How the Refs treated Man U last season

By DogFace and Walter Broeckx

We have a team of qualified referees who have reviewed more than 40% of the EPL games from last season. The reviews themselves were based on full match video footage with the advantage of video technology features such as slow motion and pause.

By reviewing those 155 games we have made a database of more than 7000 decisions that have been judged by our panel of dedicated and qualified referees.

The numbers you will see are based on those decisions and those reviewed games.

We are still looking for more refs to help us do our reviews.  To learn more please see the article on this site concerning this. 

Now here’s our findings on Man U.

Untold Vs PGMOL - ManchesterUnited 2011/2012

First thing first: we managed to review 32 games from Manchester United last season. That is 84,21% of the total games in the PL they played. This should give us a good over all picture on how the refs have been in those games.

You can point at the fact that we are missing 6 games. Yes we are. But believe us when we see that we would have loved it if we could have covered them all. But some games were not shown live on TV and so couldn’t be reviewed.

And then there is the little fact that we were in need for a few extra referees to review the games. It doesn’t matter who you support to be a ref reviewer. As long as we know who you support you will be fine.

The most important thing for a ref reviewer is that you should support the laws of the games. That you are a qualified ref who only wants one thing: that the refs apply the laws in every game in the same way.

So if you think this can improve and you find yourself in this little description: just make yourself know to us and join us.

But for last season you have to accept what we have done for now and if you don’t like it: don’t moan, don’t complain, just join us to make this even better.

Talking about better, let us first have a look at the general level of referees in games that had Manchester United as one of the teams on the field.

PGMOL Vs EPL - Basic Competency - ManchesterUnited 2011/2012

A first note if you are new on this site: this is the score from the refs on the field. This has not really something to do with Manchester United or their opponents. They just happened to be on the field when we looked at the refs.

And what do we see in our first set of numbers? Well the refs in general were slightly better than the league average of 72.49% correct decisions. But only by a margin of 0.31%. So not really a big difference between the league average and the games that had Manchester United on the field.

Now you might say that well this isn’t too bad. But let me point at the fact that this score means that the refs were not able to even avoid making 1 mistake in every 4 decisions. If a ref had to make 10 decisions 3 were wrong. This is an absolute minimum in my opinion.

If we look at the weighted decisions we see that the league average is 71,35% and the score of the games with Manchester United in it is 72.58%. So that is more than 1% better than the league average. This has nothing to do with decisions going in favour or against a team. This is the score from the ref.

Again I think both scores (the league average and this score) is too low for a league like the PL. The best league in the world but refs make 3 mistakes in every 10 decisions doesn’t look like a good score to me.

The next step is seeing how the score of the different type of decisions were. And if you are new I just will tell you that the difference between weighted and un-weighted can be found in these different type of decisions. Other and offside decisions have a weight of 1. Yellow cards have a weight of 2. And goals, penalty and red cards decisions have a weight of 3.   In the un-weighted version of numbers we gave every decision a weight of 1. In the weighted decisions we put the weight as explained on to the decisions.

PGMOL Vs EPL - Basic Competency Breakdown - ManchesterUnited 2011/2012

If we look at the goal decisions we see that the league average on goal decisions was 91.753%. The score in Manchester United games was 93.860% correct decisions. So this is a better score. But we have to keep in mind that this is the most important type of decisions as it determines who gets the points after the 90 minutes. So this type of decision should have a score of around 99% correct. We will not settle for less. So despite this being a better score than the league average I still don’t think it is good enough.

Talking about a score of 99%. Mike Riley (chief of the referees) claimed that 99% of the offside decisions were correct. From the decisions we could check we only come to a score of 88.89%. And when we couldn’t check the decisions we marked them as correct. As we always do in case of doubt we give the ref the benefit of the doubt.  So the offside decisions are not only worse than the league average but also far, far away from the claims from Mike Riley.

For the other decisions (all the fouls in the middle of the field) we have found an average league score of 71.96% correct decisions.  The score in the Manchester United games is slightly better with 72.62%. But remember 3 mistakes in every 10 decisions is what we are talking about.

The penalty decisions. In the Manchester United games we found that 64.71 % of the penalty decisions were correct. That is some 2,5% better than the league average. Before you feel good about that number let me tell you that this means that from every 10 penalty decisions a ref had to make 4 were wrong. For such an important decision type this is totally unacceptable.

