If only English refs could be as open and honest as those in Germany

by Tony Attwood

“Referee tactics” is what it is called in refereeing circles across Europe.   Except in England, wherein one gets the impression that nothing to do with refereeing is ever called anything because no one will ever talk about anything for fear of getting into really deep water from the almighty, utterly secretive PGMO.

We’ve just had a perfect example of how explanations from a referee can help, through explaining himself after a widely reported German match, and we know all about this through an article in Süddeutsche Zeitung the most popular newspaper in southern Germany.  It covers an incident which interestingly was also covered by the Daily Mirror’s website in England, and the differences between the two reports are really interesting.

The reports concern the match between Dortmund and Bayern Munich.  Jude Bellingham of Dortmund challenged Alphonso Davies of Bayern.   It was a 50-50 ball but Davies went with his head whilst Bellingham led with his foot.  The Bayern player went down and had to come off at half-time to go to hospital for checks relating to concussion.  But the referee did not give a yellow card against Bellingham.

This is how the Mirror reports it: “Bellingham had been booked prior to his challenge on Davies. The former Birmingham City star went in hard on Jamal Musiala and, whilst he got some of the ball, the force was deemed excessive and he was cautioned despite pleading his innocence.   He may count himself lucky that the referee did not brandish a second yellow following his clash with the Bayern star.”

And that is where they leave the matter: no questioning of what the referee was up to, because, well, no one in the media in England is allowed to question what the referee does.

But in fact as Süddeutsche Zeitung (the most popular south German paper) reports, the referee (Mr Aytekin) spoke openly to the media about his decision after the game, (which is not that unusual in Germany).

Speaking on Sky in Germany (but not in England) he said, “For me it was simply that in that situation I wasn’t 100% convinced about giving the player a second yellow card, which would quite possibly affect the game.”

His reasoning was that Bellingham’s first yellow card came from what he called a “can, but not must” decision. The referee gave the Dortmund player yellow at that moment, because he had already had warned him twice.  But another card at this point and he would have been off, and the referee’s judgement was that was not warranted.

So the ref explained the situation to the media, and the paper commented, “When it comes to refereeing tactics and addressing the players, Aytekin is considered an absolute expert.”

They continue, “Referee tactics is what it’s called in the trade. It is an open secret and also quite desirable that referees manage a game as a whole and not just evaluate individual scenes. The referee must communicate on the pitch to 22 players why he is cautioning whom – and why not. Aytekin is considered a master of his craft precisely because he is rarely guided by VAR etc, but adapts his own decisions to the game. This was the case in the duel between Karim Adeyemi and Leroy Sané in injury time, when he did not give a red for the Munich player’s kick, but instead showed both of them yellow, thus quickly calming the situation.”

In contrast to PGMO, the German League makes it clear that while PGMO wants to keep its absolute ban on secrecy in place the German League wants its referees to communicate more with the media before the season.

In the PL we would have been left wondering why the player had not got a second yellow.  In Germany they know.  And it makes a difference.

As a consequence of the Great Silence, in England we are left wondering how some referees never oversee a home win, and others never referee an away win.   And we keep on wondering, and keep on wondering.

Fanatical secrecy as organised by PGMO, really is not good for football.  Nor is the complicity with PGMO by the media.

In fact there are three problems, and if you are a regular reader you will have seen me mention these before.  But no one else ever touches the subject, so I feel the need to cover the basics very quickly each time.

What we find in England is that the number of tackles per foul ranges from 1.16 for referee Peter Banks to 2.04 for referee Andre Marriner. 

Looking at referees who have handled at least four PL games this season the number of fouls called per game in the PL ranges from 26.25 for Michael Salisbury to 17.25 for Jarred Gillett.  So Salisbury is over half as many more fouls than Gillett!!!

And the range of yellow cards is even more insane.  David Coote is averaging 2.5 cards per game, while Peter Banks is averaging 5.25 cards a game.- players have double the chance of getting a card with Banks running the show than with Coote.   Is that reasonable?

And it gets worse.  Robert Jones has refereed five PL games this season – all were home wins.  Craig Pawson has refereed five games this season.  None were home wins.

And yet no one in the media ever questions anything!!!

6 Replies to “If only English refs could be as open and honest as those in Germany”

  1. Check Serie A, Laliga, Bundesliga and the so many leagues in Europe. Referees have different rates of issuing cards. It’s nothing unique or exclusive to PL. The difference is even bigger for Laliga and Serie A where some referees are on 6+ while others 3+.

    I think this drum is a dead one. Weekend game between Arsenal and Liverpool where massive decisions went in favour of Arsenal tells you that referee bias or whatever is a matter of standpoint. From Arsenal’s standpoint there was nothing wrong and Arsenal simply got the better of 50/50 decisions. From Liverpool’s standpoint they lost because a penalty was not given and an undeserving penalty conceded. The looser always decries officiating and since Arsenal are no longer loosing, what’s all this about?

  2. Jack I am sorry you have not had a chance to look at the statistics we have presented over and over again. How well a club does in a match depends on which referee the club gets. We have presented this data multiple times. But if you choose to ignore it, there’s not much more we can do.

  3. Tony

    If we applied your statement of how a club does in a match to be depended on the referee it would mean Arsenal are top because of referees. I don’t think you’d support such a statement. It would mean Arsenal beat Liverpool simply because the referee favoured us than for our game plan and approach. I don’t think you’d equally support that. But if you recognize Arsenal beat Liverpool or winning games for factors beyond officiating why wouldn’t you extend such a recognition to other teams that win games? Why do you solely attribute their wins to officiating? Okay, let’s agree that officiating plays some role, what is the extent and is it deliberate or arbitrary? If officiating were improved, would it dramatically change outcomes? Would Arsenal still lead, would the margin be bigger?

    We can all agree that officiating needs to be improved because if something can be improved, why not but is it really such a big problem in England or it’s all just cries from the team at the loosing end of human errors?

  4. I am sorry I have not been able to make my feeling about this clear Jack. I feel there are two issues here. One is that some referees’ results reveal extraordinary biases – such as one referee hardly ever overseeing home team victories while another hardly ever overseas away team victories. That affects all the teams who get these referees, but not all teams get these referees equally. So a team that gets a home bias referee for its home matches gets a benefit, but whether or not that is Arsenal, that is not right.
    Second I think it is completely wrong that PGMO is an ultra-secretive operation that does not allow referees to speak to the media, and which will not engage in discussion about what is going on.
    Certainly I feel that referees were coming down much harder on Arsenal’s tackling in 2019/20 than on other clubs, and as a result Arsenal had to change its entire style of defending. I also feel referees were ignoring Leicester’s approach to defending for quite a while.
    But I don’t think, as you seem to suggest, it is always equal across the board. That is because we have so few referees. Referees can have faults but if each club only saw each referee twice, the impact of that problem could be reduced.
    So no, I don’t think it is equal across the board. Indeed as we showed in an earlier set of data, some refs hand out many more yellows than others, and Arsenal seemed to get those referees much more often than some other clubs.

  5. I think the extent to which you have issues with refereeing structure is legitimate and improvements can definitely be made. But a lot of times it all gets lost in the innuendo.

    I don’t think refereeing in England is such that bias can be deduced statistically and any such inference would be reflection of personal bias.

    There will always be errors with refereeing regardless of League but with better structural adjustment errors can be distributed. I feel there is no conspiracy, personal or collective on referees rather with huge set of random statistics if organized, a pattern will be established. One team will lead, another will be last.

    But yes, I agree with structural adjustments you’ve highlighted. If there is room for improvement, why not?

  6. And this is where we differ. Robert Jones has refereed five PL games and all five were home wins. Craig Pawson has refereed five PL games and not one was a home win.
    The average for seasons in which crowds attend games throughout is around 45% home wins, so having referees with 100% home wins and 0% home wins looks very odd. If this were the only oddity, one might say, let’s wait and see, but there are other oddities. Given, as I have said, that the PL allows refs to oversee the same team multiple times a season (when it could easily reduce that to two) is odd enough, but given the strange statistics, it suggests to me something strange is going on.

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