Attwell and Madley incompetence and cowardice award Newcastle three points at Arsenal’s expense

I’ve been watching football for over 24 years, nearly half of my life. And I’ve been watching sports my entire life (basically). I have seen hundreds of unfair matches. I’ve seen thousands of controversial calls. I even lived through the NBA betting scandal and of course the multiple corruption cases in France and Italy. Bottom line is that I’m not even remotely naive about corruption, bias, errors and other maladies which befall sport from time to time and I’ve never seen anything like the Premier League.

I’ve seen plenty of brutal sports. American football literally ruined lives with its legacy of brutality: where helmet to helmet hits were celebrated. Hockey has leaned in to the whole fighting aspect of the game and is now largely a boxing match on ice. And I grew up watching boxing, I’ve literally seen men die from injuries sustained in the ring (Duk-koo Kim). Those sports, however, are intentionally brutal. It’s a feature, not a bug. But I don’t like these sports because they are brutal. If I want to watch people get progressive brain injury, I’d watch American football. If I want to watch boxing on ice, I’d watch hockey. If I wanted to watch the devastating effects of poverty, where two men are paid by the super wealthy to beat the shit out of each other for other working people’s “entertainment”, I’d watch boxing. If I wanted to watch agressive male humping, I’d watch MMA.

I watch football because I love the beauty of the game. Playing tough, playing hard, good challenges, getting in the opponent’s face, pressure, these are all aspects of the beauty of football. Choking someone, running over and elbowing someone in the head, intentionally breaking someone’s leg because you’ve lost your mind? That’s not football. And it’s specifically not even allowed in the sport. In boxing you ARE allowed to punch someone in the face, in football that is specifically forbidden. You are supposed to win the game because you run faster, you have better control of the ball, your shots are more accurate, your passes are better, your teamwork is better, your tactics are superior, the team’s movement is more difficult to counter, the pressing forces turnovers, or even from a moment of brilliance. Football fails for me when a team is awarded a win because one of their players shoved an opponent to the ground from behind with two hands. I don’t even think that’s allowed in American football.

Football fails for me when a player is allowed to run over and elbow an opponent in the head. When this is captured by every camera in the world, when it’s looked at by officials, and when no call is made and very little is even being said about the incident after the match. In fact, the half-time commentators here in the USA said that it was a “great” match because of the physicality. People, it seems, are still stuck in the 1980s version of football, when “the Crazy Gang” was celebrated because they would squeeze another man’s testicles.

This is a league where an Arsenal player was sent off because he took 3 seconds on a throw in – a rule which has since been seemingly abandoned; where you get a red card if you clip someone from behind when they are shooting; where you get a red card for putting your hands on another man’s throat for even a half a second; where you can get a red card for “not making a genuine attempt for the ball”. But apparently, this is also a league where you can go unpunished for hunting an opponent down and elbowing him in the face from behind – an offense which is in clear violation of the Laws of the game.

And in this particular match, these same officials deemed it ok for the ball to go out of play, the striker to push a defender over, and for the goal-scorer to be offside – all in one play. Essentially giving the home team a goal.

But the officials at the center of this particular controversy – Stuart Attwell on the field and Andy Madley in the VAR – have previously made a number of incredibly controversial calls against Arsenal. And I’m going to talk about their record because no one else in the mainstream media is.

The on-field official Stuart Attwell was dropped from the Premier League select group of officials in 2012. He was dropped because he’d made a string of high profile mistakes, which included losing control of several games and making some wild decisions:

“Attwell attracted heavy criticism for awarding Reading a goal against Watford when John Eustace had kicked the ball over the byline four yards wide of the goal before it was put back into play by Noel Hunt. Attwell’s linesman Nigel Bannister signalled for a goal. More recently in December, Attwell sent off Gary Cahill, then of Bolton, for fouling Scott Parker only yards over the halfway line, saying he had denied Tottenham a clear goalscoring opportunity. The red card was overturned on appeal.”

