The untold ref review: conspiracy theory or practice

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Part 2 of our series on refereeing.  (If you have not seen the previous article it might be a good idea to have a read through, to see where these statistics are going).

By Walter Broeckx, the ref detective

When I was doing my ref review and thinking back at the season so far I came up with a rather worrying thought.

In fact it all started after some 55 minutes in the Chelsea game. We had just scored our third goal and ref Clattenburg so far had a very acceptable game. Okay he missed the penalty on Van Persie but this was not enough to raise questions. But then the further the game went the more I got a feeling that this was not the same ref as in the first 55 minutes.

It felt a bit that at the start of the game people and the ref had been thinking: “oh, Chelsea will batter Arsenal once again and Drogba will have his usual goals and at the end of the day Arsenal will be finished and it will be back to business as usual”.

But then suddenly the script changed and before we all realized it we had a 3-0 advantage. And then like I said the ref changed almost completely as if he was thinking: oh my god, this wasn’t written in the script like that. I must do something or at least try to do something. And he tried. But it was too late.

So this was the moment I started having some bad feelings. A feeling that I couldn’t place yet, until I started doing the review of the table of the games so far.

You must remember that only since the Fulham game people, (apart from us believers over here), started to see that we could be in with a chance for the title. When you go on top after some 15 games played you are always in with a chance. Before that we were considered as certainly not good enough.

So let’s start with the full season so far (same table as in my previous article)

cards penalty goals other total
Total 1267 1141 2005 621 1340
% 57,59 51,86 91,14 28,23 60,91

And until that moment in the season we had the following total results until the Carling cup game against Wigan

cards penalty goals other total
Total included CC Wigan 1070 1091 1664 484 1156
% 59,44 60,61 92,44 26,89 64,22

And now comes the interesting part: starting from the Fulham game we get the following results from that moment on

cards penalty goals other total
After CC Wigan 197 50 341 137 184
% 49,25 12,5 85,25 34,25 46

And just look with me and see what I have seen:

Cards: suddenly the standard has dropped a lot and more cards are wrongly given.

Penalty decisions are just plain crazy. From every 10 calls a ref has to make only  about 1 (one)  is correct!!!!

Goals: they also go down but not that crazy as the penalty decisions.

The other category is slightly better but in fact this is down to the excellent game Clattenburg had for 55 minutes against Chelsea. If I only take the last half hour (when he was trying to tilt the game) this figure would have been just 27 %.  The same low average as before.

But the overall score has gone down to an unacceptable 46%! It has gone down from 64% in the games before to 46% since we really are in the title fight!!!! This is as good as meaning that even a blind man with a guide dog could have done better.

Let’s put it in another way. The first graphic is the first 18 games

So in those first 18 games we had 3 refs who had a score of below 50. So a chance of having a real bad ref every 6th game. An average I could live with.

And then we have the graphics for the last 4 games after we have turned in to a title candidate

And now when you look at this statistic you see that we have 4 games after each other that we have a ref that has a score of below 50. So in the first 18 games only 3, and now 4 in a row.

I do admit that I only took the points from Clattenburg after the 55th minute. As this was visible, not only for me but for many other people who look at the refs, that he suddenly changed his approach in the game. But even if I take his game as a whole it still means that we had 3 refs under the 50% mark in 4 games. What a change compared to the first 18 games where we also had 3 but in 18 games.

Who can explain  this sudden drop in standard of refereeing? Is this just a coincidence? A bad day at the office for all the referees we had? And the fact that it got so painfully visible during the last games is something that many of us will have sensed and will have had the feeling.

But I must say that when last night I checked the numbers I really had something like  : ”Oh no, not again”- feeling coming over me. Is this 2007-2008 all over again? Are we seeing another run of  XXXX referees who take away all the hard work from the players?

People always talk about the conspiracy theory. As mostly it is a theory based on feelings. And now for the first time I actually think that with my weekly ref review I can indicate that it could be more than just a theory. We will see in the next weeks how much it was a coincidence. How much it had to do with the (unlikely) bad form of all our refs in  the last weeks.

I noticed the fact that from the moment we got in with a real chance for the title the numbers changed drastically. And most of all: it is backed up by the numbers in my ref review. Numbers I had on my computer but I actually didn’t take notice until I started doing the ref review of the first half of the season in total.

