Why is the issue of the number of fouls that lead to a card, being kept secret?

by Tony Attwood

It started on 19 December when Nitram’s article on this site noted that “Three sources suggested in the post-match comments after the Man C game that Arsenal could learn a lot from how the opposition approached the game with their approach to fouling.”

“We might perhaps remember,” Nitram continued, Man C staff, “making reference to how the high-press intensity of Southampton was such a big part of their draw without ever mentioning the fact they got away with just 2 cards for 19 fouls and we received 6 cards for just 13 fouls of a similar level and type.”

Now we can at least understand why he/they don’t want to be ‘controversial’, and to a degree we get it. We don’t agree with it, but we get it.  If I were running Man C I wouldn’t want to say “we committed many more fouls than the opposition and got away with just a third of the yellow card total Arsenal got, and that of course is an important part of our strategy.  We know what the refs give cards for and we play to that.”

So where are Arsenal in this?  In the issue of cards and fouls, we do have an absolute measure of what is going on?  Are for example Arsenal lacking in the Man City grasp of the subtleties of ref behaviour?

Certainly it seems either that senior members of Arsenal can’t even see what’s going on under their very noses, or that they can, but there are agreements between the club, the PL and PGMO on what can and can’t be said, in relation to referee performances.   And our managers over time, don’t seem to be able to take advantage of such knowledge.

But really, given the huge level of data provided by Opta and the club’s own analyses they must know exactly what is going on.

Certainly that would seem likely, since with the present way we are being refereed, to suggest we should be more ‘cynical’ is unbelievably naïve to the point of stupidity.   Without a deal with the PGMO we’d be crucified on the pitch by the refs, and in the media after the game.

These are the statistics from our 3 home matches in sequence collated by Nitram for his article (see here for the full article).


  • Fouls = 32
  • Yellows = 10

That’s a card every 3.2 fouls.


  • Fouls = 54
  • Yellows = 7

That’s a card every 7.7 fouls.

The only possible explanation away from corruption there could be for figures such as this would be that the intensity and seriousness of the Arsenal fouls was 2.5 times more serious than those of the opposition.  I haven’t seen it, but more to the point I’ve not seen any suggestion of this in the media – and I find that quite indicative because the media do look to make suggestions like this especially when Arsenal are involved.  They don’t always use statistics but they do pick up on the meaning of such stats on occasion.

Of course we don’t have the smoking gun – the tape recording of people discussing match fixing or a note from one person to another setting out arrangements, but we do have statistics that make very strange reading.

Now the clubs and PGMO will of course be completely aware of this, just as they have been aware of the very strange figures from Leicester which we highlighted earlier (21 yellow cards against them with 44 cards against their opponents – a figure way out of line with almost every other team in the league), and this is where the total silence of PGMO is very frustrating.  If they were even half as open as the referee organisations in some other countries they would put up a rebuttal on their website showing where we have gone wrong with our analysis, and giving their counter explanation of these figures)

Let us imagine that these figures that we are seeing can be explained perhaps through the style of play of the clubs – that is to say that because of their style when Arsenal commit fouls they are much more likely to be cardable fouls than when other clubs commit fouls.   They might put up some example videos so that we can all learn.   And indeed it could argued that helping fans learn is surely part of the remit as that could reduce fans’ anger.  At least that is how it seems in other countries.

But as it stands we were left without the explanations as to why referees are tending to give two and a half times more cards to Arsenal for each bunch of fouls, than they do to Leicester.  Explanations such as…

  • Arsenal’s fouls are of a more serious kind (no evidence that I can observe or find on any website of that but it could be an argument)
  • Arsenal are repeat offenders (a hard one to argue given the number of fouls called)
  • It’s just a quirk of the numbers, as is the very low number of Leicester cards per foul.

There might be other explanations too.  But whatever they are I am left with one question.

What on earth is the benefit to football in general, football fans, players, managers and the PGMO in keeping the statistics hidden away so we have to go searching, and the explanation of these strange stats, a secret?

And to be clear the Leicester yellow card stat is just one of the more obvious of many odd stats that come from this analysis.  That’s the problem.

I’d really like to thank Nitram for putting me on this track – in terms of understanding PGMO and referees it is one of the most interesting approaches that we have followed across the years.

