Data and analyses from Andrew, and from Footballcharts.co.uk Commentary from Tony.
This is part one of a three part series on data that suggests match fixing might be happening in the Premier League, which is being published through the course of today.
I started by asking myself a simple question: if something dubious was happening in the way some referees were working in the Premier League, how might it show up in the statistics? Indeed I wondered would it ever show up at all, or would we forever just be left with a feeling that Referee X “didn’t like us but always favoured them.”
At first I looked at the number of yellow cards that certain clubs get, and found that Leicester get an incredibly small number of cards. Which made me think, they must be a very clean team. Which was interesting because that is not how I remember them.
Arsenal on the other hand, get a very high number of yellow cards, suggesting they are a very dirty team.
So then Andrew helped me by looking at the number of fouls each side committed, and from there we started asking how many fouls it takes to get a card, and rather quickly at that point I began to see something rather strange.
For the number of fouls that sides have to commit in order to get a yellow card is incredibly variable. Not just a bit, but lots and lots.
But this is not an issue of certain referees giving Arsenal lots of cards and the opposition hardly any. And it is not that referee A hands out yellows all over the place and referee Z doesn’t. Rather it is between clubs. Some teams have to commit nine fouls to get a card, others sometimes just one or two. And I don’t mean that in one match, where the figures could be explained by the severity of the fouls. I mean across half a season.
So a little bit of exploration began with the aim at asking a simple question: are all the clubs treated the same when it comes to fouls and yellow cards?
Of course that is difficult to answer since not all fouls are the same, but given that the average PL club has committed over 200 fouls in the course of this season up to Christmas, there’s enough data there to start getting some information.
And before anyone points this out, let me say it first: I am not going to prove that PL football is fixed. Rather I am going to show you some curious findings. You can say it is all down to chance, although if you have ever had a tendency to say “It all evens out in the end,” you might start to wonder when the end is, because this season, the relationship between fouls and cards is not that obvious. Not at all.
Plus there is something else that turned up, which I will come to later.
So let’s start. This is going to take 3 articles, but I hope you can stay with me, because unless you are already prejudiced against any suggestion that something is not quite right in the PL, you might find this day’s reading rather interesting.
Looking at the statistics for fouls and cards this season in Arsenal games, prior to playing Everton, in these matches the home team committed 1733 fouls and the away team 1840 fouls. Meaning away teams get 6% more fouls given against them than the home team. Since home teams attack more than away teams on average, and there are more goals by home than away teams, that could well be put down to the natural flow of the game rather than any referee bias.
In the table below we look at Arsenal games and the number of cards and fouls. The final columns are the interesting ones in that they show how many fouls or fouls + penalties result in a card.
Thus looking at Liverpool v Arsenal, the first game in our list, we can see that Arsenal committed five fouls to get a card. Whereas in the second game shown (Watford) it was only 1.3 fouls to get a card. At Leicester however Arsenal committed ten fouls to get a card.
The exceptional results are given in red.
|Referee||Arsenal cards||Arsenal penalties||Arsenal fouls||Fouls per card||Fouls per (card+pen)|
|Arsenal||Aston Villa||Jonathan Moss||6||13||2.2||2.2|
|Man United||Arsenal||Kevin Friend||2||13||6.5||6.5|
|Arsenal||Tottenham H||Martin Atkinson||3||1||13||4.3||3.3|
|Arsenal||Crystal Palace||Martin Atkinson||2||1||18||9.0||6.0|
|Sheffield United||Arsenal||Mike Dean||4||12||3.0||3.0|
|West Ham||Arsenal||Mike Dean||0||6|
|Arsenal||Man City||Paul Tierney||1||9||9.0||9.0|
Such huge variations in the number of fouls per card (the blue column) might of course be down to 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.
And that was where my quest began. Because I suddenly realised that if I was a ref who was being paid to fix a match that approach would be one that I would use. For it would be incredibly hard to pick up such activity and would be an ideal ploy for any match fixer. Give more cards per foul, or simply more fouls.
But could it be happening? Do Arsenal get more fouls given against them? Do some teams get fewer? We’ll see as this little series progresses through the day.
- 93 players rumoured to be going to Arsenal. Are the journos getting lazy?
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal