How the Premier League referees are biased: an analysis

By Tony Attwood

There is no doubt that if you are playing at home in the premier league there are certain referees you welcome with open arms and others you think, we might as well pack up now.

The home win referees are the referees who conclude half their matches or more with a home win.  There are seven of them and last season, between them they took control of 151 matches.

Referee games Home Win % Away Win % Draw %
.Martin Atkinson 26 53.8 30.8 15.4
.Michael Oliver 26 53.8 26.9 19.2
.Craig Pawson 26 50.0 34.6 15.4
.Jonathan Moss 25 64.0 24.0 12.0
.Stuart Attwell 20 60.0 20.0 20.0
.Andy Madley 16 62.5 25.0 12.5
.Graham Scott 12 50.0 41.7 8.3

 

Now you might argue that this is quite natural as home teams have an obvious advantage.  But as we showed in the research last season and indeed through the pandemic, home advantage is not natural, and not a given.  It is donated by a home-biased referee who is influenced by crowd noise.

This was proven through a series of analyses of what happened during lockdown, and there is some more background information on this in the article “Results from crowdless games” which produced this table.

Season Home win Draws Away win
2021/22 43% 23% 34%
2020/21 37% 24% 39%
2019/20 45% 24% 31%
2018/19 48% 19% 34%
2017/18 46% 26% 28%
2016/17 49% 22% 29%

 

And what makes this all the more interesting is the fact that there is a group of six Premier League referees for whom away wins are the norm.   These six referees give away wins in at least 40% of their matches.   (In this list 

Referee games Home Win % Away Win % Draw %
David Coote 20 25.0 40.0 35.0
Andre Marriner 19 26.3 57.9 15.8
Kevin Friend 18 33.3 50.0 16.7
Robert Jones 12 8.3 50.0 41.7
John Brooks 4 25.0 50.0 25.0

So as you can see, if your team is at home there are some referees you want, and some you really want to avoid.   And likewise for being away.  This effectively gives the control of results to PGMO who pick the referee for the game.

But how can this be?  How can some referees end up with many more home wins than away wins, while others do the reverse?

For as long as I have been following football (which is a very long time) there has been mention of “home advantage” – although I can’t recall any articles which actually define this in terms of cause rather than effect.    The effect was obvious for until the pandemic came along with the resultant removal of crowds, the home team invariably did better.

It was assumed that this was because the home team knew the ground the game was played on, had less distance to travel, had the support of the crowd, and simply felt more “at home.”

Now, from the period without crowds in the stadia, we know that only one of these had any effect – the noise of the crowd and its influence NOT on the players, but on the referee.  Without the crowds, as the research has shown, the referees are far less biased toward the home team, and may even be biased toward the away team.

So now with crowds back we can understand why some referees are once more swayed by the crowds.  But we also have referees who are overseeing games in the manner of the way they did during the pandemic.  This presumably is because they have been made aware of the bias of the home crowd, and actively work against it.

As a result, whether a match is likely to be a home win or away win is to a fair degree down to which referee oversees each game.

This should have been dealt with, but it hasn’t been, and that problem can again only be placed at the door of two groups: the referees’ controlling body, the PGMO, for failing to act, and the mass media for failing to notice (or for refusing to take up the issue – it is difficult to know which).

Clearly the clubs in the Premier League know what is going on – they have endless hours of film covering each game, and they will be analysing the statistics in much more depth than we can do.  And this awareness must in part explain Arsenal’s sudden move from a team that is on a mission to reduce tackles (for fear of what the referee will do in response) to the most tackling team in the league, as we saw last weekend.

The question now, for us unlookers, is simple: are we going to see Arsenal change tactics each match depending on the referee, or is the club convinced that its new approach with this high level of tackling going to produce results that are so good, that no matter what individual referees get up to, it will see Arsenal through.

