Clubs that get most yellow cards are NOT clubs committing the most fouls.

By Tony Attwood

Why West Ham can commit twice as many fouls as Newcastle, before getting a single yellow card.

Yes it is true.  The number of yellow cards received by a club, is not directly related to the number of fouls committed.  

Indeed the number of fouls clubs need to commit before seeing a yellow ranges from 4.15 for Newcastle to 8.55 for West Ham.  Put round the other way across the season West Ham can commit twice as many fouls as Newcastle before getting a yellow card!

Or put another way, the average Newcastle foul is twice as bad as the average West Ham foul!!! (According to PGMO employees).

We have often mentioned on Untold the revolutionary Arsenal tactic that Mikel Arteta introduced at Arsenal during the first third of last season – that of focussing the defence on not committing fouls and thus not getting yellow cards.

It worked brilliantly, and such a tactic wrestled the control of Arsenal’s games away from the referee and gave it back to the players, for although referees will and do vary the number of fouls they allow a club to commit before a yellow card is given, if the players reduce the number of fouls referees can give, that reduces the number of chances they have to penalise with a yellow.

And yellow cards certainly do have an impact, because once a defender has got a yellow he is going to be playing more cautiously, in order to avoid the second. Which in today’s high paced Premier League games, is a significant disadvantage.

Just how successful Arsenal have been this season, after a very dodgy start as the new defence was introduced to the side, can be seen from the “fouls per team per game” table below which was produced based on results before last night’s games. (Sorry but I do need some sleep sometimes).

Arsenal are, in fact, committing fewer fouls per game than any other Premier League team.  And as these figures show, there’s a good reason why.

League Position Team Played Fouls committed by Team
Total Per Game
4 Arsenal 19 167 8.79
1 Manchester City 19 169 8.89
6 West Ham United 18 163 9.06
20 Norwich City 18 165 9.17
10 Leicester City 17 157 9.24
15 Everton 17 161 9.47
11 Aston Villa 18 174 9.67
18 Burnley 15 146 9.73
8 Wolverhampton W 18 179 9.94
19 Newcastle United 19 191 10.05
9 Brighton and Hove 17 172 10.12
2 Liverpool 18 185 10.28
3 Chelsea 19 197 10.37
5 Tottenham Hots 16 169 10.56
13 Brentford 17 181 10.65
7 Manchester United 17 185 10.88
14 Southampton 18 214 11.89
16 Leeds United 18 215 11.94
12 Crystal Palace 18 215 11.94
17 Watford 16 226 14.13

We can of course see that the table in order of number of fouls doesn’t directly relate to league position, so reducing fouling as seen by PGMO does not by itself institute a rise up the league table.

But if one has the right players on the pitch, it is certainly true that the “don’t foul” approach helps to reduce the number of yellow cards handed out.  Again we need to look a cards “per game” to ensure the figures are comparable across all teams.  The base figures come from Footcharts, and are the numbers used by all analysts talking about fouls and yellows.

Pos Team Played Yellow Cards Yellow Cards per game
1 Leeds United 18 50 2.78
2 Newcastle United 19 46 2.42
3 Burnley 15 34 2.27
4 Manchester United 17 38 2.24
5 Brighton and Hove 17 37 2.18
6 Aston Villa 18 38 2.11
7 Watford 16 33 2.06
8 Everton 17 35 2.06
9 Brentford 17 34 2.00
10 Southampton 18 35 1.94
11 Crystal Palace 18 33 1.83
12 Norwich City 18 32 1.78
13 Tottenham Hots 16 28 1.75
14 Wolverhampton W 18 30 1.67
15 Manchester City 19 28 1.47
16 Chelsea 19 28 1.47
17 Leicester City 17 25 1.47
18 Arsenal 19 27 1.42
19 Liverpool 18 25 1.39
20 West Ham United 18 19 1.06

Fouls per card

Now comes a key question: how far does the issue of fouls relate to yellow cards?  One would think that there should be a basic relationship – if one fouls more, then more yellow cards are waved.  But is the relationship between fouls and yellow cards the same for all teams?

What we can see is that there is a general link between the number of yellow cards per game, and the number of fouls per yellow card per game.   But…

If a team gets more cards it is because the ref lets the team get away with fewer fouls before they get a card.  Not because the team commits more fouls.