“Following the Watford-Reading game, further controversies followed when he was accused of “losing control” of a Derby-Nottingham Forest derby, having disallowed two Derby goals in the final stages, booking eight players and sending off Forest’s Lewis McGugan. He has also attracted the ire of Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, who accused the referee of lying about his reasons for sending off Gary Caldwell in April 2010, while Stoke’s Danny Higginbotham claimed Attwell could be too easily influenced by players. Later that year, he awarded Liverpool a highly controversial goal against Sunderland. He had awarded the Black Cats a free-kick inside their own half and Michael Turner touched the ball back to Simon Mignolet, apparently for the goalkeeper to take the set-piece. But Attwell ruled the ball active, allowing Fernando Torres to steal it and set up Dirk Kuyt to finish into an empty net.”

To be quite blunt, Attwell is an official with a track record of on-field incompetence. And since his return to the top flight, his Arsenal record has been incredibly odd. Since 2017 he has taken charge of 17 Arsenal matches – Arsenal have won just 7 of those matches, he has never awarded Arsenal a penalty, he has awarded the opponents three pens, Arsenal have had two players sent off, and Arsenal’s opponents have never had a player sent off. Perhaps the most controversial match he refereed was the 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In that match he cave David Luiz a red card for “not trying to win the ball” in a tackle and awarded Chelsea a penalty in the same action. David Luiz did try to win the ball, however, and this was at a time when attention was being paid to not giving double-jeopardy (pen and red card) for the same action. Basically, in order for the tackle to be a red card, the player had to clearly be trying to stop the player and obviously not going for the ball. Neither of which were true.

Most recently, Attwell was the official in charge of Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Arsenal in London last season. This was a match in which he and VAR awarded City a penalty for Bernardo Silva falling over and Xhaka slight tug on the shirt. He also sent off Gabriel (M.) for a second yellow for the slightest touch on Gabriel (J.). See, in the English Premier League, it’s against the law to touch an opponent if he turns you, but completely ok to chase an opponent down and elbow him in the face.

The VAR official yesterday was Andy Madley and while he wasn’t dropped for five years for gross incompetence, like Stuart Attwell was, he is the official who had a controversial Arsenal match last season. Madley has only taken charge of 4 Arsenal matches but no one can forget the 0-0 match he was in charge of in January against.. (checks notes).. Newcastle. In what was basically a preview of yesterday’s match, Newcastle and their two Brazilian midfielders (Bruno and Joelinton) were given the freedom to boot Arsenal all over the pitch. Newcastle were also “lucky” to escape two very strong penalty calls, which Mikel Arteta pointed out afterwards.

Here’s the frustrating thing though. I’ve been watching Premier League football for over 24 years and despite countless rules changes and interpretations – and to be fair, maybe a slight bit of a culture shift away from overt brutality – this is exactly how the laws have been interpreted IN ARSENAL MATCHES. And I think Arsenal did extremely well dealing with this physical bullshit from the Middle Eastern Stoke City. We pressured them, Saliba and Havertz went in full-blooded on challenges and I felt like we didn’t shy away from their tactics. This is what some folks (notably Robbie Mustoe) called “a great game to watch”. But it’s not a great game to watch for me. I don’t mind physical contact, but I want to see a contest of skill and talent, not one where an opponent runs over and elbows someone in the head or one where a goal is decided by a player shoving the defender (two hands) in the back of the neck.

The cowardice of the Premier League officials, who “don’t want to decide” a game, actually ends up deciding games. Because by letting an opponent shove someone in the back, especially on the goal line, which then sets up the teammates as the ball bounces off the defender as he’s falling down, they are literally deciding the game – just in favor of the player committing the foul. That said, I can’t expect much from the officials as long as they are managed by Howard Webb, the official who was in charge of the worst officiated World Cup final in my life (because of his cowardice) and who was the match official in dozens of Arsenal matches – most notably a League cup final where his cowardice allowed Chelsea to kick Arsenal all over the pitch until everything blew up and he ended up sending off Adebayor for a foul committed by Eboue.

Everyone keeps talking about how brave Webb is for dropping Anthony Taylor a few weeks ago, you know the ref who awarded Saudi Arabia Upon Tyne a hugely controversial penalty and for admitting that the officials are getting things wrong, every single week. But I think it would be more brave if he just flat out admitted that the PGMOL and the officials that they employ are not up to the task of officiating at the highest level and resigned to allow a competent foreign official take over and clean up the mess.

Resign, Webb.