At a moment like this I feel satisfied with all the hard work and long hours I have spent analysing the games over and over and to see that I can point at something for the first time based on numbers and not just on a feeling.

But on the other hand I feel very down as we can have the fear that we are not just playing against 11 men on the pitch. No, we also have to deal with whoever is in charge when it comes to refs.  And as a ref I feel very down because the crème de la crème of the refs in the EPL are not doing what they should do: be neutral!

Why, I cannot tell you. This is something that only the people from the inside can tell you. But just like in Italy, the truth one day will come out. A disappointed person who did not get what he was promised will be breaking the omertà in referee land. Or a person who feels disgusted about the system he has been part of. Only one person has to find his honour back to stop it. Maybe a top ref who steps out of football completely will be the whistle-blower.  But as most of them keep getting some kind of  job within the football world most of them will shut up and remain silent. They buy loyalty, they buy their omertà

Untold untold’s, untold tolds, told untolds, and of course told told’s. We have it all

And what’s been done in the dim and distant

Making the Arsenal

28 Replies to “The untold ref review: conspiracy theory or practice”

  1. great observation and an amazing piece of insight . this so called “stop arsenal” phenomenon was all but visible in the wigan game in which the refereeing was not even fit for school level . i guess the referee was mindful of the fact that united had already dropped two points and it was upto him to add décor to the “crown man u champion script “.
    its one thing to not see the handball in the box , its quite another to not see the dive (wigan’s first) and even if it was given it was outside the box .

  2. I just don’t get how your ‘facts’ support your conclusions.

    I think it justifiable to question a referee’s competence and consitency but overall I would say their integrity is fine…but perhaps I’m being naieve?

    Your article is suggesting that there was something sinister about Clattenburg’s performance against Chelsea. He might have made the wrong call here and there but, IMHO there was nothing sinister in his decision making; he did not try and tilt the game in Chelsea’s favour because they were being thumped. Overall, he did OK.

    There **might** be an argument in stating the more higher profile the game the more errors that creep in because of added pressure, scrutiny, fear of making a mistake or whatever. Or just like with players, officiating 3 games in 5 days might drive to tired bodies and minds. Some Managers also heep extra pressure on referees. Just a thought.

    On Wednesday two refereeing decisions went against us vs Wigan but I wouldn’t question the integrity of the refreree…just his competence and the consitency of referees in general regarding the ‘handball’ from Nasri’s free kick.

    There is no conspiracy against Arsenal. Our problems are self inflicted, whether these be our goal keepers, our silly defensive errors or decisions to play somebody such as Eboue at left back!

  3. Walter…first off, thanks for all the hard work with the a past researcher sometimes the data can be interpreted in 2 distinct different ways. Im not saying what you calculated does not correlate to what we all see, but I would be interested to see if this is happening to any other clubs. Especially some of the clubs in the lower half of the table who play a different brand of football then the upper half of the table.

    It is frustrating to say the least to see blatant calls given to one team or in one game but not in another. Howard Webb who I think is a solid ref but has two different distinct set off calls. One in the field of play and one in the box. I think certain refs dont want to make certain calls as to not influence the game which in turn looks like calls go against us so much.

    Not sure what the answers are or if anything can be done about it. One thing for sure is most teams employ systematic tackling against the gunners which is the most frustrating thing in itself. I agree it appears that we get the shank on a lot of calls but to others it looks like we are whining. Well a foul is a foul and until the game is called that way we will be having this conversation each and every week.

    Thanks for a good article walter..keep up the good work, and to all blokes who make calls for biased views…sorry to tell ya mates we are all biased…From get over it and call the game as it should be called!


  4. I have first hand experience of a Premier League referee being demoted as he tried to “stitch up” the manager of the club of the rival team that he supported.

    He showed his stupidity by leaving messages on a former girlfriend’s phone.

    If he hadn’t been so stupid, the manager would have faced a lengthy touchline ban. The result was that the referee was removed from the Premier League list and eventually taken off the Football League list for a further indiscretion.

    I also have anecdotal evidence of a top class referee and a player sitting in the stands watching a game. The referee turned to his friend and said “I’ll book him next time I referee him”. Needless to say it happened.

