It’s time for PGMOL and the FA to stop lying

Imagine for a second that I am going to set up a referee group for a sport in 2016. Now imagine that I don’t want to use video replay or video refereeing in my sport. But, my sport is covered by dozens of cameras at every game. Every moment of the game is immortalized, every foul is played back in slow motion, and every bad deed is punished in the court of public opinion.

Now imagine that I know all of this and that my referees often look like they miss a lot of big calls or at least get a lot of big calls wrong. I don’t want to publicly make it look like my referees don’t know what they are doing so I protect them by saying that the calls on the pitch are what matter and we don’t want to “re-referee” games through post-match video trials. But, every once in a while an incident happens which is so shocking that the public demands retroactive punishment and so, we constructed this “get out of jail free” card; if the referee just says “oh that? Like Arsene Wenger says, I didn’t see it!” we will allow the matter to be settled by TV jury.

This escape loop, that my refs just have to say that they didn’t see an incident, means that I don’t even have to instruct my officials to say that they didn’t see something. They will naturally say that to cover themselves whenever there is a high-profile error. Though, we will probably instruct our referees to only include in their reports what they know that they saw. Anything that they aren’t sure of, they are told to omit. After all, you’re not sure of what you saw, so why report it?

This is the situation that Football finds itself in in 2016.

This madness is the outgrowth of a series of rules and interpretations set up by three organizations: the Football Association (the FA, the governing body of football in England), the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the group that selects referees for FA football matches), and Fifa (a group of officials from Switzerland who oversee all of the international bribery and corruption of the game of Football). That last bit about Fifa being the bribery clearinghouse for World Cup football would be libelous if Fifa hadn’t admitted they were guilty and had all of their officials from the last group banned from football.

The FA says that Fifa says that they aren’t allowed to re-referee matches. This is the FA hiding behind Fifa’s skirt. Major League Soccer had a massive problem with hideous tackles and they decided to use a video panel, which they call the MLS Disciplinary Committee, to review all matches. It doesn’t matter if the referee saw the incident or not. And the foul doesn’t have to be even that egregious for the MLS Disciplinary Committee to step in and add extra punishment.

Nigel de Jong, known as one of the dirtiest players in the history of the game, fouled Darlington Nagbe and the referee gave a yellow. It was a two-footed tackle and it was horrible. But it was the type of tackle you see almost every weekend in the Premier League, sometimes it is punished, sometimes it is not punished, but they are certainly not the type of physical assault at the level of, say, Ben Thatcher on Pedro Mendes*.

I entreat you, watch the video of the foul. Now, read the MLS Disciplinary Committee’s statement:

“While De Jong received a yellow card during the match, the Disciplinary Committee was unanimous that the action was a clear and unequivocal red card and the play was of an egregious and reckless nature such that the Committee must act to protect player safety.”

This was from April 2016. In Major League Soccer, the games are being re-refereed. Not only for red cards, but also for flopping. How is that possible? The FA claim that Fifa prohibits such behavior! Could the answer simply be that the FA could re-referee matches if they wanted to???

MLS is also pioneering video replay refereeing this season. Unlike the Football Association, MLS just wants to get the big calls right.

What sparked all of this debate, however, is that Mark Halsey, former PGMOL referee said that he was instructed to write reports with “I didn’t see it” as part of the report. It’s a repeat of a claim he has made before in his book Added Time. Added Time was published three years ago and included a number of shocking revelations; that Halsey and Ferguson were text buddies, and that Mourinho paid for Halsey and his family to stay at a 4-star hotel. Mourinho even does Halsey the favor of writing the intro to the book. Imagine bragging about Mourinho buying you off with a four-star hotel.

The relevant passage from the book in regard to being told what to omit from reports goes like this:

‘That came before a conversation with Mike Riley when he said I would be getting a phone call from Tarik Shamel, head of on-field regulation at the FA, about the incidents involving Nzonzi.

‘When the call came, Tarik told me that Mike had told him there should have been a sending-off. Not for me, there shouldn’t, I said. Tarik left it up to me to decide the next step.

‘Reluctantly, feeling under pressure to deliver the result Mike wanted, I agreed rather than cause a problem and have yet more bad blood with him.

The PGMOL have refuted the claim. Mike Riley, head of the PGMOL, has refuted the claim. I’ve been writing about this issue now for three years. So, why is it suddenly in the public eye? Because Gary Neville has taken this cause up and called it tantamount to corruption.

It’s not corruption. What this is is the stupidity of PGMOL and the FA in pretending that Fifa won’t allow them to set up a system similar to what MLS uses. If they did set up a video review system, they could simply ask the referees to write reports and when they see something, they could interview the referee who would say “yeah, I saw it, but it didn’t look that bad in the game. Now that I have seen the replay, however, WOW, I would have totally given a red card.” Or maybe the referee would simply say that he saw it and wouldn’t have given a card even after the video replay. That’s also possible.

The way that Major League Soccer handles these incidents is spot on. They publish their decisions along with video of the offense and so everyone knows how the referees are instructed to call the games. And in the MLS violent tackles are punished more often. And the game is cleaned up because players know that they will get a retroactive ban if they kick another player up and down the pitch or if they use simulation to win a penalty.

And who wouldn’t want to see the game cleaned up a bit more in England?


*For those of you who are too young to know, Ben Thatcher ran at Pedro Mendes full speed and elbowed him in the face. Mendes lost consciousness and had to be stretchered off with oxygen. The ref gave a yellow card and the FA, under great pressure from the public, re-refereed the incident giving Thatcher an 8 match ban with a 15 match suspended ban. This foul is often held up as the level of grievous bodily harm that must be perpetrated in order for the FA to step in and overrule a referee.


  1. Defo corruption. We had years of Man Utd ref favouritism and big decisions going against direct rivals. Is it a coincidence then Mike Riley the chief of PIGMOL is an Utd staunch supporter and sits in his VIP box at Old Trafford every home game? And how come PGMOL does not have any accountability to how it operates, how it choses refs and any real data published apart from some porky pies they spout out in form of “everything evens out eventually”?

  2. “While De Jong received a yellow card during the match, the Disciplinary Committee was unanimous that the action was a clear and unequivocal red card and the play was of an egregious and reckless nature such that the Committee must act to protect player safety.”

    It’s sad that protecting player safety seems far down the list of things the English league finds important. The only person to make similar comments that I can think of is Arsene, and every time he’s been jumped on and ridiculed and accused of trying to make football a non contact sport, which is kind of hilarious considering that the merest contact is often enough for a foul most of the time.

    I’m glad to hear the American league has taken steps to deal with both the dangerous tackles and the diving. It just makes complete sense and I refuse to believe that the english league, with all it’s money, can’t pay a panel to make sure players that get away with foul play or simulation on the pitch are retroactively punished. There is literally no reason not to do it.

    Whenever retroactive punishment comes up it’s usually followed by how even in replays some incidents still aren’t clear. But all that needs to happen is for the obvious incidents to be punished for it to be an improvement on the current system.

    Diving has been referred to as a problem since the 80s and 25 years later practically nothing’s been done to deal with it. Retro active punishment for obvious simulation would go a long way to cleaning up the game and it’s maddening to see nothing being done.

    Again, it’s great to see the us league taking action and making a mockery of the fa’s claims.

    It’s stuff like this that’s killed most of my respect for the game. If the english league don’t want to make the effort to clean up the game and punish wrongdoing then why should I care?

    1. It’s getting that way for sure. The more we see things like this stupidity that teh FA and PGMOL propagate, the less people believe in the sanctity of the League.

      1. It doesn’t help that while the other big leagues have taken steps to try to guard against what happened with referees in Italy (small number of referees/referees being involved with the same teams multiple times a season), the premiership seems to have adopted that model out of choice, despite knowing the dangers.

  3. damn, this editing plugin I installed just pastes text in random places when I edit, must uninstall, grrrr

  4. The premier league, a £5+ billion product with referring straight from a sports direct sale.

  5. By virtue of its youth football in the US has a great opportunity to be progressive. English football feels like an anachronism, governed by old men drinking port in wood panelled rooms.

    It’s a bit like papal infallibility, the sanctity of the referee is sacrosanct! Really if they’re worried about refs looking incompetent they’re doing a pretty terrible job.

    And what’s wrong with admitting you got it wrong anyway? The guy sees things at full speed from 1 angle. No shame in that.

    Problem is, setting up and running a video review board would cost money, money better used for upping the annual PGMOL Xmas party budget. There are standards to maintain.

    And I honestly think Ben Thatcher should have faced criminal charges. GBH is GBH, regardless of context.

    1. The police looked at the incident and decided not to charge. Not sure why because I agree, he just elbowed Mendes in the face.

    2. “English football feels like an anachronism, governed by old men drinking port in wood panelled rooms”

      well thats it right? in the current system the refs and the PGMOL have power – a power they shouldn’t have – to influence the whole of the league. why would they want to relinquish that power by pushing for reform – video technology, open reviews etc etc? bastards.

