Refs and yellow cards: is each club treated the same? Definitely not.

Data and analyses from Andrew, and from   Commentary from Tony

We have been discovering huge variations in the number of fouls per card given by referees and how these might be explained by the severity of the fouls, or the leniency or otherwise of the referee.  But also there is another possibility here – that referees might be influencing the flow of the game by penalising one team with fouls at every turn.

There are of course other possibilities: that managers are saying to players – this referee was giving fouls against us at every turn last time we had him, so cut down the tackling, go for more intercepts.  That could be dangerous, but would certainly make sense since every second of every game is examined by Premier League clubs.

In the next table we can see that the average ratio for Arsenal this season is 4.5 fouls per card, and combining the games for referees we find that the variation is very large, from around half the average when Anthony Taylor is in charge to around double the average when Paul Tierney is blowing the whistle.

Arsenal cards Arsenal pens Arsenal fouls fouls / card fouls / card + pen
All matches 39 4 174 4.5 4.0
Anthony Taylor 4 2 9 2.3 1.5
Martin Atkinson 9 2 50 5.6 4.5
Mike Dean 6 0 31 5.2 5.2
Paul Tierney 2 0 19 9.5 9.5

To get a deeper understanding of this we can look at individual games and see what happens to the home team and away team

Home Away Yellow cards against home team Fouls conceded by home team – Fouls per card Yellow cards against away team Fouls conceded by away team Fouls per card
Newcastle Arsenal 1 12 12.0 3 7 2.3
Arsenal Burnley 2 13 6.5 1 11 11.0 
Liverpool Arsenal 1 8 8.0 1 5 5.0
Arsenal Spurs 3 13 4.3 5 19 3.8 
Watford Arsenal 3 14 4.6 3 4 1.3 
Arsenal Aston Villa 6 13 2.2  1 15 15.0 
Man United Arsenal 4 18 4.5  2 13 6.5 
Arsenal Bournemouth 1 12 12.0  2 6 3.0
Sheffield Utd Arsenal 4 10 2.5 4 12 3.0 
Arsenal Crystal Palace 2 18 9.0  0 9  
Arsenal Wolves 0 6   2 15 7.5 
Leicester Arsenal 1 10 10.0  1 10 10.0 
Arsenal Southampton 6 13 1.7  2 19 9.5 
Norwich Arsenal 2 8 4.0  1 10 10.0
Arsenal Brighton 2 10 5.0  1 11 11.0 
West Ham Arsenal 2 12 6.0 0 6  
Arsenal Man City 1 9 9.0  4 24 6.0 
Totals 41 199 33
Foul/card Ratio 4.85    5.93  

What does this tell us?

First the number of fouls that are committed for a yellow card to be given is very variable.  But yellows are of course mostly given against single bad fouls, so that is not surprising.

Second the number of fouls given against home and away teams is virtually identical.   But these fouls are slightly more likely to be given yellow cards when committed by the home teams which is perhaps counter intuitive.

Third, Arsenal committed 174 fouls in these games and got 38 cards – thus one card to every 4.6 fouls.  This is below the norm so we should not be thinking that referees are overall biased against Arsenal in this way.

Fourth, the number of fouls committed by home teams ranges from six to 18 per game.  Both figures come from Arsenal.  The number committed by away teams ranges from four (Arsenal) to 19 (Southampton). So rather unexpectedly in this sample Arsenal committed the most and least fouls in individual matches at home and the least in an away match.

So how do we know if there is an anti-Arsenal bias?

In the table below I have selected all the games where the difference in the number of fouls per card between the home and away club is more than four, and highlighted the club that committed most fouls per card.

The point here is that clearly one of the two clubs is very likely to have a higher number of fouls than the other, simply from the fluidity of the game.  If Newcastle commit 3 fouls per card to Arsenal’s 2, that difference could easily be pure chance, or style of play.   It is only when the difference between the two teams become bigger that we might start wondering why a referee will let (for example) Newcastle commit 12 fouls before giving out a card, while Arsenal committed on average just 2.3 fouls to get a card.

What’s more, this larger difference will clearly be signified to the players.  They will see within a short space of time that they could be fouling and fouling and getting no card, while the other team is picking up cards very readily.

