Is Premier League refereeing very different from other major European leagues? YES!!!

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
England 20 21 25
Germany 18 25 12
Spain 20 21 14
Italy 20 31 14
France 20 23 16

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.

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.

2: Secrecy

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.

5: Familiarity

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.

6: Corruption

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.

In conclusion

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

For advertising enquiries contact Snack Media at 0207 272 7582 or email

For all other issues please contact Untold Arsenal at


19 Replies to “Is Premier League refereeing very different from other major European leagues? YES!!!”

  1. Spanish league has 380 games per season yet 21 refs with a maximum appearance number of 14 equals 294 games. 86 games unrefereed?

  2. Really great post. Makes you think why there’s such a hierarchy in the first place. Surely the 21 chosen Premier League referees should be qualified to a standard where they can ref any size or game? Are the ones who get fewer games somehow deficient, or does PGMOL use hierarchy as a kind of perk of the job?

    What on earth is actually going on here?

  3. Interesting article. Another factor to consider too is where the referee comes from; they are nearly all from Lancashire, and particularly Yorkshire. And where is the PGMOL based? Yorkshire. Meanwhile, t30% of England’s population live in London and the Home Counties, yet I cannot remember a referee from the region since Ellery or Poll. I had a conversation with the chief football reporter of a quality newspaper, and when I mentioned about the absurd regional disparity of referees in the EPL, it came as a surprise to him. As he said to me ‘ you’re right, I’ve never thought about that before’. He also told me that the media have no access to Riley and the PGMOL, which may account for lack of forensic journalism by the media, although given that situation, you might think they would be far more inquisitive and inquiring into Riley and his secret organisation. It further begs the question as to how he has acquired such power, and why the EPL are not taking a bigger interest into how so many incompetent referees like Jon Moss (Yorkshire), and especially after yesterday’s poor performance, Martin Atkinson (Yorkshire ), or the serial clown, Mike Dean (Lancashire, he moved to Cheshire since coming on the referees list), are given so many important games.

  4. Superb read. I go with your number 6 all day long, and as you say, why is nobody looking into this? And why doesn’t Riley do anything to clear up any of this?
    Have the clubs signed up to keep their mouths shut, no matter what? I sometimes suspect our club may have. After all, Wenger was effectively silenced when it seemed the club would not back his stance in questioning some of these things
    Just to follow up that Richard Keys blog, you picked up on a very significant point Tony, about things being now so bad with refereeing here, it is becoming possible to ignore.
    Would add his highly significant point about Riley hanging around interfering in the VAR bunker most weekends in regards to the Lo Celso travesty, why is he sitting in there trying to control everything? Does he have no life? Is he worried about something? If true, I suspect it might be, what does that say about his trust in his refs, or mike Riley himself?
    And, right at the end, Keys mentions how a lot of current refs contact him pretty pissed off with Riley.
    Keys, an unlikely ally indeed, and a man with some serious inside knowledge, seems like the blame for refereeing and mike Riley’s continued presence goes right up to Scudamore, what made Scudamore appoint such an incompetent as Riley is perhaps the more interesting issue.
    Keys blog well worth a regular read, don’t agree with everything he says, but he has been laying into, and on some levels, exposing Riley and the PGMOL issues for a while, like UA, in stark contrast to some other Arsenal blogs who get very defensive when refs are mentioned, much preferring to lay any blame at the club, despite the mounting charge sheet on the PGMOL which they conveniently ignore, Or put these things down to mistakes, or perceptions, as is their right of course.

  5. As always, another good read. What a surprise that we had Atkinson yesterday and surprise, Mike dean is officiating (cough cough) the Manchester game. We have all seen many dodgy calls over the years but VAR has made me question if I want to watch football anymore. The Lo Celso incident was on another level of decision making that I couldn’t wrap my head around. My conclusion is that Riley has given the word to purposefully make VAR a joke so that there would be a huge outrage and we would go back to the old ways (blatant cheating). Nothing else makes sense. For the first time yesterday, I saw a ref use the pitch side monitor and then make the correct decision! This is how it should work but it seems like they give the accountability to another idiot who has no accountability.

  6. Re referees: more assignments = more money. That’s not complicated. Probably more prestigious assignments as well, i.e., Cup matches, top sides every week. Just follow Riley’s Rules. I’m surprised no MP’s from the Home Counties have looked into it. Are they all supporters of MU and Liverpool? Can’t be. Someone must support Watford, lol. The secrecy and lack of accountability certainly make one suspect some form of corruption. A lifetime non-disclosure agreement when a referee retires? And no one in government suspects anything’s amiss? As Richard says re VAR, “has made me question if I want to watch football anymore”. The entirety of the state of refereeing in the EPL makes it hard for me to follow with the interest and intensity I have in the past. Being an AFC supporter I’m, of course, most concerned with the continued mistreatment of the club by Riley’s minions. But Arsenal are not alone in the mistreatment in the EPL. I still watch quite a lot of matches from all the big leagues in Europe. The difference in refereeing, including accessibility, is appalling. Perhaps people south of the Midlands should be contacting their local and Parliament representatives demanding an investigation or explanation. UA has been doing a great job documenting the situation and it’s time football fans returned the favor. Full disclosure – I can’t as I retired to Florida in the States, lol.

