How the Leeds situation proves that Halsey’s attack on Riley is right: PGMO has gone wrong

By Tony Attwood

There was an article in the Sun recently (yes I know) which had the headline


Premier League referees struggling because chief Mike Riley and those in charge NOT giving proper coaching or education

It was written by Mark Halsey who was on thePremier league’s list of Select Group Referees from its creation in 2001 until his retirement in 2013.  In the article, the ex-ref says, “Ever since Riley took over in 2009, the refereeing standards have gone backwards.  I don’t blame the referees on the pitch or at Stockley Park, because they aren’t being given the proper education from those in charge.   The coaching our officials are receiving is not good enough.

“We’ve got personnel in place that have never refereed at the top level trying to coach officials on how to manage Prem games.

“The training of VAR needs to be seriously improved as well because we are seeing huge inconsistencies in reviewing incidents.”

Later in the piece, he says, “The PGMOL does not know how to manage their dressing room and I know that because I am still in contact with some officials.   They don’t have assessors at games monitoring the officials anymore, there is just an evaluation system so they don’t get that face-to-face feedback in the dressing room like we used to…

“It comes back to leadership from Riley and his management team because referee standards have declined since Keith Hackett’s exit.”

So the argument is that the management of PGMO is simply not very good, referees are not being trained properly, and the correct procedures are not being introduced.

It is a viable argument, and indeed it is excellent to see a newspaper taking on the issue of the quality of refereeing in the Premier League, rather than just parroting the old line about the Premier League being the best league in the world and so having the best referees in the world.

But there is a problem because there are other issues besides the training of referees which need to be taken into account.   Let me try and outline a few of them.

1: Lack of oversight of PGMO

As we have so often said, no one oversees PGMO to make sure it is running itself in a fair and reasonable way.  Arsenal can get the same referee over and over again – when self-evidently if each club never had any single referee more than twice in a season, even if there were any rotten apples in the refereeing barrel their effect on individual teams would be limited.

Very few organisations in Britain have this sort of freedom to do what they want without supervision, but referees can do.   The only thing international football can do to express its disapproval of English referees is to refuse to appoint them to big events, as with the last World Cup.

2: Unwillingness of the media in general to consider that there might be anything wrong

The piece in the Sun noted above is special because it is so unusual.  But unfortunately, it didn’t take us any further forward in terms of having an independent regulator of refereeing in the Premier League. That won’t happen until the whole of Premier League and Championship football stands up to PGMO and says, “someone needs to be monitoring what you do”.

3.  The media deliberately ignore the issues that plague football.

Uefa’s revelations about the growth of match fixing and its statement that the Association does not have the resources to counter it, was ignored by the English media – although it was not ignored in the rest of Europe.

There are of course two possible reasons for this.  One is that the editors believe no one is interested in refereeing (which is hard to sustain as an argument when players and fans so regularly argue with refereeing decisions).  The other is that the media has agreed formally or informally not to take on refereeing stories.

This is not to suggest a conspiracy but rather to reflect the common agreement that there is between much of the media over what is, and what is not, a story.  A rich white man’s house in Berkshire is broken into and robbed and his wife is assaulted – story.   A poor black family in Greenwich has their house broken into and robbed, and the family assaulted – no story.

4. Examination of the psychological bias issue

All decision making is prone to psychological bias.  The word goes around that Leeds are a dirty team and need to be shown who’s boss from kickoff by the referee, and so they are penalised at every turn.   Liverpool and West Ham are said to be managed by gentlemen who ensure their teams don’t engage in nasty underhand tactics. They get different treatment.

But just look at this table, which is derived from the official figures.

Club Tackles per foul Tackles per yellow  Fouls per yellow
Leeds 1.65 6.67 4.03
West Ham 1.72 12.36 7.17

So although West Ham and Leeds tackle about the same amount before committing a foul, West Ham can deliver just on twice as many tackles as Leeds before getting a yellow.  OK, you might say, that is because when Leeds players tackle they are butchers.   And Leeds fouls are almost twice as likely to get a yellow as West Ham fouls.   Ah well, you say, that proves it.

Now I am not a Leeds fan as you surely must know, but I’ve watched Leeds in person twice this season, specifically looking at the fouls, and I sure didn’t see that their tackles were twice as nasty as West Ham’s (who I have also watched).   Nor did I find this when I watched them on TV, doing nothing but specifically looking at the tackles and fouls.

I cannot say “this is ref bias pure and simple” nor can I say it is “subconscious bias”.  But that looks to me like bias is the most likely explanation.  If there is another explanation, why doesn’t someone come forth and make it? 

But because we have no independent regulator of refereeing, nothing is investigated.  Maybe I am wrong and Leeds are twice as dirty as West Ham – at least if there was a regulator it could be examined.   If you are a regular reader you’ll know I have no axe to grind on behalf of Leeds, and maybe these figures are somehow justified, but we never even have them justified because the media will not recognise that there is an issue.

And when the whole of the media – newspapers, radio, TV – all move in one direction by refusing to recognise an issue: I smell a revolting rat.

