These referee actions (which they openly admit) clearly help one team over another

by Tony Attwood

The perennial question: how can we make refereeing more accurate? And of course there is a whole range of answers available – at the heart of which is the obvious fact that in all human endeavours there are always mistakes. I mean, although it may seem hard to believe, Untold Arsenal itself has occasionally been known to get things wrong. Not often … well, yes, quite often. In fact, we all make mistakes.

Keith Hackett recently put forward the view to Betway that match officials would make fewer mistakes if they were fitter, saying that the referees know this and “they know full well that they’re going to have to take a fitness test laid out by FIFA at the start of the season.”

Hackett also claims that he was “pretty strict” on that during his time as PGMO general manager between 2004 and 2009. He stated recently that during his time if a referee failed the fitness test “he wouldn’t get any games, and he would only get one other chance to take it for the whole season.”

Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, except… the ability of PGMO to replace referees through a lack of fitness depends completely on them having enough referees to replace any that are dropped for fitness reasons, (or for making too many mistakes, or indeed who resign for personal reasons).

We have already seen this, in the current season with Bobby Madley, who was the ref for the Arsenal / Chelsea Community Shield game, having suddenly resigned from PGMO.

As I mentioned in the run up to the weekend’s games, that reduced PGMO to just 17 referees. As Hackett claims, any of them who are unfit would then be dropped – but with just ten referees and 30 assistants and “Fourth officials” needed each weekend, that is pushing one’s luck quite a bit with the small number PGMO have to call upon.

In his commentary Hackett mentioned that the distance run by a referee in a top match has increased by 30% on average in each match while the number of sprints is up by 50%.

Of course we have debated many times the claims by PGMO to get 98% of their decisions right, and this may be true – because PGMO don’t release detailed statistics we really can’t be sure. But with the claim, also made by PGMO, that VAR will increase the referees accuracy by another 2.5% we have the claim that referees next season (assuming they do finally join the rest of football and take on VAR rather than continuing to be the outsiders in this regard) will be more perfect than perfection itself.

That of course is nonsense, but it is a nonsense that hides the other issue – just what are the 2% of errors that PGMO officials get wrong. Just how important are they?

Hackett now no longer in the business of refereeing has admitted there is a problem saying that for referees “the end goal is to have that dynamic when, if they’re caught out of position, they can put in a two or three-metre sprint to get into a viewing position.” But he then adds, “Some of our current referees lack that, I’ll be honest.”

Hackett’s view therefore is that fitness is the key, along with having an overlord (such as he was) watching and monitoring the referees, not just in terms of the application laws of the game but also through good communication.

This, he says, he took to what some of us might seem to be extreme lengths. For example, he claims that in the days of Gascoigne, Tottenham’s notoriously talented but wild player of yesteryear, the referees noticed that when Gascoigne was a sub, he could be so fired up he would come on and pick up a yellow card within two or three minutes.

Now here I want to quote from Hackett and see if you are as amazed at this as I was on reading it…

“As a group of referees we said: ‘Right, the referee is going to run over [to the Tottenham player] as though he is checking the studs, and he’s going to run alongside Gascoigne and say: ‘Hey, Gazza, great that you’re on, amazed that you were on the bench. Now, listen, don’t do anything rash’.”

Now that is presented as “the key to refereeing,” by Hackett. To me that is blatant bias. It is up to Tottenham to manage and train their players, not the referee. The balance would be that at half time the ref, in walking off would say to Tony Adams, “Look, my left eye is weaker than my right so if you are going to do one of your fearsome last ditch tackles, do it on your right in the second half. The linesman will be looking right across the pitch and probably have his view obscured by several players and I will be far less likely to see it.”

It is these admissions by ex-referees in terms of how they manipulated the game in order to help players from certain teams that first began to make some of us aware that there was something going seriously wrong with refereeing. So it is good, at last, to see referees admitting it. But it is also frightening.

As you may know if you ever read some of the odd comments we get after one of us writes a piece about refereeing, there are a few rather strange people who believe that Untold writers think that each and every referee is constantly biased against Arsenal.

That isn’t the case, as we have said many times. Rather we say that there are a lot of things wrong with refereeing (and the Gascoigne example of helping one particular player is just one of them). The solution is of course to a small degree to up the fitness levels, but that is not the prime issue.

VAR would help as well, as Hackett says, “If you had an English team with Webb, Clattenburg or [Mark] Halsey, ex-referees who are no longer in competition, saying to Michael Oliver: ‘That’s a penalty’, Michael’s going to take it.

“It should be a team of match officials, to develop trust between them all.”

Except it is still the same old gang who apparently think it is ok to help a player from one team against the opposition.

Much, much more important is for the PGMO to increase the number of referees. Immediately the match fixing scandal in Italy broke it was realised that the way the match fixing was allowed to flourish was to a large degree because there was so few referees employed by the league.

Since then every major league has greatly enhanced the number of referees it employs – except PGMO and the Premier League who stick by their “lowest number possible to get by” approach.

