Wholesale referee bias returns with the return of the crowds

By Tony Attwood

You may recall that during the earlier parts of the pandemic, Untold decided to follow up on research being undertaken by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, who was on the board of Athletic Bilbao for seven years and is professor of management, economics and strategy at the London School of Economics – part of the University of London (and against which I will hear nothing since that is where I did my research degree).

The findings have been reproduced and openly discussed elsewhere.  See this article on home bias in refereeing decisions from the journal Science Direct, for example.

Going back to the earlier commentary, Professor Palacio-Huerta wrote it up as a report in the Review of Economics and Statistics (Volume 87 | Issue 2 | May 2005 p.208-216 if you are currently doing a PhD and want to look it up) into Favouritism under Social Pressure.

He started by looking at what happened in time added on, in La Liga matches and found that when a home team was ahead by a single goal, the referee allowed almost 30% less additional time than average.

However, if the home team was behind by a single goal the referee added on 35% more time than average. And there was more, for the larger the crowd, the more biased the referee.

Furthermore, when the away team scored in time added on then time was added onto the time added on – but even this was variable.  Referees were shown to end the game more quickly if the home team scored – responding to the whistling of the crowd.

There is a lot more on this research in the link above, but in essence the research showed that crowds can and do influence referees.

For example, there was another study of this type conducted in the 2006/7 season in Serie A wherein various clubs had to play in empty stadia following serious crowd incidents.   Here the significant crowd influence on the referee was removed and the home advantage with fouls, yellow cards and red cards awarded against the away side all reduced significantly.

Then the Guardian reported on research in which 40 qualified referees considered 47 incidents from the Liverpool v Leicester game. Half watched with crowd noise, half without any crowd noise.  The referees viewing the game with the crowd noise awarded more than 15% extra fouls committed against the home team compared with those watching in silence.

So that is the background.  Now let’s see how this relates to Premier League games.  Remember, if the theory that crowds affect the referees is right, then home advantage would disappear in 2020/21 when there were no crowds.

Season Home percentage of points Away percentage of points
2018/19 57% 43%
2019/20 58% 42%
2020/21 44% 56%
2021/22 * 57% 43%

*Season up to 12 December 2021.

And so we can see it.  In the season when there were no crowds, the percentage of points awarded to home teams dropped from its regular level of 57% to 58% down to 44%.  Nothing else changed except there was no crowd noise.

This season we have seen 68 home wins in the first 158 games, 48 away wins, 42 draws.

We spilt the beans as to what was going on, in that article noted earlier, on 19 May 2020.  The fact that home teams win more often across the history of the league is indisputable – the reason for that trend was the issue of debate, and the research pinpointed the reason clearly: referees even at the highest level are influenced by the crowd in the decisions they make.

These figures indicate that all the figures about the PGMO referee’s lack of bias are untrue.  But more than that this data has been around for a while, but the PGMO have not backed down, nor have they undertaken the sort of steps we have seen elsewhere to ensure that clubs only get a referee twice in a season.

And this really is the big point.  It is not that home teams have an advantage because referees are influenced by the home crowd.  That’s an issue but not the main one.

The big issue is that PGMO refuse to make a comment on this, the newspapers then kowtow to the PGMO and refuse to follow up on the story, and so the corruption of the system continues.

The fact that the media ignore a story that affects every match played in the Premier League shows that the media cannot be relied upon for any form of commentary – and that in itself is rather a big deal.

Gaslighting: how refereeing in the Premier League is manipulated, and why the media never speak about it.

5 Replies to “Wholesale referee bias returns with the return of the crowds”

  1. So in effect, and just as an example, on a big night at Anfield it is not the crowds influence on the team that makes them the 12th man, it is in fact their influence on the referee that makes them the 12th man.

  2. This weekend catalogue of penalties awarded bears this out.

    All open to question and all awarded to home teams. – except Man Utd. Now, why might that be?

  3. Nitram
    I am sure that the crowd noise whether to support or deride has an effect on the players. How could the Kop at Anfield in full voice not have an uplifting effect on the Liverpool team just as the AAA boo boys would have a demoralizing effect on the Arsenal players.
    Added to the refereeing reaction to crowd noise as the evidence shows I think it is a combination of the two.

  4. mick shelly

    100% agree.

    I nearly qualified my post saying just what you have said.

    I didn’t really mean anything derogatory towards the Liverpool fans because as I have said many times, I actually admire the way they stick by their team through thick and thin, as I do their ex players who hardly ever have a bad word to say about the club they so obviously love.

    Admittedly their fans don’t have the media in their ears on an almost hourly basis criticizing every single thing about the club, but still, that’s no excuse for the shameful behavior of some of our so called fans.

    But back to the point, the crowds influence on the team must be worth points, as must be their influence on the referee.

    If only some of our dumb arse fans who endlessly heckled their own players had the sense to of realised that it just may of got us over the line a few times when we needed it.
    If only our fans and ex layers should the same loyalty.

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