Referees: the odd statistics that are simply never revealed or discussed

By Tony Attwood

This is part three of the series on Arsenal, referees and the media.  The earlier parts are:

And interestingly as I came to post this article I noticed a comment from Lakh which read

“It’s either the refs are wrong or untold don’t know much about refereeing. However whatever the case is, this blaming the ref after ever sub-optimal result has become stale.”

It is an obvious piece of gaslighting – rather than becoming involved in the debate, suggesting that the debate that we are having is itself of no value – it is “stale.”

This is how the debate is stopped, not by answering the points raised, but by calling the debate pointless.  I am glad to have such a perfect example provided.  So moving on…

At the end of the last piece I argued that the gaslighting technique which dismisses an argument as stupid or pointless, or dismisses the people putting forward the argument as stupid, or in some other way biased, ignorant or inadequate, is what we have with any attempt to discuss refereeing in English football.  It is the President Trump approach of simply stating untruths as facts, and dismissing the argument as pointless, stupid, or just plain idiotic.  It doesn’t take sides in the argument – it just dismisses the validity of the debate.

Thus an Arsenal fan raising the issue of refereeing is often portrayed as nothing other than a person who is trying to excuse the poor performances of his/her team and ineptness of the manager by blaming referees.  The argument would not be put, it is suggested, if Arsenal were winning the League.

Untold Arsenal has for the past year been running statistics which compare the number of fouls teams commit before they get a yellow card, and it turns out the numbers vary greatly, and it is very strange.  How can one team repeatedly commit twice as many fouls as another and yet get fewer yellow cards?   Likewise we raised the question of Leicester City and its penalties.  As I wrote last December “In its report on Leicester’s win at Tottenham, the Guardian mentions Leicester penalty five times.  On the BBC Radio 4 report this morning the penalty was mentioned four times.  But neither news source mentioned the real oddity of the Leicester penalty.   That is that this was Leicester’s ninth penalty of the season.”

So in a world in which the BBC website is able to point out that “Nine Arsenal players have been sent off since Arteta’s first game in charge on Boxing Day 2019, five more than any other side,” there was no mention of the extraordinary number of penalties that Leicester were being granted.

Likewise it took Untold to reveal the Leicester tackling issue.   In that case we noted that at the moment we wrote the piece Arsenal had undertaken 528 tackles leading to 308 fouls leading to 72 yellow cards.  On the other hand Leicester had undertaken 655 tackles (the most in the league, 24% more than Arsenal) leading to 308 fouls (the same as Arsenal) leading to 37 yellow cards (just on half Arsenal’s level).  Of course there might be an explanation; one Leicester fan suggested they had one player who was particularly adept at tackling, but the data turned out not to coincide with his playing.

We are instead asked to believe that Leicester can commit 24% more fouls than Arsenal but get only 50% of the yellow cards that Arsenal get, and there is nothing to discuss.

I must stress, I am not saying that this is an example of referee corruption.  I am saying that it is very odd that no one in the media thinks that this is worth discussing.  The tactics Leicester had to pull this off must have been incredible.  Why was it not headline news every week?

That is the question: Leicester had this amazing set of tactics which took them to near the top of the league, and then suddenly their tactics changed, the number of tackles collapsed, the rate of fouling escalated, AND NOBODY (apart from Untold) THOUGHT IT WAS WORTH COMMENTING ON.

In an era when we have statistics so readily available on everything (as for example the “Nine Arsenal players have been sent off since Arteta’s first game in charge on Boxing Day 2019, five more than any other side,” comment with which we started the first article) those weird stats must have been noticed.  But until Untold wrote about them, no one mentioned them.

And even stranger than all that, once we had publicised them, Leiceseter’s figures changed radically as the club slipped down the league in the latter part of last season.  It was almost as if the referees realised what was going on, just as we publicised the figures.  But it couldn’t be that simple, could it?

This season the same thing happened again only with penalties.  By 21 December Leicester had gained nine penalties, at a time when four clubs had been awarded none.  This meant that Leicester kept on getting them at that rate they would have 24 by the end of the season – an all time record.

We publicised our findings, made a bit of a fuss, and by and large just as with the fouling without yellows, the penalties stopped.

Of course that could be a coincidence just as the sudden reducing in the tackling level the season before could coincidentally have occurred after our first comment.

But what is strange is that no commentator picked up on the tackles and yellows issue, just as no one picked up on the high volume of penalties.