Certainly, Arsenal have now moved into their own territory – which is the opposite of the Manchester City approach.  And this is going to be interesting because the difference between the top and bottom tackling teams has never been bigger.

Team Shots pg Tackles pg Interceptions pg Fouls pg
1. Arsenal 10 29 9 11
20. Manchester City 6 6 3 4

9 Replies to “How the Premier League referees are biased: an analysis”

  1. “It was assumed that this was because the home team knew the ground the game was played on, had less distance to travel, had the support of the crowd, and simply felt more “at home.”

    Now, from the period without crowds in the stadia, we know that only one of these had any effect – the noise of the crowd and its influence NOT on the players, but on the referee.”

    I would like to see the study which concluded that ref bias was the ONLY FACTOR responsible for home advantage sir

  2. Also we would appreciate if you could make your season predictions now, because we know at the end of the season, with the benefit of hindsight, you will be telling us how the media and pundits were all so wrong about things you knew all along

  3. Glenn
    It is apparent from your comments that you think Tony’s theory, which he has deduced from available factual statistics, do not stand up to scrutiny and therefore do not tell the whole story.
    Do you not agree that there is something slightly fishy about the figures Tony provides, but if you do not find them strange then maybe you could tell us why?
    Is it asking too much to ask you to provide some checkable facts to back your assumptions up and disprove Tony’s argument?
    EG How about you produce the stats that show irrefutably the other relevant factors that you insinuate Tony has not taken into consideration, as well as the ref bias ones that he bases his conclusions on.
    It is commonly known as a counter argument and is usually produced by the person disputing the validity of the writers conclusions, ie you.
    Your second comment is laced with sarcasm, and not worth the time it took to read.
    Have a nice day.

  4. I’ve commented on crowd noise in games before which does effect results , but there is also player familiarity of playing at home . It may seem silly but players will be more aware of there surrounding to where they are on the pitch at home without thinking about it due to certain colours around the pitch , advertising boards and objects all in the subconscious , there maybe something in the background they recognise around the goal and aim for that knowing roughly where the ball will end up .
    So when playing away as a player your always trying to familiarise yourself to new surroundings .

  5. At Steve I don’t think there’s need for all this long talk. Can you or Tony simply post a link to the supposed study that conclusively proves the assertion made? After all you claim they’re from “factual statistics”, just show us those stats simple

  6. @ Glenn
    Back in 1988 I took a FA Prelimary Coaching course ( which I passed ) , part of the course was knowing the laws of football upon which we had a session with a FA qualified referee . We got onto the subject of referees making decisions and how crowd noise can effect those decisions . We told at the session that the referee association at the time carried out an experiment with approx 20 referees who all refereed the same game on a tv monitor all wearing headphones , 10 watched the game with no crowd noise the other 10 with crowd noise. The conclusion was from that small experiment was that the referees that had crowd noise favoured the home team and the noiseless same game the decisions where more even handed .
    If you look up older articles on Untold you will find a university carried out recently the same experiment regarding crowd noise at premiership games which took place during the pandemic , they came to exactly the same conclusion that crowd noise does effect referees decisions and during that period there was an increase of away wins obviously this was because there
    was no crowd .
    PGMOL have been aware of this since at least 1988 .

  7. Morning Tony
    Wasn’t there a more recent study of results carried out by a university into games played during the pandemic which you have quoted a few times ?

  8. Please can someone just post a link to the study? Because I believe when Tony did post the link in one of the early articles he made on the subject, someone pointed out that Tony just presented a picture that was not deduced from the study. I personally followed the link then and read the original article and indeed it was truly a case of Tony “putting words in the mouth of the researchers” to support his opinion. Now I can categorically say that the article claimed to have established home bias among refs. However what it never claimed was that “the other factors mentioned do not contribute to home advantage, only ref bias does”. However I might be wrong, maybe Tony is quoting another study today, that’s why I need to read the study itself and confirm the veracity of Tony’s claim

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