    When you see Graham Poll send off Patrick Vieira for winning the ball and being fouled then refuse to look at the incident again, it certainly adds to the conspiracy theory.

    Rotten to the core and untouchable. Very much like FIFA.

  5. Some things need to be said Walter… and you said it – just like the little boy who procalaims that the emperor is naked to the credulous masses.

    We will talk further about this… but this is not just an Arsenal problem.

  6. Thank you so much for confirming that my misgivings about English referees are not misplaced. Ironically, even English TV commentators and pundits are so obviously biased they choose to turn blind eyes to certain incidents which clearly show the partiality of match officials particularly in matches involving Arsenal. No matter what defence that may be put up, I am convinced that 90% of EPL referees are anti-Arsenal.

  7. On the subject of refs – congratulations to Howard Webb on his New Year honour – must be for services to Man Utd.

  8. Sean,
    the thing that struck me and became visible when I included a graphic was the fact that the line went up and down the whole season. With only the 3 below 50 (or zero) performances during the first part of the seasons. And then suddenly the line stayed below 50 in the last 4 games.

    It would be very interesting to see if there are out there people who do the same for other teams and to compare this to my data. But I think at Untold we are the only website to have such a review system.

    And even if I try to be as unbiased in my ref review (I have averages and high scores of the scores from the refs compared to us winning or losing and between winning and losing a game is only less than 10% in points. In fact the highest score from a win (Clattenburg 93% and the highest score with a loss Oliver against WBA with 88% is only 5%)
    So I think I can make the difference between us winning and losing and the performance of the ref.

    But yes even if people would call me biased this doesn’t change the outcome of the games. In the last 4 games I talk about we had 2 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw. So if I always would be happy when we win we would have had 2 scores above the 50% line. And now it didn’t.

  9. First off – this is a fantastic site / blog that I consider required reading around every Gunners match.

    To your point, I am in total agreement with the manifestation of bias in EPL referees officiating Arsenal matches. I do not, in any way, believe that they are being bribed, or betting, or in any other way overtly committing a fraud upon the Club or the match at hand. It’s just simple English based bias that all of the local referees have against a team that has recently not been known as an accommodating place for UK players. Wenger has, at times, said his standards tend to exclude the UK player – and he has done so “in-artfully” perhaps?

    We can all say that’s water off a Duck’s ass, but it tends to get into people’s heads subliminally. And, I can say without any fear of “tin foil hattery” being thrown my way, that I have seen exactly the same thing week in and week out. This is especially true when on the road as the “home team” favoritism starts to magnify the already present, yet latent, bias.

    I always have directed any team I am involved in to play in such a manner that we “take the whistle out of the referee’s mouth”. That’s just a way of saying, we can do better at the things we can control and, if we do so, the things we cannot control (bad or biased decisions) will not affect us so much.

    That said, I believe it will only be when the leagues of UEFA universally adopt an “after action” videoreview of all games or the incidents that the Managers / Clubs want reviewed after the fact that the diving will stop, the play acting will stop and the referees will genuinely be held accountable. That does not mean – ever – that such a review should change the results of the match just played. No, it is rather to show to all involved in the league – players, managers, referees, league officials, and supporters – what actually happened so steps can be taken going forward to prevent Major deficiencies in the course of league matches. When this is done correctly, and patterns emerge and become apparent, action is far easier to take.

    What do you believe would be the results of Arsene asking for a review of the 2 most obvious penalty decisions – the dive resulting in a 1-0 scoreline and the non-call on Nasri’s shot handled in the wall that would have been 2-3 in extra time. What if he asked the video room to put together the 5 most obvious non-called fouls on Arsenal players in the Wigan game, with the 5 most comparable Arsenal defender engagements on a wigan player where the foul was given. Inconsistency? Without a doubt. Bias? – potentially. Same pattern of conduct in a series of Arsenal away matches by the same referee = Bias? A good case would have been made.

    Results of all this video review by a panel of “objective” league officials? For the Referees, I believe that scoring or rating the performance of the referee or seeing patterns of Recurring Material Match Deficiencies should be fertile ground for allowing a Club to “Opt Out” of a particular official. No team should ever be able to pick their referee or referee crew, but being able to say “I’ll be ok with Any of these 24 Refs – but not him” would be a powerful balancing tool in ensuring unbiased or just competent officiating.

