10 Years of Untold Arsenal: the issue of referees, corruption and non-reporting

By Tony Attwood

It seems curiously appropriate that I should be writing this little series of pieces commemorating the launch of Untold ten years ago, just as refereeing springs to the fore as an issue yet again.   And not just that there is an issue, but that it is being dealt with in the same lopsided manner than the media has adopted all the way through our ten years of railing against what is going on.

Of course Wenger vs The System was happening before we came along in 2008, as for example in August 2000 when Arsenal played Sunderland.  It was suggested that after the game Mr Wenger, who until that moment had an utterly unblemished record as a manager,  had indulged in violent or threatening behaviour against  Mr Taylor, the fourth official at Sunderland.

On 10 October 2000 Mr Wenger went to a hearing on the issue but considering the matter utterly ludicrous and the sort of thing that he had never experienced or heard about in the other countries where he had played, managed or watched games, he did not call any witnesses.

Shocked by the insanity of the procedural process, and the 12 match ban he then got, he appealed on 2 February 2001  complete with a briefcase packed with evidence.

Even before the final hearing got under way the charge was reduced to “improper conduct” which was extremely odd given that one doesn’t normally find a person guilty of a crime in a court, and then abandon the charge and enter another charge before the appeal.  What should happen is that the accused should be found not guilty and then charged with a different offence.  But, you know, it’s football.

In the event on the second charge heard at the appeal, Mr Wenger was given a reprimand, fined £10,000 and ordered to pay the costs of the appeal board which consisted of Charles Hollander QC, Geoff Thompson chair of the FA and Ray Kiddell from the Norfolk FA.

Their finding was that Mr Wenger was guilty touching the official, and not “jostling or holding” him as Taylor had alleged prior to the original hearing.

Taylor had argued that he was “manhandled” by Wenger in the tunnel after the 1-0 defeat on 19 August 2000.  But evidence showed that although Thierry Henry and Darren Williams of Sunderland were involved in a bit of of tunnel pushing and shoving that was all that happened.  Mr Wenger agreed that he then touched Taylor, but with a gesture that most people recognise not as manhandling but as “I’ll sort this out” and he then pulled Thierry away.

The FA accepted in the appeal that contact was “minimal”, and “not intended to be aggressive and not threatening or violent.”

But still the fine was ludicrous for an action which had the effect of calming a situation which the fourth official could not handle.  And it was clear that Taylor had lied in the hearing in terms of what he claimed against Wenger.  Taylor was clearly not fit to referee.

Nothing was done about the lying but subsequently Taylor himself was charged with misconduct for insulting comments to Notts County’s Sean Farrell during the game against Wigan on October 14.  That was heard on 6 February 2001.

That case was found to be “not proven” after a four hour secret hearing.  Notts County said in a club statement, “While respecting the difficult job referees have to carry out we think there must be a level of accountability in their performance. There is no question an incident took place. Those of us who watched the game and viewed the video could clearly see this. But only one person witnessed the actual remarks directly. His testimony alone did not constitute sufficient evidence by the FA’s standards to find the official guilty, only not proven.”  Two accusations, both involving Taylor.  One may ponder.

The Wenger case got very little coverage in the media beyond a report of the initial guilty verdict, but for Untold, in terms of questioning what the authorities were doing bringing such a ludicrous case which they then dropped having found Mr Wenger guilty, the scene was set.   The press had laid down their battle lines with the rumour mongering they had done about Mr Wenger’s private life (appalling allegations with no evidence but which have swirled around for ever) and they were not going to let up on the story.

Someone had to take on PGMO and the media – and it turned out to be Untold.  Not alone of course, but it was a natural issue for Untold to follow, and we established our own position quite early on.  Over time we gathered a massive amount of detail gathered through such work as was reported on the Referees Decisions website (in which we got a number of referees together who supported clubs other than Arsenal, and got them to do referee reviews) and the 160 games analysis which reviewed in more depth than ever before the first 160 games of a season, complete with video evidence.

The result was clear: refereeing in the Premier League was awash with errors.  Now that is something that has marked us out from other commentators – at least until about three years ago when people began to pick up on the notion.  Sadly no one has cared to replicate our work, complete with videos, so it stands alone, but it would be good if they did.

