Revealed: How clubs have evolved their “referee handling” tactics with such success

By Tony Attwood

In my recent articles about the bias of referees in terms of favouring the home team when there is a crowd present, I have moved away from earlier commentaries on this site which have sought to show that there is persistent bias by referees in the Premier League.

Now I want to try and pull the various elements in our discussions about refereeing in the Premier League together.

First, there is the bias that has been revealed by the LSE research which shows how crowds influence referees.  This is now clearly proven, and is revealed both by the movement in terms of the change in the percentage of home and away wins, and the percentage of home and away team penalties.

Second, there is the level of errors and general bias which was revealed through the review of 160 games at the start of the 2016/17 season  that were considered in depth by Walter and his team.

Third there is the policy of the media in which each outlet follows the others.  Thus none of the British media has covered the legal cases involving Fifa and its top executives, except one in which Fifa is bringing charges against Blatter, and so put out a press release which the media dutifully published.  Cases in which Fifa is the defendant (as in Switzerland at the moment, or the announcement by Uefa that match fixing was out of control) are simply not mentioned.  Our news is being edited.

Finally there are the policies of PGMO, the organisation that runs refereeing in the Premier League. There is an article on that here, and links to further articles relating to our research into the workings of PGMO which show there are numerous elements of their work in the PL which should be carefully considered and questioned, but which through general agreement, are again never touched by the media.

Now those four different areas of enquiry have all come from Untold, without support from other blogs, the broadcast and print media or anyone else.  In some cases we have factual information, and in some we simply follow logic.

And one might think that those four separate areas of enquiry with the issues they raise are enough to make any reasonable person question what is going on.   But it is possible to go still further into a fifth area, and it relates to the fact that referees make immediate decisions, which must be influenced by their knowledge of the teams they are officiating.

Although these days referees are able to turn to VAR, most of the time they don’t.  Questions of what is a foul, and what merits a yellow card are still dealt with instantly by the referee, who rarely if ever changes his mind.

Thus it is perhaps not the slightest bit surprising that with the increasing use of technology by clubs, who have long since measured every aspect of each and every game, that the technology has also been used to watch referees and their decision making.

That this has not been made public is also of no surprise.  Clubs are hardly likely to admit that they are tracking the behaviour of referees, nor that they are experimenting to see just how far they can get away with certain tactics.  But it would be most curious if they did not.  If a club can work out a way to get extra leverage in a game by studying the psychology of refereeing, then given the massive amount of money to be derived from each win, it would be crazy not to do so.

And here’s a point: in Italy and other countries where there have been referee scandals, the issue of refereeing is under constant review and analysis.  Only in England is referee still controlled by a secret cabal that answers to no one – and it is the effect of this that pushes clubs towards analysing not just their opponents but also each and every referee.

And it is my suspicion that the recent changes at Arsenal in terms of the hierarchy and ownership has led to this type of analysis being downgraded from the days of Mr Wenger who through personal experience early on, learned just what sort of organisation he was up against when it came to the PGMO.

My thesis here is that in regards to this area of bias PGMO referees quite probably remain blissfully unaware that they have are being used by clubs in this way.  That does not deny the validity of our earlier explanations, but adds another level to it.

For now we have proof that the home team fans influence the referee, and we have statistical data to show how huge this influence is, it is quite reasonable to ask how this influence builds over time.  And if referees like everyone else have certain “blind spots” it is surely possible to exploit them.

I’ll explore this further in the next article.

3 Replies to “Revealed: How clubs have evolved their “referee handling” tactics with such success”

  1. Tony

    I am reading your analysis of how referees referee and how different clubs play in accordance with that, with great interest. I think you make some good points but unsurprisingly I differ slightly on a couple of points.

    These are 2 of your recent headlines:

    “How clubs manipulate referees through their tactics”

    Do the clubs actually manipulate the referee ? Does a club actually affect how a referee referees them simply with their behaviour ? Personally I doubt that very much. So I cant really see how that works.

    “How clubs have evolved their “referee handling” tactics with such success”

    Now this headline I think is more accurate because I do agree that teams do adapt their tactics according to how they are being refereed. That being said I believe the following would be a more accurate description of what is in fact happening:


    In general players know kicking Arsenal players will almost never result in serious punishment. Often they know it wont even result in a free kick.

    But this is the point. Neither the Club nor the players have ‘manipulated’ the referee in to allowing them to do this. Neither are they ‘handling’ the referee.

    What they are in fact doing is taking advantage of a referees propensity to allow Arsenal players to be kicked off the park with impunity. Conversely Arsenal players know that the chances of being booked for your first transgression is extremely high. Both adapt their play accordingly, or at least try to.

    Neither of these events are guaranteed. Yes we do occasionally get away with something. And yes occasionally a player may be harshly booked against us. It is not an exact science, and not every ref is as bent as Dean, but by and large those rules apply.

    It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Do the referees act in accordance to player influence or do players play in accordance to how they are being refereed?

    Personally I believe the later.

  2. Clubs, players and managers seek to influence, or manipulate if you like, the referee, to gain an advantage.
    I don’t know, but I expect, clubs will use corporate hospitality type techniques to influence referees, giving them VIP treatment where they can, making them feel important, signing a photo for a referees son, that sort of thing. Corporate hospitality is all about currying favour and influencing decisions. Manager’s pre-match comments will sometimes seek to influence a referee, as will speaking to the 4th official, complaining about this and that, pointing to your watch and so on. Players seek to influence referees in all sorts of ways, by bullying, crowding, flattering, sarcastically clapping, and by offering a running commentary in their ear.
    Not sure where i’m going with this, only to say it’s gone on from time immemorial, and Arsenal I expect are as good as most at doing it.

  3. Bias is learnt or taught but is rarely natural particularly in sport. The officiating by PGMOL is not biased but is plain downright corrupt cheating. The introduction of VAR has strengthened their hand by appearing to be technical rather than the obvious greed that drives this lot.

    The media are a major reason that the cheating has been so rife. They play along rather than call out the truth. The system of football governance is also involved in the officiating scam and once again fines to managers or coaches that call out cheating force silence and acceptance.

    Players have used the stupidity of this set of decrepit officials and pundits to play the system of getting fouls and penalties. The term ‘a piece of the ball’ covers the dense idiots that are employed by TV. There is nothing in the Laws that cater for it. The contact with a player before contact with the ball is a foul but is rarely if ever called. The strength of impact with a player after playing the ball has to be called foul and should result in a card as the games Laws protect players but the officials rarely do. Playing the ball first does not excuse subsequent physical contact.

    Arsenal are not the only club that has no protection. Manchester City had very little when playing Manchester United. De Bruyne was lucky to walk away with his achilles intact. Shaw fouled Cancelo initially with a (red card) shoulder barge to the chest and then pushed him every opportunity without punishment.

    Is it any wonder so many players want to leave the UK for overseas teams?

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