20 Replies to “Why is the issue of the number of fouls that lead to a card, being kept secret?”

  1. Guys,

    I agree with all that, yet I’d take a step back and look at the larger picture like the previous post started. I definitely am no Sp*ts fan, but their stats on cards are as bad as Arsenal. Let’s spare ourselves the cynical ‘well they deserve them’ and come back to the numbers. They are being hammered as well. And other in the London area are as well.

    The only way to bring the issue to the front, I believe, is by getting other teams – their supporters – on board. To give the topic some viral element. To get some twitter/social trending : #PLBADREF or whatever may be found to make the concept easily understandable.

    As long as it is seen from Arsenal perspective, it will be considered by most as moaning.

  2. Happy new year to all that read this.

    I lost count how many times Fred of man united commited fouls, or seemed to at least, and while Arsenal had two players booked, I do not recall any united players shown a yellow.

    Nothing more to say really.

  3. How about this as a possibility…An early high press stops the other team from running. Fouls committed in this phase do not seem as egregious as fouls committed when a player is running at you or alongside you. Hence, they look like innocuous, even accidental, or at a stretch just ‘comings together’. Of course, looks can be deceiving.

    Related to this, I have always thought a way to nip rotational fouling in the bud is to keep track of team fouls like basketball. Perhaps a yellow card (after 15 fouls maybe?) to the captain would add something….just an idea.

  4. Surely a referee can count.
    15 fouls and no card is at best incompetent.
    Captain should be told after say 10 fouls that the next foul is going to be a yellow card whoever commits it.

  5. Picking up on the London theme, the population of London and the Home Counties represents about a third of England’s total population. Every weekend, there are innumerable football matches played in this area, involving young and old referees, and amongst that vast number, it might be assumed a few would gravitate to the EPL ranks, but no. Just take a look at the home of each E P L referee, and apart from about four from the Midlands, West Country and Northumberland, , they are exclusively from Lancashire/Cheshire,, and significantly, Yorkshire. And where is PMGO based – Leeds, headed up by the pathetic Mike Riley, the sane man who ended our 49 game run by giving Rooney a penalty for diving and was known to be scared of Alex Ferguson. Incidentally, last night’s referee just happens to come from Manchester too!

  6. GGG a reasonable theory but an example I gave after the Chelsea game . In minute 8 Tomori brought down Ozil a couple of yards outside the right side of their box. We got the free kick. Three minutes later, Guendouzi committed an almost identical foul a couple of yards to the left of our box. Neither tackle was more savage than the other and neither attacker was in a more advantageous situation than the other. The only difference…….Guendouzi got a yellow. A Chelsea supporting friend of mine couldn’t not see why either!

  7. Chris

    I had read and seen stats that did indeed show Spurs were having as bad a time of it as us, if not worse.

    In this article https://untold-arsenal.com/archives/78810 I did mention that, but I also showed that despite being screwed at Southampton they were still not as badly treated as we were against them, and we were at home.

    I also went over the initial comments that got me going on this, which was that we should be more cynical.

    Note: These comments were actually made after the City match by Freddie, Adrian Clarke, in his very good post match analysis, and the guys in the Arsenal.com studio, in their post match analysis, not by city staff.

    My point is, we are getting all these cards whilst actually playing a very passive style of football, to suggest a more aggressive style to the point of ‘cynical’ was ludicrous.

    With the way we are being refereed we’d be lucky to end games with 9 men let alone 10.

    Tony put forward the very credible argument within our article, that perhaps it was a very subtle way of Arsenal FC highlighting how teams playing us are getting away with cynical rotational fouling, without actually criticising referees or sounding like they were just whinging.

    A very clever ploy if that is indeed what it was, alas clever or not, given how we have been refereed since it certainly hasn’t worked.

    As for Spurs getting it rough that is a mystery. But I did put a theory forward earlier that maybe somewhere it was noted that they hadn’t actually had a red card in the PL for something like 2 years, and for a side with Deli Ali in it that can only be seen as a miracle.

    Maybe, just maybe they are getting a bit of pay back.

    But a more credible theory does seem to be the one dug up by Mikey and John that there does seem to be a definite bias against a majority of London sides.

    There definitely seems to be some worrying patterns emerging.

  8. Nitram,

    I try to take a step back from a specific game or pair of games to enlarge the picture.
    And Sp*urs are getting f….d as bad as AFC. That in their case it would be ‘more’ correct may be possible, yet it still sounds strange that they would really foul twice as bad as Leicester or Pool! as much as I don’t like them.

    My opinion is that as long as we are the only ones complaining about it, it will be perceived as ‘bad losing’. The facts that are being uncovered need to be multiple and brought out in the open. Not kept in a red context only. Once it trends on social media and the web, something happens.

