Those who can make you believe absurdities: how the media affects refereeing

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”

By Tony Attwood

I don’t normally quote Voltaire on Untold, not indeed do I normally quote 18th century French philosophers in general, but when considering the situation regarding refereeing in the Premier League it is a case of desperate situations…

We know from experimentation conducted by academics that referees are influenced by crowd noise, coming to different decisions when watching TV footage with crowd noise from when they watch without.

We know that PGMO claim PL referees are 98% accurate in their decision making, which given the way they are influenced by crowd noise cannot be true since the research shows they are influenced by crowd noise.

Now using figures from Who Scored we can see that:

The top five referees in the Premier League in terms of games refereed (Atkinson, Oliver, Taylor, Dean, Tierney) have between them refereed 113 games this season.  In the Bundesliga the five most active referees have between them refereed 70 games.

There are two implications in this.  First if there is a referee who is biased or simply not very accurate in his decision making, the fewer games he takes the better.  So keeping the number of games per referee down is always going to be a good move when considering the integrity of the game.  And the more times a referee sees a particular club, the more familiar he can become with the players – which is self evidently not a good thing.

But maybe it is the Germans being a bit odd, not giving their top referees enough to do.  But no, in Spain the top five referees in terms of appearance have between them taken 72 games this season.  Very similar indeed to the Germans.

In the top Italian league the number of games taken by the five most employed referees is 65.  Even lower than Germany and Spain. In France the number is higher – it is 90 – but still not up to the Premier League level.

But is there anything wrong with referees undertaking lots of games?

Of course if they are fit, they can certainly oversee games regularly, so that is not a problem.  Rather keeping the number of games they do down ensures that if there were to be a rotten apple in the barrel or an incompetent on the pitch, that referee’s influence would be limited.

In the Premier League Atkinson  has taken 25 games.  In Italy the number of games taken by the most active referee is 14 – almost half.  In La Liga it is 15.  As it is in the Bundesliga.  In France it is 16.

So the other four big time leagues in Europe have their top referees doing between 14 and 16 games thus far, while Atkinson is undertaking 25 games.

Now the Premier League website does give us the total number of games referees have taken, but noticeably it does not tell us which clubs each referee has overseen.  We have to work that one out ourselves.  Interestingly Soccerbase, normally a very helpful website, doesn’t like to tell us that either.  I wonder why.

However we do have on the Untold (unpaid) team, Andrew, who very kindly keeps a refereeing record for Untold.  His last report on this was on March 8 when he revealed

Liverpool As Referee As 4th Official As Video ref Total Involvement Involvement % of games played
Michael Oliver 6 0 2 8 27.6%
Anthony Taylor 4 3 1 8 27.6%
Paul Tierney 2 1 6 9 31.0%
Craig Pawson 1 1 4 6 20.7%
Martin Atkinson 3 0 1 4 13.8%
Chris Kavanagh 3 0 1 4 13.8%
Jon Moss 3 4 1 8 27.6%
Andre Marriner 3 1 3 7 24.1%

So here we have two issues in the Premier League.  First, there is a much smaller number of referees than in other leagues.  That seems foolish or a doorway to corruption.  But if that number of refs is what we have to have, surely they ought to be spread out between the clubs evenly, rather than having the same referee overseeing the same club so often.

Now let’s turn this upside down and ask two questions….

  • What is the benefit of the richest football league in the world using far fewer referees than other leagues?
  • What is the benefit of the richest football league in the world allowing the same referee to be involved in over a quarter of the matches Liverpool play?

Or we can turn it around and ask of the other major leagues in Europe, what benefit do they find in restricting the number of times a referee can be involved with a particular team?

The answer to the final question is obvious: it makes corruption harder, and given that we know that referees are influenced by the crowd, moving the referees around more will probably reduce that impact, which we now know from the ghost games experience and the silent video test, is quite strong.

We could also ask, why does the English media fail to engage in this issue at all?  The only answer there that I can think of is that they are complicit in what is going on, agreeing not to mention this difficult facts in return for access to press passes.  Why else would they refuse to touch the topic?  It would after all fill up quite a few column inches.

