Restricting the refs to two games per team per season is what most leagues do, and it is a reasonable safety measure.  Doing this doesn’t say refs are bent, but it is just a simple safety measure just in case.  A bit like having an overflow on your bath.  You know you are not going to leave the tap running and let the bath overflow onto the floor, but just in case you do, there is a way of allowing the water to run out without soaking the carpet.  In all walks of life we take basic precautions against things that rarely happen, just in case.   But not, it seems with referees.

This is where the PGMO brings suspicions upon itself.  It has chosen to employ a small number of refs, refusing to allow them to speak out during their careers, doing everything it can to stop them talking publicly after retirement, refusing to openly engage with the football going public and people’s legitimate concerns, and apart from in a few rather odd press releases issued a year or two back, saying nothing at all.  And when it has spoken it has said things that are palpably untrue, like claiming 98% of all major decisions are accurate.

This situation of secrecy in a world in which information is ever more important, is damaging to football and raises suspicions.  Why should PGMO be so secret?  What benefit is there to football in having his secrecy?

I can find no benefits, but there are two major disadvantages.  Secrecy encourages scepticism and disbelief and encourages such disbelief to continue, because there is no open debate.  I want to see PGMO officials sit down and go through a match minute by minute debating each and every possible refereeing error.  Maybe it is not riveting viewing, but do it a few times and it could resolve all my doubts – unless of course the error rate really is as huge as we found in our 160 game analysis.

So when German football talks about an independent referee body I become worried, and from my far off position in England, and with absolutely no influence over anything that happens in German football I would just issue a plea that the German football authorities look at what is happening in England and see it as an approach and a process to be avoided at all costs.

Never, ever, lose control of your referees, because if you do, they will (like all special interest groups) start writing their own rules for their own benefit, not for the benefit of us all.

Recent Posts


27 Replies to “Germany teetering on the brink of potential referee crisis. “Never lose control of your referees”.”

  1. ‘This does not automatically mean the referee is bent, but it means that if the ref were to be bent his influence could be dramatic.’

    Do you think refs are bribed in the PL, yes or no. If so, can you provide any evidence to support this?

  2. I have thought about this a lot and I have a theory about why Mike Riley has kept his job and the media refuses to truly question the refereeing setup in England, despite the referee standards increasingly deteriorating, and PGMOL’s failure to field a team of 20 referees as promised at the time it was setup, or even to allocate the number of games evenly amonst the existing referees.

    Assume that the refs aren’t bent. That there is no agenda against any particular team. That there is no bribe being accepted. That there is no Calciopoli in Engalnd. That there is no north-south divide which permeates most other aspects in the country outside football.

    I think the key is to understand repeated claims by the media that the Premier League is the best league in the world.

    Now English teams haven’t been very successful in Europe lately. So how can it still make this claim? I think when they say the “best league” in the world, they are implying that Premier League is the “most entertaining” league in the world (although for me, the WWE type of enterntainment comes to mind).

    In Spain, the title goes to Barcelona or Madrid most of the time. In Germany, Bayern Munich invariably finds itself in the solitary company of its ownself as league champions most of the year.

    In England though, any team can win against any other on any given day. There are 4-5 teams with the chance of winning the title at the beginning of the season and nobody can predict which.

    So how do you achieve this? Tilt the field a bit in favour of the lower teams who would be no match against the technically superior teams – football rules can go in the dustbin. Hell, we even let the likes of Leicester win the title once in a while by awarding Vardy a penalty everytime he ran at speed into an opposition defender.

    And the media of course doesn’t say a thing because it helps them sell copies and get more viewers. So instead they brainwash the public into beleiving that ref mistakes even out in the long run and anyone who complains otherwise is just a cry baby and this was the best league in the world!

    And that is why nothing changes in the PGMOL, and the weird decisions and mistakes keep on occuring, and Mike Riley keeps his job, and there is still no VaR been introduced in the Premier League.

  3. Alexanderhenry – As you didn’t answer this in the other thread, I’ll ask again: Why would you be so surprised about that when it has been proven to happen in other countries? What’s so different about English referees? Is it just because they’re English and don’t get up to the same kind of stuff that those silly foreign blokes do?

  4. @ Sam Sayyed

    A nice theory, some of which I agree with but actually, the agenda is that certain teams get a lot of help from refs and others get the opposite. Leicester being permitted to win could well have been deliberate in order to promote the openness of the EPL on the TV stage but that doesn’t explain all the years that Man U were gifted decisions (and to a large extent still are) and why Riley saw fit to single-handedly end the invincibles run. Neither does it explain why most referees are from the North West and none are from the South East nor many, many other strange things.