I have also removed the three games in which one team got no cards.  In these cases the level of card giving was low for the other team, and so appear to be matches either devoid of fouls or with a balanced referee.

So, to be clear as to the meaning, in the first example Newcastle committed 12 fouls for each yellow card, but Arsenal only committed 2.3 fouls for each yellow card.

Home Away Home team Fouls per card Away team fouls per card Difference (Arsenal suffering in bold)
Newcastle Arsenal 12.0 2.3 9.7
Arsenal Burnley 6.5 11.0 4.5
Arsenal Aston Villa 2.2 15.0 12.8
Arsenal Bournemouth 12.0 3.0 9.0
Arsenal Southampton 1.7 9.5 7.8
Norwich Arsenal 4.0 10.0 6.0
Arsenal Brighton 5.0 11.0 6.0

Now only once was Arsenal on the receipt of largesse from the referee in the sense of being allowed to commit more fouls before getting a card.  In the Norwich away game Arsenal had to commit 10 fouls per card whereas Norwich were knocking up four fouls per card.

In all other games Arsenal were taking fewer fouls to get a card.  To give the figures as a total, Arsenal commited 5.67 fouls per card across these seven games.  The opposition had to commit 9.36 fouls to get a card.   In short the opposition got away with 1.65 times as many fouls as Arsenal before the yellow was waved.

Now the question is, does this make any difference?

Well, yes, actually it does.  A player on a yellow card knows that one more slip means that he will get a second, and be off.  So he plays with more caution.

But there is more.  As the game progresses and players see that this referee is handing cards at will to one side and not the other, only one team starts holding back.   For example in the Arsenal v Southampton game, Arsenal got a yellow card on average for every 1.7 fouls.   Southampton players got a yellow card after every 9.5 cards!   The Southampton players could thus foul away to their hearts’ content, knowing that they would be able to do a lot of damage before the ref gave the first card to a player, and thus reduced his capacity to foul.   What’s more, they would also know that they still had the chance to go on fouling and not get a second yellow, because so few cards were given per dozen fouls.

In short this bunch of games shows that there are seven games from the 17 we have looked at where there is a significant difference between the number of cards given to each of the two teams per foul.  That is between one in every two or three games, has this oddity.

As we have seen, Arsenal are 13th in terms of the number of fouls committed by Premier League clubs with 211, compared to Leicester’s 198.  But Arsenal have the most cards with 52 against Leicester’s 20.

But Arsenal have the most cards with 52 against Leicester’s 20.

Of course you might believe that Arsenal’s fouls are 2.5 times as bad as Leicester’s.  I am not at all sure that is true.


29 Replies to “Refs and yellow cards: is each club treated the same? Definitely not.”

  1. referees spoil the game by bias by not giving card when due most time game are lost the point of var rules has to be change where referees chose to make a mistake var must step in automatically that is fair play many teams suffered because of it and no decision is made by the fa players get suspended referees carry on doing their thing

  2. Fantastic work lads.

    Much like the penalty stats, which similarly have worked against us over a long period of time, these are not subjective, an accusation that was made against the findings of the 160 game refereeing analysis, these are facts.

    Of course, as with all data it needs interpreting, but the first thing it shows is that there is a massive difference between how different clubs are refereed within a single season.

    Now of course there can be variables between teams, such as style of play and possession, but the statistical difference is so enormous in some cases that it is impossible to conclude anything other than something suspicious is going on.

    As to whether we are refereed more Strickly than others, well I think this shows we most certainly are. This doesn’t mean others are not also refereed Strickly.

    Spurs for example, but maybe this is just a case of things evening out as I believe prior to this season Spurs had gone a season and a half to 2 seasons without a single red card.

    Now forgive me for saying, but for a team with Deli Ali playing in it, in the season of miracles, that trumps the lot.

  3. I believe we can agree that Tony has shown strong evidence to maintain that AFC are getting targeted with more cards for the same number of offences (or markedly less) than their opponents in the majority of their games. What seems more important to review would be the number of game-influencing fouls,penalties, offsides, dismissals, direct freekicks, goals refused, VAR cockups, etc. that directly cost us points.

  4. Happy New Year to all at Untold, still a haven of sanity amidst the insanity that seems to continually surround our wonderful club.

    Happy New Year to so many insightful contributors in World full of trolls and soundbites.

