If Premier League matches are fixed, how would we know?

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.

Table 1
Referee Arsenal cards Arsenal penalties Arsenal fouls Fouls per card Fouls per (card+pen)
Liverpool Arsenal Anthony Taylor 1 1 5 5.0 2.5
Watford Arsenal Anthony Taylor 3 1 4 1.3 1.0
Leicester Arsenal Chris Kavanagh 1 10 10.0 10.0
Arsenal Brighton Graham Scott 3 10 3.3 3.3
Arsenal Aston Villa Jonathan Moss 6 13 2.2 2.2
Man United Arsenal Kevin Friend 2 13 6.5 6.5
Newcastle Arsenal Martin Atkinson 3 7 2.3 2.3
Arsenal Tottenham H Martin Atkinson 3 1 13 4.3 3.3
Arsenal Bournemouth Martin Atkinson 1 12 12.0 12.0
Arsenal Crystal Palace Martin Atkinson 2 1 18 9.0 6.0
Arsenal Wolverhampton Michael Oliver 0 6
Arsenal Burnley Mike Dean 2 13 6.5 6.5
Sheffield United Arsenal Mike Dean 4 12 3.0 3.0
West Ham Arsenal Mike Dean 0 6
Norwich Arsenal Paul Tierney 1 10 10.0 10.0
Arsenal Man City Paul Tierney 1 9 9.0 9.0
Arsenal Southampton Stuart Attwell 6 13 2.2 2.2
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

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.

13 Replies to “If Premier League matches are fixed, how would we know?”

  1. 1.At Chelseas first goal. Torreira was brought down by Jorghino. VAR was checking for offside!?, even thou it stood “VAR checking foul”

    2. Jorghino with a yellow, bringing down Guendozi from behind. No yellow, but Torreira and Niles get a yellow for the same foul.

  2. adding to the point from “mr. fixed” above, i took a snap of it and posted on arsenal twitter ofcourse without a reply(not wise by me to try and get an official response from our club on that) still… the picture started with torreira going down and the tagline reading” VAR CHECKING POSSIBLE FOUL” and within a moment changed to “VAR CHECKING POSSIBLE OFFSIDE” , obviously offside was not in question so the foul shoudve been cleared first on the big screen which i think was not…

    going back a couple of games, (not talking about the bournemouth game because they were playing a rough game) , against man city before they ripped us apart, we had a few situations before we were goals down, that man city midfielders committed fouls that were from possession overturned and could have easily been given yellow cards but were not at that point in time, (although later yellow cards were given to them)

    IN short im keenly looking forward to reading your next articles, in this series, because in my memory this has been an issue for so long that i have stopped even moaning about it to my brother who watches most games with me, since we both know this will be happening every other game.

    Arsene wenger pointed it out over the years in words that were not crystal clear but had been hidden under a few hints .

  3. One game stood out for me in that list which was the Villa game. Not only was it extraordinary that we picked up six cards for 13 fouls, to this day I fail to see how Villa got away with just one yellow having committed even more fouls than us!

  4. Looking forward to the rest of the articles.
    Last season at first it looked that the PGMO backed off a bit now that Wenger was gone (they hated Wenger as much as the AAA did). But gradually it became worse again.
    So the only conclusion for me is that Riley just hates Arsenal completely and will do all he can with his refs to stop us

  5. Perhaps in the position we are in, Riley scents blood.
    If it is Riley though,I would suggest he would only take such risks if there was an element of personal gain.
    Will be interesting to see how Arteta takes this, he is a smart guy, if there is something amiss, I suspect he will be banging on Rauls door asking him to sort this at exec level.
    Wenger was silenced, Ivan it seems did very little, perhaps he has his own agendas, Emery didn’t seem to have enough sway on matters, Arteta will be interesting, after his cautiously scathing comments on the officials in the Chelsea game

  6. If a person has “enough” data, more things can be looked at. But can you ever have “enough” data?

    In a sense, the number of fouls, cards and penalties are things which are counted. And hence, the first guess as to the type of probability distribution to look at is probably Poisson (where variance equals mean). But, if some distributions have variances significantly higher than the mean and some are significantly lower than the mean; that could be due to someone “cooking” things.

  7. Being an Arsenal fan or not, the basic question one ought to have looking at this stat is :

    in what other profesionnal league in the world can a team have twice the same referee in successive games ? How about thrice ? Or even 4 times. We are talking SUCCESSIVE games here….so on the 17 first games we have 2 doubles, 1 triple and 1 quadruple….If one extrapolates that, Arsenal will have one ref at least 8 times, 2 others at least 6 times, and 2 mores 4 times. Talk about stacking the deck.

    This leaves another question open, in my mind, what does the picture look like seen from other teams’ perspective. Because the unbalance on the Arsenal side, has to be ‘balanced’ by an unbalance for other teams as well, has it not ?

    And we don’t know who the guy in charge of VAR was, so that may add another level of repeat/exclusivity to the picture…..

    If I’d want to buy Arsenal FC, well that would be a strategy : make sure they fall down…disgust the current owner and the fans and then any offer you make will be looked at with interest… and where would it be easier to start as with an organisation as secretive and with so few actors as PIGMOB ?

  8. i believe Games are manipulated by the refs on orders from the fa.
    It would be great if there was a journalist out there wanting to make a name for themselves Expose how supporters are being cheated and conned.
    The one positive is that more people are noticing the discrepancies in matches.

  9. OT: Chambers

    A few places in the medja claiming that Chambers is done for the season. It seems that in the last game, he hurt himself badly. Not that he was hurt by an opponent, he hurt himself.

    Get well soon Calum.

  10. @Jeff,

    definitely something fishy going on, I’m starting to think that i’ll look into betting, because there are tendencies to be seen….

  11. Another very important thing to consider is when the yellow cards are given. I would bet my last pound that we receive our yellows on average earlier than most other teams, especially compared to those like Leicester who only get cards infrequently compared to us.
    It is bad enough getting a yellow but much worse if it is given in the early stages of the game rather than the last minute.

  12. Nice research and nice article highlighting an obvious bias against Arsenal since the rise of the brilliant Arsene Wenger.

  13. Last night against Manure, we received our first yellow just after 2 minutes into the game, for our first foul, iirc. That is certain to put pressure on a player player, especially one coming back from injury. Kavanagh seemed quote happy to let Manure players commit worse fouls without even talking to them. Matic was guilty in the first half, and Lingard/Fred were guilty of numerous transgressions without receiving yellows.

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