Reffymandering: the new football word to describe the game in the third decade

By Tony Attwood

What is in a word?

Quite a lot sometimes if it allows us to express something complex in a simple way.

The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was invented by a writer on the Boston Gazette in 1812.   It was used when the electoral boundaries in Massachusetts were redrawn to help the re-election of members of Governor Elbridge Gerry’s party.

So what does it mean when we change it to refer to refereeing in football?

Basically, it is a newly created word (thanks to our European correspondent Christophe Jost) referring to the manipulation of football matches by referees or a refereeing organisation, either to promote the interests of some clubs to the detriment of others, or to focus more power upon themselves and make it ever harder for others to challenge that power base.

And it turns out to be very handy to have this word, as opposed to the traditional phrase “match fixing” for a number of reasons.

First, match fixing can be undertaken by players who are persuaded through financial rewards not to put 100% effort into winning a game.   Indeed this tactic might happen quite openly when a club just needs a draw to avoid relegation at the end of the season.  In such a case the players will forego the normal desire to win in order to guarantee the one point they need.   However this tactic would not in itself be against any rules providing only one of the two teams is engaged in this.

However “reffymandering” exposes the power of the referee or indeed a set of referees both to act against one team and in favour of another, and to reinforce its own absolute control over a league.

Second, it has traditionally been imagined that bias by a referee would be easy to spot – and ultimately easy to expose – because the actions of the referee can come under close scrutiny by the media.  But this in itself can be overcome where a number of other factors found within the concept of reffymandering are brought into play.  These factors include…

First, a general feeling that “this simply doesn’t happen,” because no one is talking about it.  Thus the reffymandering organisation needs very close liaison with a compliant media – a liaison that is so strong the media can be induced not even to discuss even the possibility of match fixing by referees

Second, where the effect is hidden through Type III match fixing in which it is the matches of rival clubs that are affected by dubious refereeing practice, rather than the club which benefits from the match fixing.

Third, where the match fixing is spread across a season, so that we have to look quite deeply at the data to see it.   This is achieved by not making all the relevant data available on one place, so that compliant journalists anxious to knock out a quick article, miss the connection, or don’t do the maths.  And it is aided by the media having the view that “fans are not interested in the minutia of statistics.”

To explore this third element a little further we can look (as we have done recently) at the “cards per game” data between clubs and comparing these figures with the number of fouls.   Although this is not desperately complex, the figures become easy to hide in England where there is a long term tradition of match commentators suggesting that maths is not something they understand, nor that the average fan is interested in or can understand.  (Remember BT Sport’s approach to the Emirates cup where the commentators claimed the award of a point for a goal as well as three for a win and one for a draw, made it impossible for them to work out who had won the trophy).

So at the moment of writing (and to take one simple example), we have a situation where Leicester get 1.05 yellow cards per game while Arsenal get 2.57 cards per game.  That seems a huge difference, and multiplied across all 38 league games in a season means many more Arsenal players than Leicester players will be suspended, and Arsenal will play many more minutes with players being extra careful in tackles etc because they are already on one yellow card.

But in order to see the effect fully, a second set of data has to be introduced: how many fouls the club has committed.  Data that is required because one would expect in broad terms a club that gets a lot of yellow cards might be expected to be committing the most fouls.

Interestingly the Premier League figures give us loads of data but not that particular factor.  You can find the most fouls committed by a player on the official site, but not fouls committed per team – which is rather odd.  For that data we have to go to the independent Footchart site.

So when data which compares fouls per team and yellow cards per team is hidden away, while so much other data is made available by the authorities, one starts to wonder.  It is no proof of anything underhand going on, but it is a little strange.

Then when virtually no one from the media seems to want to pick up this story and consider it, one wonders a little more.  And when one does the analysis and finds a very odd disparity that shows that four of the London teams are getting far more fouls given against them than others, and there are no London referees in the League, one wonders further.  Still no proof, but it is suspicious.

Add to that the fact that the referees’ organisation is so highly secretive that referees are forbidden from talking to the media, and indeed the organisation goes so far as to offer financial inducements to its referees not to talk to the media even after retirement, and we have further reason to be concerned.  Throw in the fact that it would be very easy to reduce suspicion about referees if no referee was ever allowed to take control of a game involving the same team more than twice in a season – but this is NOT done, and suspicion grows.  (And with this issue this can hardly be a question of cost, given the incredible profits that Premier League football makes).