But we should remember, we didn’t start this.  Alan Green, the BBC commentator was making the same point before we came along – but knowing he was on thin ice (because of the BBC contract with the League) he never once asked the question why referees were making so many mistakes.  Now we simply followed his work, but added the why question….

Why do referees make so many mistakes?  There are several possible answers as we’ve said…

First, because the game moves so fast, accurate refereeing is impossible.

Second, because the referees in the PL are not very good – just as the administrators in the FA (in the view of those of us who have written Untold over the years) are not very good at their jobs.

Third, because there is match fixing going on.

I’m not sure if any other websites have teased out these three simple  points over the years, and in my more pompous moments I tend to think this has been one of our main contributions to football: to look at the implications of each of these three simple points.

Given that we didn’t find it at all difficult to find obvious and clear refereeing errors happening on an industrial scale in PL football, the question of “why?” is incredibly important, and it didn’t take long to point out some oddities that appear when one asks relevant “why?” question.

1: Why does the referee authority (PGMO) not have anyone independently overseeing its work?

2: Why does the referee authority use an organisational model which was used by the Italian refereeing organisation during the 2006 refereeing scandal, and which was seen as being a major reason why the resultant match fixing was able to become established.

3: Why does the media never question the secrecy of the PGMO or the fact that it employs so few referees that the same referee gets to referee the same teams repeatedly?  No other major league in Europe allows this, as it is an obvious route to corruption.

4: Indeed, why does the PGMO have to be so utterly totally secret?

Of course if it were only a matter of referees making errors of judgement because of their own incompetence, that would be one thing, but match fixing in sports across the world is a major issue, and every organisation involved in sports should be doing the maximum to stop it happening.

The trouble is PGMO seem to be doing the opposite, as we saw when we started investigating Premier League football in relation to money laundering in July 2009 and as we found again when we took up the issue of drugs in football.  By having utter secrecy about their work, by having kangaroo courts and procedures that are palpably laughable, they have opened the Premier League to the possibility of match fixing and doping on a huge scale.

Of course we can’t ever say that we can prove match fixing and we most certainly never suggest that a referee has been bought.  Rather our argument has always been that by deliberately adopting a system of control of refereeing that is utterly different from the rest of Europe, and indeed based on the Italian model from 2006, it is natural for concerns and suspicions to be raised especially when we said multiple bad decisions, and we find the media licensed by the PL is absolutely not reporting these issues.

And that is what we have been doing: raising concerns and suspicions for ten years.  And slowly, very, very slowly, a few others have gradually looked up and said, “you know, you could be right.”

We don’t say, “matches are fixed”, but we ask why using video evidence we can find so many errors.  Of course it is interesting that uniquely among the major footballing nations England is the only one that has no referees at the World Cup Finals.  Maybe even Fifa have seen something they don’t like.

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36 Replies to “10 Years of Untold Arsenal: the issue of referees, corruption and non-reporting”

  1. The EPL is a sham. I’m referring to the scheduling, to the ridiculous amateur timekeeping, to the way in which the so called “free media” comply with the league and in particular to the refereeing, and/or lack of it.

    And when someone speaks out about any of these issues, as Arsene Wenger has, they are told to “be quite and accept the decisions”. That is corruption, and corruption is a form of tyranny. All tyranny needs is for people of good conscience to remain silent. Which is why I believe this website and the people who run it, and also the people who contribute positively towards it, are worthy of praise.

    But football is tribal. That’s partly why this sham has been able to run as long as it has and continues to do. “Let them fight amongst themselves” attitude.

    Anyhow. As Arsenal continue to concede dodgy penalties I wanted to post some information on penalties conceeded within the EPL. The site I found only uses current EPL teams, so the Huddersfields, Brightons and such are irrelevant. It also only goes back 16 years for some reason but thats enough data to formulate opinions. Scroll down to the individual teams and pay particular attention to the penalties “against” column. Oh and add two more penalties against Arsenal as the website hasn’t been updated over the festive period.


    Tony, I hope you find the resolve to continue Untold Arsenals endeavour.

