It’s so simple to stop referee errors like yesterday’s, so why do they continue?

by Tony Attwood


Most areas of business employ consultants.  People who come in from the outside, are given access to all areas of the business, see it afresh, and then point out problems.

All companies of any size that are sensible and are concerned about their long-term well-being rather than short term expediency use them, because good consultants can see what people who are on the inside and used to the way things are done, can’t see.

Premier League refereeing is one of the areas that does not use consultants.  But it is worse than they.  They also exist in a world of absolute secrecy. 

And if not having outside consultants look at the business of PGMO, the way it is run, and the way it employs its staff were not bad enough, there is a second level of problem: the total and absolute refusal of the media to engage in any sort of real analysis of what referees do either on the day to day level or in terms of their overall organisation.

The reason the media doesn’t want to know is simple: they have far too much invested in football to risk suggesting something is wrong with its very foundation.

Consider the way the FA is treated.  The media will point the finger at the latest sexist idiocy by an FA chairman, but they never cover the whole of the crumbling edifice that is the FA.  They never look at its outmoded and outdated structure, or the astonishingly large number of its senior staff who are hounded from office through misdemeanours.   They don’t consider its inability to train up to the highest level even a semi-reasonable number of coaches, or even run a decent number of coaching courses at the sort of price on offer in other countries, and so on.

So there are numerous issues in football (of which refereeing and the FA are two huge examples) which are never considered as structural failures.  Instead there will be a little discussion about the referee’s failure in the Arsenal game against Burnley, but then the media moves on.

And they do this because to suggest there is a wider failure in refereeing, in the FA, and indeed the whole structure of football, does not suit the media’s agenda, for to suggest there are fundamental flaws in football would open the floodgates.

PGMO is not the only mismanaged organisation in the UK – I can think of many because for some years considering the ways in which administrations and managements operate was a major part of my job.  Indeed (and I hope you won’t mind if I stress my own credibility here), I was awarded a Fellowship in the Institute of Administrative Management for work in examining how administrative systems in one sector of our society could be improved with a minimum of cost and effort.  I could write a string of letters after my name, but 99.99% of the time that’s got nothing to do with what I write about here, but actually today it does have.

As a result of this work it is not hard to see what is going on.  For at one level the refereeing system works.  Referees are employed, they get decent money, their controlling organisation clearly makes a profit, and criticism of the work in the media is minimal.  It works in the sense that it makes money and referees turn up and do their job, so why change it?

The reason for changing of course would be for it to work much better, so that suggestions of incompetence by fans are not commonplace, and the PGMO does not have to rely on the media’s compliance in not handling investigations into what the PGMO does.

The fact that the claim of 98% accuracy by PGMO referees has rarely if ever been questioned, the fact that the refereeing system in the PL is quite different from other major leagues, the fact that the evidence relating to the influence of crowds on referees is never published, even down to the fact that it is down to blogs ranging from the Liverpool supporting  Tomkins Times and ourselves to point this out, shows how serious the situation is.

Yes it is simple to stop referee errors of the type we have seen yet again in matches.  It simply requires the media to stop making it a no-go area of discussion, to stop manipulating the information and trying to make everything look ok, to improve the technology, to be more public, and to look at the approaches in other countries. 

Although concerning that last point, it is important to acknowledge that the problem with refereeing is not the only issue the English media ignores.   As when Benfica, FC Porto, Sporting de Braga and Vitória de Guimarães and Sporting CP were all raided simultaneously by anti-corruption police in March last year along with quite a few other clubs.  76 raids all at once.  That is a lot of raids.  And not a mention in English media, not then, nor when Arsenal play the Portuguese clubs.

When it gets to this level, the media are put of the corruption – which is of course why they don’t want to report the oddities of refereeing in the Premier League.

We could stop refereeing nonsense, simply with proper coverage in the media.   But for the moment, I just can’t see that happening.

How referees influence games 

16 Replies to “It’s so simple to stop referee errors like yesterday’s, so why do they continue?”

  1. It’s not the norm but usually all big corporate organisations have whistle blowers it seems the FA and PGMO are keeping their employees very happy , everything ticks along quiet nicely .
    Since the PL started a few executives have gone and a few referees have spoken out of place but not enough to rock their organisations ,so it seems only Untold is carrying this torch in trying to get more transparency from secret organisations .
    Please keep up this work Tony and obviously agree with your articles .

  2. @ Tony

    I hope you won’t mind if I stress my own credibility here too! I was awarded a Fellowship from Institute of Leadership & Management and I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t employ Mike Riley as a tea-boy!