Pos for cards Team Played Fouls per game Yellow Cards per game Fouls per yellow per game
2 Newcastle United 19 10.05 2.42 4.15
3 Burnley 15 9.73 2.27 4.28
1 Leeds United 18 11.94 2.78 4.29
6 Aston Villa 18 9.67 2.11 4.58
8 Everton 17 9.47 2.06 4.60
5 Brighton and Hove 17 10.12 2.18 4.64
4 Manchester United 17 10.88 2.24 4.86
12 Norwich City 18 9.17 1.78 5.15
9 Brentford 17 10.65 2.00 5.33
14 Wolverhampton W 18 9.94 1.67 5,95
13 Tottenham Hotspur 16 10.56 1.75 6.03
15 Manchester City 19 8.89 1.47 6.04
10 Southampton 18 11.89 1.94 6.12
18 Arsenal 19 8.79 1.42 6.19
17 Leicester City 17 9.24 1.47 6.29
11 Crystal Palace 18 11.94 1.83 6.52
7 Watford 16 14.13 2.06 6.54
16 Chelsea 19 10.37 1.47 7.05
19 Liverpool 18 10.28 1.39 7.40
20 West Ham United 18 9.06 1.06 8.55

So why do referees give a yellow card after 8.55 fouls by West Ham, but after 6.19 fouls by Arsenal and after 4.15 fouls by Newcastle?   The possible answers are…

a) West Ham’s fouls are consistently very minor.

b) Referees believe that West Ham are a non-aggressive team and so give them more leeway.

c) Referees like West Ham.

Of course, I am not a professional referee – I just watch football, but watching occasional West Ham games on TV I genuinely do not see that most of their fouls are minor.  Personally, I think they get away with a number of tackles that other clubs would not get away with, and when they do commit a nasty one, or a player does several in a row, the ref gives an extra warning that he might not give to (for example) Newcastle.

Obviously, it might be that West Ham’s fouls are genuinely less nasty than other clubs, but having completed this table I’ve been looking at West Ham’s performances on TV, and I still don’t see that.

I think PGMO have something to answer here.  What a shame they utterly and absolutely refuse ever to deal with the people who pay their wages (ie the football going public).

The statistical enquiry of 2021 that the media totally ignored

How the media created an alternative story that Arsenal failed in 2020/21, when in fact Arsenal brought about a revolution

8 Replies to “Clubs that get most yellow cards are NOT clubs committing the most fouls.”

  1. The thing is, West Ham actually received 19 cards for fouls, exactly the same as Arsenal. Hence West Ham committed 8.58 fouls per card and Arsenal committed 8.79 fouls per card. As I’m sure people will agree, that’s a very similar ratio.

    The issue is actually about why West Ham received 5 yellows for ‘non-foul’ related offences whilst Arsenal received 9. (My stats for fouls and ‘non-fouls’ come from

    If we wish to look at stark contrasts however, perhaps we should be asking why Leicester only have received 4 cards for ‘non-foul’ related offences whilst Everton, at the other extreme, received 15 (almost four times as many)

    And when we look at this slightly more deeply, one might ask if this is because Everton are generally more dirty and refs therefore treat them accordingly? But no, Everton have committed 9.47 fouls per game and received 22 cards (for fouls). Meanwhile, Leicester have committed a very similar 9.24 fouls per game and received 21 yellows (for fouls).

    What this means is that of all the cards received by Leicester, only 15% are for ‘non-foul’ related offences whilst almost half (42%) of Everton’s cards were for ‘non-foul’ related offences. (Out of interest, Arsenal received 32% for ‘non-fouls’).

    I (and others) have suggested before that whilst you might be barking in the correct forest, you are potentially barking up the wrong tree. Any analysis on fouls per card cannot include cards that were given for ‘non-foul’ related offences. The key question for me may end up being, not how many cards per foul a team is given but how differently they are treated for ‘other’ offences.

    The impact of a card is, without doubt that players then have to be more careful but a simple look at the game against Norwich shows that Xhaka did not commit a single foul but was still given a card. Would most other players receive a card for the same offence? I can’t even hazard a guess because I still have no idea why he was shown a card. Refs can get away with arbitrary stuff like that even more easily than they can giving cards for fouls!

  2. Mikey
    Re the card issued to Xhaka in the Norwich game. Even the co-commentator said the default position was to give Xhaka a yellow card. In a melee involving a dozen or more players with nothing serious occurring why was it Xhaka who was singled out to get the one yellow card. I think we all know the answer.

  3. Tony and Mikey

    First of all great work Tony, but you have to say Mikey has made a brilliant point.

    I thought, wrongly as it turns out, that cards issued for other offences outside of fouls was so small as to be pretty irrelevant when it comes to the conclusions being drawn regarding tackles/fouls/cards ratios, but that is clearly not the case, and for revealing that we have to thank Mikey for some brilliant work which must surely now be taken in to account, as time consuming as it maybe, when analyzing these figures.

    When you see that 42% of Evertons cards are for offences other than fouls then surely this aspect of how teams are refereed cannot be ignored ?

