By Tony Attwood
This article continues from the findings in the previous piece: Why do Liverpool keep getting the same referees?
Here is a simple chart showing refereeing statistics from the five major football leagues in Europe
|Country||Teams in league||Referees used||Max game per ref|
So what are we to take from these figures which look very similar to each other? Well, something rather big, because it turns out that one figure in this simple table holds the key to what is going on in the Premier League, but nowhere else.
First we see the leagues are all of a similar size. Second we note that the leagues use the same number of referees except in Italy which has many more – perhaps a reflection of the fact that it is Italy that has had the worst outbreaks of referee corruption and thus having more referees is a worthy defence against further corruption.
But then third, we come to the final column: the maximum number of games overseen so far this season by any referee. And it is here that the Premier League is out on its own. If we take the maximum number of games run by any referee in the leagues with England’s 25 games being 100% then Germany is running at 48% of England’s total, Spain and Italy at 56% and France 64%,
None of the other big European leagues have referees working at the level that the Premier League has. It is way out in front. 36% ahead of its nearest rival France.
Now the question here is, does this matter? Does it matter that English referees are refereeing many more games than those in other major leagues? Is this odd statistic (which is quite unnecessary – it doesn’t have to be like this in England) the sign that something is wrong in the Premier League?
Of course we don’t have audios or videos of referees being bribed or otherwise criminally pressured to fix matches. But we do know that the more the same small group of referees work with the same teams the more chance there is of corruption. Which is probably why Italy has used 48% more referees than England his season, to referee the same number of games. And which is why all the other major leagues use so many more referees than the Premier League.
We can see England has the smallest number of referees who have worked this season in the top league (21) – equal with Spain. Both leagues have 20 clubs competing for the prizes. So England and Spain are pretty much as one … except for the fact that the maximum number of games done by an English referee is 25, while in Spain it is 14. English referees are on average undertaking 78% more games than Spanish because the same referees are being picked over and over again.
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And it is only happening in the Premier League.
Which means if there were to be match fixing of referees, Spain instantly limits its effect by restricting how many matches the leading referees can take. While in England it is a free for all. If there is a bent referee doing a high number of games he will be able to have a much greater influence on fixing results in England than he can ever have in the other major European leagues.
So the Premier League deliberately leaves itself wide open to match fixing in a way that the other major leagues of Europe does not. And so we must ask why? Why is the Premier League going its own way in refereeing and does it matter?
I think we can answer this under six headings.
1: Media interest
Compared with the rest of Europe there is virtually no mass media interest in referees in relation to the Premier League. Articles about them either as a group or individually appear very rarely indeed in the English media. They are no interviewed on TV.
This last point above is important. The prime reason for the lack of interest by the media is the fact that in England referees are not available to be interviewed, and very, very few refuse to sign the non-disclosure agreement at the end of their career which effectively keeps their life’s work quiet.
3: Inherent benefit of high usage of referees
Is there a good reason to utilise the PL system of a small number of referees a huge amount? Well, actually yes there is… but only if you have something to hide. In such a case it is easier to keep the secrets secret if only a small number of people know them. This link between a small number of referees doing a lot of games, and secrecy doesn’t prove that this is a reason for the secrecy (eg corruption, or a deep desire to manipulate results) – but it suggests it might be.
4: Burn out
Refereeing is physically and intellectually very demanding and like any other job that is both physically and intellectually demanding, the solution is to restrict the number of hours a week one has to do it. This is recognised in many fields from being a top professional musician or actor through to being a top referee elsewhere in Europe, Except in England it seems.
Practice makes perfect, and so refereeing a high number of games can be beneficial. Except if the referee keeps seeing the same players and the players see the same ref, each becomes familiar with the other, and this can be detrimental. The referee can think of player X as liable to commit bad fouls, and so watch him more carefully and if in doubt suggest that player is guilty. The player who is thought to be gentle and not given to committing fouls, is given the benefit of the doubt.
Corruption depends on the person doing the corrupting having a way of getting at the person he wants to get at, AND it being worthwhile. No one would ever corrupt a referee who oversaw two games a year – what’s the point? But a referee who oversees 30 games a year is most certainly worth considering.
Clearly if you want to stop the possibility of corruption of referees you increase the number of referees and reduce the number of games per season each undertakes, ensuring they only oversee each club twice at most in a season.
If that is not done then two things follow. First one looks at the refereeing and asks, “have we seen any dodgy refereeing decisions?” Second we ask, “is there a good reason as to why this situation exists?” If there isn’t, then we may be excused for concluding that this country is one which is designed to allow referee corruption – even if that design has only occurred by chance.
If then we find the normally inquisitive media is simply never asking any questions about refereeing, and not even raising the possibility that anything might be amiss, we might wonder if the refereeing organisation is somehow managing to restrict the chances of the media to report such possible issues, by perhaps making the right to broadcast or report contingent on their willingness not to report such concerns.
And what would a worried writer do? Why, he or she might undertake a few very simple pieces of maths, using a calculator which comes free with every mobile phone. And when she or he finds that the answers are odd the journalist might pose one question:
Why is no one looking into this?
And if that question is never ever posed in the media, one might then ask quite simply, “What on earth is going on here?”
Elsewhere on Untold
How the media tells us what is news, what is not, and how to think
- When the English media ignore a big story like this, you know something is up
- The media should be “held accountable for the way they harass and vilify people”.
- The BBC showed total lack of judgement for Arsenal match, but the kiddies showed their class
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