A higher number of referees would not only give us more insurance against corruption, but also allow for greater cover for referees who are making mistakes, or clubbing together to help a particular player (as in the example above). As things stand, if it were discovered that a group of referees got together to help a team as in the Gascoigne example, PGMO would be unable to do anything about it because they wouldn’t have enough replacement referees to keep games going.

And that is the heart of the problem.

12 Replies to “These referee actions (which they openly admit) clearly help one team over another”

  1. What about referee for max 3 Challenges by captains per game.
    Stop talking about fairplay and start incorperating it.
    Learn from the NHL nothing gets past them.

  2. ““If you had an English team with Webb, Clattenburg or [Mark] Halsey, ex-referees who are no longer in competition, saying to Michael Oliver: ‘That’s a penalty’, Michael’s going to take it.” Why did he specify that they would have to be English? If we use the same old referees doing the VAR checks then we’ll have the same old biased decision making. Of course it would be harder to pull of with these replays, but it wouldn’t be impossible.

  3. I think you need at least 2 referees. The business of their (the referee’s) gravitas being challenged by a peer or by VAR is missing the point. It’s about the game…not them.

  4. Ben

    I believe the work on bias and direction of play was brought up on Untold a while ago. I think the paper in question has the word “Sinister” in it.

    I think that same study also found some correlations between bias, and the type of (written) language used. English is Left to Right, Top to Bottom. Hebrew (and others) are Right to Left, Top to Bottom.

  5. Officiating in the premier league matches is full of bias. Am always afraid of how the referee will perform on each match, especially those involving Arsenal. You see this poor officiating more in epl than other leagues. Why? It’s because the media is biased too. Even commentators, you hear them saying that fouls being called in arsenal’s favour as soft. As the case of Alonso on Iwob during the match on Saturday. Sometimes, the bias is much on non-English. The VAR could be manipulated but to think that it’s not going to used at in the premier league matches this season tells you all you need to know (nothing actually) about the pgmo. I still maintain we will do better this season. COYG! My love and support for arsenal is not debatable. Gunners for life!

  6. PGMO down to 16 top referees? It could be the organization has some referees in reserve they can call upon to coming in into referring in the PL games and in other competition games too if referees unavailability becomes acute to warrant a quick intervention.

    Otherwise. It can not be said the PGMO lacked the prerequisite foresight to have referees well enough at the PGMO to cope very well in referring in the PL without being over referring as presently is the case as some referees at the PGMO are seen to be recycled over and over, referring in PL matches.

    This recycling of referees to referee in the PL matches due to the limited number of referees at the PGMOL calls into question as to, why the current head at the PGMO would not welcome an increase in the number of competent referees at the PGMOL for a consistent regular top referring performance job? (A hidden agenda?) Taking such a decision and implementing it will eliminate the use of some particular referees to referee more than twice in the PL matches in a season’s campaign. And could also see the unintended mistakes errors that are often made in matches that cost club like Arsenal results in the PL reduced to the barest minimum as these referees will no longer be overworked to suffer from possible fatigue anymore.

    One other important issue is, any old referee or referees who is seen as over aged to no longer be suitable for referring in the PL to that him or them no longer able to cope with the demand of the pace required by an officiating match referee in the PL should be phase out immediately and new ones employed to replace them. And all referees should be subjected to fitness test twice or thrice in a season to constantly ascertained the level of their fitness.

    The use of the VAR in the PL games can not be emphasised anymore than it has already been emphasised and underlined. Therefore, the ball is in the courts of the PL club sides and the PGMO to start implementing the use of the technology next season as it’s being thought they would.

  7. just watched paok draw 1-1 to benfica in the champions’ league first leg of their tie
    chuba akpom came in for the last five minutes.
    as far as refereeing (topic of tony’s article) is concerned, chuba must have felt home, given the blind eye the ref turned to benfica’s defenders’ fouls, and the nonexistent penalty he gave to the portuguese side.
    might be the beginning of a real career for the lad; very happy for him, always thought he had been very unlucky so far

  8. The left to right or right to left bias of officials is a load of rubbish. The direction is only dependent on the positioning of the officials, so it is pure chance.

    The PGMO on the other hand are select & therefore created by bias to attain an end. The chosen few are not in any way answerable to the public nor to any elected body. They like the media are a law unto themselves & subject to abuse without any correction, above the Law of the land more so than the media.

  9. I’m not sure what you’ve read on this Menace. The scientific paper (on arXiv ?) was quite convincing. They used video of teams with no “recognizable players”, and did things like reflecting content so that the panel of people watching the video snippets could see either the actual orientation of play, or the reflected orientation, without being able to tell what orientation they were watching. There was a statistically significant time lag difference between right-to-left and left-to-right, or at least they claimed there was. Maybe they changed their conclusions since I seen it?

    I didn’t think there was quite as much support on the written language effect they noticed. The feeling I got was that was something that should be investigated further.

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