How it was proven that PL referees are unreliable, and this season’s figures

by Tony Attwood

As I have written 83 trillion times (or so it seems) the media in England will absolutely not criticise PGMO or its referees.  No matter what they do or how often they do it.  No matter how much the number of yellow cards fluctuates in a season.  No matter how obviously biased a referee is in terms of given victories to the home team or the away team.

It is now two and a half years since Untold pulled together the evidence to show just how biased referees are in the Premier League and elsewhere.   And you can read the whole article here, but if you’d prefer, here is a quick summary.

Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, was on the board of Athletic Bilbao for seven years and was professor of management, economics and strategy at the London School of Economics, and he wrote the report in the Review of Economics and Statistics (Volume 87 | Issue 2 | May 2005 p.208-216) into Favouritism under Social Pressure.

He started to consider time added on by referees and found that when a home team was ahead by a single goal, the referee allowed almost 30% less additional time than average.  However, if the home team was behind by a single goal the referee added on 35% more time than average.

Next, he found that the larger the crowd, the more biased the referee.   And indeed referees were shown to end the game more quickly if the home team scored – responding to the whistling of the crowd.

A second study of this type was conducted in the 2006/7 season in Serie A, wherein various clubs had to play in empty stadia following serious crowd incidents.   Here the significant crowd influence on the referee was removed and the home advantage with fouls, yellow cards and red cards awarded against the away side all reduced significantly.

A third study reported in the Guardian had 40 qualified referees consider 47 incidents from a Liverpool v Leicester game. Half watched with crowd noise, half without any crowd noise.  The referees viewing the game with the crowd noise awarded more than 15% extra fouls committed against the home team compared with those watching in silence.

Thus there is something wrong with refereeing – when there is a crowd present the refs have a home bias.  Worse the level of hostility of the crowd, and the tightness of the arena is shown to affect refereeing accuracy.

As a result, the rampant negativity towards Arsenal teams shown at the Arsenal stadium in the latter part of Wenger’s reign, through much of Emery’s time in charge, and indeed for part of Arteta’s period in charge removed the home advantage in terms of referee bias for the home team, that Arsenal might otherwise have got.

Thus members of Arsenal’s Supporters Trust, Black Scarf Movement and the activists on Arsenal Fan TV did have an effect – a totally negative effect.  The home support that in most other grounds would influence the referee in favour of the home team, was swamped by the negativity of those groups.

Mikel Arteta understood how both factors worked: the way referees were influenced by the crowd, and the way sections of Arsenal’s home crowd were undermining the team they professed to support.  So he took action.

In 2019/20 clubs like Leicester and Liverpool were getting under half the number of yellow cards Arsenal were getting. The following season Arsenal cut their own yellow card total in half and regained control over their team from the referees.

At the same time as the change in the style of play, to avoid referee over-excitement the club began to investigate how it could do more to stop referee interference with the club’s playing style.

So having cut tackling to a level where Arsenal were the team that committed the lowest number of tackles and so dropped to 17th in the yellow card league having been top the season before, Arteta started replacing the team, while easing up slightly on the “no tackling” position.  We are currently 17th in the tackling league although, ninth in the yellow card league.  Referees are still considering an Arsenal tackle to be more worthy of a card than a tackle of other teams.  The bias is obvious.


Season Tackles pg Pos Yellow cards total Pos Manager
2018/19 16.0 15th 72 4th Emery
2019/20 15.4 14th 86 1st Emery/Arteta
2020/21 12.0 20th 47 17th Arteta
2021/22 14.2 18th 60 13th Arteta
2022/23 so far 14.9 17th 18 9th Arteta
2022/23 est 68.4


But yellow cards themselves are not fixed in number  There were 38% more yellow cards awarded in 2021/22 than in 2020/21.   This table shows the total number of yellow cards attained by the clubs with the most and least yellows in the season.


Season Most yellow Least yellow Difference % Difference
2021/22 101 42 59 240%
2020/21 73 40 33 182%
2019/20 86 38 48 226%
2018/19 77 38 39 203%
2017/18 73 42 31 178%
2016/17 84 52 32 263%
2015/16 75 40 35 187%

This home/away bias by referees is obviously annoying and as Jurgen Klopp said this weekend, – no wonder football has a referee crisis.    But there is a further crisis – the home or away bias of referees.

Just looking at referees who have overseen five or more PL games this season

If you are playing at home this season, pray for Jones (83.3% home wins in the games he has refereed), or Atwell (80% home wins).  If you get Pawson (0% home wins) just give the points to the opposition and go and have a drink.

If you are away, hope that you get Pawson (66.7% away wins).  If you get Oliver or Jones (0% away wins) there is simply no point turning up. 

How can any of this be fair, or even halfway toward reasonable?


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