The curious case of the uneven effect of referee activity in the PL. Part 2

Caution and Liverpool Part 2 – Some Details

By Gordon Haverland

This article continues from the previous post  The curious effect of referee actions on the top six clubs this season.


There are two kinds of treatments, the ones where a physio does not come on to the field to bring the player off the field to receive attention the player, and those where the player is taken off the field to receive extended attention and the game is restarted. The treatments mentioned here, are the treatments where a player ends up being removed from the field for an extended period of time (and the game becomes restarted), and perhaps at some point the player who was injured seeks permission from the referee to come back onto the field, or a substitution is made.

The referee doesn’t cause the treatment directly.  Referees practice “man management”; they create the environment where some players become frustrated, who think they might get away with something or various other things.  The fact that few referees call fouls associated with these events, let alone card a player (either rough play or simulation) in one of these events, means they regard these events as not worthy of consideration.  I believe we lost 2 (or perhaps three) players to serious injury in these kinds of events this season (Maitland-Niles was the first).

The reason to include things derived from treatment data, is to get the tabulation of that data out of the hands of the PGMO.  If the PGMO issue a lot of cards to a team, supposedly the reason is that the team is dirty.  But the PGMO can, potentially, issue a lot of cards to a team that is not dirty.  In doing so, most people will start to think that is a dirty but there is a perfectly valid alternative explanation.

Thus PGMO can’t “cook” the books by having more treatments in a game.  But they can “cook” the books by calling more fouls, issuing cards or granting penalties.


Dispersion is a common sort of word, which talks about the width of something.  Standard deviation is a term used to describe dispersion in a very particular way.

I plotted up “trajectories” of Caution over the season so far.  Let’s pretend we are standing on the moon (low gravity and no air) with a shotgun.  We shoot the shotgun at say 10 degrees above the horizon.  As the pellets travel down range, they tend to get further away from the average trajectory of all the particles.  How wide the pattern is, is a measure of dispersion.  A second shot with the shotgun, will not have the pellets travelling the same paths as the first shot, but how the dispersion changes with distance should be about the same.

If there were 100 pellets in a load, and 99 of the pellets were within 20 inches of the average trajectory at some point, what would you think of there being a single pellet that was 30 inches off?  You might think it is possible, but unlikely.  What if it was 60 inches off? The further this outlier gets from the average, the more likely it is that some strange circumstance not involving any of the other pellets is affecting that one pellet.

And in footballing terms this season, that’s Liverpool!   Their results are way out of line with everyone else when we consider the concept of Caution (which we defined in the previous article), and what we are looking for is an explanation.


“Pure chance” isn’t an explanation for what we are seeing here because it doesn’t tell us about any mechanics that have caused this variation.   Nor is the “law of averages” which isn’t a law at all, but just suggests that there will be a normal distrubition of results – without one really weird outlying statistic at one end.   So we still need to look for something else.

But we are hampered in our search by two things: the secrecy of the PGMO and the way they insist on only having a small number of referees avaialble so that the same referee can run matches by certain teams multiple times in the season.

The problem here is twofold.  First, if there is a rotten apple among the referees, he is going to have undue influence.   The second is that there is no good reason to have such a tiny number of referees and combine this with the ultra secrecy of PGMO.   We are constantly left asking the question: why run the show in a way that can raise these questions, when you could run refereeing in a way that would work hard to ensure that refereeing was harder to manipulate.


5 Replies to “The curious case of the uneven effect of referee activity in the PL. Part 2”

  1. Hmmmm untold…
    2015 -mourinho is the darling of the press and fa, they ensured Chelsea won the league.
    2016 – Leicester were gifted the league arsenal were screwed.
    2017 – Chelsea and Abramovich have bought the league again
    2018 – man city have bought the league, pgmo, fa, all the stadia, everything. Arsenal screwed again
    2019 -liverpool?

  2. Keep up the good work.
    The EPL is, in my opinion, a vehicle for international money laundering with the outcomes determined by Asian betting syndicates.
    When money is the object, there will be no chance of a level playing field in any human endeavour. used to be the people’s game…the beautiful game

  3. The PGMO have appointed 20 referees to PL matches this season (so far).

    Anthony Taylor has the highest number of matches at 20 and Andy Madley the least with 2. The average number of games per referee is 13.33 and there is a “standard deviation” of 6.61. You would expect the number of matches by each referee to be between 20 at the upper end and 7 at the bottom.

    As no referee has a higher number than 20 there is little to complain about with his number but Andy Madley (2), Simon Hooper (5) and Roger East (6) all fall below the lower limit so clearly the distribution of matches between the referees is not random.

    Clubs also have quite different numbers of referees who have been in charge of their matches, Everton and West Ham have the most so far with 16. The two Manchester clubs have had the fewest with 11 and Liverpool have only had 12.

    Again these numbers are not conclusive proof that there is something wrong but they certainly increase the possible impact that individual referees can have by virtue of multiple visits to any one club.

  4. Bayo, I think you might be confusing what this blog is about. We’ll publish articles submitted by writers which seem to us well-argued and with some evidence. That by itself means there is no Untold view.

    Now it is true that a lot of the articles are written by a small group of us – not because we exclude others but simply because we like to write and we fill in the gaps. I don’t know if anyone actually wrote a piece about Leicester being gifted the league as you suggest, and maybe it was me, but I’ve forgotten. Be interested to see the link to the article that you are quoting. And the 2018 issue seems somewhat bizarre and confused to me.

    Not quite sure why you want to make it all so complex when actually it is fairly simple.

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