By Tony Attwood
If you’ve been around Untold for a while you’ll know we’ve been watching refereeing in the PL for over ten years years, and we’ve taken on a whole range of projects, culminating in analysing the first 160 games of a season and working out how many referee decisions were wrong.
With that enormous range of reports, which are still on our site, complete with video evidence, which reached various conclusions, which can be summarised as “it certainly looks as if something is going seriously wrong.” Now as we have a moment of peace in the summer, we can ponder where our 10 year campaign to improve refereeing in the PL has got to.
Unfortunately next season doesn’t look that promising. Here’s why
1. No VAR
While most of the major leagues have VAR, the Premier League is going its own way, yet again. This is not to say that VAR is perfect – it clearly isn’t – but it does offer another level of support for referees and an ability to show fans that all is being done properly. As it is, that level of support will not be available at all in the PL. Like an unlocked front door, it is an invitation to anyone up to no good.
2. Too few referees
Our argument is that as a basic precaution against any official becoming entrapped by a match fixer, no club should have the same referee more than twice a season. This obviously means employing more referees. There is no sign of this happening, and so again next season we can expect to see some referees controlling matches involving a single club six or more times.
If there were to be a corrupted referee in the PL, and he was persuaded to ensure that a certain team did not win matches, he would have up to six chances to do this, rather than just two. And remember, in the match fixing days in Italy, there were far more bent referees than just one.
3. Type III match fixing
In the old days it was assumed match fixing meant making sure that in a single match Team A would win. This of course is not that hard to spot, not least if one referee spends his days ensuring that Team A won games it might otherwise have drawn. This is Type I match fixing. The reverse, ensuring that Team A loses is Type II match fixing.
What really made life difficult for those trying to stop corruption was the invention of Type III match fixing in which the fixer (perhaps the owner of club A), suggests to his referee chum that huge rewards will come his way if clubs X, Y and Z drew when they might have won, and lost when they might have drawn.
So a bent ref gives the odd dubious decision against a whole array of clubs, but never against Club A, ruling the occasional OK goal offside, reducing the amount of added on time, giving two yellows against a player than might only have had one etc. Because these things are often matters of immediate judgement, and because there is not a question of the ref favouring one particular club (since he does it against a whole range of clubs) it is not spotted and not stopped.
To stop it a league needs openness, VAR, a large number of referees. The PL has none of these.
4. The Secrecy of PGMO
Referees in the PL are members of a secret society called PGMO; more secret than the Masons, more unreachable for enquiries than the Royal Family. There is no need for this secrecy; it could be a company open to public scrutiny, but it is not.
It even gives its refs a huge cash bonus if they agree not to write or comment on refereeing once they retire. The vast majority of referees accept this. Another factor that would help any bent referee get away with it; no one is going to speak out afterwards.
5: Popularity of PL among gamblers worldwide
None of this would matter if we were talking about a League that gamblers were not interested in. But we’re not. We talking about the League that has more money gambled on its results than any other. Which is why the PL needs more checks and balances than other leagues, not far less.
6. No decent geographic spread of referees
It is a fairly obvious requirement: let’s have referees selected from each region of England equally, so we don’t get a huge dominance of referees from one region like the north west. Do we get such a balance? Strangely no.
7. Licensed providers show instant acquiescence in return for the fixture list
The PL fixture list is copyrighted, and companies have to pay for the right to reproduce it. In return for this right, restrictions are issued as to what that licensed company can say about football. Why?
8. Restrictions on what can be shown on TV or heard on radio
The list of restrictions of what can be seen and heard is vast, ranging from no showing of crowd trouble at all, through to a severe limitation of what can be said about a referee during a game. Again, why?
9. Dismissing people with a concern as conspiracy theorists doesn’t help clarify the situation
All of the above have led to a view that anyone who suggests that there is something amiss with the Premier League refereeing is pedalling a conspiracy theory. And because of the high level of restrictions on what those who are licensed by the PL are allowed to say, there is no debate being heard either on points of detail (such as why there so few PL referees, why there is the secrecy, why most other major leagues have VAR and the PL does not).
So a simple answer is produced: call it all a conspiracy theory. But that simple denouncement isn’t actually an answer. It is actually a way of stopping the debate.
10. No consideration of the balance of probabilities
The total lack of debate as noted in point nine, leads to a view that it is inconceivable that there is anything amiss within Premier League refereeing. And this is very curious, since at so many matches I find supporters who are seriously concerned about the quality of refereeing. This dichotomy is then portrayed in the media as the sort of banter and discussion one gets in the “pubs and clubs” which are to be found “up and down the country”. It is a way of portraying supporters as idiots who can’t string together a couple of ideas to make a hypothesis. This reinforces the notion of the football watcher as stupid, and itself reinforces the idea that one can get away with anything in football, because
a) the central refereeing body is hyper-secretive and never says anything and thus never admits anything is amiss
b) the media is not allowed to discuss even the simplest idea that it is curious that we have a hyper-secretive organisation running football refereeing, which is run on a model that was adopted by Italian football during its match fixing era and which has now been abandoned by the rest of Europe
c) fans will believe everything they are offered by the media.
In short all one is saying is that on the points above there is a probability that something is not right, otherwise why have all the secrecy? Why be so different from the rest of Europe?
This list of ten points does suggest that something could well be wrong, and it might be a good idea greatly to increase the number and geographic diversity of referees and remove the gagging orders just to make sure.
The refusal even to contemplate such a notion once again suggests something is seriously wrong.
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