And finally add in the fact that the mass media – even the intellectual liberal end of it – won’t touch this topic at all, and that makes the case that Reffymandering might well exist.  It is not proof, it is a suggestion that something odd is going on and needs investigating.

Indeed so many issues are raised here that one gigantic question comes to the fore: why on earth is none of this being examined by the media?   Of course, I don’t know but when faced with something I can’t explain I do try and use the scientific training I had in my student years to look for viable explanations.

One explanation is that media editors and publishers believe that the public are too stupid to be able to understand how such figures can arise legitimately and so don’t raise the issue.   Another is that PGMO has, as part of its contract, an agreement that the fairness of referees must never be questioned.   Another is that the media think that football fans wouldn’t be interested.  Which one? We can only gather information and take an informed view.

Highlighting these figures has come about through the work of people like “Nitram” and Christophe Jost who with many others kindly support the work of Untold Arsenal by providing information and undertaking research.  My position having received this data is that it doesn’t prove match fixing is going on – but it is suspicious (to me at least) that no one in the media ever takes up this issue.  Just as they ignored the fact that Uefa has admitted it does not have the resources to deal with the rise of match fixing.

That’s what makes me think Reffymandering probably exists.  It is the existence of all this data, and no serious discussion.  By which I don’t mean a 3 minute piece interviewing “an expert” on BBC Radio 5, followed by 3 minutes with the BBC’s football correspondent saying no, it is all a bit “conspiracy theory”. I mean something much more in-depth.  But the fact that we don’t even get the two sets of three minutes shows just how deeply hidden this topic is.

Reffymandering.  It’s a funny word.   But then it’s a funny ol’ game.


23 Replies to “Reffymandering: the new football word to describe the game in the third decade”

  1. Tony
    This is a very good article (and I love that new word), but if you really believe in this and your supporting data, then why don’t you take all this evidence to the appropriate authority and report it as organised crime, because that would be what it is.
    Seriously, give it a go, what have you to lose?

  2. The appropriate authority is… well, I suppose the police. Not the FA because I am accusing them of being implicated in dubious practice over the spending of Community Shield money after they were found guilty by the Charity Commission of mishandling of funds. Not the League, because they are working hand in glove with PGMO. Not PGMO because they can’t investigate themselves. Not Fifa obviously. Not Uefa because they are still too busy fighting Manchester City. The only organisation I can think of is the Competition and Markets Authority but given the way they have been operating I can’t see them taking this on in a million years.

  3. Was refereeing in the old 1st Division as controversial as we have had since the formation of the Premier League , maybe the following have had some effect
    1 Money
    2 The amount of cameras at every game
    3 The PIGMOL
    4 The influence of Sir Red Nose for 20 years
    5 The handcuffing of the media by all football authorities
    There are no doubt more reasons but at the moment can’t think of any at the moment

  4. Funny to read blogettas….

    For years now, refereeing and reffymandering were just a bad loser’s excuse.
    Yet suddendly you read comments that basically say : strage refereeing. Normally Arsenal gets carded every other foul and here…just the opposite…maybe someone whispered in Taylor’s ear to lay off….

    Two comments spring to mind

    – potentially what we have been writing about here at Untold Arsenal is starting to find its way into PGMOL and we need to get fans from other London teams to jump on the bandwagon and get some traction behind this subject.

    – the fact that these blogettas bring it up does mean they fully well were aware of the fact we were getting specially refereed, but for ‘political’ reasons they always put it away because it did not fit their narrative.

    I’d say that is a 2 – Nil to the (Untold) Arsenal, would you not ?

    PS : when commentators say : the player just waited for the opportunity to get a foul, the player was very slick in getting the foul, basically explaining how players fool referees, are they not implying the referees are stupid and bad ?!?! Selective that is what they are in their judgements

  5. @Chris, it’s usually referred to by commentators as ‘drawing a foul’ and something Arteta was himself supreme at, so expect to see more of it (as Xhaka did last night and emerged with an absolutely charming grin).

  6. Tony considering yesterdays match it looks like Taylor is reading into your comments. Manure VS Wolves? When and how does VAR work? VAR can go for a short pull but it can not go for a push in a back and a headbutt. But i liked the pudits of that match they where amazed by a similar incidence hit on it, why is it given the other end and not this way. I think with time don’t ask me when we might overcome.

