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How the impression refs have of certain clubs influences how they are treated

By Tony Attwood

In my last article I suggested that there were numerous issues we had discovered with regards to refereeing in the Premier League.  In summary these are

1: The LSE research which shows how crowds influence referees.   This destroyed the PGMO assertion that referees are getting 99% of their calls right.

2: The general bias of referees which was revealed through the analysis of 160 games at the start of the 2016/17 season

3: The policy of the media in the UK of not making comments about or criticism of referees, which removes the issue from the agenda.

4:  The policies of PGMO, in keeping the number of referees much smaller than found in other major leagues, and not allowing referees to be interviewed or questioned, while the organisation continues to assert that there is no problem.

You might quite reasonably think that was enough to be going on with, but then we found something else, and on 6 February last year we published “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards” with a follow up article on 26 February “What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?”

Those articles found that Leicester had a foul given against them every 2.08 tackles.  That could be because they have learned the art of clean tackling.

But then we found that Leicester had to commit nearly twice as many fouls as other clubs to get a yellow card.  9.48 fouls for every card in their care compared with Arsenal on 4.32.  (And Arsenal in these figures is fairly mainstream; it was Leicester that was the outlier).

Either Leicester had a brilliant player who could deliver perfect tackles or else they were being treated much more leniently by referees than any other club.

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We began to suspect that it was the latter for no sooner had we published our figures than their figures in terms of fouls and yellow cards started to change radically.

One explanation given was that Leicester did have an expert tackler in their side, who had got injured, resulting in a change of style, but this explanation didn’t accord with the dates at all.  It was a remarkable situation which gave us a new insight, which we now think of as “Factor Five”.

Factor Five

As we know, referees are influenced by the crowds which is why the number of away wins rose dramatically when matches started being played in closed stadia, and why at the same time the number of penalties given to home and away teams also started to balance out, rather than always favouring the home team.

So we asked, what else influences referees beside the crowd?

Our answer to that question is that referees bring to each match a view of the players and the teams they are refereeing.  Clearly as the game continues they can’t analyse how many tackles each team has made and ensure equality in the number of tackles a team can make before a foul is called.  Nor can they count the number of fouls made by a team across the pitch before a yellow card is given.

And yet the numbers for most teams remain very similar match by match.

Which suggests the process is conducted by a (probably subconscious) feeling by the ref that a team has committed five or six fouls so it is time for a yellow card.

But what about the teams that find themselves being penalised much more for fouls?  And the teams penalised much less than is the norm?  How does that come about?

And what about the teams that get penalty after penalty – far more than any other team in the league is getting?  How does this happen?

Increasingly, as we studied the figures that compare tackles, fouls, yellow cards and penalties we became convinced that something else was happening which we had not considered before.  This is our Factor 5: “Playing the Ref”.

Consider this extract from our recent table of club activity on the field of play

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow Penalties for
Leicester 288 167 1.72 35 4.77 10
Liverpool 222 169 1.31 16 10.56 5

The number of tackles by each team and the number of fouls called against each is very similar, although Liverpool in creating fewer tackles curiously get more fouls given against them.   And yet when we look at yellow cards, Liverpool get under half the number of yellow that Leicester give.  On the other hand Leicester pick up twice as many penalties in their favour as Liverpool.  What is going on?

The first and most obvious point is that when no one publishes the figures of tackles, fouls and yellow cards, no one notices that certain clubs are committing lots of tackles and getting very few cards.  The media never mentions this – which in itself is odd.  We’re the only people looking at this.

The only common sense explanation is that Leicester players are far worse tacklers than Liverpool players, and so deserve their yellow cards, while at the other end, defenders find they have to chop down Vardy as they have no other way of dealing with him.

But watching the videos as a neutral doesn’t give that feeling.  The feeling we get as neutrals is that Liverpool are given a much easier ride by the referees, and that Vardy in the penalty area is looking for penalties which the refs oblige him with.

So the question now is why are referees treating  these clubs so differently?

Part of the problem is that the Premier League has so few referees who are used regularly that the same referees are overseeing matches involving these clubs, and inevitably they are taking up a point of view.  This seems to be “Liverpool are a clean side” and “Vardy needs protecting from thuggish tacklers”.

