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April 2021
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The proof that all is not well with football refereeing

By Tony Attwood

I recently posted the article Someone is trying to fake football stats – and doing it rather well, in which I commented on a piece published by New Scientist which stated that the lack of fans in stadia this season in the Premier League had had no effect on the percentage of games that ended in home wins.

This article concerned me for several reasons, and as a result I wrote to New Scientist (a magazine of considerable scientific integrity, and one to which I am a subscriber) providing the stats which showed that the article was in error.

The level of error was obvious and simple to observe – one simply has to add up the number of home wins and number of away wins in a season and see what the percentage of each is overall, and compare this with earlier seasons. 

I’ve not had a reply to my note – which is worrying given that the integrity of the articles the magazine publishes is central to its reputation.

But why is this the slightest bit important to anyone else?

The point is that research published earlier on this site, undertaken by academics from London School of Economics showed that the crowd had a significant influence on referee behaviour.   They invited professional referees to watch matches on video, with half the referees having access to the actual crowd audio from the game and half watching the match with no audio feed.  At various moments where an event required a significant decision from the referee the video was stopped, and the referee asked to note his decision.

There was a significant difference between the decisions made by those with crowd noise from those without, thus suggesting an influence of the crowd.

This season, with no crowds in the grounds, we have found a very significant change in the number of matches won by away teams in the Premier League.   It is a reasonable conclusion, in the absence of any contrary evidence, that the cause of this is the absence of crowds.

Of course the final piece of evidence will come when crowds return and we see if there is also a return to the old familiar league tables in which there are many more home wins than away wins, rather than the reverse.

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Several interesting factors sit alongside these findings.

First, the media is extremely reluctant to raise any issue about referees in any depth, or report any analyses of referee errors.

Second, PGMO in England refuses to allow referees to be interviewed, offers significant inducements to persuade referees not to talk about their work after their retire, and does not itself comment upon refereeing issues.

Third, there is a significant difference between the way refereeing is organised in England compared with other major leagues.  The number of referees is smaller than in other leagues, and there is a propensity for referees to oversee games by the same team over and over again.

However it is important to note that the fact that the home/away figures have changed so significantly does not mean that there is bribery or corruption in Premier League refereeing.  It could well mean that the referees are simply influenced by the crowd, and that’s that.  In short incompetence would be the explanation.

But what makes one suspicious, is the wall of silence about refereeing in the media, the fact that the home and away figures changed so dramatically without a crowd, and now perhaps most significantly the distribution of the fake figures about home and away results via a magazine as august as New Scientist.  It was one thing when the Guardian newspaper did it, but a science magazine?  That seems strange.

Obviously it is a serious matter for New Scientist given that the publication of the article about their being no change in the balance of home / away results, suggests that no one at  the magazine checked the data.  That then of course raises the issue of how much other data is not checked – a serious matter for a magazine based on a reputation of scientific integrity.   Obviously I don’t know, not least because they haven’t acknowledged my commentary let alone replied.  

But overall a bigger question is raised.  Why is so much effort made to stop discussion of the evidence that proves that referees are influenced by crowds and to avoid consideration that the balance of home and away has changed?

The most obvious answer is  that if the story that referees are influenced by crowds become commonplace then two things would happen.  Confidence in the accuracy of referees would decline, and crowds would be encouraged to make even more noise in support of their club’s players in order to influence referees.

If confidence in the accuracy of refereeing declined that would undermine the interest in football, and raise issues about whether there were other factors such as this one that had been kept quiet – which of course there might be.  We shall see.

If you want to go back and look at earlier commentaries on this evolving story of referee competence you might like to read

Crowdless stadia stats reveal fallacy of PGMO claims

Proving unconscious bias by referees

How clubs manipulate referees through their tactics

Referees are not 98% accurate but only 75% accurate

 

 

2 comments to The proof that all is not well with football refereeing

  • Nitram

    Tony

    “However it is important to note that the fact that the home/away figures have changed so significantly does not mean that there is bribery or corruption in Premier League refereeing. It could well mean that the referees are simply influenced by the crowd, and that’s that. In short incompetence would be the explanation.”

    And as I keep banging on about, they may also be influenced by the media, hence why:

    “…..the media is extremely reluctant to raise any issue about referees in any depth, or report any analyses of referee errors”.

    Because by and large, referees are refereeing in a way of which they approve and in fact actively encourage, so of course they have no issue with many of the ‘errors’ as long as the ‘errors’ fit with their agenda.

    Of course if the ‘error’ doesn’t fit with their agenda, and for example gives Arsenal a penalty, we sure hear about it soon enough.

    So the truth is Tony, they are quite happy to highlight ‘errors’ when it suits, in fact to such a degree that a referee can be stood down on the back of a media attack, it’s just they pick and choose when and when not to do it.

    So in answer to your final statement:

    “………..and raise issues about whether there were other factors such as this one that had been kept quiet – which of course there might be.”

    Well yes there might well be !

  • Ben

    Hey Tony, with so many articles and stats and other figures being wrong in the media etc. I do wonder if you have read the book Innumeracy?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innumeracy_(book)

    Such a good book and after reading this you wont fall into the trap of if so and so says so then its true without stopping to think if it makes sense or not.

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