    As you rightly say, the PGMO is managed in a way that perpetuates a spiral of diminishing credibility which can only be detrimental to the longevity of the organisation and those who choose to associate with it. Its collapse is just a matter of time and the fallout will likely be significant. I only hope I am alive to see it.

  3. Yes, the standard of refereeing in this country is awful, but if Pepe scores then we win 2-1…
    What Arsenal can do about the match day officials is limited, but we can do something about our sloppy finishing.

  4. Tony

    The whole problem with this issue is not the referees but the media. As I keep saying time and time again, why on earth would the media criticise the referees when they are refereeing games, by and large, to an agenda they set, and therefore in a way of which they approve?

    So your headline:

    “It’s so simple to stop referee errors like yesterday’s, so why do they continue”?

    isn’t really the right question, because the media in general wont see it as an error because it was against Arsenal and therefore the correct decision.

    Take The Mail on Sundays Take on it and how they have bent over backwards to justify the none award of a penalty, and this despite an article in the very same paper that says it has to of been given as a penalty.

    Firstly we have there ‘expert’ ex referee Chris Foy saying:

    “….I’m happy the right decision was made……it’s to do with proximity and a lack of available reaction time….it was a subjective call and it was not an obvious error”

    Which is absolute bo££ocks, as they themselves show in a separate article regarding VAR by James Sharpe. In that article they talk about this very type of handball making reference to an Eric Dier handball back in September that was given as a penalty. At the time there was a bit of a furore about it, as it was claimed giving a penalty for that was “A nonsense”, but when the PL questioned the IFAB about it they were told, and this is the crucial point:

    “Any contact with the arm above the shoulder was a penalty in the laws”

    No ifs, no buts, no subjectivity it is a penalty.

    And as I said yesterday, this is NOT a subjective call. If your arm is raised and makes you bigger it is hand ball if the ball hits your arm, irrespective of distance.

    If you are in front of goal with your arms out wide and it hits your arm it will be a penalty and you will be sent off, irrespective of distance, and so it proved yesterday with the Pepe incident. Okay, it was overturned, but only because replays showed it didn’t hit the arm. If replays showed it to of hit the arm the original decision would of stood. So when the ref gave his original decision he knew distance was irrelevant. The arm was raised. It was hand ball, as he saw it.

    But back to my point, here we have the MOS bending over backwards to back the referee and to back VAR in it’s decision not to give Arsenal a penalty, despite the fact in the very same paper, just 3 pages in, they themselves have an article that clearly shows that according to the Laws as they stand, it was without doubt a penalty.

    So unfortunately your statement:

    “Instead there will be a little discussion about the referee’s failure in the Arsenal game against Burnley, but then the media moves on”

    is wrong, because there is discussion, quite a lot of it actually, but they clearly don’t see either the referee or VAR as failing. Quite the contrary in fact. They think they both got it spot on.

    And THAT is the problem.

    Because despite it being an absolutely nailed on penalty, not just in my opinion, or Keowns, or Artetas, or Linekers, or yours, or anyone else’s the Mail On Sunday are clearly having none of it.

    As you say Tony:

    “Yes it is simple to stop referee errors of the type we have seen yet again in matches”

    But that requires them to first concede it was even an error in the first place, and they only do that when it suits them.

    If that incident had happened the other way around we all know the Mail on Sundays take on it would of been completely the opposite.

    And this is what I’ve been banging on about for years. The Media are the referees (and VAR’s) Judge Jury and Executioner. Make a decision, irrespective of the ‘Laws’, that they approve of, and they will back you to the hilt. Make a decision they don’t like and you’ll be thrown under the bus.

    In short, the media do not want the referees to referee to the laws of the game they want them to referee to the laws of the media.


    And just say how sick this has all become. Yes Xhaka made a big mistake, but apart from that we played pretty well and I would say deserved to win, and would of done if it wasn’t for some last ditch defending, a couple of poor misses, a bit of mis fortune and being robbed blind by VAR and the Mail on Sunday turn it in to annihilate Arsenal day.

    Also I see our very own Ian Wright merrily joined in the piss taking on MOTD last night. Yeah like nobody else screams when they go down? Yet when Lacazette does it we have these guys throwing themselves around the studio.

    All the diving, screaming, cheating we see, week after week, and yet again it is an Arsenal player that gets the mocking and our very own Wright is quite happy to join in the piss take.

