Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What Does It Take To Be a Good EPL Referee?

Perhaps lessons in media studies?

There were two controversial decisions related to DOGSO during two English premiership matches on Saturday 3 December 2011. They were:

1) The EPL match between Newcastle United and Chelsea, Refereed by 43-year-old Mike Dean; and

2) The EPL match between Tottenham Hotspurs and Bolton Wanderers, Refereed by 28-year-old Stuart Attwell.

In the 4' of the Newcastle United and Chelsea match, Chelsea defender David Luiz (blue) tackled Newcastle striker Demba Ba about 25 yards from the Chelsea goal. Here are the freeze frames:

Decision: Referee Mike Dean awards a yellow card for what appears to be DOGSO.

In the 18' of the Spurs and Bolton match, Bolton defender Gary Cahill (blue) tripped Spurs midfielder Scott Parker near the halfway line. Here are the freeze frames:

Decision: Referee Stuart Attwell sends off Cahill for what appears to be DOGSO.

Technically, both incidents fulfill the criteria for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity to an opponent. So why did only one of these two EPL Referees show a red card? I would argue the main difference between the two incidents relates, not on the technicalities of DOGSO but, to the age and experience of the two EPL referees. Why? Perhaps because the older, more experienced EPL Referee understands 'media studies'.

Even ex-EPL Referee Graham Poll firmly believes in Referees giving full consideration to the consequences related to the media, both in terms of football providing a positive TV spectacle and in terms of reducing negative media coverage. See example here.

Also see example here when 2010 WC Final and EPL Referee Howard Webb decided not to send off Holland's Nigel de Jong in the 29' of the WC Final against Spain. Again, was this decision influenced by consideration to the consequences related to the media?

Back to the premiership. Viewed in the context of 'football being an entertainment business', we can see that Mike Dean can be seen as a 'good' EPL Referee because in not applying the LOTG too strictly he chose not to "ruin a spectacle" (as defined by the Powers That Be). And 'green' Stuart Attwell has yet to learn this because he decided to follow the LOTG to the letter with little or no regard to the media and entertainment industries. Is this what it really takes to be a 'good' EPL Referee?

Those who have heard experienced EPL Referees discussing this will know the answer!

Those who are yet to be convinced should follow the career of Stuart Attwell closely and, in the years ahead, observe how many similar DOGSO incidents will result in send-offs and how many in cautions. If current EPL 'policy' is maintained, Attwell's future stats on DOGSO incidents will lean more towards yellows than reds. It might also be revealing to see what Mike Dean's and other senior EPL referees' stats are on DOGSO incidents.

The leniency shown by EPL Referees has been mentioned before (please see Many Missed Red Card Incidents In One Match). If such a 'policy' or 'directive' exists, this enforced leniency is significantly different to that of soft-option Refereeing which appears to be based mainly on incompetence. That said, perhaps the majority of football fans may not know, or even care, about such a difference!?


  1. to my mind both situations are no red cards, the first one perhaps, the second one? Not really.

    1) the ball is not under the striker's full control, however, the situation is quite promising for him. Certainly rather a red than yellow.

    2) crucial for a red card:
    - position
    - angle
    - is the ball in the striker's full control?

    no, no and no

  2. Thank you Niclas E for your comments on this blog. For this one, it is interesting that you put emphasis on "the ball is not under the striker's full control". This is where some Referees debate whether the Interpretations from FIFA actually means this. For clarity, here is the Interpretation from FIFA:

    Referees should consider the following circumstances when deciding whether to send off a player for denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity:
    o the distance between the offence and the goal
    o the likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
    o the direction of play
    o the location and number of defenders
    o the offence which denies an opponent an obvious goalscoring opportunity may be an offence that incurs a direct free kick or an indirect free kick

    The Interpretation that makes sense is whether the attacker, had he not been fouled, would be likely to gain control of the ball and therefore to have a goalscoring opportunity. A player does not necessarily have to be initially in control of the ball, but rather the Interpretation allows for the likelihood of a player gaining control of the ball to have a scoring chance had there been no foul on that player.

  3. Technically, both incidents fulfill the criteria for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity to an opponent. So why did only one of these two EPL Referees show a red card? :-)

  4. good question :D
    I can report how German referees normally behave in such situations like Attwell had to deal with:
    Yellow Card. No red card. The problem is, obviously, the FA has not been content with his decision, hence, they resolved the punishment of Cahill, a clear sign?
    There was a similar occasion in Villarreal-Napoli. DOGSO is one of the most difficult topics in refereeing, I really like this because without it, there would be no room to discuss..

  5. The above incident involving Cahill's sending-off was shown at our latest English RA local branch meeting in Norwich. Present were 30+ referees ranging from Level 2 - 7. In a show of hands, only 2 members would have shown a red card for DOGSO - all others would have cautioned for a reckless tackle. Although, the incident may fufil the criteria for DOGSO and therefore justify a sending off, it seems clear that Attwell's interpretation was flawed hence the FA's decision to rescind the red card on appeal.