  1. Did anyone else think that as Gabriel was pushed to the ground, the player pushing him also handled the ball and that wasn’t checked at all.

    Either way the forearm smash to the back of the head was unbelievable.

    1. It’s my understanding that the rules were changed this season, and that an accidental handball by the assisting player is no longer a foul (would still be a foul for the scorer). It was probably accidental as he was too busy shoving Gabriel, so probably not reviewable under that rule.

  2. The shove was so obvious. Two extended arms pushing Gabriel to the ground. Visible from most angles. (Not sure about the ball rolling out of play nor about the offside though.)The elbowing of Guimaeres: same thing: unmissable violent action from a player who lost all self control. The referees chose not to see those incidents. Is it incompetence, cowardice, bias or corruption? I don’t think it’s incompetence. It can’t be.

  3. I can agree with the ball not being out call. It looked out to me, but on replay, not conclusive enough to overrule. Not sure about the offside. Timing and lines were a mess. So I guess I’m OK not overruling on that one too. But it was a blatant shove in the back. If a defender does that, it’s a penalty all day. And that one was obvious on replay.
    No idea on the Guimares thing. That too was obvious on replay. And who cares if it was the forearm rather than the elbow. It was an intentional blow to the back of the head with the ball nowhere near. Textbook violent conduct. On the Xhaka scale, that would have been a 5 match ban.
    Between the two of those, pretty hard not to see some bias.
    The Havertz tackle was orange. I’d have wanted a red if that had been done to one of our players. He went in hard and late. He got lucky that he didn’t catch Burns with his studs. On the Xhaka scale, that was a red, and it was a stupid thing for him to do earlyish in a match.
    And I’ve tried to be patient with Havertz, but for 60M, trying hard isn’t enough. By this point in the season, Pepe had 3 goals and 4 assists. He ended with 8 and 10. Havertz has some work to do to catch that, or he’s going to go down as an even worse buy.
    Generally, the attack looks pretty poor without the full team. And Raya continues to look no better than Ramsdale. The money spent on Havertz and Raya, we could have kept Balogun and had money for another purchase.
    Rice, OToH, looks well worth it.

    1. The Havertz tackle was pretty grim to say the least, but in getting his card he also managed to get at least 3 Chelsea players also carded. Arsenal can probably get out of the Raya deal as he’s only on loan with a buy option, but how do you explain this to Ramsdale who’s done nothing wrong TBH.

  4. Solid thoughts.

    Bottomline is this. If Arsenal are to win the league, we will have to defeat 19 teams, a panel of arbiters, two petrol states, and the media.

    Such is life. Are the boys up to it?


  5. If I run up behind you in real life and strike your head, you could press charges against me. That’s assault. If you do something on the pitch that could get you arrested on the street, maybe just maybe that deserves a card.

    1. in rugby, if you hit someone’s head they will review the action and look for intent or mitigating circumstances. Here we have none of these excuses, or at least they are not made sufficiently clear to us. We have just been told, “not the elbow so not violent”. That is crazy. On MOTD, you could clearly see that the intent was there, clearly run at Jorginho with the idea to leave one behind. That to me is a straight card, not even a doubt about it.

  6. I have not followed Arsenal nearly as long as Tim has, but given that all PGMOL personnel appear to be so very much English, it seems that Arsenal is still being punished for some perceived slights against “English” football committee during the Wenger era.

    1. Thank you for that. Great reminder. I remember at the time that Ferdinand was hailed for his record of having 0 fouls for like a year or something.

  7. What really bothers me in these mass media discussions are the fact that they ALWAYS focus on the obvious… Was the ball out or not? And frankly speaking, this should be the least of our worries. A ball may or may not be out of play, what happens after is just a farce, of which no one is capable to react in an appropriate manner. To be brutally honest, I find this super tiring and I have been a lot less involved in the PL this season. You can see where it is going, I can feel it. It is going to get worse because the PL and football in general is incapable to get together and stand up for the benefit of the game. I mean, if you are Chelsea, Spurs, City, United, do you really care for Arsenal being disadvantaged by the refereeing? Do we as Arsenal fans care much if that was Spurs?