    I concur, however, that it is largely about selling tv rights which will perpetuate the same old things i.e. why people all over the world (and in Mike Riley’s house) support Man U. They have an egotistical need to be associated with glory, therefore give them glory (by fair means or foul), that perpetuates more armchair fans, hence the need to ensure they get more glory and the need for the media to big them up all the time (or even goes as far as moving the sports department of the national broadcaster to Salford!!)……….brain surgery it is not.


    are you for real?

  5. I think this proves the case for The FA delaying VARs in the UK. Taking note of whatever’s going on in other countries can make for a more wrinkle free introduction. I initially thought it was going to be used at this season’s FA cup, but now see that it will be the next one.
    I wouldn’t suggest that it will be a completely smooth process, but hopefully most of the bugs & human errors etc will be eradicated by the time we get it.
    Give it a chance.

  6. Jammy

    The fact that it happens in other countries doesn’t mean it happens here.

    I’ve never heard it even mentioned anywhere except on untold.

    I’d just like some evidence.

  7. Proves teh case for delaying VARs?
    Pull the other one mate.

    There is no case when hockey leagues up and down the country are using VARs without any billy b*ll*cks. It’s a proven and easily transferable model and system.

    This story proves the case that administrators in Football cannot be compared to peers in other sports like Hockey & that is because they are not fit for purpose.

    Further: in spite of the insane comment above there is not one reasonable or rational explanation that can be supplied in order to even attempt to explain why what has been used in the hockey successfully for at least 5 years in the UK has not been used and applied already in the football. Not one! But if any one so desires they can of course attempt to Carry On Digging.

  8. jax
    Sorry if not clear i understand you want to see VARs introduced but there’s no reason for any delays etc. no reason why the system from hockey has not already been applied – a successful use of VARs in football will be very close to what you see in the hockey and rugby, they’ve alrady done all the bug testing! 🙂

    We should note:
    Using VARs in the 2006 WC final wasn’t a problem for FUFA, when the mood took them. Why the 11 year long delay?

  9. Seriously though, when you see that footage from the Beeston FC vs. East Grinstead multi-billion dollar top of the table clash in the 60,000 stadia, it kind of makes one embaressed to confess to being a football fan.

    It is what it is.

    Our beloved sport is in the hands of a right old shower, and with each new bungle introduced to delay the use of VARs the sport’s credibility over the last twenty years is starting to reach the lowly precedent set by the cycling. They have no choice, it will be introduced, but the additional delays as they try to compose a mallable system that is not used in the tried and tesed models in the sister sports is a little bit of a giveaway.

  10. Yes of course!
    Hockey, rugby, football: the similarities are astonishing.
    I knew there must have been a flaw in my reasoning. Why didn’t I see this before?
    End VAR now!
    Thank you so much.
    Only on Untold.?

  11. Please read correctly:

    There’s absolutely no need to invent a new concept of VARs, the proven models are out there and they should have been applied years ago.

    There is no reasoning that is reasonable for any further delay.


  12. I’m guessing dear old Jax wasn’t one of the many thousands of people who witnessed VARs used in the field hockey in 2012, during open play etc.

    I’m also guessing that Jax hasn’t ever watched field hockey (or he link helpfulltnprovided above) or perhaps he’d have been able to understand and appreciate why and how this was the sport that influenced a large number of Dutch football coaches in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and created the game we watch today as exemplified by the leading football coaches and clubs and nations (save where they offer up “shit on a stick” for their paying punters).

  13. Therefore we can all confidently and happily conclude with the observational evidence to hand:

    – That field hockey is indeed the closest sport to association football.

    – In field hockey VARs is in use in club level hockey league within small stadia that wouldn’t qualify for use in the football league!

    There it is.

  14. If a professional game (such as in EPL) was analysed completely for infractions, you would probably find that very few infractions are actually acted upon by the officials. And you still have things like out of bounds to consider.

    With a list of “everything that happened”, you can now compare that to the faults the officials acted upon (blew whistle or indicated advantage or ?). You can have:
    _1. Official correctly acted on fault
    _2. Official missed fault
    _3. Official invented fault
    and possibly
    _4. Official ignored fault (possibly noted)
    How that last one could be determined, I am not sure.

    All of the above categories can help one team or hinder one team.

    Ideally you want the officials acting in some way on all faults. But as I started with, I think that the number of missed faults is going to dwarf the other numbers. Consequently if scores for officials are made public, something to obfuscate this large number of missed faults probably needs to be done. People think the officials are catching almost everything, to see them only catching a couple of percent would be a let down.