    On the player side – after seeing the obvious examples of diving, simulation of being shot in the head with no contact, bad fouls off the ball or on the ball that were clearly dangerous in nature and with intent to injure would all be subject to a second review in slow motion from many angles and yellow cards, red cards, suspensions would all be fair game at that point. Do you think the knowledge that such bad behavior being reviewed afterwards would play in the minds of the players and create a damper on such behavior? I do.

    Keep up the great work on this site.

    From snowed in Long Island, NY.

  10. Gooner S, as a ref I know all too well how you can influence a game. I think every ref knows this, it is just part of experience. It just is up to the ref to not doing it.

    With Clattenburg I really had a good feeling in the first half. Even if he missed a few things in our favour. And then after the 3-0 I noticed him calling things different than before. I have seen the game a few times since then and it is something that when you are a ref can feel and see. It also showed in his marks. Just tell me why would I suddenly wanted to change my way of giving points to the ref when we were 3-0 up against Chelsea? Tell me why would I suddenly wanted to change it as after all we won the game?

    I don’t change my approach during the season and during the games. I try to be as consistent as can be (even telling that the Cesc handball was penalty is not a problem for my in my ref review or other penalties we had against us when it was a penalty).

    I think I have even been told that I was too mild and gentle for some refs. But this is because I try to be as unbiased as I can be and make the same calls all the time. Calls supported by the rule book.

  11. About the possible affect of fatigue for the refs I could agree with you but I think that Clattenburg also didn’t had a game the days before the Arsenal -Chelsea game.
    But it could affect a ref, that is for sure. When you have a high speed game and your condition is not 100% you will have more distance between you and the ball at the end of a game and your decisions will suffer from that. But Clattenburg at a moment deep in the game was standing 7 meters aways from Cesc who was kicked twice by Ramirez and brought down and the ref let play continue untill seconds later he could give a foul to Chelsea. It was the moment that Cesc stayed down a few moments. and replays clearly showed that Ramirez kickend him twice, one on the ankle from behind and one on his foot. So he wasn’t that far to make a call which he made in the first half without hesitence

    But this also is down to the FA, EPL and the PFMO who, like has been said before over here, have not enough refs in their pool to choose from.

  12. Excellent analysis Walter, well done.
    Whenever you see a conspiracy you must expose it. And you are doing that excellently.
    My suggestion (Tony/Walter) is that you must expand this to include preferably a new website which names and shames the offenders. The best way to do that is to put up video clips showing the corrupt decisions (6 goals conceded incorrectly is no fluke, neither is 6 of 7 penalty decisions going against the team).
    The only solution is to widen the exposure of this. If referees know that their impartiality is being directly questioned and evidence properly presented it can have a positive effect.
    Small video/youtube type clips I think are essential. The ridiculous non-fouls which are given as fouls against Arsenal in goal threatening positions should be included as much as the penalty decisions. Clattenburg gave 7 fouls against Arsenal (4 for Arsenal) in the last 35 mins. 5 of those fouls against Arsenal were in goal threatening positions.
    The referees do have ambitions in terms of international games and maintaining PL status so this would have some chance of working.

  13. Good work. You prove by analysis what any unbiased observer knows. Some powerful or rich person or body- and there are not many to choose from- does not want Arsenal to sweep the board- as they undoubtedly would on a level playing field. What would bend them to do it? Is there a perverted religious motive? Is it a ‘not from the right lodge’ issue or have Arsenal too much integrity to play the ‘greasing of the palm’ game. Has racism raised it’s head? The refs are definitely at it, they look comfortable with it and act as if they are untouchable- perhaps even on a bonus for ‘managing’ a good result. It is time a newspaper or even the fraud squad had a look at this. In the meantime-we have Saturday- Oh Joy– look out for a doctored pitch, plenty of dangerous challenges with zero protection for Arsenal players- loads of cards for Arsenal players if they even get close to Birmingham and plenty of useless advantage played to Arsenal to cover up Brum challenges which really ought to have produced a booking!! We will have to be 20% better to even get a draw. It really is a disgrace.

