Fans of Manchester City have suffered at the hands of the Manchester United Referee Conspiracy. Last season Man U were the only team not to have a player sent off or a penalty given against them. That's just last season before text gate appeared in the papers - there's plenty more proof out there...
After I wrote my last piece, on Manchester United’s relationship with the FA, I was taken aback by the response I had. I suggest to people who haven’t read it to jump to that post now as it gives a lot of background on what we will look at in this article.
As stated in my previous post, the fortunes of the institutions surrounding football in the UK will be negatively hit should any proof of corruption come out. It is naturally in their interest not to investigate the matter. In fact, the managers that have come out and questioned the refereeing selection process (Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas Boas) have been turned into laughing stocks by the English press corps.
So, investigate some more I did. And some of the stuff I found out surprised even me.
During United’s title winning 2010/11 season, they only lost 4 league games. I looked at who refereed those games and how long they then spent without being assigned Manchester United games as well their subsequent trend of behavior towards United.
Michael Oliver took charge of their first defeat, the February 2011 2-1 loss at Wolves. He was not given another Manchester United game to referee until December 2011. Since then, Oliver has had 2 United games.
United have won both, with Oliver refusing to give a clear Fulham penalty in the 1-0 United win late last season at Old Trafford; a game came right at the end of the title race. A few weeks ago, Oliver gave United a penalty for a shocking dive by Danny Welbeck in the home win against Wigan.
The second game United lost was away to Chelsea. Martin Atkinson was the referee then and some of his decisions incurred the wrath of Alex Ferguson. Atkinson was not given another United game to referee for an ENTIRE YEAR.
Atkinson was further punished with his decisions that went against United that day. He was not given a single Premier League game to referee for a full month. Even worse, he was subsequently given 3 lower league games to referee that season- when he’d previously not officiated a single one that campaign.
It seems that Atkinson was given a clear message that day.
The 3rd United loss came at Anfield, where a Dirk Kuyt hat trick secured a 3-1 home win. The referee that day was Phil Dowd. He was criticized by Ferguson for not sending Jamie Carragher off. In the very next United game Dowd refereed, he gave them a penalty which secured a 1-1 draw at Blackburn and their 19th league title.
Giving United penalties in the very next game you referee for them after having been criticized is a trend we’ll soon notice.
The final United loss of the 2010/11 season came at the Emirates, where Chris Foy refereed a 1-0 Arsenal win. It will come to no surprise to people to know that Foy was subsequently not assigned a United league game for, again, AN ENTIRE YEAR.
He did however referee 2 United games in the cups during that time. The first was in the Carling Cup against Crystal Palace. He awarded United a penalty. The second was at Manchester City in the FA Cup. United got a penalty and Vincent Kompany was sent off early in the game.
To resume, we’ve just analyzed what happened to the 4 referees that officiated United’s 4 league losses in the 2010/11 season. 2 of them were not given any more United league games for a full year (Atkinson and Foy), a third for 9 months (Oliver). 2 of those referees gave United penalties in the very next game (Foy and Dowd) they took charge of and one refused to give a blatant one to the opponents (Oliver). Martin Atkinson, was not given Premier League games to officiate for an entire month and assigned to 3 lower league games.
I also looked at Mike Jones after prompting from the comments board. Jones refereed the 1-1 home draw with Newcastle last season and falsely awarded Demba Ba a penalty.
Subsequently, Jones was not given a single football game, at ANY level, to referee for an entire month. The next United game he was handed came a few months later, the 2-0 home win against Stoke which saw… You guessed it: 2 penalties awarded to Manchester United which, according to reports, were “very soft”.
How about Mark Halsey? Well, when he gave WBA a debatable penalty in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in May 2005 it was his 5th United game that season. He then also went an ENTIRE YEAR without being given any United games to referee. From 5 games in a season to none for a year. His record since then? He’s refereed 11 Man Utd games which have seen 11 United wins: the latest coming at Anfield, where 3 controversial decisions went the away team’s way.
In terms of trends, considering what we discovered about Alan Wiley and Mark Clattenburg (whose record with no United games to referee now stands at 36 league games since he took charge of the 6-1 home loss to Manchester City), there’s enough to make you wonder what exactly is going on in the referee selection process. It also ties in perfectly with ex referee Jeff Winter's comments about The FA being reticent to assign United games to referees Ferguson has criticized in the past.
The whole world revolves around incentives and punishment. From a young age, kids are brought up that way. Positive and negative reinforcement are at the very core of child psychology. You can’t blame people who are well aware of the punishment awaiting them (through the form of demotionsand suspension from future United games) if they’d rather go for the safe option of keeping Ferguson happy.
I don’t blame the referees.
The people I blame are the ones that are letting this happen. The media who have not uttered a peep or written a single article about this for 2 decades. The FA who run the game in this country and have allowed this situation to fester. The clubs who see no issue with having David Gill, United's CEO, on the board of the FA. And of course, the PGMOB: the people who regulate officiating in England
The person at the head of the PGMOB and who is in charge of selecting which referee gets handed which game is Mike Riley, an ex professional referee who is most famous for giving a penalty for a clear dive by Wayne Rooney in the 2004 Man United 2-0 win against Arsenal which ended the Gunners 49 game unbeaten streak.
Riley was accused of pro United favoritism throughout his career. For younger readers, he’s my generation’s Howard Webb.
According to the Guardian’s research, which goes to back to the beginning of the 1997-98 season until 2004, “Riley refereed 23 United games in all competitions and gave 12 penalties for United in that time, but only three against them. And he has sent off five of United's opponents.
At Old Trafford, Riley's record is weighted even more heavily in favor of United: He gave 10 penalties in the 14 games he officiated to the home side, Manchester United.”
Riley’s bias was so suspected than when was awarded the Everton vs Man Utd FA Cup semi final to officiate in 2009, David Moyes actually called for an investigation on whether Riley was a United supporter.
This is the man who now decides which premier league games to assign to referees.
Add that to everything we’ve found out: the year long waits for referees who take charge of United losses to be given another United game to officiate, the penalties that are given to United in said referees next United games, the punishment for making mistakes that cost United points (Atkinson’s month long suspension from premier league games, Jones’ 1 month suspension from ALL PROFESSIONAL games), the comments from ex referee Jeff Winter (see my previous post), the fact that 18% of Howard Webb’s career penalties have gone to Manchester United,the retirement of Alain Wiley after being called unfit by Alex Ferguson and, of course, the presence of David Gill inside the FA and surely there’s enough there for some investigative journalist in the UK to actually look more into this.
If only to put the millions of football fans’ across the world’s minds at ease.
Because we could all be wrong and all of this may just be a set of freakish coincidences. Maybe English football is squeaky clean like they make us believe and the referee selection process is completely unbiased.
Maybe we’re just paranoid…
Or maybe not… Chris Foy failed to give Manchester United a penalty in their 3-2 loss to Spurs last month. The PGMOB did not handed Foy a Premier League game to referee the next weekend: instead, officiated in League 2 for the first time in more than 4 years.
Mike Jones meanwhile, who missed a blatant penalty on Luis Suarez at Norwich the same weekend, took charge of West Brom vs QPR in the Premier League. Finally, Howard Webb (who sent off Jordi Gomez on Saturday; a red card today rescinded by the FA) took charge of Newcastle’s home game against Manchester United.
Why did Foy’s errors on last month lead to his demotion to the lowest professional league in England while Webb’s and Jones’ mistakes didn’t cost them?
I guess we all know the answer to that question…