    You want most of the faults that are acted upon, to be acted upon correctly. You don’t want any invented faults. And finally, you don’t want errors or omissions to benefit one team more than the other. This is the bias problem.


    Walter and others have mentioned that most leagues have requirements on accuracy, that something like a minimum of 70% of the calls that are made are correct calls. I don’t think leagues should allow much in the way of invented calls.

    Walter has pointed out bias for a few years now. Maybe Andrew has the numbers, but I think the number of times where bias against Arsenal by the officials greatly outnumbers bias against opposition. It is persistent across all officials. In addition there are officials that are consistently biased against teams (or for teams, bias works both ways).

    If 50% of mistakes affect one team and the other 50% affect the opposition, there is no bias. That’s a ratio of 1:1. I think you can easily allow something like 1.5:1 or maybe even 2:1 (I would like to see justification at 2:1), but to see bias of 9:1 is unreasonable. That Walter has reported that there have been games where all the mistakes hurt Arsenal and there were no errors for the opposition (a ratio of infinity:0) is horrible.

    If you decided to look at what’s at UntoldArsenal, look at the set of all bias numbers for officials. A good referee should have low bias, and it should be distributed to both sides. There is as much chance of favouring one team as the other. And this is both in terms of teams regardless of who is home and who is away, and also in terms of the home and away designations. There is no point in having a referee that always favours the home team (or the away team).

    What else is out there? How about the timing of yellow cards. I suspect there is an effort to have the number of cautions issued during a game about equal to both teams. But how many times does it happen that a game has nearly equal cautions, but one team is being cautioned from early on, and the other team only picks up its cautions only at the end of the game?


    Might as well leave on a good note.

    I see on the website, that young Eddie Nketiah scored 4 goals and assisted 1, in their 6-0 win over Faroe Islands with the England U-19. Congratulations!

  15. TBF Gord I’m confident the rational reader can understand said words and links above.

    Specifically the link showing the Ed and third umpire conferring in front of their live audience in order to protect the integrity of their sport.
    Unfortunately I guess that simple example of the model used in all other sports (they broadcast the conversation between on field and third umpires/officials, or mike up the ref for the crowd etc. which appears to be too much information for some (alongside the historical relationship between field hockey and football coaching and tactics etc.), unfortunately and apparently including the people who are supposedly responsible for testing VARs in football. There’s a surprise!

  16. “During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, had two former professional field-hockey players on his coaching staff. “If you look back over many years, we can say [field hockey] has had a big impact on the Dutch game,” said former Netherlands football star Edgar Davids.

    The tactic of “pressing,” which was arguably the most radical aspect of Total Football, had long since been a hallmark of top-level hockey etc…”


    Hockey coaches working in football? In a World Cup? Blimey.
    Can we in addition transfer over some of their Referees and referee assesors please? Who are their agents? I’ll get Mendez to give ’em a bell. 🙂

  17. @AlexanderHenry

    I respect your point of view but your angle of “give me evidence” is a bit silly.

    There is plenty of evidence for corruption amongst officials in English football. You don’t even need Untold to tell you that. Just watch The Battle of Old Traffordon Youtube, now tell me that the referee (Mike Riley, now head of PGMO) wasn’t biased. Furthermore, I’m sure you will find plenty more of what perfectly amounts to evidence if you just looked.

    It’s not even hard, just Google “english referee corruption”. I’ll even make it easier for you:

    Evidence is not the problem. Neither is convincing you. The problem is that it needs to go away, not just for the sake of Arsenal, but for the sake of the beautiful game in general.

  18. “Restricting refs to two games per team per season is what most leagues do”
    Tony you’re always crying for evidence, Could you please furnish us with evidence for this statement, or is it, like most of your statements on untold, without evidence?

  19. Ara: very very droll. You write without evidence to say that most of my “statements on untold, are without evidence” and then demand that I give evidence for a statement. Do you really, seriously think that just because you have asked, I am going to spend hours copying out all of the referee appointments for last season from the big five leagues for last season and do an analysis for you?
    I really doesn’t work like that. If you want to show I am wrong, you do the research, send it in, and I might, or I might not publish it. The one thing I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to be is consistent. Or logical. Or organised. Or able to count beyond one.

  20. Ara
    You are typical of a lot of people who write in and criticize Tony.
    You are very quick and happy to say Tony is wrong or his facts are wrong. Tony is absolutely correct, it is up to you to produce a counter argument based on evidence to support and refute Tony’s evidence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *