The 8 serious refereeing failings that are corrupting the Premier League

By Tony Attwood

My seven-point plan to fix Premier League’s failing Var  That is the bold headline over an article in the Telegraph in which the ex-head of PGMO sets out the changes he considers necessary to make refereeing better.

And it looks on the face of it interesting since Hacket was for many years general manager of PGMO and one of the few referees to have written a book on the subject.

So is this the breakthrough we have been waiting for in which refereeing moves from being based on the view that the Soviet Union was a neat idea but was rather too relaxed when it came to allowing its citizens the freedom to criticise their leaders, onto something vaguely in touch with the needs of contemporary football, and in line with openness and democracy?

Sadly it looks like the answer is no.  For Hackett’s plan is based on the notion that the world of refereeing in the Premier League is fundamentally ok, and just needs a few tweeks.

Those tweeks being…

1. Get rid of Howard Webb and introduce a new Var manager – now.

2. Close Stockley Park and move Var to matches.

3. Appoint a specialist team of Var operators who only do Var.

4. Assign Vars to the same referee week after week.

(This one needs an immediate comment.   The problem is, of course, that if there is corruption or incompetence you extend the chance of the corruption continuing, and if there is just plain incompetence then covering up continues.  And yet this is exactly what Hackett wants).

5. Increase transparency with post-match accuracy reviews.

6. Stop encouraging referees to overturn decisions.

7. Let fans in to Var discussions.

I think these ideas are not just wrong they are downright dangerous.   

For if these points are implemented that will be it for reform of football refereeing for years to come and a whole range of issues will yet again be swept under the carpet. 

So here are the issues that the much applauded (by the media) PGMO reform won’t get anywhere near.

1. How crowds affect referee decision-making.

This was statistically proven through the pandemic and backed up by research within London University in which referees and club owners were involved.  Crowds do affect referees – and it could be tackled but it is being ignored.  See for example Results from crowdless games are different from those with crowds. Why? and Crowdless stadia stats reveal fallacy of PGMO claims

2. There are home and away refs

We now have the lunacy of a situation in which we can see some PGMO men oversee games in which home teams have a huge advantage while others oversee games where we can be fairly sure the away team will win.   It’s all referee-dependent, and this is being allowed to continue.  No one is talking about it, despite the figures being published week on week.   And don’t take my word for it.  Look at the table of results for home and away wins.

3. Arsenal’s tactical change to stop yellow cards

As we have charted, when Arteta took over he realised that Arsenal were being penalised for fouls far more than most other teams, so he simply stopped tackling in order to give the team a chance.  It was also clear that Arsenal were getting far more fouls given against them than other teams, so they had to change their tactics to meet the refs demands.

4. Leicester’s approach to tackling and fouling

There was a time when Leicester City were tackling but simply not getting penalised for it in the way most clubs were.   No one noticed this because no one was analysing the figures.   Then we came along and we investigated over a series of articles how Leicester could commit more tackles than any other club but get fewer fouls against them.    It doesn’t make good reading… at least not for PGMO.

5.  Leicester’s penalties

Having spotted Leicester’s fouling tactics, we then took a greater interest in their performances and found they were getting far far more penalties than any other club.  So we produced a piece on how Leicester were heading for an all time record number of penalties.  Now the penalties have stopped.   But let’s be clear, we only had the resources to investigate Leicester in detail on both penalties and tackling.  It is quite possible other clubs are using the same tactics.

6.  Fouls against specific teams

There is indeed something very odd going on here, except our main source of data has stopped publishing.  However that it looks like WhoScored have taken up the mantle, and once again we can ask, why do Aston Villa players get fouled virtually twice as much as West Ham players – not just in one match but in match after match?  What is going on?

7.  Foul more, fewer are penalised

This is a problem throughout the league – clubs that foul more have fewer fouls penalised by yellows.  Clubs that tackle more have fewer tackles penalised as fouls.   How clubs manipulate referees through their tactics.

8.  The same ref over and over again

This is both unnecessary and dangerous.  The simplest solution is to have enough referees so that no referee sees the same club more than twice in a season.   But PGMO, overseeing by far the richest league in the world, arranges matters so that the same referee sees the same team over and over and over again.  This is not to say there is corruption, but rather is a simple way to reduce the chances of corruption.  And they won’t undertake it.

These topics are simply not discussed anywhere in football.  OK, one can argue that they are all so ludicrous and preposterous that there is no point in discussing them. And yet there are statistics that show these issues are not that preposterous.  So why not investigate?  Why not comment?

That ultimately is the prime question.  Why is the media keeping key issues in relation to refereeing out of the media?  Especially when there is so much evidence circulating that something, somewhere, is seriously wrong.

Does it really have to be down to Untold to point out that Leicester are performing in a very odd way, before anything is done about it?   Are we really to believe that having more referees is not a sensible thing to do, when so many fans are disgruntled by refereeing?

Apparently, that is what we are being asked to do – and the media is very happy to go along with it.

And that is really the problem.  With the media utterly refusing to consider what PGMO employees are up to, it just looks like a bunch of Arsenal fans whinging, no matter how much detailed evidence we provide.

And yet one only has to look at the home and away bias of referees to know: something is seriously wrong here.

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