Why can a newspaper criticise refs in Africa, but not refs in the PL?

The commentary continues that Attwell “can hardly be blamed for not seeing” the foul and “it was equally understandable that VAR should not deem that a clear and obvious error. Gabriel deserved both his yellow cards…” and so on.

Now these are two examples of the same newspaper’s coverage of refereeing matters on different continents and they fall into a pattern.  A contentious set of decisions given in an Arsenal game (and I am being kind with “contentious”) being contrasted with the “wild-eyed Gambian official Bakary Gassama”.   As for anything Attwell does being “controversial” – no, that is dismissed as “a debate largely generated by its own coverage – and the result was furore.”

Then the article continues, “That scrutiny is another major part of the problem, undermining any attitude of control. The way decisions are analysed creates controversy and doubt, particularly when there is rarely any acknowledgement that some decisions are almost impossible to make at speed from a single angle, or that in some cases there probably is no definitive “right” answer.

“That has created a community of snitches and zealots, constantly peering through the net curtain, determined to find faults to punish…”

Is he seriously talking about Premier League games, in which the UK media will not criticise referees?  Obviously not.

Let’s try and pull this together.  Janny Sikazwe can be criticised, as we saw in the opening quote, but not the English referees and we see that in the media’s coverage of Arsenal matches.  Eventually in the article we get to this, “If matches are going to be decided on such moments of randomness, then for all the football merit involved we may as well hide gold rings randomly round the pitch and award a goal for every one found.

“Since David Elleray became technical director for the law-making International Football Association Board, a puritanical fundamentalism has taken hold.”

And yet despite this heavy criticism of refereeing worldwide, what is missing here is any mention of decision making in PL games, or the ultra-secretive PGMO.  It is fine, it seems, for the Guardian to criticise referees in the Africa Cup of Nations, but one cannot criticise refereeing in the Premier League.

It is not as if nothing could be improved in the Premier League.   Indeed I’ve often made the point that what we need is more referees so that no referees actually oversee matches by any Premier League club more than twice in one season.  It seems such an obvious requirement, and one that the very rich Premier League could easily afford.

But no we don’t get that.  Arsenal have played 20 league games and 25% of these have been overseen by Michael Oliver.  Five games for one ref.  Craig Pawson has had three.   Messrs Dean, Atkinson, Marriner Taylor, Attwell and Gillett have reached what I would consider the maximum per ref, and we are only just over half way through the season.

That is an issue to be debated, surely, and I haven’t even got to last season’s figures which show that the the referees who were more likely to give decisions against Arsenal got more games.

Which leads to one conclusion: it is ok to criticise African officials, and criticise them heavily as the Guardian does in Jonathan Wilson’s article, but it is not acceptable to criticise or even question the PGMO and its referees.

That might not be called racism on the part of the Guardian, but it might be called continentalism.

But more to the point: why is it happening?  And even more to the point, why is no one debating this?

13 Replies to “Why can a newspaper criticise refs in Africa, but not refs in the PL?”

  1. Hi Tony,
    Don’t know if it’s connected to your recent cry for help, but I can’t read the first 2 paragraphs of your articles as there’s a massive ad covering them, with no X to close them with.
    For context I’m on an iPhone.

  2. English premiership is being fixed back in 1994/1995 season when Arsenal won unbeaten I told some people that it can be 20 years or more than before Arsenal win another premiership trophy because the referees will gang up to frustrate Arsenal and that is what is happening today sometimes they will tell you that super computer has predicted that man city will win the premiership can super computer work without human being operating it is not what you pressed there that will count let me open some people’s eye both referees and VAR controllers are fraud they confide in fixing matches so what are my saying if you what happened with Arsenal and man city you can understand that the match was fixed because if the referee did not see what of VAR. Let’s look about it last year match between man Utd and Watford has ended when VAR reverse it that there was a penalty committed in favor of man Utd so both referees and var are supporters of various clubs so they are not neutral goal watch technology is the answer if they will not set it anti clock.

  3. Mr Oliver was the referee when arsenal played Leicester on Oct 30th. He awarded Evans a yellow card only when Evans upended Aubameyang, deny Aubameyang a definite goalscoring opportunity. This same Mr Oliver awarded Xhaka a red card for the same offence. Thus, does one assume that within these two months, Mr Oliver has received some form of additional referee educational help by the PGMOL, so that he now recognises when to and when not to award red cards for such infringements? After all, he is supposed to be the top English Premier League referee! He also seems to award more yellow cards against Arsenal team members. Does one also assume that he has received additional helpful instruction on this issue?

    How does the paying public receive its additional helpful information as to how, when and where referees receive their training with information as to how 4th and 5th officials monitoring games report their findings to the PGMOL, etc, etc. Why were the two awards described above for the same offence, so different? Or were these offences different? Who really knows as nothing is actually explained to the public.