    Keep supporting the team, keeping the faith and believing the dream.


  5. Thanks Nitram.

    I’m still entering Atkinson’s past, about to do 2005/6 (I think there are only 3 or 4 more years older).

    At least, I’ll have a good idea on Atkinson after this. 🙂

    Happy New Year.

  6. Another thing feeding a referee bias could be that we have a bad reputation for poor tackling, embellishment and poor sportsmanship. Because the PGMOB do not talk to anyone outside of their circle and any shady masters, it would be interesting to conduct a survey to find out if indeed our players have a bad reputation in this regard. This does seem unlikely because of the $$$$ required but interesting nonetheless.

  7. GGG, there is a NBA scandal being “resolved” about a NBA referee who was betting on games and distributing information. I think the wikipedia article on him (sorry, name escapes me but shouldn’t be hard to find) gives enough detail to see how it would work in the EPL.

  8. In the “early” years, Atkinson was also officiating in Championship, League One and League Two games. At the moment, I am staring at a League Two game where there is only a single yellow card. The number of cards is independent of the skill level of the players?


  9. The yellow cards shown to Arsenal are for several reasons, many petty. The consistency of card issuance very rarely matches the FIFA instructions to referees or the Laws of the Game. The media keep looking for cantact in a game that is a contact sport so their agenda is outside the sporting competition.

    When players question the officials, rarely do they get punished but not so for the Arsenal. It only takes the slightest communication and a card is issued. In the recent Chelsea game Laca was holding his badge probably complaining about a shirt pull and got booked.

    It is time for referees to report on every game they officiate, so that the reason of each card is recorded. Time wasting or unsporting conduct (kicking the ball away) are often carded but again there is no consistency.

    With VAR (a secondary tool to aid cheating), the clear and obvious is subjective and open to bias. The use of it has totally destroyed the game particularly the EPL/PGMOL method of 4th party unquestioned decisions.

    Like all supporters who pay for watching football, we are expecting a game steeped in history with a set of Laws. That game is not what we are being presented with. It is unfair to provide a different product to that advertised and expected. It is unfair trading and warrants a full refund of money paid to watch games officiated by PGMOL. They have abused their position by creative cheating of the paying public. The authorities that oversee the Game are being played for fools (perhaps rightly so) and the Game is being usurped by an officiating system outside the Laws of the Game.

  10. @Gord on the FIFA site there is a pdf file of ‘The Laws of the Game’ accompanied by another ‘Guidelines for Match Officials’ where interpretations and examples are given. There are several individual documents detailing new technology and Laws requiring clarity.

    I have not spent much time reading the various documents, but I will have to in order to ensure false advertising.

  11. Sorry Andrew, but you highlighted 7 matches, 5 of which the excessive foul balance was against us, and 2(Bournemouth and Norwich) in which it was in our favour. And when looked at beside other stats you have provided in previous parts of this series, which shows us having a much better card for/against balance (6) than for example Tottenham (11), man city(18), Sheffield (17), I just can’t see how you can insinuate that arsenal is being screwed over based on these figures

  12. Tony
    I think you should also include the match result and ball possession stats on the matches that you analyzed.
    We need to see the colleration between fouls committed viza viz ball possession.
    On leceister i think if you look at their players, i can name two “rough” players in Choudary and Ndidi who usually are tasked with breaking up play.

  13. OneFootball has a blurb on what they think will change in football in 2020. VAR is mentioned, but not even a hint about officiating outside of that. Pitty.

  14. OT: Atkinson

    The two oldest years records I found on Atkinson have 0 EPL games. The 2003/4 season, has Football League Div 1,2,3 which become rebranded as Championship, League One and League Two. The season before that, Atkinson only has 9 games, 8 of which are listed as “Football Conference”. I assume this is the 5th tier of football?

    Just glancing at these 2 years (Chi by Eye), I would guess that the mode number of yellows per game is probably about the same as EPL. Which doesn’t feel right to me.

  15. OT: Atkinson

    I am going to guess that the various “leagues” are all going to end up with different (but similar) values for parameters of the probability distribution which fits best (which I am hoping is the same family of distributions for all).

  16. OT: Arsenal “News”

    More crap like, “How Arsenal Could Line Up if They have N of Several Thousand Players They Won’t Buy”.