    This ‘thing’ started someday…wonder if we could go back 15 or 25 years, and see when suddenly all changed… anybody remember playing the Orks ? 49 ? if you consider the facts that the vast majority of people involved are coming from the north… wtf, why is some sort of old boy’s network possibility that outlandish ? And all getting a piece of the business. How was PIGMOB created, who decided…there is a lot of stuff that would be of interest

  9. Following the defeat of Manchester United by Arsenal there have been a lot of rumblings in the upper levels at Old Toilet and it appears Mike Rileys days are numbered. He has breached his contract to ensure Uniteds supremmacy over Asenal.

    Strains of ‘Sacked in the morning’ were heard emanating from the PGMOL’s offices in Soho.

    Welcome to the score and the card count 2 0, 2 0.

  10. Calum out for long time. Possibly not back for beginning of next season.

    Of course, part of this story for the medja, is that Calum injured himself. No opposition player injured him.

    Good luck with the rehab Calum.

  11. Chris

    I know what you mean when you say “My opinion is that as long as we are the only ones complaining about it, it will be perceived as ‘bad losing’” but I have been looking at these stats for years, at a guess since around 2005 or there abouts, and we have consistently been harshly treated.

    There were seasons when we were actually treated ok, and as such teams were treated worse than us, but they were few and far between.

    We consistently languished near the bottom.

    The season after the invincibles was bad. I have a clear memory of the fact going into the infamous match 49 we sat on around a card every 5 fouls whilst United were sitting on around a card every 14 fouls.

    I have searched high and low for the fouls/cards stats for that season and cannot find them anywhere.

    I would be grateful if anyone could put me out of my misery because I would love to know if my memory is accurate or indeed I am going gaga as Mrs Nitram suggests !!

    As for when it started. I believe one of our regulars did some stats pre Riley and post Riley, and they were damning.

    I’m sure they’d be in the archives but where I have no idea.

  12. Nitram,

    just to make myself clear, I am convinced, I know Arsnal are treated worse. Not arguing this at all. After all my own daughter got so disgusted after years of ref abuse that she quit watching games…..

    The fouls/cards etc stts can be found here.


    Just reading through them makes for surprises…things ain’t what they seem…..

  13. If I remember correctly, the PL fiasco began in 2003 when we were looking good for the title. Andy D’Urso at Bolton, and the two games following that.

    Not forgetting the 2001 FA Cup final double-act – Stephan Henchoz and Steve Dunn.

  14. Switching threads on my analysis of cards from Atkinson. Last post was: https://untold-arsenal.com/archives/78785#comment-971190

    His carding rate was hard to look at. What I have here, is the median carding rate he has had starting with his 2002/3 season.

    3, 2, 2, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3 and 2.

    The median is supposed to be a more robust indicator of central tendency than the mean. The changes in the mean from year to year could have a person trying all kinds of things to try and guess what might be happening. Looking at median cards per game is mostly showing 3 cards per game. Ignoring the first couple of years (when he was doing little or none EPL work), there is the 1 early on and the 2 of this (half) season. If we had three 3’s and a 4 for a pattern, a person might look at World Cup/Olympics type influences.

    Robust means in the presence of outliers.

    Which might be helpful for Nitram/Tony/Andrew. If we know the median rate of yellow cards for all of 😈 Mike Riley’s _mob_, it might help in picking out unusual games.

    There are some circumstances where the variance is smaller than expected. So, I need to look into generating median and mode estimates from the histograms, based on theoretical distributions.

  15. OT: LiVARpool 2 0 SheffU

    Fouls are 5:8, cards are 0:0. Offence however you measure it, is about the same over the game. LiVARpool had most of everything.

    Paul Tierney is the PGMOL twit in charge.

    Apparently no treatments.

  16. ManU were bullied by Arsenal

    Yes, we let ManU kick us all over the field, and we never demanded that they be carded. And ManU ended the game with 0 cards, proving that they are the most wonderful thing in their own minds.

  17. One deliberate foul by Henderson, bringing a Sheffield U attack to a premature end was called a foul but no card! It is as though cards are not part of the Laws when it comes to teams that dominate. Another subjective opinion!!

  18. A medja report had this one sentence paragraph:

    However any proposed changes would not be enforced until the end of the season for fears over the integrity of the domestic competition.

    With such screwy officiating, how can they say the game has integrity now?

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