  2. Tasos. Yes. This is the killer evidence. I wrote an article about it here a few years back. Key point to note is that, in general, penalties for and against are roughly proportional to goals scored/conceded. So Arsenal should be winning about twice as many as they concede. As the other “Big 6” teams do.

    Before 2009 this was indeed the case. However since then it has palpably not been true. The statistical likelihood of this arising by chance is infinitesimal (I hope someone like Gord can do the analysis of this – I don’t have the time and not really the detailed expertise to do this).

    What happened in the summer of 2009? A clue. Keith Hackett retired as Head of PGMO… I think you all know who replaced him…

  3. And if the penalty decisions are so obviously biased (used in the statistical sense…) then what else is going wrong with the decision-making? Fouls, cards, offsides, goals etc… Some good work has been done on this site down the years looking at these related issues but it is the penalty evidence that is clearest.

    Wenger should really bring this evidence with him to his hearing.

    This should also be skilfully leaked to the media to force a conversation. However, the English mainstream media is – we understand – contractually bound not to be controversial about referees. And most journalists have very little numerical understanding.

    It is an absolute scandal.

  4. I was sent a link a couple of years ago from your blog where a contributor spoke about the referees. Cant remember his name but everything he said about our referees and their organisation was accurate. He predicted this would get worse due to training and a Northern based recruitment structure. I seem to recall he also spoke to referees. I will try to find it. Anyone recall this and have a link?

  5. Pete

    I haven’t frequented this site for a while and I apologise if I plagiarised your article.

    For a team like Arsenal to have conceded more penalties than EVERY other current EPL team in the last 16 years is a remarkable achievement, worthy of scrutiny. For Arsenal to have conceded more penalties than the likes of Everton and Spurs during this period is odd but when you include Newcastle and West Ham it is extremely concerning as both those teams have been relegated twice during this period.

    To give some context to the above data I believe Arsenal have a goal difference of plus 500+ goals over West Ham in the 13 year they have spent together in the EPL during this period.

  6. Guys, this is criminal! 68 penalties tgat we have conceded since 1992, more tgan anybody else! Can this data be sent to Wenger please, know we could make the assumption he already has it but you never know, and no harm in duplicating should that be the case.

  7. I don’t recognise the immediate link, but we have written so much about referees that it certainly sounds like us, and Walter has often mentioned the northern bias among referee selection.

  8. Think I recall someone saying something like this, and saying they had even spoken with Keith Hackett who expressed concern about quality of training and uneven distribution of refs? Could it have been jambug? Not sure now.

  9. The Manchester Grunt grunting hard. Again. Wheezing. Th

    Critiquing the AFC defence whilst ignoring htat the best attack CFC had in the second half before the penalty was thanks to an interception from the pgMOB representative. They were: clingin on. Till the award of the pen slipped out from his sleeve.

    It’s almost as if the Football on the pitch doesn’t matter to these “Theatre” luvvies.

    If you’ve ever wondered how the richest league in the world cannot produce a Football team that cannot draw a Football Match sans “Game Management” with Iceland, you really don’t need to wonder that hard.

  10. Thank you Al, yes that’s the article. Thinks there was also another from him, is he still here?

    Reason I asked was I noticed that PGMOL have added a new referee to their panel to replace Clattenburg surprise, surprise he is from Manchester! Chris Kavanagh.

  11. Thank God for this site. It’s easy for someone to say it all evens out and if you just watched your first PL game this week it would seem fine, but for us who have been following longer, we know that something seems wrong.

  12. I know you have referees on here. Can you please explain the interpretation of the rule regarding ‘contact’? And what contact is deemed sufficient to award a penalty.

    Yesterdays penalty is the perfect example of what I would call minimal contact, if any, causing a player to ‘dive’ to the ground. We hear pundits continually go on about ‘feeling contact’ and having the right to go to ground. Often we see TV replays with zoomed camera lens showing the slightest of contact and then pundits claiming it is therefore a foul and a penalty. Well why is this a foul? All over the pitch there is contact being made and nobody falling to the ground but carrying on with the ball. This is because they have not been impeded or prevented from getting to the ball because the contact is virtually imperceptible. So why is it deemed that even the most minimal contact justifies a player falling to the ground in the penalty area, as Hazard did, holding his shin and being awarded a penalty? Thierry Henry said he would have gone down and that it was a penalty but in my opinion there is not enough contact to impede (or foul) the player

    VAR will not resolve this. If ex players, pundits, journalists etc are all convinced that the slightest of contact is a penalty and the player is right to dive to the ground, then these decisions wont be overturned.

