By Tony Attwood
Did someone put pressure on the Observer to publish its misleading story about away results this season?
As you may have noticed, last weekend the UK Sunday newspaper “The Observer” published an article purporting to tell readers that the enhanced away advantage they may have heard about which arose during the period of ghost games, was over, and everything was pretty much back to normal.
In fact the story was completely invented. The figures used were totally out of date, and related to 20 leagues across Europe. As such they had nothing to do with the Premier League this season.
It took us but a couple of minutes to undertake real research which showed that up to sunday night the shift in the balance of home wins to draws to away wins has utterly changed from this time last year. The figures we presented were
|Percentages of results 2019/2020 (crowds present)
|Percentages of results 2020/2021 (empty stadia)
|Difference between the two sets of games
Away wins up 15% on the same period for last season.
Now it really did only take a few minutes to put that research together. So why did the Observer give us a set of out of date data which showed that across Europe the figures haven’t changed from last season, while seeming to suggest that these figures were relevant to the Premier League now?
It could of course just be sloppy journalism, and goodness knows there is enough of this around to make us think every newspaper cock up is sloppy journalism. Last summer in the transfer window Arsenal were linked by the media with over 130 players. You may recall that we most certainly did not sign most of those!
You might also recall the expose we did of a piece in the Mirror which accused Arsenal of being involved in match fixing in the early 20th century. That wasn’t hard to set right since our sister site the AISA Arsenal History Society website has published the most detailed study of Arsenal in the early 20th century ever undertaken
Arsenal were never once accused of match fixing in the early 20th century – that was very much Liverpool and Manchester United, who were repeatedly implicated or found guilty. Arsenal’s only connection was that their chairman went to one of the fixed matches and wrote a newspaper article about it, and was warned as to his future conduct by the FA!!! We were able to set the record straight in about five seconds.
But the Observer is a newspaper that over the years has run a few good scoops, and is not remotely akin to papers like the Sun and Star which will publish anything just to fill a page and get an audience. What’s more the writer was a senior figure in the reporting world. Why would he do that?
The first option is that the paper was short of stuff, the journalist knocked it out in a couple of minutes, and that was that. OK, possible, but it doesn’t really fit with what the Observer and its sister paper the Guardian do.
The second is that the author read the Reading University academic paper and simply didn’t understand what he was dealing with. Again possible, but really not that likely.
And the third… Well, the research the Observer failed to report was that from the London School of Economics where the research team under the guidance of a senior academic at the university who is also a director of Atletico Madrid, gave senior English referees videos to watch of complete games. Half of them had headphones which had the actual crowd noises from the game, and half watched in silence. The half with the headphones relaying crowd noise gave much more to the home team, than those who watched in silence. There’s the influence, and the reason that the number of home wins is so different now.
So who is worried by this enough to get a respected newspaper to write a cock and bull story suggesting the figures have not changed? Well, only one organisation that I know: PGMO who not only run the referee business for the Premier League, but have also previously boasted that their referees get 98% accuracy in Premier League games.
That number has now been challenged by the finding that in empty stadia results are very different from in full stadia, and that the cause is that the refereeing decisions are influenced by the crowd.
This means that the PGMO 98% accuracy figure was just an invention. They certainly did not reveal how they got to that figure – it was just presented as fact, and the media lapped it up.
So it is possible that the Observer is trying to cover up articles in which it has claimed that referees are 98% accurate in the Premier League. But that seems a little unlikely – papers don’t normally bother to cover up their mistakes. They assume their readers are morons with no awareness of yesterday, and like the papers in Orwell’s classic novel “1984” just rework reality day by day.
Which leaves just one scenario. PGMO called the Observer and said, “We need to wipe out this story that our referees were influenced by the home crowd,” and the Observer agreed.
OK that might sound a bit unlikely, but as Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say in “The Sign of Four” (chapter 6) “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
I’m speculating, and it is not just the Observer of course, for the rest of the media have refrained from examining this story at all. As for the reason… well maybe they don’t think it is worth investigating whether referees act reasonably and in a competent manner in the Premier League. Untold Arsenal does, which is why we have published so many articles on the subject over the years. Maybe that’s it.
Certainly this is the first time that within a few days of one of our revelation pieces about referees we have found one of the upmarket papers setting up a ham-fisted attempt to discredit us.
But I ask you. If the PGMO were not behind this, why did the Observer publish it? They can read the Premier League table as well as well as we can, and can realise in a trice that 43% of games up to 6 December were away wins, up 15% on last year. Why deal with the European figures with old statistics, when there is a much bigger contemporary English story staring us in the face? Unless someone was pushing you.
One last point. As you may have seen, each week we are publishing analyses of tackles, fouls, yellow cards and penalties in the Premier League. Again, no one else is – and yet the figures both last season and this provide amazing insights.
And every now and then, when we spot something outrageous, and write about it, the situation seems to change. But no one else ever mentions it.
We’ll come back to that with this week’s figures on Wednesday.
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