  7. Steve Vallins, I recall seeing a tv documentary many, many years ago, ITV I think, before the EPL creation where referee David Ellery was miked up, as an experiment and insight. It was definitely Arsenal playing and I’m sure it was against Tottenham. The only thing I vividly recall was Tony Adams shouting at the ref “you’re a effing cheat, cheat, cheat, cheat!” When the ref disallowed a headed TA goal from a corner. I was convinced then that Arsenal usually get hard done by with the officiating.

  8. @Davsta
    A similar experiment was carried out when Graham Taylor was miked up , I think what my memory recalls was nearly every other word he spoke during the game was a swear word and was bleeped out , it was an embarrassment to him .
    Regarding Ellery being miked up did anything come from it or like a lot of things in football just passed over for being maybe too controversial .

  9. As I mentioned last night, the attitude of Danny Murphy was disgraceful. Repeatedly saying quite animatedly that Xhaka should be booked and how it was legitimate for an opposition player to foul Xhaka because Xhaka had fouled him before. When Leeds were on top he was loving it, when our players were hacked to the ground we were “getting free kicks for just falling over”. Yes he did compliment Arsenal for their fighting comeback but it was clearly with some reluctance rather than the excited enthusiasm he showed for Leeds.

    But a quick look at the link Tony gives to “Footchart site” tells us something very interesting without having to look too far. Arsenal, as previously shown, are the team who have received the most yellow cards this season despite committing a below average number of fouls. What “Footchart” shows us though is that only Villa have been on the receiving end of more opposition fouls than us. So Murphy’s venom and clear bias against us for our “falling over” and kicking of opponents is complete and utter nonsense.

    In the League we have received a card every 4.8 fouls (counting a red as two cards) whilst our opposition have received one every 6.2 fouls despite having fouled us 22% more. The plain fact is, we are kicked more but are penalised more.

    Murphy is a charlatan with a very clear agenda to bad mouth and falsely accuse Arsenal of wrong-doing whilst being paid public money as a so-called “expert”. I contest that his job should be telling the truth and hence pointing out how badly Arsenal are treated. This wouldn’t appear to be in conflict with any agreement the BBC have with the Premier League since Murphy was quite happy to suggest that the referee wasn’t doing his job properly for not booking Arsenal players.

  10. @Steve Vallins, I can’t say with any conviction what the outcome was as it was only seen once and a long time ago, but let’s use a little imagination and say it made Arsenal look like bad losers, Tony Adams a bully and referees the poor victims in the big bad world of hooligan driven chaos that was footie back then.

  11. @Mickey,

    I made the same remark…the talking idiots always carry the story how Arsenal players are fooling the refs into getting fouls. Now in the day and age ot VAR, does this not imply that refs and VAR and PGMOL are incompetent if they get fooled so easily by stupid Arsenal players ?!?!! So these idiots are basically criticizing the PL, are they not ? Shouldn’t they get a yellow or red from the PL for daring to do that ?

  12. The miked up experiment is still going on. This time it is Miked at the top of the Fixed Game Officials Riley. The PGMOL is a well selected group of well oiled but specially selected match officials doing the Riley magic on the fields of England.

    The technology has taken it from Soho (famous for its ladies of the night) to this Red light area of technology in Hillingdon’s Stockley Park where in back rooms decisions are made to satisfy gambled millions in far away places. Decisions that might have gone the wrong way with the whistle blower but now always go satisfying (just like it was in Soho) the music loving punters.

    How has this beautiful game changed to this unsporting corrupt mess sold to us as ‘The English Premier League of Association Football.’

  13. ‘How has this beautiful game changed to this unsporting corrupt mess sold to us as ‘The English Premier League of Association Football.’

    Menace – by creating a story with so many faces expressing such beautiful images the emotions it generates become the expressions of the moment and the human being can stand proud and tall – ”this is me,” ”this is what it means to be human”- and in these striking moments, the expression of the human being, the game becomes the expression of the culture we all live in, and as it does this, the aspirations of the human beings follow and everything associated with culture – language, movement, politics, the daily news – all follows, all to be expressed through the prism of ‘The English Premier League of Association Football.’