  7. Richard, many would agree that Riley has taken it on himself or been ordered to make VAR a joke to go back to the old ways, however the way it is being used to constantly favour the most powerful, notably Liverpool and Utd could make this notion, if it is being applied, self defeating.
    But going back to Richard Keys blog, assuming you give his info and credence, personally, I do, was encouraged to read that change is coming with VAR, he states he has heard that the EPL/ Riley will have to change their interpretation of VAR or IFAB or face losing their licence to operate it, all in here, should you chose to believe him, but bear in mind this guy has access to the very top of FIFA, UEFA and heaven knows who else

    Losing the licence to operate VAR would be a serious humiliation, affect the brand and make a number of powerful positions untenable
    As for Riley, he just strikes me as someone who has been compromised in some way or another , and not necessarily anything illegal before he sends in the lawyers! For such a secretive uncommunicative man, he is bringing a lot of unwanted attention, bad publicity on himself, and making himself look incompetent at best , something else at worst. Why is he putting himself up for all that’s happening, and what might come his way in the future? Is his salary worth that?

  8. Or simply, it’s just plain old English arrogance that THEY’RE referees are incorruptible and therefore corruption doesn’t need to be looked into.

  9. I think the brand is gone, but it is taking people a while to realize it. The brand was lost when PGMO gifted the league to Leicester. Add in this season’s work to gift the league and the invincible title to LiVARpool; I don’t know how it can recover.

    And I think the big clubs in the EPL know this. If this European superleague comes along; I think the big clubs in the EPL will walk away and then the EPL will crash. A slow crash, sort of like an overloaded dirigible hitting the ground.

  10. Joe

    “Or simply, it’s just plain old English arrogance that THEIR referees are incorruptible and therefore corruption doesn’t need to be looked into”.

    I think you’re right, that could be as much a part of it as anything else.

    We didn’t need to practice. We’ll do it OUR way and show those stupid foreigners how it’s done.

    Yeah right.

  11. Terry I am not quite sure what you are doing with those numbers at all, but you might be confusing the total number of games per season with the number of appearances thus far and the number of referees used thus far. Otherwise I don’t quite see where those numbers are coming from.

  12. Everything in the officiating of EPL stinks of corruption:

    1. The PGMOL select without open competition or set requirements.
    2. The PGMOL appoint match officials without any ballot or chance.
    3. The PGMOL do not broadcast the radio on which they communicate during matches.
    4. The PGMOL do not have an open forum where their process or system can be questioned.
    5. The PGMOL do not follow the instructions of FIFA or any international Football Authority.
    6. The PGMOL are not a sporting body and do not have a code of ethics.

  13. OT: Ozil philanthropy

    In the news this morning (for me anyway), is yet another story about Mesut Ozil helping 40 children. This is a regular occurrence. How many children has Mesut helped since coming to Arsenal? I’m guessing it is over 1000.

  14. OT: Torreira news release, says 8-10 weeks. Which is vaguely through the end of season, but not significantly into summer. So, we should have him back for next season.

    Good luck on the recovery Lucas!

  15. OT: Spuds

    Dumb article at WorldFootball. Headline reads that the spuds are in decline. Gosh, they had a “dynasty” of what, 2 years? And now are in decline? Could easily just be a blip, and there never was a dynasty.

  16. I think Terry has not read the other article where the details show what is wrong.
    For the rest :there is something rotting in the state of football in the PL. Very rotten!

  17. @Joe,

    frankly, my opinion is that the whole of football is rotten from within, and what we see is incompetence, hubris and personal gain rather then corruption.
    Thoses referees are unable to take the same decision in the same situation, they are shunned internationally, they can’t hire new referees probably because no one wants to do that – or do you frankly believe that a young referee does not see the incompetence of his supposedly senior-more-experienced-so-much-better colleagues from the PL ?

    This will doom the PL on the long term. But then, this is how evolution goes. The Budesliga has its own problems, but at least they do their best to have referees up to the task.

    And just wait till the falling pound and Brexit make hiring new players much more difficult…

    This past Sunday, there was a discussion on DAZN and one of the guys talking said : I went to see an Arsenal game. Nothing like the Biundesliga with it’s standing fans. It was a bankers type of even, plush seats, no real passion.

    That just says it all, as much as one likes Arsenal…

  18. Chris, I personally think there is corruption in some form, but hard to argue with what you say here.
    But corruption, or the negative forces you mention, Mike Riley should be relieved of his post, bring in someone new, untainted, who allows referees to breathe and develop.
    I just cannot fathom why this man keeps his job when all is falling down around him, other than he is serving those with an agenda, or he knows where the bodies are buried
    Mike Riley as a head of a referees body is beyond useless, and surely he is by now bringing suspicion onto that body

  19. My opinion of Riley has not changed since 24th October 2004. I have never seen such a consistently shameful display from an official as that which I saw that day.

    Almost 16 years later, things have degenerated further, as more of the officials plying their trade in the PL seek to re-interpret the rules of the game in ways that seem to have little to do with sport.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *