Free Friday, 2nd April 2021: Chumocracy, Ref Watch & Tall Poppy Syndrome

Free Friday, 2nd April 2021: Chumocracy, Ref Watch & Tall Poppy Syndrome
March 30, 2021 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week:

Chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

1 – BD on an article by Paul Parker calling our Harry Kane’s penalty area theatrics and dangerous backing -in to players:

BTW Paul on the caring piece, many people care, and I feel pretty confidently that this series of articles will become important documents that will trigger a new debate, and it could become your most influential work of all. The tide will turn and biases, cheating and dangerous play will eventually be acknowledged, and referees and players will be held to account. It’s just a matter of time. And when this happens as it surely will, this and no doubt more articles in this series will serve as evidence. Make no mistake this is valuable work. What interests me from hereon in our which journalist or media will see this work is in effect a free way to get and keep readers, and therefore jump on it. Because to imagine that there isn’t a readership that wants better standards of refereeing is to me, unlikely. It just needs a catalyst. To imagine that when Harry Kane has stolen penalties from all the teams in the league and endangered players from all the teams in the league there won’t be a sizeable minority of fans that don’t want him called to account makes no sense to me. Not to mention players, who can quietly bit effectively world influence with agents, media, managers, and their colleagues. Just a few short years ago the narrative dismissed stats. Now even mainstream media talk about xG. As I say I believe it is just a matter of time and credible commentators like Paul Parker (who is a player with a pretty impressive record) will eventually reach a wider audience and what is today dismissed as ‘moaning fans’ will tomorrow be seen as key to the health of the world biggest football League.

2 – RoboKlopp on the subject of penalties awarded and not awarded:

As others have posted, I used a bit of Occam’s Razor on myself, and this is my best guess at the causes… I have ordered this in terms of what I see as the most impactful elements:

1) Language – I think this is bigger than people think. Zaha, for example, is very expressive, and then could be saying stuff like “come on ref you have got to be kidding me, how many times is that now!?” etc etc. The ref hears it, and has to return a look and maybe explain himself. That’s uncomfortable for him. Compare this to someone like Mane, who says basically nothing even when blatantly fouled. Sure, Mane is quiet, but a lot of foreigners aren’t as confident in speaking the language especially to an official. It means that you know you’re going to get more of an earful as a ref if your decision goes against a native English-speaking player.

Furthermore, when foreigners are very vocal (Di Canio, for example), refs again feel uncomfortable because they can’t gauge how offended they should be, and the cards come out as a sort of defence mechanism. I’ve had friends point out that Henderson gets away with a LOT of swearing and death-eyes with referees, and since then, I’ve noticed that they are right. Sometimes, he will look right at the ref and scream “FUCK OFF!!” with spit globules flying around, and the ref won’t even ask him to calm down.

There appears to be a language and dialect privilege.

2) Tall Poppy Syndrome – I won’t elaborate as others have already done so. The two very top teams are the outliers in this data, and that makes no sense at all… unless it makes perfect sense!

Again, furthermore, in the context of Liverpool, and then City…

LFC: There is still a narrative that LFC is a scalp and on their perch, as it were… Hence, the clear data suggesting we don’t win penalties at Anfield, and in particular in front of the Kop (and I agree with PT’s notion that this is a reverse-psychology at play). We’re only just reaching the point where new refs today won’t have grown up with this narrative (although, despite not winning titles, we’ve kind of held onto our cache through our non-PL exploits).

MCFC: The money-gang. I’m certain that, given the volume of fans who are just not ok with the way in which City have financially bullied their way to success, refs are not immune to this. They too must harbour some sort of resentment to making it easy for them. In particular, funnily enough, I think this is truest in the Champions League for them, as they look to ruffle the European elite.

3 – Grover on the relief after reading Paul’s analysis of officials:

This is outstanding work for which I am very grateful.

It definitely gives me a sense of peace to know that my fury over the way referees have been officiating in England over the past few years has been backed up by data. I cannot begin to imagine all the work that has gone into this and I thank all who contributed. It is the kind of thing nobody else would attempt and I hope it reaches far and wide. I will be doing all I can to share it. I still need to assimilate it all but I am blown away by the data.

Do we need to consider buying some more English forwards and defenders or focusing more on developing them, as I doubt that the PGMOL has any desire to change?

4 – Marius on how to get the analysis more attention:

This is fantastic work Paul. The main thing to think about will be how to present this to the world so that it actually leads to change. It needs media coverage. But not sure what the best way to achieve that is and whether media would dismiss this as they did not do the research themselves. Maybe give different media sites such as the Athletic, Guardian, Times etc the right to publish one of your articles each?

Doing an academic study with a top university could be a good way to give it increased merit, but that will take time.

The other option is to go down the Twitter route. Then it is important to have images and tweets that really highlights the issues and that they are easy enough to digest for the avg football fan to understand. As most people won’t have the attention span to read the full article.

The outrage over this has to be large enough to force the media to write about it so that the EPL & PGMOL are forced to change.

5 – cvt123 on possible reforms to the PGMOL:

Not sure of the ££ needed. But here are some of things they need to put in place (or if there, then do better)

1. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Have a fitness / training centre or centres where refs need to go to ongoing physical training. Don’t leave it to their judgement. Potentially add dieticians as food science is critical too.

2. Separation of job type and consider career linesmen, refs with equal pay. Good refs don’t necessarily mean good VAR officials

3. A review / post match analytics team to compile post match feedback and review cycles. Must be independent. Ideally every match would be reviewed by three (reduce subjectivity). Could be used for a post match appeal processes.

4. Improved tech, particularly around communications to facilitate transparency (like rugby).

5. Improved cameras that mean we have more accurate VAR. I mean super high definition, high FPS. They cost a ton but then again a bad call can cost a club millions…

6. Dedicated VAR officials who are totally independent from refs so there is no potential for collusion or fear of “robbing in your mate”.

7. Bias training that is repeated and reinforced. When it comes to unconscious bias, good intentions don’t work.

8. Ground level recruitment strategy and infrastructure. How many ex players see refereeing as a viable career if they don’t make it? Very few, which seems like a miss. You need a mechanism to bring in people and train them up.

9. A proper communications department so you don’t make a bigger pigs ear when one has already been made.

10. Proper governance structure that holds refs to account. No more chumocracy.

11. Mandatory retirement / high fitness bar. This only works if you have a golden egg or higher comp due to shorter “earning window”.

All this mounts up to a fair ££££.

Articles published since last Friday’s FF, with excerpts:

Friday March 26th:

The Most Dangerous Penalty-Box Premier League Players (and Winning Penalties), by Paul Tomkins.

Mané has won one league penalty this season, and Salah two. James Justin (2), James Maddison (2) and Jamie Vardy (3) all suggest something very odd about how penalties are awarded, with Vardy and Maddison ranking as mediocre penalty-box players overall based on the data. Brendan Rodgers’ Reds also won penalties at a much greater rate than better teams (overall) managed by Rafa Benítez and Jürgen Klopp, and I wonder if his Britishness plays a part (but it’s hard to prove); the Englishness of his players certainly seems to.

English-born “Callums” Robinson and Wilson (albeit a Calum) have each won two this season, to mean that having the name Callum makes you more likely to win a penalty than being a pair of world-class attacking players with Liverpool. Indeed, you could add Roberto Firmino – the player in the entire league with the greatest number of missing expected penalties – and it would still be fewer penalties won than the four-haul of Wilson and Robinson. 

Mané, Salah and Firmino – plus Jota, if you want to add another – have won as many penalties this season as Jamie Vardy. 

Monday March 29th:

Should Sport Be Fairer Than Life In General? – The TTT Debate, by various.

Do we feel that the Premier League is fair? Should it be fair? Should justice in sport be blind (or just the referees?)

And how does officiating in the Premier League look when set against other sports, and against football in other countries?

Ahead of publishing our investigation into officiating consistency and potential biases, we on TTT had our own debate about this, as a precursor to our mammoth survey and series of articles and videos about officiating and VAR in football.

Tuesday March 30th:

A Damning Indictment of English Referees Regarding Foreign Players, by Paul Tomkins.

But I’ll leave you with this quick snippet:

Combined Premier League penalties won by the following, 2017 onwards: Andrew Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, James Milner, Xherdan Shaqiri, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Matip, Diogo Jota, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Curtis Jones, Joe Gomez and Thiago Alcantara.


(Jota includes two seasons for Wolves)

From a total of 1,692 touches in the opposition penalty area.

… Glenn Murray. 210 touches in opposition area, four penalties!

… Jesse Lingard. 229 touches in opposition area, six penalties!