    Now compare this state of play with that seen in the American National Football League, whereby referee (umpire) decisions (yellow flags) are clearly explained with offending player numbers signified! So, why not in Premier League football?

    In rugby union decisions, a ‘sin-bin scenario is used on occasion for certain foul play decisions. So why not in Premier League football.

    Information and transparency within the PGMOL would help to make it more open and professional for football viewers such as myself. But as I often post……….’What do I know?’………

  4. Tony,

    I fully agree with the article, although to me ‘continentalism’ is a concept I’m not familiar with.

    To me the reporter considrs africans as way below his pay-grade and mostly incapable in matters football. It just transpires from the article. ‘We’ are so good and so much more competent and by godly right so much better then you – that is what I see. Any english ref ending a game while under a heathstroke would be labelled a hero, sacrificing himself for the good of the game etc etc etc. No context to where it happens, how people live, and so on. What is missing is something like : how dare they play football anyway.

    As you pointed out, the fact that he has, to my knowledge, never allowed himself any piece going full frontal on PL referees is just another proof to me that it is as I think.

  5. The problem with journalists and sport is that the pontificating journo can get away without evidence, while sport gets away with two wrongs and a plethora of pundits (directed zoo-ology) making it gospel.

    The PGMOL official in Wilson’s article is a proven corrupt individual, so calling him honest john does not cut the mustard. The Arsenal players ‘conversing’ with the cheat were lending themselves to cards or in this case a fine to the club for failing to control the players. It is an evil that cannot be exorcised with garlic and only a riot will bring some recognition of the corruption that plagues the English game.

  6. Tony,

    to add to my comment, when you think about the rukus that was created by the fact some players were leaving for the AFCON, how much their clubs are going to miss them, etc etc – whereas ALL knew and signed anyway, one can just think this is a kill piece, done on purpose to start discrediting the CAN.

    They are starting to seed the doubt, they will continue to do so relentlessly, year after year, and if one of the players (except an Arsenal one) gets injured, you’ll probably they’ll most probably ask the Queen to call on the Commonwealth to act ! They would not dare do it got the Euros or the WC, but the African Cup of Nations ? No problem for them.

  7. Sports journos get away without evidence because the media outlets will claim afterwards that we should consider it as entertainment and not something serious (much like a lot of the political commentary that masquerades as news).

    We are not supposed to understand that sports are a sizeable business and also, often, a bellweather of our daily emotions; we are to be invested emotionally and monetarily in our club but are not supposed to take the very commentaries that lead us to these positions, seriously.


  8. I would like to thank Jonathan Wilson for highlighting a point I have been making for years, and more than that displaying a perfect example of how it works.

    Note: Before I start my apologies to those that have read this many times before. Anyway….

    My point has been that referees can actually ‘cheat without cheating’, or at least on the face it APPEARING not be cheating. But when you look closer they clearly are cheating, and Mr Wilson gives a perfect example of how they do it, and more importantly how they get away with it.

    My point has been that a vast majority of refereeing decisions in football are by their nature subjective, ranging from 50/50 calls through 10/90 40/60 60/40 90/10 and so on, you get the picture. So no matter what decision he makes he will be wrong in some eyes and right in others, to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the nature of the incident.

    In other words the referee can never be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ , and it seems Mr Wilson agrees with me when he says:

    “……. in some cases there probably is no definitive “right” answer”. Exactly. In other words the decision could of gone either way.

    Now my argument is, as long as those subjective 50/50”s, “I’ve seen them given”, “not enough for me” , type calls that could go either way, do exactly that and go either way, fine. My argument is that they clearly do not, and the Man City match was a perfect example of how a serious of subjective close calls that could and should of gone either way, didn’t, and as such was a prime example of how we get cheated without the referee actually appearing to cheat.

    In that match there were quite a few big big calls, all of them subjective. All of them a matter of opinion. Now taken individually, you could say they were all ‘right’. But equally, as explained above, you could equally say they were all ‘wrong’. It’s just a matter of opinion after all.

    Where I have a problem is when there are half a dozen of these big subjective calls, as there was in this particular match, and where as My Wilson concedes there is “No definitive ‘right’ answer”, every single one of them goes in the favour of one team, as they did in this match.

    If nothing else that is a little suspicious. Okay you can cut the referee and VAR some slack and say it was just one of those days. It wasn’t deliberate. Arsenal wasn’t ‘cheated’ as such. But surely at the very least you have to concede Arsenal were hard done by. A bit unlucky maybe?

    But no, not according to Wilson because he concludes:

    – “Attwell can hardly be blamed for not seeing the foul” Cant he? That’s just Wilson’s opinion.

    -“it was equally understandable that VAR should not deem that a clear and obvious error.” Was it ? Again just Wilson’s opinion.