Simply that.  Referees through familiarity develop views which undoubtedly they exchange with each other.  Liverpool are seen as a clean side, and Vardy is seen as the innocent victim, and this influences how referees react.

The series continues…

4 comments to How the impression refs have of certain clubs influences how they are treated

  • Les Williams

    For a long time, more than 30 years, I have believed that referees referee “teams” and not games. With the introduction of VAR and before it multi camera coverage of the sport it has become obvious that this is the case.

    There have been players and teams who regularly break the rules but do not get penalised. The other thing that helps them is the rules are very subjective and allow for too much interpretation. In other sports infringements are much more explicitly covered in the laws.

    Other sports allow the audience to know why the decision has been made in real time. Soccer in some countries don’t even allow referees to explain their decisions post match, let alone while it is happening. This secrecy allows incompetent and corrupt officials to thrive.

    The latest wheeze for coaches is tp play a high pressing game. This allows you to commit yellow card offences without sanctions deep in the opponents half. Refs invariably only give a foul and not a yellow card for a tackle that cynically stops a break away. If committed further up the field there are sanctions.

    One of the worst things about having no crowds is the amount of yellow cards given where a player screams in pain when not touched. Another one is the prevalance when touched on the chest or back and go down clutching the face and screaming.

    I am glad that I am not the only one who has no belief in the “impartiality” of referees.

  • Menace

    I totally agree with Les Williams. There is the very obvious selective vision that the pigmob use, while the media point to Wenger for having introduced it.

    The VAR technology does not have the benefit graphic visuals like cricket does nor does it use temperature sensing because it would destroy the income of the corrupt.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I want to make a out of article topic comment.

    Reading the comments made by some Gooners in their supports for Mesut Ozil debacle at Arsenal to the detriment of AFC on JustArsenal today has left me baffled a lot.

    I think the Arsenal fans in pro Ozil comments making who felt that the club was wrong to not have tear up Ozil’s contract at Arsenal and pay him off to leave the club last summer when the Arsenal manager has deemed him surpluse to requirements in his 25 man team are the ones who are wrong in their assertions making instead. But not AFC in my own thinking.

    If a big club like that of Arsenal deemed one, two or three of their players surpluse to requirements, does it mean the club should tear up their contracts and pay them off to go? The club may choose to do so or not. But it’s not compulsory for the club to tear up any of their players contract who they don’t want anymore and pay him off to leave the club.

    Arsenal Football Club is not just a football club that plays the game of football for entertainment only. But is a business outfit club side that sells their products which are football games playing for watching to those who want watching hem to entertain themselves. It even goes beyond this as it a big business run revenue generation making for the Governments of many countries in the world.

    And since Arsenal paid over £42m to purchase Ozil who as of this made him to become an article possession of the AFC under certain lawfully agreement that binds both parties together.

    Arsenal have the right to sell their used article possession l.e. Ozil to any football club buyers who wants him if AFC don’t need or want his services anymore.

    Arsenal want to recoup part of the money they invested on Ozil project. That’s why the club want him to leave them on transfer last summer and this winter windows.

    But Ozil refused to lesav Arsenal on transfer last summer preferring to remain at the club. But is it for the big big money he is collecting at the club? Or he doesn’t want Arsenal to recoup from the big money they staked in acquiring him or both?

    Ozil’s backers have been alluding that he didn’t force Arsenal to give him the big contract they gave him. Yes, he didn’t, but in the other hand his agent and himself forced Arsenal hand to give him the big contract he got. This is because the trio of Arsenal, Ozil’s agent and Ozil himself jointly negotiated this big contract which he was satisfied of it before he signs it, and he signed it.

    So the question of Ozil didn’t force Arsenal to give him the bumper contract extension that they gave him did not arise. Because if Arsenal had not given him the big money making contract that he wanted, he would not have signed to extend. So, in a way he compelled Arsenal under duress to give him what he wants before he will sign.

  • Menace

    SAA The Ozil issue is more than what meets the eye. If he was not working with an agent he would probably have gone to another club. He stayed because of the financial rewards not because of loyalty. It is a business and employees that are outside necessity in these hard times have to be allowed to leave. No one knew what was going to happen but Arsenal got rid of large parts of its business to cut overhead and players can also be a burden.

    Loyalty is not just staying but also leaving to allow a business to survive and perhaps flourish.

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