As I have pointed out, the essence of gaslighting is that one person denies the validity of the issue the other person is discussing.  So the debate as to whether refereeing in the Premier League is run in the best way possible, never begins.  When we raise it, it is dismissed as sour grapes or ignored.

And may I stress, I am not trying to say, there is something wrong with refereeing in the Premier League.  There might be, but that’s not my key point.   I am saying there is something wrong when interesting sets of facts are there for all to see but are never made public (except by Untold) and thus never debated at all.

That is the key issue when it comes to looking at PGMO and refereeing in the Premier League.  For some reason, really interesting facts are just not being debated.

This series continues


7 Replies to “Referees: the odd statistics that are simply never revealed or discussed”

  1. Well I’d be very interested to hear your opinion on Lacazette v Martinez yesterday, as well as the Luiz incident v Wolves… These are real events costing us real points and real places in the league, so real money. Everyone else just moans, but you make a valid argument, and not just for Arsenal – there needs to be a “level playing field” (no pun intended) for all the clubs.

  2. LEEDS, England (Reuters Nov 2020) – “Error-prone Premier League referees are not good enough, VAR technology is not fit for purpose and the game has “lost the plot” over handball. The standard of refereeing has fallen,” Hackett, who was the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), the body responsible for match officials in England, said in an interview.

    Reuters is arguably a somewhat more credible media outlet than many media outlets in the UK and Mr Hackett should be quite knowledgeable with regards to the nature of refereeing. So, it is interesting to read such comments, albeit quoted without any attached evidence here. Mr Hackett added in the same article “It is run like an old boys’ club now. There is no accountability… These guys are not amateurs, they are getting six-figure wages – you have to deliver.” In his actual article he cites one or two on-field occurrences He also cites that now the PGMOL is a business with a turnover of at least £20 million!
    So what is one to make of such an observation? Now, Is this simply sour grapes? Did the UK National media follow up this story? If so. where and with what outcome? If not, why not?

    Following on from reading this article I ventured to try to learn more about the PGMOL. Of course there is very little information available other than about the full level of support and training that the elite referees get and this all started once the PGMOL undertook LMS. No mention of what the support actually entails and how LMS is used!
    What did surprise me is that there is now no official retirement age…..Mr Dean for instance is the oldest referee, aged 51. (No problem with that actually, providing support and training monitors on-field performance.) I could not find any information regarding types of training and monitoring other than the use of videos.

    So, why mention any of this? Well, Untold Arsenal seems to be in good company. Tony Attwood and associated UA contributors are correct to challenge the performance and professionalism of such a large wealthy mystery organisation, especially when such a notable ex referee, who also ran the organisation, is now showing contempt for the organisation he helped to set up and empower by his comments. According to the Reuter article, the PGMOL would not comment on Mr Hackett’s observations.

  3. i imagine the majority of teams commit more or less the same number of fouls and receive similar amounts of yellow, red cards a few will commit more fouls and not so many cards a few will probably commit less fouls and have much higher ratios of cards

  4. As a previous avid reader of Untold, most “editorials” with which I agree, the “telling factor” is that I am only the 4th respondent in this refereeing “saga”
    A few years ago, there would have been pages after pages of comments, much of which was sheer rubbish (they can get that on the likes of twitter etc)
    Your work has not diminished, but “Joe Public”, it seems has no interest in pursueing the changes required when there are the “simplistic” mindless virtues of twitter etc
    I mentioned “as a previous avid reader”. I stopped reading as I couldn`t stand the mindless comments from respondents (like me)
    Your articles are mostly superb, but “Joe Public” aint up to it !
    Please continue, but it looks like hopes of success are forlorn

    On a more happy note. Congrats to Southampton for getting Mr Deans overruling of the assistants and video evidence.
    Until this happens on a more regular basis, the “little emperors” will continue to spoil “The beautiful game”

  5. @ Terence

    You couldn’t be more wrong. There are many of us on here who still avidly support Tony and agree vehemently with his conclusions and indeed provide additional evidence to help in his crusade. I’m not sure we have to repeatedly say so after every article though!

  6. leicester have committed 22 more fouls than arsenal and have received 9 more yellow cards -seems reasonable = man utd have committed 70 more fouls than arsenal but only four more yellows -sheffield united same as man utd but 6 more yellows than them -brighton have 3 times as many penalties this year as in the whole of last season -fulham have only scored 17 goals but have had five penalties=where does this all lead

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