    Why bother? Why bother writing this crap? Why should we bother to read this crap?

  17. Deb

    You seem determined to contradict everything said on here, the only problem is you seem to have trouble actually reading what people have said, as in this article:

    In which you totally misquoted what I actually said.

    I asked you to apologise for your mistake, you didn’t, as I expected.

    Hardly worth debating with somebody that either cannot read or simply tries to twist what is said to make an unsustainable point.

  18. Okay. This forensic investigations of the Pgmol match officiating officials bias against Arsenal in their Premier League matches carried out by the Untold Arsenal is in order as it has exposed the deliberate evil machinations in match refereeing by the Pgmol referees that have and are still being perpetrated against Arsenal in their Premier League matches. But will this article posting in as much as it has exposed the PGmol anti-Arsenal agenda change anything at Mike Riley’s governed Pgmol that will henceforth see Arsenal being fairly refereed in the Premier League matches? I beg to doubt if any change from evil match refereeing that is ongoing to just refereeing to the favour of Arsenal will happen at the Pgmol any time soon as long as Mike Riley remains in charge of the clandestine organization.

    But notwithstanding, the Gunners who Mikel Arteta the new AFC head coach will select today to at home play against Man Utd alias the Red Devils should bear it in their minds that they are likely going to play again 13 Man Utd players on the Ems’s pitch in the 9:00 pm very cold match kickoff time presumably with the 12th and 13th Man Utd players being the the match center referee and the VAR match rigging device machine. Therefore, on their stepping on the Ems field of play in the cold night today, the Gunners MUST deal with both the 11 Red Devils and the 12th and 13th players playing for Man Utd but disguising as match center referee and VAR device machine colluding to rape Arsenal in open broad day night at the Ems and come away with a win in the match whatever could be the odds against them in the match. The Gunners MUST surmount the odds against the in the match headlong and come out victorious in the match.

  19. So explain this:

    The last 4 home games against Chelsea, Man City, Brighton and Southampton are a joke:


    Fouls = 45
    Yellows = 15

    A card every 3 fouls


    Fouls = 73
    Yellows = 11

    A card every 6.6 fouls

    How on earth are we getting booked at twice the rate of our opponents ?

    Lets not forget we haven’t even been playing well, at least not well enough to warrant the opposition needing to foul us at that rate, so why do they do it?

    Because they know they’ll get away with it, that’s why.

    Now this isn’t a freak this season. From the beginning we’ve been treated worse than our opponents.

    The following are all the other home PL games from the start of the season:


    Fouls = 75
    Yellows = 13

    A card every 5.7 Fouls


    Fouls = 75
    Yellows = 11

    A Yellow every 6.8 fouls

    So not as bad as recently but still, given we areat home, pretty damning statistics.

    From those stats you can see the amount of fouls against us overall is at around 15 per match throughout the season but getting worse, as the first 6 matches it was 12.5 fouls per match but where the last 4 matches it’s been at an average of 18.

    You can also see that the amount of fouls we concede stays pretty consistent at about an average of 12 per game throughout the season.

    But this is the thing, from the start of the season we’ve been getting a card at a worse ratio than our opponent, which may explain why they feel they can foul us at such a rate. Yes they will get carded, but only at the average or slightly less than the average for the season. Where as they can see that we get carded at a higher rate, recently at a ridiculously higher rate.

    What this means is our opponent knows they can turn the game into a physical battle because if we return the aggression, at a card every 3 fouls we are going to get into big trouble.

    If that doesn’t convince you that you are being screwed then I’d love the chance to sell you some double glazing.

  20. And lets not forget, according to some we have to be MORE cynical !!

    In other words we are picking up this high ratio of cards without even engaging in the dark arts.

    Heaven knows how many yellows/Reds we’d pick up if we headed down that road.

  21. I’m watching Spurs v Southampton and it has to be said Spurs are in fact this season being carded at a pretty high foul to card ratio

    Currently today 6 fouls for 3 cards where as Southampton are on 16 fouls for 3 cards.

    And now the special one gets a card for something said on the line.

    The commentators of course don’t berate him as he ‘Doesn’t like losing’ blah blah blah blah.

    But back to the point, it does seem as if Spurs favours are a bit diminished this season.