So thank you Mark Halsey for opening this can of worms.   But please please please don’t stop there.  Let’s go forward and work out what is going on and why.  Given that clubs are not being treated equally, it can’t just be a lack of referee education.  So please keep going, for if anyone can explain things, it is probably you.


7 Replies to “How the Leeds situation proves that Halsey’s attack on Riley is right: PGMO has gone wrong”

  1. Great article – and it doesn’t help that the vast majority of refs are from up north.

  2. Nice to see someone from the inside who shares my opinion that PGMOL are IAM Incompetent Arrogant Morons.
    Thanks to seismic for having highlighted that piece a few days ago.

    It is surprising that the Sun of all outlets would carry that piece.
    And that none other has kept on with it.
    Well it does probably mean some are reading Untold and find inspiration there !

  3. HT Arsenal 0 Wolfsburg 1
    the first 30 minutes were very disappointing; then we pressed them a little but we can do so much better … we miss iwabuchi a lot i think
    these german frauen are up for grabs imo, they only do very well the very simple things, but somehow that’s been enough for them to be ahead (nice header, that goal, btw)
    if anyone could snap mediema out of her nap, things might get turned around but this nap of hers actually looks like a deep, ecstatic slumber
    expecting andrew’s insight live from ashburton grove …
    come on girls, rebellion time !!

  4. Another article in an impressive long line of quality articles.

    Halsey’s input gets you thinking.
    On one hand, a shambolic training/educational culture which brings the quality of PGMO refereeing down, and has kept it down the past few years, hasn’t made it any better for the present, will not improve it for the foreseeable future, on the other hand, a standard of operational professionalism which gets PGMO operatives in place and, in operation, functioning as the most important people on the pitch whatever the TV scheduling demands, and whatever the quality of football being presented on the pitch. They decide, whatever.

    You have to wonder whether the overall media silence about PGMO is precisely because if the media examine PGMO the refs will no longer be the most important person on the pitch.

    The spectacle of the EPL requires the drama of the PGMO ref as the most important person.
    The PGMO referee has to be capricious.
    Into this drama is written advertising revenues, viewing numbers, gambling patters, club finances, merchandising strategies, transfer fees, individual status, and, at the end of the day, above all, for the media journalist, the PGMO referee keeps the platform floating and the need for the journalist to be present.
    Take away the PGMO, let it be two teams playing, the ref just a facilitator, the journalist is just a fan, no different from anyone else.
    With PGMO and their never-ending individual capriciousness, football is elevated, requires the expert voice in the babble.

  5. Tony

    It’s not rocket science. The media run the referees. I’ve been saying it for years. You even say so yourself:

    “The word goes around that Leeds are a dirty team and need to be shown who’s boss from kickoff by the referee, and so they are penalised at every turn. Liverpool and West Ham are said to be managed by gentlemen who ensure their teams don’t engage in nasty underhand tactics. They get different treatment”.

    ‘The word goes around’

    And who exactly puts that word around? The media of course. And what is the consequence of that ‘word’ from the media?

    “They get different treatment”.

    ‘They’ being the team of course. And the ‘different treatment’ is by the referees of course.

    This is what I have been saying for years. What the media wants, the media say they want. And what the media says they want, the referees deliver.

    For years the media insisted Jack wilshere injured himself. On the back of that he was kicked off the park without an ounce of protection. In fact the media narrative is, and has always been that Arsenal players in general are a bunch of ‘softies’ and need to be shown it’s a mans game. Players don’t assault Arsenal players they just ‘get in their faces’.

    We now seem to be going down the same route with Saka. I fear for the lad.

    Why would the media want the referees trained to follow the Laws of the game when they clearly want them to referee as per their agenda?

    You say:

    “…They (PGMOL) don’t have assessors at games monitoring the officials anymore.

    I beg to differ. They are called SKY Sports, BT Sports, TalkSport, MOTD, The SUN, The Mirror, The Mail etc. etc.

    Why The Sun has suddenly decided to throw Riley under the bus I have no idea. Given how long he’s been in charge and how bad he has been from the outset it all seems very odd.

    In my opinion, given this particular rags rather tenuous relationship with truth, honesty and integrity, I would doubt it had anything what so ever to do with making the game any fairer.

    As for the mess we are in with refereeing in this Country, make no mistake, it’s the media that lie at the heart of it.

    They have the same compliant, inconstant, biased group of officials they have had for years. Now all of a sudden it’s a problem ???

    Nope, I’m not having it. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

  6. Karl Henry (remember him?) has waded into the debate surrounding Tyrone Mings’ foul on Saka, claiming that it wasn’t a foul because Mings is heavy and is more likely to lose control of his own body. Dermot Gallagher seems to be in agreement with Henry.


  7. seismic

    But this is where the bias media agenda rears it’s head.

    I have no doubt they could find 100 ex players, referees etc. that don’t think it’s a foul.Fine.That’s their opinion.

    But equally they could probably find a similar amount that do think it’s a foul.Which is also fine.That’s their opinion.

    The bias comes in when it’s only the one’s that say it isn’t a foul that they tell us about.

    This is what they do all the time, because it doesn’t matter what we do they will always find someone prepared to criticise it.

    Very often it’s our very own Ian Wright sticking the knife in.

    Still, not to worry some people still like him.

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