    But even though this changes the nature of the cards it may not change any bias within, and therefore any conclusions that could be drawn. But it may do so it needs factoring in.

    From these initial statistics revealed by Mikey it suggests that Everton are extremely hard done by in comparison to Leicester when it comes to cards, but not because of fouls as we may of concluded before, I certainly would of, but because of other misdemeanors, I’m assuming such as:


    -Time wasting.

    -Not retreating 10 yards.

    -Foul throws.

    -Kicking the ball away.


    None of this changes the fact that teams are treated differently by referees,but it does seem to change in what way they are treated differently, and as Mikey concludes:

    “The key question for me may end up being, not how many cards per foul a team is given but how differently they are treated for ‘other’ offences.”

    And that is crucial, because there is even more ambiguity, latitude, discretion, whatever you want to call it, afforded to players for those type of offences as there is for fouls, and quite clearly there shouldn’t be.

    How many times have we seen a team start time wasting at the Ems from half way through the first half, and often as not nothing is done until the last 5 minutes of the match, if at all ?

    But then we find ourselves hanging on for a result away somewhere, our keeping hangs on to the ball for 5/10 seconds too long and he gets a card for doing it once !

    Not retreating 10 yards, dissent, time wasting, are all offences that often get completely ignored by a referee for an entire game, if it suits him, and whats more it hardly ever, if ever invokes a comment from the commentators, let alone becomes part of any debate afterwards.

    Similarly if a player gets booked for his first discretion in this manner it is never questioned and certainly never invokes a conversation that asks, why have others NOT been penalized ?

    These type of offences, and the cards given for them, do seem to slip discreetly under the radar, but as Mikey says, this doesn’t lessen the effect they have on how a player has to adjust his game as a result.

    As Mikey says Tony, right forest, maybe the wrong tree ?

    But never the less, great work by both.

  4. I’ll keep banging the same drum, and just posted a comment about it in the previous post :

    the referees are a totally INCOMPETENT bunch of people lacking ANY form of serious management and acting like would be empereros happy to decide each team’s and players’ fate based on nothing that relates to any rule book. They can’t even apply the same rule with the same punishment in many games. These yellows for not foul offenses may be just because the player smiles, or does not, or maybe because the ref’s wife refused to give him a headjob before the game.

    Never have I seen a referee commiting a blatant error being punished in some way (like a lower league game) : remember the red card to Gabriel who was nowhere near the action ? Not even an excuse. They visibly have a global pardon from PGMOL. To me their hiring goes back to the typical good old mismanagement of english old-boys network, which by the way does explain why they all come from the same general geographic area..

    It is typical of how the country seems to be run – to me the foreigner seing it with foreign eyes.

    These referees would be chased out of any school sports ground – in the US tarred and feathered. They are a shame to football.

    And just think : FIFA prefers any referee from Africa to a PL referee. Which means that even with championships much poorer and more difficult to run, the referees there are way better then the referees from the richest football league in the world. And once a PGMOL referee gets a CL game, he messes it up, confusing the Dortmund yellow for Arsenal yellow and letting his honed instinctive bias take over. Wonder when this guy will be back in the CL ? I hope he gets called up more times, so he can keep screwing up games and proving to the world how he – and his fellow referees from PGMOL -are incompetent idiots.

    PS : Untold has talked at length about how few referees PGMOL can line up for a season. There was one avenue that has not been traveled : what if potential referees, once invited to join just turn their back and mumble : are you fracking crazy ?!?! I for one am not – forget my phone number or my lawyer will be in touch ? I wonder if they get paid to shut-up as well….. Could well be that this is as well the right forest but the wrong tree ? ;=)

  5. 3 things I forgot on my list of transgressions ‘other’ than fouls that earn a card:

    1) Handball

    2) Playing for Arsenal

    3) Being called Xhaka

  6. @Nitram,

    right on !

    Probably the 3 items on the only powerpoint page the PGMOL so-called referees are shown at their training seminars…. ;=)))

  7. Interesting analysis but hard to draw conclusions. Because we are looking at symptoms and not causes, and trying to draw conclusions about causes.
    Could it be that, as the article suggests, that broadly things are as would be expected, more fouls equals more cards, and top teams generally foul less. Add to that that that all sorts of other factors are at work, including referee subjectivity and incompetence, and you get all sorts of anomalies. But nothing to suggest anything sinister is going on, or that Arsenal in particular are being singled out.
    Turning to causes, as Mikey points out, the PMGO is more or less an old boys closed shop, it is not a meritocracy, and it is generally unaccountable.That is the core problem IMO and as long as it continues referee performance will lead to all sorts of inconsistencies and anomalies.

Comments are closed.