By Tony Attwood
If you have been following this series, you’ll know that it has been shown, through research undertaken at London School of Economics (part of the University of London) that referees are clearly influenced by the crowd. This in turn explains why the bias towards there being more home wins than away wins that we have taken as normal across the years, slipped away immediately clubs started to play in empty stadia.
Because of this bias we might imagine that there could be a similar bias to be found in terms of penalties awarded to home teams, as opposed to away teams.
With data taken from MyFootballFacts.com we can see that between 1992/3 and this season, 61.46% of penalties were awarded to the home team and only 38.54% to the away team.
Now this could be explained through the notion that the home team attacks more, and as a result the home team wins more often. But as we have noted the LSE research revealed that the home team wins more often because of crowd induced referee bias – which in turn explains why in empty stadia the figures have changed so dramatically.
The question therefore is, at a time when home teams have stopped having an automatic advantage overall, has the position on penalties also changed? In short, are away teams getting more penalties now that the stadia are empty? And if so why?
Detailed figures are given at the end of this piece, but in summary we can notice this:
The total number of penalties given each year varies significantly from 52 (2001/2) to 106, (achieved in 2009/10 and 2016/17).
The percentage of these given to the home team also varies from 48% (2001/2 and 75% (1996/7).
But the only seasons in which the home teams have fewer penalties than the away teams were 2001/2 48% and 2019/20 (49%). In the current season the number of penalties given is 34 to the home team and 33 to the away team. Thus two of the three seasons where away teams and home teams were just about equal in terms of penalties, were the two seasons with games behind closed doors.
So what can we conclude from this?
Just as referees are biased towards home teams in general when there is a crowd present, so they are biased towards home teams when it comes to giving penalties when there is a crowd present. With the crowd present there is just a 1 in 18 chance that the home percentage will drop below 50%, and when it did it dropped by just 2%.
Although we have no experiments to show that these variations are due to the crowd, given that this has been proven in relation to fouls, the rational and logical explanation for this bias, is referee bias caused by the crowd.
In short we are not saying that referees are biased per se, but that they are biased because of crowd pressure.
Unfortunately PGMO has been vigorous in denying this, claiming in various statements that it’s decision making is anything from 98% to 99.5% accurate (depending which statement one reads). This clearly is not true.
Here is the table of evidence relating to penalties
Total up to and inc 2018/19
Total for 2019/20 & 2020/21
|Season||Total Penalties||Home Penalties||Away Penalties||Percentage of penalties given to the home team|
This can be explained by referee bias resulting from crowd pressure, in keeping with the LSE research.
However this leads to another disconcerting conclusion. If there is unconscious referee bias both in the LSE reseach and here, where else can it be found? Can it be found in, for example, the awarding of free kicks, yellow cards, and fouls?
Given that we have found bias in decisions late in the match, and in penalties, it would seem that the logical and reasonable answer is yes. So the next step is to go looking for unconscious bias by referees in the areas of penalties, yellow cards, fouls and free kicks.
That’s what we turn to next.
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