    So from an impartial referees point, what is deemed contact and a penalty?

  13. Tony,

    the one thing that strikes me – and that no one mentions is the link between poor refereeing (for whatever reason) and international refereeing in large events (like World Cup or European Cup).

    And I keep wondering that if anything other then sheer incompetence is at work, well the PL referees are in the end ‘paying’ themselves for others : by being seen as incompetent, they have no chance to go to such beg events (wait a sec, I an NOT implying they are victims !).

    Considering the fact that their pay level is not so much higher compared to money made in other leagues (even as they have a fixed package if I am not wrong), they are in the end forfeiting quite a lot of privileges that would come with being ‘good’ : officiating on a world wide stage, respect, recognition, probably down the road FIFA plush opportunities, seminars around the world, teaching clinics (where the ‘travel expenses package’ is often much more interesting then the pay for few days of actual work – and significant other can come and do some shopping…).

    So in the case it is not sheer incompetence, I’d say that either they get some compensation from the FA that is not talked about, or they are just, well, killing their international career and thus giving up quite a lot.

    Then again, incompetence may well be at PGMOB level for hiring referees who are partial – or not good.

    Or it is a strategy : hire them this way, choose them with issues about some clubs or provoke the issue, cover all their errors by 98% accuracy theories and gag rules – so they know that if they lose the backing of the PGMOB they are toast – and unemployed – and you have an army of maleable zombies obeying orders.

    Now I do not know the PL refs enough, but maybe a look at previous international refs can potentially show that the ones who made an international (and respected) career all started way ahead of PGMOB’s existence – that means before the system was ‘organised’ – they had more ‘liberty’, and the good ones at the time made it to the top and were rather good at what they did while on international duty (which I frankly do not know, just remember that some had a good reputation), so they kept being selected.

    Since PGMOB, new ones are not making he cut because at FIFA level, their performance is probably checked and compared to other european referees they are not in the top 10 or 20 or wherever the bar is set. They are used international games, for european competitions but because they are not good, they are not getting promoted.

    Just a hypothetical theory…..

  14. Pete,

    there is one thing that the stats Tasos mentionned that I feel is missing : context

    – what was the score line when the penalty against (for) was given ?
    – at what moment was it given ?
    – was it in regular time or overtime ?

    This could further refine the stats and highlight when penalties given are effectively changing a game.

    A penalty for Arsenal when they are leading 3-0 has no influence…. but like these last 2 games, it is a game changer.

    I have no idea if this information is available somewhere ?

  15. Chris. In the article it says that Keith Hackett claims our referees are instructed to referee the game different to anywhere else. Something to do with instructions form the FA and training concentrated around the Northern Counties. That is why only Northern referees get the appointments to PGMOL. Thsi all seems to make sense. Could this be the reason why none have been selected for the World Cup? If Kev’s on here he can probably explain better because he has been proved right.

  16. AFC Nemesis 1:03pm
    Yes he wrote a few more articles on this, I posted a link around midday but it went into moderation due to the number of links.. but you’ll see it when it comes out of moderation later on. Anf no I haven’t seen him here in a couple of years now.

  17. I guess there will always be the people that look for a solution to a situation rather than just ‘go with the flow’. Once the penny drops for some, they may actually find inspiration to get off their behinds an DO something. That, actually is the challenge to all: do you just accept it or do you try to affect it in such a way that it can become better for all. It may not be the first time you do something, but seeing the resultant effect, gives you the option to modify the situation again. Don’t ever give up trying to find answers to questions such as this and remember to visit the Supersport site from South Africa. Doc Errol Sweeney has much to say about referees as well. He used to be in charge of refs in South Africas Premier League.