  14. @Tony, I like your conclusion. I also like masterstrokes advice to you. You mentioned a number of possible authorities you could report to, you could report to all of them. However (and this is my main point), I think one of the reasons why nothing is known to have been done about this is in my opinion, the weakness of the case made. With all due respect, the number of fouls to card ratio is not an argument. There is absolutely no research that states that the foul to card ratio is a significant statistic from which to make a deduction. Cards are a result of the QUALITY of fouls and not the QUANTITY. Another thing I noticed was that untold hasn’t done a “number of fouls to red card ratio”, I suspect the data from this doesn’t rhyme with the conclusion.

  15. Deb

    “Cards are a result of the QUALITY of fouls and not the QUANTITY.”

    So Arsenals fouls are more severe or more cynical than almost everyone else, and have been for the last 15 years, a duration of time over which we have been, by and large more severely treated regarding cards.

    Are you serious.

    This is the team that has been endlessly ridiculed for being a bunch of sissy’s that don’t like it up em. Cant stand it ‘up North’ on a cold Tuesday night, and only recently when out ‘Cynicalled’ by City were told by all an sundry they had to get MORE cynical.

    I say again, are you serious.

  16. @nitram, that’s obviously what the person’s responsible for refereeing think.
    *15years? Where’s the data?
    *Being a bunch of sissies doesn’t mean your tackles are cleaner, neither does it stop you from making for example retaliatory fouls. But that’s not the point
    *And can we stick to one point at at time? It’s either we are discussing the validity of the fouls to card ratio, or we agree that it has no significance, and move on to the quality of fouls discussion

  17. Deb, I am sorry that the article is not clear, but in essence there is no need to stick to one topic at a time. This is because two central issues are this: first there are lots of issues that don’t get any discussion in the UK media, yet need to be considered for us to get a picture of what is going on, second there is the issue of why these topics are not being discussed. You can argue that the issues are not being discussed because there is no issue there – but even then it is odd that the media does not consider and dismiss such topics. Part of the problem thus is the lack of discussion of a whole range of issues, which one might expect to be analysed not by a small collection of fans such as people writing Untold, but the mainstream media.

  18. @Deb,

    I’ll take you up on the red card issue and see what comes up. will need some time, however, I am not getting paid to do that and still need to make a living. However, you seem not to understand the whole point. I feel, and many share that feeling, that something ‘creepy’ or ‘unexplainable’ is going on. Forget Arsenal for a while. I am no Spurs fan, so I could care less what happens to our neighbours. Yet, as a football fan, I am surprised to see that they are one yellow short of last season’s total count and we have had only 22 games… How on earth is this possible ? Have they gotten so bad suddendly ? If not, has the refereeing changed ? And why did it have to chage ? Were the refs too lenient last year ?

    Same for Southampton… their number of yellows is way down compared to last year. Is it the new coach ? The referees compensating ?

    Say what you want, large swings are surprising. The more so when you consider Spurs who from May to August had so little changes made to the team.

    Now when you add to that the fact that PGMOL does not communicate at all, does not publish statistics except 99.9 % decisons are ok or something in this direction, it adds to the unease. Something is amiss.

    And lastly, how come Arsenal have had one ref 4 times, 2 others 3 times and 3 refs already twice when we are in game 22 ? Would you not agree that for fairness’ sake, each team on the PL ought to be refereed only twice by the same ref as to make sure that whatever bias (or not good enough competence) a ref could have, it is ‘diluted’ by the fact he only referees two games ? Or does it sound ok with you that some referees get assigned some teams more often then others ?

    Fact is PGMOL does not explain/justify such unbalance. PL does not either. maybe this is just a jolly good joke they play on us fans to make sure we have a debate down at the pub or online…but does this explanation seem credible to you ?

  19. Chris

    “Fact is PGMOL does not explain/justify such unbalance. PL does not either. Maybe this is just a jolly good joke they play on us fans to make sure we have a debate down at the pub or online, but does this explanation seem credible to you ?”

    Given Deb thinks a credible explanation for Arsenals high card count over a 9 year period is that we somehow are worse or more cynical foulers than most, it wouldn’t surprise me if she does think it’s credible.

    Personally I cant wait to hear her explanation because if nothing else it should give us a laugh.

