Is the notion there is something wrong with refereeing, a conspiracy theory?



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.

15 Replies to “Is the notion there is something wrong with refereeing, a conspiracy theory?”

  1. it would suggest that refs are not biased in attitude but influenced by crowd behaviour. Bias infers deliberate motives.
    Perhaps they should wear noise cancelling cans

  2. Put in a nutshell yes it’s bias, yes there is an agenda to keep. No it won’t come to light anytime soon as to many established people and rhetorics will be destroyed like Liverpool not getting help from big pharma to name just one thing.

    The answers and evidence is out there just the masses don’t want to see it or it will destroy the magic of the best league in the word

  3. Tony, can you explain how having more referees can eliminate home bias? Seeing that all teams play equal number of home games?

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17654230/

    I did a quick Google search and found countless research supporting presence of home bias in different sports, competitions and countries from so many years ago. I just posted the above link because the EPL was used mainly. Note that it was published in 2007. Also from time immemorial we have agreed that there is something called “home advantage”. I really don’t understand the point of the article. After the quote from the telegraph which I believe was in response to Arteta’s presser, I was expecting some evidence about ref bias which indeed counter the conspiracy theory notion, but the best you can give is home bias/advantage which every team benefits from?

    Onto the matter of Arteta’s press conference. His keeping his mouth shut was the best decision he could have taken, because surely it would have been triple or quadruple jeopardy and for no reason too. We already lost the match and fairly too(infact we could have lost by 5 goals, spurs were that dominant on the night), 2. He already whined about the defeat which only reinforced his reputation for whining. If he had gotten himself banned for calling the refs integrity into question it would have been 100% on him and I would expect the club to show their displeasure, especially if it derails our attempts to win the last 2 matches and qualify for the champions league (which would have completed the quadruple jeopardy).

    Finally I just rewatched the match, and I noted two 50-50 decisions
    1. The penalty. Soft maybe but when you barge into the back of a player jumping to head the ball on goal, especially when you make absolutely no attempt at getting the ball, you deny him of a goal scoring opportunity and it should be a penalty. It was clear that the barge impeded Son from actually heading the ball how he would have wanted.
    2. Holding’s second yellow might have been a straight red too, but it was a yellow at the minimum. Also his first yellow was fully deserved. Holding held, grappled, bear hugged Son for several seconds at the least when Son had the beating of him and which could have been the start of a dangerous move for Spurs.
    There were a few other minor incidents including heavy barges by Emerson Royal on Saka, and Nuno Tavares twice on Kulusevski I think.
    Let’s just accept that we were beaten by a better team on the night. Thanks

  4. Glenn – sorry I wasn’t meaning to link the home bias and more referees issue. More referees would mean no referee overseeing the same team more than twice in a season, which I have long argued would be a simple precautionary measure against possible bias.
    The issue of home bias is different. The fact that two referees this season have overcome it shows that it is possible, and PGMO should be working on educating those who have shown home bias in order to eliminate it from their game. Maybe they are doing so, and maybe next season we will see far less home bias.

  5. Something is happening take a look at Tottenham’s penalty against Burnley today.

    Yeah just take a look….

  6. to be influenced by anything is to be affected by bias…infer what you will!

  7. Spurs get a penalty! What a surprise!

    They were not the better team against Arsenal. We were clearly on top until Tierney decided to intervene.

    Even with 10 men we gave Lloris more work to do than Ramsdale had.

  8. I think that is wrong Bella. If you put your hand in the fire and find that is painful you are influenced not to do it again. There is no bias.

  9. Glenn
    If you think that was a penalty then you clearly are not viewing the footage correctly. There is the slightest faintest touch on Son who has a reputation of being a diver. That in itself would never make him do his theatrical fall. He has form and is sly. There have been many recent “faintest” touches of players in the box most recently in the Cup final on Saturday by Konate. Nothing given. Gordon v Liverpool. Nothing given. Huddersfield v Luton on Friday in the first mi Ute. Nothing given. Open your eyes and see the anti Arsenal corruption going on in front of your eyes. It is plain and obvious. Other clubs can have the same sentiment granted but I support Arsenal so see it on an every match occasion. As you mention Holding you carefully forgot to mention the elbow in Holdings face by Son in that incident. What you didn’t see it? Care to respond? Arsenal are referreed to a different standard. Just accept that we were beaten by the referee. Thanks (patronising in return to your thanks)

  10. Tony you are a champion of free speech even when it grates. I could not be so kind.

  11. @Mark I actually missed the Son originally. It surely looks like a yellow to me, although Holding was wrestling him. Ref probably decided to let both players off that time probably with a talking to. Holding continued and got a yellow with the ref indicating that he was guilty of persistent fouling.i was satisfied with the refereeing, I know you weren’t, it’s okay. But as an arsenal fan we must understand that it may be impossible to be objective when judging arsenal matches. Do other people share our sentiments should be a better way of judging. all the same we need to focus on the remaining 2 matches

  12. @Goonersince72,

    revealing angle….. what I don’t get is when there is doubt against Arsenal, you get the impression VAR is always going to extended length to prove it, be it millimeters for an offside etc. Some taking minutes.

    Here, from what I can remember, no VAR check announced, or is my recollection wrong ?

    I ain’t surprised by what happened, and again, I think the issue at hand is total incompetence of PGMOL on many levels, the first one being repeat assignement of Arsenal games to the same set of referees on the field or VAR. Until this ends, the imballance will stay and the basis of potentially fair refereeing in the course of a season cannot be present.

    Once this is corrected, you can start looking at referee performance differently. But with some referees getting 3 or 6 games for the same team, it cannot happen.

    IAM – Incompetent Arrgant Morons. That is who they are. Any consipracy needs intelligence, competence, and secrecy. The secrecy surrounding PGMOL is the only way to silence doubts about competence.

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