    And he claims to be an Arsenal fan.

    If he was on fire and I needed a piss I’d be looking for a penny.

  5. It’s not in the interest of the papers or TV to change things . They love VAR it gets viewers and sells papers . That’s why they are happy to go with the Dyche diversion tactic.
    He knows it was a penalty and he knows that they got lucky . However he also has a long standing grievence with Arsenal and no doubt is thinking back to Koscielny’s handball goal that stood a few years ago in 2016 , he’s held a grudge ever since .
    The Liverpool site is interesting and it is true that until supporters start highlighting mistakes without bias on matches where their own teams are not involved , criticism of PGMOL will get swept away under the banner of sour grapes.

  6. After reading this article and Tomkins times I find it hard to believe that anyone can accept the “98% accurate” bulls**t.

    I have said before that I am surprised if a refereeing team manage to get 60% of decisions correct. Most of the decisions seem to be decided “by a flip of a coin”. At this rate there is a good chance of getting 50% correct.

    I saw the hand ball incident last night – How was this not given? Maybe VAR were on a “coffee break”. This term i learnt from a German website – that questions the Bundesliga table positions against wrong decisions from Refs. They reckon the VAR teaam in Cologne regularly have coffee breaks because that is the only explanation for their glaring errors.

    I find I am turning more an more matches off due to the incompetent and downright corrupt officiating. If I want to watch “rigged” sport I can watch professional wrestling at least I know that is rigged.

    The biggest laugh is the “respect” campaign – Respect for what – bent officials – no thanks.

  7. 5th March 2021

    The IFAB clarifies handball Law and confirms decision on concussion substitute trials:

    Following this clarification, it is a handball offence if a player:

    ….touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised;

    -That was their clarification just 2 days ago. At no point does it say depending on proximity. There is no subjectivity in that respect at all.

    If there is any subjectivity it lies with the referees judgement as to whether there was justification for the arm being in such a raised position. There clarification states:

    …it was confirmed that referees should continue to use their judgment in determining the validity of the hand/arm’s position in relation to the player’s movement in that specific situation.

    So yes there is subjectivity in that respect, but I think it would be extremely hard to justify having your arms that high, and anyway, that isn’t what the PGMOL have used in VAR’s defence.

    In other words they cant even get that right

  8. The CAT officiating in the Manc derby – gives United a pen early and doesn’t see Sterling lose value – I mean dropped by United defence.

    Bruno gets a reprieve from a yellow for pulling Rodri back – he only pulled one arm.

    The CAT – Cheating Anthony Taylor.

  9. Menace

    “Bruno gets a reprieve from a yellow for pulling Rodri back – he only pulled one arm”

    I said exactly the same.

  10. @Menace the CAT is supposed to be one of the “best” refs in Europe according to a a refereeing website. But then they rate Bjorn “star of the game” Kuipers so that blows their credibility.

    To me the most interesting part of refs, everywhere, is their inconsistency. Every game I spend the first ten minutes working out what rules will be ignored. And then which team will be penalised for things the other team can get away with. Perhaps that is where the entertainment is!!!

  11. Just seen hand ball given despite the ball being struck from about a yard and at a much higher velocity, and the arm was down.

  12. mick Shelly

    Indeed it is, because sometimes despite everything you do start to wonder, is it just me? Is it just us here on untold?

    The thing is, at work, I hear everyone moaning about refs and VAR and not only that, they all think it’s their team that gets the raw deal.

    I don’t even go there at work as I know it will be pointless.

    Now the truth is everyone does get a bad VAR decision go against them now and then but nobody gets the amount we do. And I can’t remember the last time, if ever, we got an ‘ify’ one go our way.

    Despite all that sometimes you do doubt yourself so it is reassuring for my sanity to know that at least somebody outside our our club can see wat we see.

  13. @ Mick Shelly
    Just read the 101 great goals article , can you imagine the media’s reaction if it was any other top team on the end of some of these decisions , I’m sure it would be endless . These are just VAR decisions , what about all the other little incidents in games , VAR getting involved when they think a yellow should be a red etc .
    Until there is change in the media towards theFA and PGMO Arsenal will have an up hill battle to win the PL again .

  14. @ mick shelley

    Just read the article too. I’m afraid it completely underlines Nitram’s idea about the media being in control. Any one (or indeed several) of a number of newspapers, big TV stations, the Premier League or the FA could be highlighting this if they had an ounce of desire to do so.

    This is deliberate and calculated. It is far too obvious to accidentally overlook.

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