  6. Halsey was the ref in our game against Fulham in 2005(?) where he called a penalty against us in the game, changed his mind in a few seconds and called it no foul, (and that was the correct decision) He then went in front of the television cameras and explained why the situation had unfolded like it had, and in the end though there was some cribbing (mainly because Arsenal had been beneficiaries) no one could complain too much because the right decision had been reached and the ref had explained himself.

    Somehow, the PGMOB stepped in to stop this kind of transparency. They denied ref the right to appear in front of the media. They set up retirement funds contingent on signing of a non disclosure agreement. And they sent their favoured ex refs to sit on the sets of the Sky tv production team to ‘explain’ how the game should be covered keeping the ref’s view in mind.

    BT Sport brought in Halsey (who had refused the ND agreement) to do this ON screen, only to be booted out in a short time, with Howard Webb his replacement for that role.

    Everything about the PGMO screams cover up. Occasionally they’ll come out and put up some ‘statistics’ about how awesome their referees are, which the whole world knows is nonsense. Yet, they keep getting away with that nonsense.

    It appears to me that the British public doesn’t demand that calls be gotten right. Just, at most, that they are got equally wrong. Because the argument used is that it all evens out.

    1. The other one that drives me mad is the idea that all the controversial decisions are part of the ‘drama’ of the game and lead to great ‘debates’ amongst the fans that we all supposedly enjoy.

      Stuff like this makes me wonder. If I hadn’t gotten into football in the 80’s and was only discovering it now through the Premier League would I even enjoy it? I have to think I’d be seeing a sport with highly interpretive laws, many of which are ignored on a consistent basis game to game. The game is rank with cheating and simulation that is rarely punished on the pitch and those in charge seem almost allergic to the idea of retroactively punishing clear indiscretions. Every tournament is constructed to favour the very biggest clubs to the clear disadvantage of smaller teams, making a mockery of fair play. And almost nothing is being done to protect the game from widespread corruption with some of the worst of it at the very top. It’s a joke of a ‘sport’ to be honest, and I think the only reason I stick with it is because it was such a huge part of my early teenage years and the fact that in the present day, Arsenal seem to be one of the few clubs trying to do the right thing in the proper manner.

      1. It might be because I was still new to the game, but my impression is that things have gotten worse with referees ever since the PGMO was set up in 2001 or 02. Before that there were cases of bias, but never what I felt amounted to refs having decided the outcome.

        For me that point was reached the year Eduardo had his leg broken. The two Chelsea triumphs previously, I remember thinking that their ‘luck’ hadn’t evened out and they had come ahead on that front. But oh well, that can happen.

        In 2008, it wasn’t even us being ‘unlucky’ with refs that did it for me. It was the last game of the season when the title was between ManU and Chelsea. I watched the ManU game wanting them to win. Steve Bennett, ever a card happy ref, let Scholes get away with 3 yellow card offenses after he was on a yellow, including a blatant tug back on the half way line. Wigan had two goals ruled out for offside and a penalty not awarded, and ManU scored an offside goal… or something like that. The details are all mixed up now, but it was such blatant cheating, for a result I actually wanted, that I could not ignore that this looked like a fix.

        I’m still watching, but I think I agree. If I didn’t think Arsenal were the ‘good guys’, I’d probably gradually lose interest. I was really close to quitting after the Mike Dean – Diego Costa shenanigans as it is. It’s a shame because football really can be beautiful.

    1. I know untold get a lot of stick for their pro everything arsenal stance from fellow arsenal fans, which I fined weird, but it can’t be argued that they’ve done more work in documenting and exposing refereeing inadequacies in the premier league than almost anyone else.

  7. “Modern football”: a game in which the fate of twenty two furiously running men and millions of watching fans is decided by the whims of Mike Dean.

    1. Not Micheal Dean it’s the PGMOL he does as instructed but he seems to enjoy it more than others.

  8. The thing that frustrates me most is that there doesn’t seem to be any desire to improve things or deal with obvious issues in any meaningful way.

    But as Tim’s example shows, if those in charge really want to change things for the better they could. If the MLS can afford a panel then so can the Premiership. If the MLS can retroactively punish foul play then so can the Premiership. If the MLS can get their act together to preserve the integrity of the sport but the Premiership can’t, then what does that say about the ‘Best League In The World?’

  9. The reason why MLS can and the PL can’t is because MLS is under more pressure to cut back on diving (due to soccer’s rep in the US) and more importantly they can afford to fail. Thye are looking to grow and any change that improves the game for more spectators then they’re incentivized to try it. If some change screws up the mechanics of play people will complain and the league will probably just change it back the following year. The stakes in the prem are so much higher, the media spotlight so much brighter and the weight of tradition so much heavier that changes are harder to make, riskier and much more likely to come in for heavy criticism from traditionalists and click-hos even if they’re ‘working’

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