  14. how the hell can you blame the ref’s decision for the entire 90 minutes…there was a full time to hold on and we couldnt that i blame on our inept defenders

  15. This comment has been cut. It was an attack on Wengerian strategy; nothing wrong with that if it is well argued, but it had nothing to do with the article.

    It is a fundamental of this site, repeated over and over and permanently on the pages that deal with commentaries, that it is a simple courtesy to the people who give up so much time to writing articles for Untold, that readers comment on what they have written. Older articles remain open for commentaries, and there is always the option to write a complete piece for Untold.


  16. Hi walter,
    Thanx for your analysis the last days, and in fact through the whole season so far. I really hope the NeXT few Weeks indicate this most likely is just a coincidence. If a conspiracy like this one day is confirmed that will destroy the EPL we all love.

    Would be interesting to compare these numbers with an analysis of man u and Chelseas numbers… Maby to much to ask about:-)

    Happy new year to walter and Tony (and all gooners). Really enjoy reading your blogs!!


  17. Once again a worth read article from you walter…this is really and such a shame to the pl…i cant wait to see the day when the fa and its pathetic referees are revealed for how corrupted they are…its pretty obvious that there is an english “calciopoli” just needs to be revealed and im sure man utd will be the first team to get relegated..over the years they have been getting way too many decisions go their way for it to be a mere coincidence…shame really

  18. appreciate your hard work with the analysis. this is why yours is one of my favourite arsenal blog. eventhough i wont agree with everything you said. keep it up!

  19. Jummer – re your comment. The article doesn’t seek to blame the ref, but instead it points out problems with the ref’s actions. What you have written has very little reference to what is in the article – it is as if you imagined what was in the article and then wrote a reply to your imagination.

  20. Whether or not there is a conspiracy against Arsenal could well, as you point out Walter, be a matter of opinion and a close examination of the next few matches may change you data enough for us to all relax and say that it was just a blip.
    But many of us feel that we have been here before and that the number of injuries that we have suffered in the past is just part of the same problem i.e. referee laxity which encoutages opposition teams to think that they can get away with things against Arsenal which they can’t against others.
    But why should it be the case? What have Arsenal done to deserve this? Tony might point out the ‘exposure’ of match fixing up North many, many years ago – but it’s too far into history surely to still be having an effect now.
    What is far more likely is what must be the long established fear that, as the biggest club in the biggest city, Arsenal could well become too dominant – as is the case in so many other countries.
    There was a danger of it happening in the 1930s and, with Arsenals current relative strength, both on and off the pitch, there has to be a worry within the top echelons of the game, that it could happen again. This time, not by buying success but by developing a playing staff via a much more morally and economically acceptable route.
    Unlike you, Walter, I have no data to back up what might be regarded as a wildly fanciful theory.
    But we are told over and over again that the EPL is ‘the best league in the world’ and it can only remain so as long as we don’t end up looking like a bigger version of Scotland or Italy – and maybe even what seems to be happening in Spain.
    The upcoming transfer window is likely to demonstrate once again that football is at an economic crossroads. For many clubs, over the next couple of years, it could be sink or swim. What’s ironic is that the lifebelt seems to be the adoption of ‘the Arsenal model’ – so how will the powers that be deal with that?

  21. I know I’m banging the same drum once again but just because we have 4 ‘low’ refereeing performances at a time when we’re near the top can easily be coincidence… in fact, is more likely to be coincidence. And I say this as somebody who does believe that the general anti-Arsenal sentiment will pervade into the actions of some referees, such as Probert (who seemed completely, utterly against us the entire 90 minutes). It’s just not enough evidence – not nearly enough.

    Happy NYE all!

  22. Stoke started the season really well, then had a run of shocking decisions and much fewer points. Pulis, each week, bemoaning his luck but getting on with it. Stoke then get a better run of points.

    I suggest you try and do a similar analysis on Stoke City and see if their decision rates went down shockingly after they made a rather good start. And whether they have now gone up again.

    It’s important Walter. It’s a good test of whether it’s natural variability or anti-Arsenal bias.

  23. Walter, it’s interesting that you only think your kind thought Arsenal could win the title this year. You beat on about this. I don’t think you’re in touch with most fans (Le Grove isn’t the bellwether of most fans, by the way: talking to fans at the stadium is).