  18. AFC Nemesis………….There is no Law specifically dealing with only physical contact but each Law dealing with fouls or infractions does mention some aspects of what is permissible and tolerable and what is not in terms of such contact or potential contact. Generally referees are told that anything done in a dangerous,violent or aggressive manner is to be punished immediately. Even spitting or threatening to strike an opponent or a teammate or an official or anyone on the sidelines,or a spectator, when the player is on the field is considered as potential contact and is punished immediately. If the player(s) is off the field he or she can still be punished by expulsion or being reported to the football authorities. Anyone bringing the game into disrepute, or where their actions can be dangerous to an opponent,their teammates,the referee or themselves can be prevented from taking part in the game. I once ejected a player who had carried a small knife in his sock and had taken it out to show his manager! He did this on the sidelines before entering the game……that was a bit scary!

  19. Oleg,

    MC have it the worst ? What do you mean by that ?

    I did read through the pages of the website. None is older then mid 2015.
    They have no address, no organisation name, no official information about themselves.
    They ‘pretend’ to have found evidence of illegal betting with 5 PL clubs on a large scale and as a result somebody got fired…..
    I mean…. one person got fired….and no mention of teams, owners, amounts, etc etc etc….

    Talk about a cover up….

    Maybe this page is just a scam…

  20. AFC Nemesis,

    yep, I’ve read about that and I believe it has some truth
    Then one has to ask why…

    Placed against my theory, it is evident….northern referees may have a ‘preference’ for clubs of their region and if they are not that good and depend on PGMOB for their living, well they are maleable…

  21. Arsène Wenger has become an institution before our very eyes in football yet we have all sorts railing against him on transfers, tactics, team selection, diet, training techniques, management and on and on and on …. Let us pause and reflect on this enigma for a while. He is mortal and subject to all human foibles, but my, he has arrived at a level many managers in the EPL or other football associations will like to emulate. Why then is the English Pressa and F.A. so determined to knock him off the tracks?

    He has been a credit to the Game in England and around the World, we ought all to give him his dues for that singular achievement.

  22. @omg Thank you. My issue is around interpretation. I have played for many years, too many the wife will say, and I know what type of contact creates a foul and what does not. I therefore find it hard to understand how players and referees are pretending that every contact is a foul. I have never fallen over when I have felt a slight abrasion or touch because it isn’t natural to do so. The contact has not prevented me from continuing, getting a shot off etc. For me a foul is an offence that prevents an opposing player from doing what they need to do. Simple.

    This subjectivity leaves it grey. Not helped by ex players who keep encouraging cheating by going to ground if a touch is felt.

    For me, a touch is not a foul. This notion that every contact in the penalty box is a penalty is ridiculous. A foul is a penalty – the act that prevents the player with the ball doing what they need to do. Hazard was not impeded yesterday. There was no foul. He chose to fall to his knees, roll on his back and hold his shin, despite a supposed ‘slight’ touch on his toe.

    Until we have a clear understanding regarding the difference between contact causing a ‘foul’ and contact resulting in a dive, the VAR is pointless. That is my point.

    At the moment we have a cheats charter and a loophole allowing referees to be ‘less than honest’.

  23. @ AFC nemesis

    An independent review panel ought to review all these ‘falling over’ events and sanction the player and/o the team when it is so obvious.
    The ‘my toe gets touched and it almost broke my shin’ ought to mean severe supension for the player and some penalty for the team – frankly this qualifies directly into the ‘getting the game into disrespute’ does it not ?

    Hazard’s Oscar prone manipulation is on the exact opposite of Kieran Gibbs’ attitude when he kicked Chambers’ hand and did not ask for anything else then a corner. Some players are fair play.

  24. From what I remember Proud Kev wrote an article on Untold a few years back and some of his data was calculated wrongly , a genuine mistake and he was taken apart for it , I think he apologised and hasn’t posted since
    I really enjoyed his articles and comments he made

  25. What grates on me is the repeated bleating that video being used to correct on field errors would reduce the authority of the referee. To my eyes this is putting the wants and needs of the officials above the wants and needs of ALL the other stakeholders in the game. Video review is used in a growing number of professional sports because it helps the integrity of THE GAME. The most egregious errors are reviewed on the spot and whether or not a sanction has been awarded it can be reviewed afterwards for additional purposes. It doesn’t stop people from complaining about referees but at the same time it doesn’t seem to have diminished the way people view the referees.

