by Tony Attwood
“Howard Webb must rebuild confidence in top referees,” says a piece in the Telegraph. The cultural stigmatisation of referees is still relevant today says a piece in the Guardian. Yet neither piece addresses the key issue of the moment; that referees judge games in very different ways.
Referee Martin Atkinson took control of 26 Premier League games last season and awarded 2.46 yellow cards a game. David Coote took control of 20 games last season in the league. He awarded 4.6 yellow cards per game.
In short Coote awarded 87% more yellow cards a game than Atkinson across the whole season,.
We may of course sympathise with this on the grounds that it is hard to see immediately if a foul should be rewarded with a card or not. And the point may well be made that because a wide range of different referees are used during the season, it all balances out in the end. Doesn’t it?
Well, maybe not. The referee who awarded 4.6 yellow cards a game only oversaw Manchester City once. The referee who awarded 2.46 cards a game oversaw Manchester City five times. That clearly gave Manchester City an advantage.
And yet it could easily have so easily been avoided by employing more referees so each team only got each referee twice across the whole season. But the Premier League won’t have it. Referees can oversee matches involving the same club in up to five league matches a season – which is 13% of the team’s games.
But let’s try this from a different approach.
Jonathan Moss oversaw 25 games last season. A whacking 64% were home wins, 24% were away wins, and 12% were draws.
David Coote with his 20 games only saw 25% home wins, but saw an enormous 40% away wins and 35% draws. The total across all Premier League games was 43% home wins, 34% away wins and 23% draws
Put another way, if a club gets Coote while playing at home it has every chance of picking up yellow cards galore, and has an 18% reduced chance of winning. Home teams really don’t want to see Coote.
None of this is to say that any referee has a personal bias against any particular club. But the club that gets five of its matches refereed by Coote is likely to be picking up more yellow cards than the club that only has one visit from that referee. And that figure gets far worse if those are home games.
And the reverse is true for Atkinson. Get Atkinson for five games and you’ve almost certainly ended up with fewer cards, which gives the club an advantage.
A simple approach to resolving the problem would be to employ more referees and ensure that each referee only ran one home game and one away game for each club. It really is that simple.
It would cost, but within the context of the earnings of the Premier League that cost would be tiny. Which raises two questions. First why does this not happen? Second, why does the media never mention this?
22 referees were used in the Premier League last season. Why not train up a few more to Premier League standard? And while that is being done why not train a few journalists to open their eyes?
And to be clear the key point is not just training all the referees so that they don’t have any bias toward the home or away team, and don’t have any desire to hand out far more cards than their colleagues (although both would be good). But it is to employ enough referees so that even if they have these biases as many clearly do, each club will only see each referee twice.
Which leads to two gigantic question
1: Why does PGMO so resolutely fail to address these issues?
2: Why does the media so resolutely fail to mention these issues?
Let’s try some answer those two questions.
First if PGMO did dramatically increase the number of referees that would be an admission of the horrible bias that has existed in matches in the past – and given that PGMO has worked so hard to ensure that no question is ever asked about referees and their bias, we can see why they would not want to raise this question now.
Second, the media fills their football pages up with articles about transfers which clearly don’t require any research, and as we have shown year after year are always at least 97% inaccurate. When they are not writing such pieces the articles they do write are either interviews or personal opinions and/or interviews with players or managers which again require no research.
Third, for both PGMO and the media the current system works, in that the mainstream media will never question the decisions on a long term basis – merely saying “I think the referee got that one wrong”.
Now imagine a match preview for Leeds v Arsenal which said, “Jonathan Moss is the referee who gives a major advantage here to the home team – 64% of last season’s games for him went to the home team – more than any other referee.
“And his appointment will come as a relief to Leeds. They have the worst record in the league for fouls and cards last season, but Moss is the most lenient for yellow cards, and Leeds will of course be aware of this. Arsenal are going to have real problems in this game – and that’s got nothing to do with the football.”
That would be an honest preview. But one you will never ever hear.
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