    I looked at the fixtures in the summer and said in an email to someone that ‘if we’re in contention after January 6th, we’re in a strong position as our run in this year is kind’. I said when Chelsea were running away with things that this reminded me of 2004/5 and perhaps the same thing would happen to the runaway leaders (it has). I said after the Spurs defeat that ‘it looks like this season’s champions will have less points than for some seasons, so all is not lost’.

    Most folks I’ve spoken to at the stadium since August have been hopeful without being true believers. It’s a reasonable state to be in, actually. If you want a pleasure to grow rather than be worn out by April……

    Most folks have commented on the inconsistency: Brage 6-0 then West Brom 1-3. That sort of thing.

    In terms of the League, this reminds me most of 2001/2. Different personal, but up to Christmas at least, a similar set of results……

    It’s a league Arsenal can win, Walter, if they do two things:
    1. Defend like they did against Chelsea regularly.
    2. Get over set backs quickly (which means there won’t be too many of them).

    That’s the test for the side now. Defending and being mentally tough. We all know they can score goals. Lots of them. Brilliant ones. Can they do the other half of football well enough?

    We’ll find out over the next 5 months.

    My hunch is that the worst they’ll finish is second……

  24. hi walter,
    it is good to see that on the whole the comments on your article show most people are not blind to the possibility of corruption or to be kind gross incompetence among the refereeing fraternity.
    if say the fraud squad were investigating this particular issue, they would follow the money. And i think that should be the focal point from which the debate could spread.
    the refs are human and all too fallible and are unfortunate frontline soldier, if there is any sort of conspiracy they are the trigger. they know the abilities and temperaments of the players and managers, a good example would be sending wenger off at old trafford, it would be entirely predictable that an unheeded foul anywhere on the pitch would have him out of his seat and chatting to the fourth official should the fourth official move away from his immediate vicinity it is more than likely wenger might step out of the bounds of his technical area,and hey presto a touchline ban and that would handicap the team in the next game etc etc that would take a nifty piece of conspiracy but not out realms of possibility.
    indeed any investigation following the money would look i think first and foremost at the betting markets, with the ability of punters to bet on almost any eventuality, it is important to look at what a ref can fix. take for instance bookings, if i wanted a match with fewer than 5 yellow cards, how hard would that be to fix? me thinks an experienced ref would find that a doddle. take a look at any betting site and look at what outcomes you can bet on and with a bit of lateral thinking work out how refs can deliver the result especially considering how poorly? they perform.
    the Fanny Adams could look into this and chastise individuals etc etc but how would they prove it? the refs are almost uniformly ‘rubbish’ and another bad performance is just consistency, he he. it suprised me to find out that lee probert was a fourth official at our match with chelsea and so he had a hand in two consecutive matches against(sic) arsenal.
    what most people are having problems with is the assertion that is just anti arsenal, fine. i think the problem really is that we are looking with too narrow a focus on the bigger result without attention to fact it is an aggregation of smaller factors, the incompetence(to be kind) of an official justs sets the stage akin to a weight on a racehorse then we have to play with that handicap.
    so why arsenal? i am sure that if i was betting and wanted to keep my perfidy quiet i would chose a match that was less visible like stoke v black pool, just try betting on those matches and you will notice there are not as many markets open, why, ask your bookie.
    i am sorry if this a bit disjointed but this poor man has to get ready for work.
    cheers and a merry new year (he he).

  25. I don’t know if the referreeing bias is limited to an anti arsenal agenda, though that definitely exists. What is abundantly clear is that referees always favour Manchester United.
    Did anyone see the WBA-ManU game yest? How was that not a penalty and a sending off. Because it’s man U. The poor referee had to give the second penalty in what was (apparently) Rio Ferdinand’s FIRST foul of the SEASON!!! How is that even possible for a CB even if he’s missed a few games through injury?

  26. About the WBA – Utd game just a few things: match fixing in Belgium – La Louvière a former Belgium football team always in the middle when there was bribery and match fixing allegations – Peter Odimwingie former La Louvière player in those match fixing days – kicking a penalty in the direction of the corner flag … –

    It all came to my mind when he missend that penalty by shooting the ball that wide not even close to the goal….

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