After the refereeing disaster course on display last weekend, I felt now is the perfect time to write an article exploring the realm of bias among referees. Premier League fans across the world usually have at least one referee they single out for being bias against their team. In today’s modern age of football, can bias among referees still really exist?
I am sure you know that common feeling – your beloved team (we will call them Liverpool) are tied in the final moments in a heated match against their hated cross-town rival. Suddenly, Liverpool celebrate a moment of glory as the club captain scores a winning goal in the dying moments. The players celebrate as the manager fist pumps and smiles.
Out of nowhere the play is called back and the goal is ruled offside and disallowed. No goal. The official on the field felt it was a goal but the Video Assistant Referee says it is offside. You review the goal through the match replay and then again using your own rewind function on the computer or DVR. It looks onside. The commentators on the match agree with you, the goal appeared legit with the foot of an opposing defender playing your team onside. The game finishes in a disappointing draw and you find yourself questioning the officials’ decisions. Then you discover the same referee has screwed over your team before…
According to the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), referees in the Premier League make an average of 245 decisions per game. Out of 245 decisions, 200 of them are spent judging physical contact and disciplinary actions. This is equal to making a decision every 22 seconds. In fact, referees make three times more decisions than an average player even touches the ball. It has been found that referees and their assistants make around five errors per game, meaning that they are right about 98% of the time. It is possible I am still influenced by recent events, but I believe that error number is higher than 2%.
The Research Institute for Sports and Exercise Sciences (coincidentally located in Liverpool) recently performed a study where they tested a crowd’s influence on referee decisions. Referees were asked to watch live matches and give their own personal decisions on the various referee calls during the match. The study found that referees who watched a match alone on the TV on mute made less favorable home decisions than compared to when they watched matches where they could hear the home crowd’s reaction. This shows that the atmosphere created by the crowd can influence a referee’s decisions. Of course right now while teams play in empty stadiums it is virtually impossible for home crowds to influence anyone beyond intimidating the visiting team buses on the way in.
Researchers in 2015 reviewed referee appointments over 12 seasons in the Champions League and discovered that, when a player is the same nationality as the referee, the number of beneficial decisions given to them rose by 10%. In later stages of international tournaments the number even rose to 15-20%. Although this may not necessarily happen on purpose, the numbers do support the theory of officials being more lenient towards their fellow countrymen. Could their research be applied to Premier League referees and their hometowns?
If there is one referee Liverpool fans hate the most, it is Martin Atkinson. Most recently Atkinson was the referee in the match away to Aston Villa where Liverpool lost 7-2. Over the past few seasons, he has been behind a few controversial referee decisions in Liverpool matches. He always seems to get assigned to one of Liverpool’s matches against Manchester United, and it feels like he always screws us, making Liverpool fans hate him even more.
Last season, Atkinson was the referee in Liverpool’s match at Old Trafford. He ignored an obvious foul on Divock Origi to allow Marcus Rashford to score the opener. Then Atkinson denied Liverpool an equalizing goal before halftime with VAR used to justify a handball claim on Sadio Mane. For the greater part of 50 minutes, Atkinson did not call a single foul on Manchester United in a match that is regularly one the league’s most feisty and physical. Towards the end of the match, Adam Lallana scored an equalizer that was reviewed by VAR with a fine tooth comb before finally being allowed.
In the last 15 matches Atkinson has officiated over involving Liverpool, Liverpool have only won three. In comparison, in the last 15 matches Atkinson officiated over involving Manchester United, United have won eight. Upon the introduction of VAR into the Premier League last season, Liverpool’s historic first goal that was ruled offside using VAR had Martin Atkinson behind the screen deciding to pull it back (of course).
Martin Atkinson is from Leeds and is a self-professed Leeds supporter. The myth among Liverpool fans is that his family like Manchester United. I spent a few hours trying to uncover any type of credible evidence proving Atkinson’s affiliation with Manchester United only to turn up empty-handed. Obviously, his family is involved in a massive conspiracy to conceal their Manchester United fandom.
Some of the newer Premier League fans may not realize this, but Leeds and Manchester United enjoy a fierce rivalry, and it would be hard to believe Martin Atkinson poses as a Leeds fan while supporting Manchester United…. although it could be the most clever trick ever.