  20. @Chris, thanks for your response. It’s much better than that of someone else who’s more interested in taking my job than standing up to defend his assertion. I did a little comparative analysis of the cards distribution of 7 teams for this season so far and previous 4seasons, I don’t know if you can draw conclusions of bias from them, if you can, please by all means let’s see it

    Team -Rc(rank)/yc(rank)
    Arsenal -1(3)/ 52(1)
    Totts -3(1)/ 50(2)
    Chelsea -0(6)/ 40(3)
    Man utd -0(6)/ 40(3)
    Man city-2(2)/ 39(5)
    Liver. -1(3)/ 20(7)
    Leices. -1(3)/ 22(6)

    Their figures for the previous years in the same order as above are these;
    2(4)/ 69(2)
    3(3)/ 54(4)
    0(7)/ 49(5)
    4(2)/ 72(1)
    1(6)/ 40(6)
    2(4)/ 39(7)
    5(1)/ 60(3)

    2(3)/ 56(3)
    2(3)/ 50(5)
    4(2)/ 45(6)
    1(6)/ 64(1)
    2(3)/ 58(2)
    1(6)/ 44(7)
    5(1)/ 56(3)

    3(2)/ 68(5)
    0(5)/ 62(6)
    0(5)/ 71(2)
    2(3)/ 79(1)
    4(1)/ 71(2)
    0(5)/ 53(7)
    1(4)/ 71(2)

    4(2)/ 42(7)
    0(6)/ 70(1)
    5(1)/ 60(5)
    1(5)/ 65(2)
    0(6)/ 62(4)
    3(3)/ 63(3)
    3(3)/ 50(6)

    Total since 15/16 season(172 matches each)
    Ars – 12(2)/ 287(3)
    Totts – 8(5)/ 292(2)
    Chel – 9(3)/ 265(5)
    Utd. – 8(5)/ 320(1)
    City – 9(3)/ 271(4)
    Liver -7(7)/ 219(7)*
    Leicester – 14(1)/ 259(6)

    *Liverpool have played one less match.

    A few deductions after approx 172 matches played
    1. We are 2nd worst offenders for red cards with 12, Leicester have 2 more than us
    2. We are 3rd worst offenders for yellow cards, man utd and Tottenham are worse. Utd far worse.
    3. I’m not a mathematician to tell how significant these differences are, seeing that all teams cannot post the same figures after 172 games.
    4. Our position on the offenders tables have varied from season to season on the offenders tables. Though 2nd-3rd worst offenders seems to be the average. Most teams have also gone up and down, except Liverpool who have steadily been a low offender among the 7 teams.

    Those were my deductions, I’m sure persons with sharper eyes for detail will pick out other

  21. @Deb,

    I’ve got pretty much the same figures.
    And at this point, don’t know if any conclusion can be made, this is to me just ‘raw’ data and it needs context.

    Now as a follower of Arsenal, having Arsenal 5 fouls from Spurs as third worse offender seems incongruous to say the least. the more so that every pundit and disgruntled fan is always lambasting Arsenal for being too soft, the perfect team to be bullied, etc etc.

    Having Manu as worst offender strikes, me, then again for the past 5 seasons they’ve been without Ferguson, so is this a consequence considering Fergie time was an established fact….

    Now, there may be some very good reasons for it and me not being a specialist cannot see the elepahnt in the room. I’d however expect all theses spacialists to write a story about how the new coach – or the old coach losing his hand – had a direct impact on this fact. I’d expect a paragraph explaining me the wild swing of Spurs considering the fact that the team is pretty much the same and the coach was the same until a few weeks ago…

    Rotational fooling is a concept Tony has brought to light and I’ve seen it done and teams not pay the price, whereas any Arsenal player breathing was being carded.

    Re-refereeing a game is an excellent way to evaluate, it has been fantastically done 160 times or so one season here on UA, to no avail. I think people were rather seing that as sore loser’s project then a ‘protecting the beautiful game’ project. Which is stupid because if referees are poor with Arsenal, they are bound to be poor with other teams. But then the concept of common good has long gone lost…

    I believe the ‘macro’ look will bring nothing and we get clogged down with re-refereeing each game as done before, and only a step back will help. The issue is to choose the right lens/focal with which to look at all that…

  22. @Chris, totally agreed. But I don’t think it strange to see the spurs card swing. The figures above show that is the norm, only exception being Liverpool who have been a consistently low carded side. Take arsenal for example, this season we’re the worst in yellows, last season we were 2nd worst, the season before that, 2teams were worse putting us 3rd. The season before that we were the 5th worst of the 7 teams, meaning only 2teams got fewer yellows, and in 15/16 we were the absolute best, with the fewest yellows of the 7 teams. You could do this analysis for all the teams and get similar, except for Liverpool of course.

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