    At the end of the day football is a game which wants to jump into the technology with a mindset from the 1980’s. They have no clue how to introduce it properly. It took more than 10 years in Rugby and it can still be an issue, but at the very least it is a lot more transparent. I genuinely cannot see how anything can change, they do not have the willingness or the mental capacity to integrate this new technology into the game.

    The other part which has been bothering me for years is the fact that a massive part of the football population STILL believes that English football is tough, it has to be physical, that if you do not hurt the opposition you are not playing the football we all love in the UK. Attwell being congratulated by Shearer is the WTF moment of the weekend. I still recall vividly Hector being called weak when he was concussed on the floor. He should have been stronger…

    Similar to you Tim, I have lived through tough years in France, hooliganism, bribes and betting scandals. It stops me watching Ligue 1 for years. At this moment in time, I am not liking what I am seeing. I am not liking it at all and these concerns can very easily grow into taking me away from a sport and a team I absolutely love.

  8. I hope someone at Arsenal are reading your column and ask the PGMOL why they allow Madley to be the VAR on a match between Arsenal and Newcastle when the previous one was so controversial. That is the closest to a corruption suspicion I’ve ever come. And I do not (want to) believe there is corruption, only incompetence.

  9. An excellent exposition of the records of the two officials responsible for the farce that we saw on Saturday. As 21CG observes on Goonerholics Forever, the game is becoming a soap opera as a result of the bizarre simultaneous aggrandisement and increasing incompetence of match officials over recent years. They think it’s about them and the pundits are fuelling their egos.

    I can accept defeat, albeit reluctantly, when we lose as a result of an error by one of our defenders and hope he and the coach learn from it or as a result of the quality of the opposition or a piece of brilliance from one of their players which I can applaud with gritted teeth. I cannot accept that we lost to a pair of incompetent or perhaps even corrupt officials. The latter possibility is always instantly dismissed by UK media and pundits. However, there is so much money in the game with relatively little for the officials – hence they moonlight in Saudi and the UAE where the culture is very much one of buying compliance where they can. Do we really believe that a club owned and run by a nation state that can cover up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, bomb Yemen to pulp (why no public marches for Yemen?), enact and implement misogynistic and homophobic laws etc, the manager of which instructs his players to exceed the laws on physical violence and defends their actions whilst protesting Guimaraes’ (far too little too late) yellow card, would say to themselves, “The English game is famed for its values on sportsmanship, we couldn’t possibly try to buy officials?”

    A large number of longstanding match-going fans are becoming disillusioned and disaffected by the frequency of inexplicable decisions that influence match results and the post-match Sophistry, where offered, by PGMOL when all they want to see is an honest sporting contest. At face value, PGMOL are plumbing depths of incompetence that I think, will destroy the game we want to watch. I am pleased that Arteta and the club have taken their public stance. They will be pilloried by the UK sports media for doing so and fined heavily for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ (LOL). The backlash is already commencing here but more people in the game should take a stand. Will they? I doubt it. There are too many snouts in the trough. Thank you for doing your bit, Tim.

  10. Three things to complain about instead of officiating:
    1. How we ran around pretending to be Arsenal for the first 45 minutes and did a horrible imitation of ourselves.
    2. How Kai Harvertz is not very good at football.
    3. How we miss Jesus and how badly it’s starting to affect our play.

    1. #4 Not a complaint, but a sarcastic haha at Spurs, who had pretty much everything possible go wrong against Chelsea. At leat we’re not them.

      1. Had no idea about the what happened @ Chelsea v. S##r$ until I read your post. Whaaat….?

        1. It was bonkers for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which was that Spurs almost got away with playing a ridiculously high line while having only 9 players because Chelsea were so bad in attacking it.

      2. As a Johnny come lately to football from “across the pond” who started to follow the Arsenal post-Invincibles, I have always held Chelsea in much lower regard than Tottenham, largely due to Wenger’s sage comments about financial doping, whereas Tottenham’s transgressions were small fry in comparison: ill-timed releases of DVDs commemorating their infrequent (but still ultimately insignificant to everyone else than them) wins over Arsenal. That said, I am glad that Tottenham was disabused of their unfounded delusions of becoming the next iteration of the Invincibles.

  11. Who in this world would have argued or complained about the goal had var ruled the ball is out of play?
    That the ball is out of play is not controversial ut var saying it is inconclusive is controversial

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