By Tony Attwood
“Any manager is permitted to say that they believe a decision to be wrong. It is when they stray into the conspiracy theories of stitch-up and bias that ears prick up in the Football Association’s compliance department.”
Those two sentences come from a Telegraph article which is on their website as I write this. And it is a couple of sentences that seem to summarise just where we are. If you want to look at the background to this debate there is a series of articles on this site starting with Are the referees and the media really out to get Arsenal, or am I just imagining it? which is explore the issue in some depth.
But let’s just consider the notion of “a conspiracy theory”.
A conspiracy theory of PGMO might say that in a unified way a number of referees are deliberately out to get Arsenal – or indeed any other club.
In essence when there is an oft-expressed view that x is right and y is wrong that is not examined with data and statistics, then there is a danger that a few truths are being missed and that one view becomes dominant and all others are dismissed. And the world of journalism, and to a large degree, blogging, is in this situation vis a vis football.
Imagine for a moment that a scenario we have discussed here a number of times is true: the scenario in which a number of referees are biased by the noise of the home crowd. We’ve presented detailed evidence from scientific research that shows this is generally true time and again.
The pandemic helped this research for during the pandemic the balance of results returned to what they would be like if there were no bias among referees. Since then the figures have gone back to the results we saw before – a strong bias in favour of the home teams.
We’ve even added a little research of our own showing that in the current season two referees have figures that show that results in their games showing they have overcome the home bias model, but the rest have returned to the pre-pandemic level of results.
None of this has been reported by the Telegraph, instead they say, “Any manager is permitted to say that they believe a decision to be wrong. It is when they stray into the conspiracy theories of stitch-up and bias that ears prick up in the Football Association’s compliance department.”
What the Telegraph is doing here is suggesting that there are only two options. One that everything is fine with refereeing. The other is that there is a “conspiracy theory” which can be defined as “an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy.”
So what we actually have is the Telegraph and other media refusing to consider the scientific data but instead following their own view (not supported by any data) that all is ok with refereeing. That in itself is not a conspiracy theory, but it is certainly not helpful.
The statistics show that the percentages of home and away wins changed when there were no crowds present and that now with crowds back, some referees figures are following the pattern without crowds, while others have gone back to the pre-pandemic pattern of results with crowds. This suggests matches are being refereed in different ways by different referees. That is not a conspiracy but a set of data-revealed facts.
However when we ask why this situation is allowed by PGMO to continue, then we start being accused of a conspiracy theory.
There is no official explanation and no explanation accepted by the media of what’s going on, because the media will not discuss the topic. That again is not a conspiracy theory, but a fact – one can go through the media and look for the story: it is not there. It is only in the scientific journals.
So are the media involved in a conspiracy to hide the facts from the football going public? That is of course a possibility. Another is that the media is handled totally by the football establishment and so tends to repeat the establishment view. Another is that football journalists are by and large incredibly lazy and know a free meal ticket when they see one. They love going to matches and getting paid for it, so they repeat the regular line – there is nothing odd about refereeing. That’s the explanation that seems most likely to me.
This leads them never to write articles exploring why there are so few Premier League referees available, and why some referees might oversee the same team five or more times in one season, when stopping this would be a decent insurance policy against there being bias and why there is home team bias among many but not all referees.
Such suggestions do not constitute a conspiracy theory: rather they are the sort of suggestions that an investigative scientist would make in looking at the issue. The approach that asks, “what explanation can be find for the fact that the level of home and away wins changed during the pandemic, and what does that explanation tell us about the accuracy of refereeing?”
Simply ignoring the research that shows referee bias and raising the notion that suggesting that anything being wrong with PL refereeing is a conspiracy theory, is not of itself a conspiracy theory by the standard definition. It is just lazy and inaccurate journalism quite possibly with a fair amount of gaslighting thrown in.
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