I believe that secretly, Atkinson is a Manchester United fan, pretending to be a Leeds fan in an ambitious plan to secretly undermine Manchester’s enemies. With Leeds out of the Premier League for so many years he was forced to focus on messing with Manchester United’s other top rival, Liverpool football club. I am onto you Martin.
In 2019 Liverpool.com composed a list of referees described as Liverpool fan favorites. Michael Oliver topped the list with Anthony Taylor beating Martin Atkinson to be ranked as the worst. Interestingly enough, Anthony Taylor is from Wythenshawe, which is in Greater Manchester. Anthony Taylor is known for not sending off Vincent Kompany for a dangerous tackle in the Liverpool match vs City that many argue decided the 2018-2019 title race.
When comparing Anthony Taylor’s officiating record with Liverpool, it is actually a lot better then Martin Atkinson’s record. Over the last three seasons, Anthony Taylor has officiated nine matches with Liverpool winning seven. If anything, the stats only prove the opposite of hometown affiliation affecting these referee decision’s favorably. Liverpool have a better winning record when officiated by Taylor (the referee from Manchester) than Atkinson (the referee from Manchester’s rivals Leeds).
The newest name joining Liverpool’s list of most hated referees is David Coote. Coote was in the VAR room overseeing Liverpool’s match away to Everton, and failed to bring attention to a dangerous play by Jordan Pickford. Pickford’s dangerous move resulted in Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk’s potential season ending injury.
In the dying moments of the match, Coote made another controversial call, overruling the on field referee’s decision and incorrectly judging Liverpool’s winning goal as offside.
Coote is relatively new to refereeing at the highest level. He has only been involved in about 30 Premier League matches. Despite his short time in the league, this was not the first time Coote was involved in a controversial refereeing decision involving Liverpool. Coote was actually the VAR during Martin Atkinson’s incompetent display last season at Old Trafford. After the match, Klopp described United’s opening goal as “a goal which shows all the problems with VAR.” Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unsurprisingly claimed that United “were on the right end of the VAR decisions.”
In July during Project Restart, Coote again came to spoil the day for the Reds. In Liverpool’s match vs Burnley at Anfield which ended their home win streak record, Coote overlooked a clear foul in the box on Andy Robertson in the dying embers of the game. If Liverpool had been given a penalty, they may have had a chance to claim all three points. At the full time whistle, Robertson approached Coote criticizing his decisions with an angry outburst.
After Saturday’s derby, Liverpool filed an official complaint requesting a review of the decision making during the match. Coote’s failure to review Pickford’s challenge on Virgil Van Dijk has reportedly angered Liverpool. They have even demanded an explanation from the PGMOL.
So far any response from the PGMOL has lacked transparency. It is believed that Coote did not review the challenge on Van Dijk for a red card for serious foul play, claiming the linesman’s offside flag ruled out any possible penalty for Pickford’s foul.
Playing by those rules, if you and I are playing against each other in a match. You get close to a goal opportunity but are ruled offside. I can come up and punch or injure you in the following 10 seconds and I can not be shown a red card, even if what I did is reckless or illegal. Obviously this train of logic makes no sense.
Liverpool are also seeking an explanation for the offside call on Jordan Henderson’s goal, two minutes into added time at the end of the game, which would have put the Reds up 3-2 and surely sealed the three points. Replays and video stills of the goal clearly show Sadio Mane onside in the buildup to the goal.
Do not expect the league to award Liverpool the three points. The FA has already confirmed Jordan Shitford… I mean Pickford will not be punished retrospectively for his challenge on Van Dijk. They claim the match referee Michael Oliver did consult with VAR over the challenge and both officials decided it did not warrant a red card. Sounds like a load of Pickford to me.
According to The Times this is what actually happened: VAR did look at the challenge for a possible penalty, but once it become clear that Van Dijk was offsides, Coote was preoccupied with the offside decision and did not review the tackle in detail or bring it to Michael Oliver’s attention.
This season Premier League referee’s are being encouraged to check the pitch side monitors for subjective decisions like the intensity of a foul challenge, offside positioning, and handball considerations. Michael Oliver tends to be a fair referee for Liverpool matches. If he was truly aware of the situation regarding Pickford’s tackle he would have checked the pitch side monitor.
As I am sure all of us have seen by now, It only takes seeing the tackle once in replay to know it was a dangerous, reckless challenge. The fact that Oliver did not consult the pitch side monitor is a good indication that a red card review never actually took place.
I am Jordan Gerrard and as always, I thank you for reading!