    In addition, other sports have added referees when it became evident that it was needed. In ice hockey a second referee was added because shift lengths had been cut to about 1/5 their previous length, drastically speeding up the game. Heck, even football has added the fourth official and the Additional Assistant Referee behind the net to help out so it is not immune to tinkering with the game. Since the revolution in fitness and the advent of substitutes, the speed of the match has increased incredibly. Surely adding another referee on the pitch is a no-brainer.

  26. @GoingGoingGooner,

    considering the amounts of revenue generated by the big european leagues, I just cannot understand why in the world there is not a ref next to each goal post, and one per side on each part of the field. sure enough, only one for each part of the field is in charge of offside calls. The others check the rest. Like in the NFL.

    The added cost would be peanuts and the risk of the ref not seing something because his sight is blocked.

  27. Can’t see that ever working,we can’t get the same referee to make the same decision twice.Let alone two of them being consistent.

  28. I think Untold should put together an analysis of the PL season so far regarding EVERY penalty decision, for and against us.

    They could do it in a way similar to the referee reviews, with video evidence for every decision, making direct comparisons.

    Such as, why did Dean give handball in example A and not in example B.

    I know there are some decisions that went our way, Mustafi getting away with one for sure, but I am beyond convinced that doing this will show a massive bias against Arsenal.

    Also if it is in an article, any oversights against or for, I believe can be added as they are bought up in the comments.

    A comprehensive, video enhanced analysis, would I believe provide irrefutable proof of the extent of bias/cheating we have faced this season so far.

    Also what I believe it will highlight on a personal level for myself, along with plain and simple bias (cheating), is something I have mentioned before, and that is that Arsenal can actually be cheated without a referee ever actually cheating (although clearly they do).

    Sounds counter intuitive I know, but this is how it works, and it’s all based on the subjective nature of so many decisions.

    As you will know a subjective decision can be of varying nature, from one that is say as extreme as 90/10 (percentage terms) in favour of one decision, to one that is 50/50.

    But for ease of argument I’m using only 50/50 decisions in my explanation.

    Lets say from match day one to yesterday Arsenal have been involved on 10 50/50 penalty claims for us, and 10 50/50 calls for claims against us.

    Now on an individual basis, because of the 50/50 nature of the calls, it is an argument to say the referee can never be wrong, therefore he can never be biased or cheating.

    That argument is fine in principle, but is it really fine in practice?

    I don’t think so.

    For example, if after these 20 X 50/50 calls Arsenal had conceded 5 penalties (50% of the 50/50 calls) and been awarded 5 penalties (50% of the 50/50calls) then I would concede that all is well and above board. But my argument is, and I believe what an in depth analysis of the penalty calls Arsenal have been involved in this season will show, is that this is clearly not the case.

    I contest that the analysis will show that when it comes to 50/50 calls we will have less than 30% go in our favour. This is a massive discrepancy, and defies the laws of probability, indicating that something is clearly wrong, especially when as has been shown that this disproportionate ratio has been happening for many many years.

    Please untold put it all together in one article and show everyone just what has been happening this season.

  29. Not only that but compare and contrast what the Spuds and others get away with by comparison with us on discipline advance whole. Granits reds? A yellow every time for us and having a word with others.

  30. Tasos – not a problem at all. Thanks for highlighting again! My article is several years old so needs updating anyway.

    Chris – I don’t think the detailed stats are available… maybe Opta have something?

    But the key point about the stats quoted above are that they are simple and factual. It is important to remember that many powerful people have a very poor grasp of Maths in genera and statistics in particular.

    It is very easy to compare the penalties for and against each of the Big 6 (or indeed all PL clubs) against goals for and against. And it is also important to split into pre and post 2009 – as that was when things went screwy.

    I haven’t done the maths but almost certain that Arsenal’s penalty numbers are way more out of line than everyone else. A full statistical analysis would be able to determine what the likelihood of Arsenal’s penalty distribution arising by chance is. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the expertise to do this. But it will be a tiny, tiny fraction of a per cent that I do know.

    Be clear everyone: It is statistically certain that Arsenal’s penalty distribution could not have arisen by chance.

  31. I think the sample size is going to be critical statistically. In that regard, things would have to go back a number of years.

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