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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