    But in my defence I have consistently said that given their budget Spurs do in fact over achieve.

    As much as it pains me to say they are a decent side.

  22. @Nitram(or proudkev as someone once called you) like I said, you seem determined to have a confrontation, I’m not interested. The stats untold quoted on cards for/against are for the entire season and they’re simple and clear. We have received 6 more yellow cards than our opponents. Man city have received 18 More(3x our balance), spurs have received 11more than their opponents (double ours), Sheffield 17 more. It’s untolds figures. Andrew highlighted 7 matches involving us where the card to foul ratio was highly tilted in one teams favour. 5 were in favour of our opponents, 2 in our favour. To me, these stats don’t suggest that we’re being screwed any more than man city or Tottenham. If you think it does that’s your opinion, you’re entitled to it, just as I’m entitled to mine

  23. I’m sure if you take some time off from looking for a fight, you might want to check the foul to card ratio of teams like spurs, city Sheffield and indeed all those teams doing worse than us in the for/against table. Maybe you’ll find we are mid table there and perhaps have less to complain about. For example I saw some stats on talksport, we have had VAR go against us 3 times this season, Sheffield has had 7 VAR decisions against them, wolves and Westham have had 6 each, Norwich 5. So instead crying and whining everyday about VAR being used to selectively screw us, I put the decisions in context.

  24. Right, so as you can see by my previous post I was prepared to say it as it is, and here are the final stats for a game that certainly didn’t go Spurs way in many ways.

    They lost.

    Kane got a hamstring injury.

    The ‘Special one’ got a Yellow.

    Oh, and they lost, in case you missed it.

    They were shafted by the ref.

    Yep. They were shafted by the ref.

    These are the stats:

    The final figures for fouls 21 to 8.

    The final figures for cards (excluding the special one) are 3 – 4.


    A card every 2.6 foul.


    A card every 9.5 fouls.

    So there is no doubt Spurs got the rough end of the stick and Southampton got away with another very aggressive performance.

    But as bad as that is compare that with Southampton’s visit to the Emirates:

    Arsenal 13 fouls for 6 cards to Southampton’s 19 fouls for 2 cards.


    A card every 2.1 foul.


    A card every 7 fouls.

    So despite Spurs being away they were not as badly treated as us at home.

    And similarly, despite being at home Southampton were not treated as favourably as they were at the Emirates.

    What to make of this?

    Well, Southampton seem to be a serious flavour of the month. Over the 2 games:

    Southampton 40 fouls for 5 cards.

    A card every 8 fouls.

    Arsenal and Spurs 21 fouls for 10 cards.

    A card every 2.1.

    Now there is no doubt Spurs are hard done by on cards to fouls, but even so not as badly as us and we were at home.

    But either way, under any circumstances, they are figures that simply dont add up !!

    There is quite plainly something amiss with the way games are refereed.

  25. I am sorry that those of us who are suspicious of the PGMO’s application of the rules in all their forms have not been able to explain our point of view in a way that is clear Deb, but I will try one little point. Not all VAR decisions are of equal consequence. If Arsenal were 0-3 down with a couple of minutes to play, there is no point in anyone messing with a VAR decision, but if we were at 1-1 then there would be a point in doing that. What we are doing in all these articles is looking for unusual patterns and trends – like for example the London clubs being clustered together knowing that there are no London referees, that sort of thing.
    I guess the problem is that some people who want to disprove the exploration are applying an approach which involves looking for overt and clear evidence that something is wrong. If there were to be something wrong, that would not be found.

  26. The fouls/card statistics are very enlightening, and I’m certain that you are on to something big here.

    However, these figures are based on the fouls that are given and recorded (i.e. facts)

    I feel that the situation is even worse than this. There are so many fouls that are incorrectly awarded, and fouls that go completely unpunished. The statistics take no account of this. Even in the Manure game last night, there were cases of Arsenal being punished for offences that were ignored when the opposition did the same thing.

    Add to this throw-ins being awarded the wrong way, failure of referees to correctly enforce the 10-yard rule at free-kicks, and the institutionalised nature of the mistreatment being handed out is obvious (even through my Arsenal-tinted magnifying-glass).

    Something is plainly wrong, and it has been for a very long time.

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