    -“Gabriel deserved both his yellow cards” Did he ? Again just Wilson’s opinion.

    -“Arsenal players confront Stuart Attwell during their 2-1 Premier League defeat by Manchester City.” Did they ? That’s just Wilson’s interpretation. Again just his opinion.

    So that’s 4 massive subjective calls, and the officials give EVERY one of them against Arsenal. Not only that but surprise surprise Wilson happens to agree with EVERY one of them.

    Funny that.


    The officials give EVER big subjective call against Arsenal, clearly defying all logic. Clearly somethings wrong. Clearly some kind of bias, either conscious or subconscious is at play at the very least. Possibly even cheating.

    But no. Wilson concludes every single decision against Arsenal was correct.

    The referee was great. VAR was great. Arsenal got all they deserve.

  9. It beats every rational in dispensation of justice and fairness in football decision making administration. As to how come,, the Afcon disciplinary committee failed to uphold the Tunisians protest over the match referee’s action taken to end the match between them and Mali before fulltime of the match on the ground of his fallen ill unable to continue officiating in the match before the stipulated time to end proceedings in the match. For which the CAF disciplinary committee ought to have unequivocally recommend the replay of the 1st rd group stage match between the duo country teams to CAF central working committee to order a replay of the match. Because of the incompetence shown in match refereeing by referee Janny Skazwe

    The failure of CAF to dispense justice in the protest made to them by the Tunisians is to me unethical, pathetic, undesirable, ridiculous and unbecoming of them. Which encourages lawlessness by the referees in Afcon tournament match officiating. For, I think didn’t the Law governing the game of football match refereeing stipulates, that if the match referee in a match is unable to continue his match refereeing in the match, he or she should hand over the continuation of the match refereeing to the fourth official of match to continuing with refereeing in the match? What then has stopped referee Janny Sikazwe from adhering to this Law? Which begs the question.

    I think the reason behind the newspapers in the UK looking the other way in their news reporting as it concerns Arsenal to not criticize the PGMO referees ill motive match officiating in the EPL whenever they performed poorly in their match refereeing job especially when Arsenal are involved. Is no other than the mainstream print media are part and parcel of the conspiracy that has been going on for long to be slaying Arsenal when the opportunity to do so arisen. This is happening because of the envy that they have towards the Arsenal brand. Which has become inherent in their sique pushing them to undermine, subvert, ridicule, mock and bellitle Arsenal iman their jealousy rage because of the unbeaten to the season record of the 2002-2003 season that Arsenal had in the EPL.

  10. @ Nitram

    I don’t totally agree that officials give every big 50/50 call against Arsenal. I think we might get 1 in 10 (at best) go in our favour. It’s the outrage in the media that comes with the one call that actually does go in our favour that riles me. They will then subsequently quote that one decision regularly to allude to the fact that Arsenal “get away with” things and that the playing field is not only level but tilted in our favour!

    When you consider some of the soft red cards given against us and then compare every one of them with McArthur’s deliberate kick on Saka when the ball was nowhere near in the Palace game, where was the outrage. Anyone who believes that there wasn’t a conspiracy (deliberate or subconsciously) not to give Arsenal the advantage of being a player up that day needs their bumps felt. I still to this day, cannot understand at all how that could not have been a red card. Where was the media outrage after that appalling decision. Does anybody really believe that would not have been given if it had been Xhaka? And what about when Luiz was sent off for standing in the wrong place and made no effort to touch man or ball but the opposition players foot accidentally caught Luiz? Penalty, red card and media in agreement.

    Just in case anybody never saw the McArthur challenge


  11. Mikey

    “It’s the outrage in the media that comes with the one call that actually does go in our favour that riles me. They will then subsequently quote that one decision regularly to allude to the fact that Arsenal “get away with” things and that the playing field is not only level but tilted in our favour”!

    I know it drives you nuts.

    And of course regarding the point I was making above relating to Jonathon Wilson, who gave a perfect example of how the media support just about every decision that goes against Arsenal, no matter how blatantly wrong.

    The reason I highlighted the City game was because it was an absolutely perfect example of the ‘cheating without cheating’ theory I have been banging on about for years.

    It was also an example of how I said years ago that VAR would be used against us. If the referee misses an opportunity to screw us you can be sure VAR will put it right.

    The referee misses a possible foul on Odegaard in the box. VAR does nothing.

    The referee misses a possible foul by Xhaka in the box. VAR gives a penalty.

    The foul on Odegaard was as clear as the pull on the shirt by Xhaka, yet only one was deemed a clear and obvious error.

    So even when the referee errs in our favour VAR steps in to repair the damage, just as I said they would.

    And then of course, the Coup De Grace as the media confirm every single decision to be correct. Well of course they would, EVERY ONE went against Arsenal.

Comments are closed.