But then as Voltaire says, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”

You might also enjoy: The revelation that has scuppered PGMO once and for all


2 Replies to “Those who can make you believe absurdities: how the media affects refereeing”

  1. I have argued for years that it is the media and their bias that determines how the man in black referees a game, as much, if not more so than the ‘home crowd’ effect.

    As we know UA has been recently looking at the effect of the home crowd on referees, and more specifically the reasons behind it.

    The most popular theory is that referees are ‘only human’, and as such are susceptible to the pressures of the baying crowd. The more vitriolic, abusive, aggressive or just plain nasty the home crowd is, the more likely a referee is to succumb to their will. He may do this consciously, or subconsciously, we can only guess at that, but that he does it, there is little doubt.

    This is a theory I wholly subscribe to.

    I too am ‘only human’, and even when I was just ‘running the line’ on a Saturday afternoon, I felt the pressure emanating from a ‘crowd’ numbering in the mere dozens. To add to this I had the pressure of my own team mates bellowing at me, with their arms raised, classic Adams style, whenever an opponent was within a yard of being offside.

    I had to face these guys in the changing room after the final whistle, which could be pretty awkward if I hadn’t given a crucial decision they thought was ‘off’.

    But I swear on my life, I never once bowed to either the baying crowd (crowd in the loosest possible terms you understand) or the desperate back line, but I felt the pressure all right, even at that comparatively insignificant level. As I say, I’m only human.

    So yes I get it.

    Now regarding the medias relationship with the referee, I believe their performance is similarly affected by them, and it is based on the fact that again, referees are ‘only human’.

    In the simplest terms I can come up with, this is how I think it works:

    And these first 3 points are crucial.

    1) I believe it is the media that are the judge jury and executioner of referees, not Riley or his cohorts.

    2) How good or bad a referees performance was, is entirely down to how it is perceived and reported by the media. If the media conclude he had a good game, well he had a good game. If they say he had a stinker, then he had a stinker.

    3) PIGMOL’s, The Assessors, Riley’s judgements are all simply a bi product of the medias verdict, to such an extent that I believe their judgment will simply follow the consensus of the media.

    As such the referee knows exactly WHO he needs to please, and given how obvious they make it, HOW he has to do it. He knows full well how important it is to keep the hacks happy. If the hacks are happy, Riley is happy. If Riley is happy, his job is safe.

    The referee knows if he gives a soft penalty against one of their darlings he will get slaughtered. If he gives it in favour they will find a way to justify it.

    Make no mistake the referees know how it works. I mean, we do, why wouldn’t they? Not only are referees ‘only human’ they are also not stupid.

    Much like the pressure from the crowd, the pressure from the media is real.

    Talking more specifically about Arsenal I believe, despite the protestations of some, it is undeniable that the media has a chronic dislike of Arsenal.

    The referees know this. They see and hear the same constant critisism and abuse our club receives that we do.

    A referee knows, before the game even starts, that giving us a crucial, controversial decision, could possibly, or in fact is highly likely, to see them pulled to pieces on SKY Sports, Talksport, MOTD or in the Sunday papers.

    A bad call against us is often as not simply brushed aside, and often as not completely ignored.

    Ask yourself, if you were refereeing us and had a fifty fifty call to make, would you give it to us or our opponent ?

    No it’s not an exact science obviously, so how wonky or fair a referee may be in any one match could depend on who we were playing. The importance of the result. The current score line. The time of the match.

    But the point is, before the kick off the media will leave the referee in absolutely no doubt as to WHO they want to win, and one things for sure, he knows it wont be Arsenal.

    If he has that crucial match deciding fifty fifty call to make, he knows what will happen to him if he calls it wrong in the eyes of the media. He knows he will be slaughtered.

    I think the pressure on the referee from the media to make the calls they want is immense and should NOT be underestimated. As Mikey has shown with his stats regarding the yellow cards awarded at The Emirates, it seems the pressure from the media is so great it overrides even the pressure that my be applied by the home crowd.

    To override that normal home bias simply in order to not favour Arsenal in any way shape or form, if at all possible, must be enormous.

  2. Small correction. That last line should read:

    The pressure to override that normal home bias, simply in order to be seen not to favour Arsenal in any way shape or form if at all possible, must be enormous.

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