By Tony Attwood
I have not kept exact records over the years on the issue, and sadly I don’t have the spare time to go back and check, but I get the impression that there are more articles in the mainstream media about referees these days than there were even just one year ago.
It is of course true that in earlier years referees in Premier League games would be mentioned but often only in passing. Now they can be the focus of an article – or at least a key part of the headline.
The Guardian’s football page this morning has on it, the headline
Rafael Benítez fumes after Wolves deny Newcastle with stoppage-time equaliser
and then a second piece, also highlighted on the home page with the headline
Why referee Mike Dean is football’s king of the bants
In the past there might have been two or three articles a month which mentioned a referee in the headline, now we are getting two in a day. It might of course just be a fluke, or it might be a change in the instructions from PGMO to the media.
Either way, at first site that might look like an improvement – any move that brings referees to the fore surely must help. Except… when we look at them, the articles never seem to suggest that there is anything wrong with referees or refereeing in the PL – they are there in fact to suggest exactly the opposite.
The use of the word “fumes” for the commentary of Rafael Benítez on the referee is typical – Benítez is not reported as having made the point … or that he suggested that there was something amiss with the decision making. No, he “fumes” – a word that immediately denigrates the manager and the point made.
Interestingly the second story is about Mike Dean having a joke with Sergio Agüero – so no serious debate about Dean’s refereeing style. It was a comic piece. Two referee pieces, both actually taking the focus OFF the referees rather than focussing on them. Maybe a coincidence. Or maybe not.
As Untold has shown on several occasions it is possible to undertake analyses of refereeing decisions even with our limited resources – (see the 160 game page) but still no newspaper or website goes down that route – which I suspect would be very interesting to many readers.
And this points to a second issue – no one in the media is making any commentary about refereeing over time unless it is to talk about crowd behaviour towards referees in amateur football. Websites and newspapers will carry league tables of the clubs, but rarely a long term analysis of the accuracy or otherwise of referees.
However the accuracy or otherwise of referees is a fundamental issue in football. Even if one thinks nothing is wrong, it is surely worth looking at over time, and presenting the evidence just to assure the fans that everything is in order.
It is also extremely rare for anyone to make any comment about referees other than in a single match – the only person I can recall doing it of late was the Burnley manager who claimed that his club never got penalties.
But here again the whole reporting of the matter was hopeless. From what I could gather it was true that Burnley got fewer penalties than most clubs, but what we also needed to know in order to make a judgement on the commentary was how much time Burnley players spent in the opposition’s penalty area during a match compared to other clubs.
I don’t have those figures but if it turned out to be that Burnley spent far less time in the penalty area of other clubs than the rest of the league’s teams, then there might be an alternative explanation for the issue. Burnley just don’t attack much. They are below average when it comes to scoring – but what makes me think this could be an explanation is that the official Premier League figures show Burnley have the lowest number of shots of any PL club – and there is a gap of 15 shots between them and the club above them (Brighton).
At the same time Burnley have the third highest number of off sides in the league – a very curious combination, and one that needs more analysis. If only it were available.
So what we have is a double issue – the fact that there is no serious reporting of referees, and that there is no serious consideration of other issues beyond the headline story. It is exactly the same scenario as I tried to highlight several years back with the report that Arsenal had only two players who scored in double figures in a season. That was true – but the “only” made it look like Arsenal’s failure. In fact that “two” put Arsenal in the top five of clubs with two goalscorers in double figures for that season).
(And incidentally, since I have made that issue the benchmark of fair reporting, you might like to know how things are going this season. Here is the list of all the players who have scored in double figures in the PL this season…
- Manchester City – 2 players, 29 goals between them.
- Liverpool – 2 players, 29 goals between them.
- Tottenham Hotspur – 2 players, 26 goals between them.
- Arsenal – 2 players, 2 players 25 goals between them.
That’s for the record, just in case anyone tries to run the “only two players” story again. Maybe it is time for an article noting that Manchester United has only one player who has scored in double figures and he has only got 11. Or Chelsea with just one player also. But no…
Meanwhile back with the referees it was reported in several quarters that “Chris Hughton criticised referee Stuart Attwell after Brighton were denied what he called a “blatant” penalty during a damaging home defeat to Burnley which increased their relegation fears.”
It would have been interesting for a journalist to ask the Burnley manager about penalties once again, and if his view on referees has changed of late. But seemingly no one thought to ask.
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