If we take a look at the red cards decisions we see that the league average was only 21% correct cards. In the Manchester United games we have found a score of around 36%. So much better than the league average but well it couldn’t become any worse could it?

The league average for correct yellow cards decisions was 56.28%. In the Manchester United games we only had 53.17%. So not that good. In fact this almost comes down to a score where the ref throws a coin in the air and makes up his decision on the outcome of that to give a yellow card or not.

So in general some good scored for the refs, some bad score for the refs.

But now we will forget the correct decisions and we are going to have a look at the incorrect decisions. Because those are the decisions that (can) make the difference in a game. After all making the correct decisions is what he is being paid for. Making mistakes is something that has to be avoided as much as possible.

So from now on we move in to the red zone (how appropriate) of the scores from the refs and we will be seeing who benefited from the wrong decisions in the games that had Manchester United in it.

PGMOL Vs EPL - Incorrect calls Breakdown - ManchesterUnited 2011/2012

First let us start with the words from Mike Riley (PGMOL – head of the refs) who said last season: there is no bias from refs in the PL. From our overall numbers we have proven that there is at least one bias: the home and away bias.

And our un-weighted numbers have shown that when you play away from home in the PL you will have to overcome a negative away bias of -1.826 points. After covering 15 away games from Manchester United we have found that they didn’t have to face a negative away bias but in general had a positive bias in their favour of 1.000 bias points.

What goes up, must come down of course and when you play at home you can expect a positive home bias in your favour of +1.826 bias points. In the 17 home games we did from Manchester United we found a positive bias score of +5.647 bias points. That is almost 3 times the normal positive home bias that any other team can expect.

The final result leaves us with a positive bias swing of +3.469 bias points in favour of Manchester United.

If we look at the weighted numbers we have found that in general a team that goes away from home in the PL will have to overcome a negative away bias of -2.619 bias points.

In the games we covered from Manchester United they didn’t have a negative away bias against them but a positive away bias of +1.333. Now this might not sound too spectacular but if you compare this to the overall league average you can see that this is a complete reverse situation.

If we look at the home games we can expect Manchester United (just like any other average team) to have a home advantage bias of +2.619 bias points. In the home games at Old Trafford we have found a positive bias of 7.647 in their favour. Again that is almost 3 times the league average.

The final result is a positive bias score of +4.687 in favour of Manchester United.

And before you now go to the comment section and start writing some abuse: this is only the 4th highest total positive bias we found in total in the league. But more about that later when we unveil the league tables with the position of each team in each decisions and bias table.

Now let us take a look and see which refs are very Manchester United friendly and who are not that friendly.

EPL vs PGMOL - Incorrect calls Breakdown by Referee - ManchesterUnited (Un-Weighted) 2011/2012

We had 15 different refs in the games we covered Manchester United. 4 refs had a negative bias against Manchester United last season.  The ref that stands out is Peter Walton. He did one game and was very negative for Manchester United. But he will no longer trouble them as he somehow got shifted to the USA.

Another negative ref was Anthony Taylor who only did one game and had a high negative score. Not in the major decisions but still many wrong decisions against Manchester United.  The negative bias from Martin Atkinson and Andre Marriner is rather small.

The 11 positive refs for United. This may come to a surprise to non-Manchester United supporters but Howard Webb was not the ref with the highest pro United bias score. No in the un-weighted decisions he has the lowest bias swing of all refs. I’m not going to name all 11 refs of course but Chris Foy and Mike Dean had the highest un-weighted bias in favour of Manchester United last season. Lots of high scores from lots of refs in fact.

Let us see what happens if we put weight on the decisions.

EPL vs PGMOL - Incorrect calls Breakdown by Referee - ManchesterUnited (Weighted) 2011/2012

The same 15 refs of course and the same 4 negative refs. Peter Walton his negative score has even gone up or should I say down to unacceptable negativity. The same can be said of Anthony Taylor who doesn’t seem to be a good friend of Manchester United at all. The negative score from Atkinson is not that big and I think Andre Marriner who did 4 games tried to be the most unbiased refs of the 15 we reviewed.

On the positive side we still see that Howard Webb was not completely making his name as a United liking ref. Despite all the jokes that are being said about him he sure was not their best player during the games he did. The big decisions mostly going to United but in the middle of the field he messed up almost equally for both teams.

The scores of the positive refs are all rather high. All above 6 bias points. So that is a lot to overcome for any team. Chris Foy leading the pack in front of Mark Clattenburg in this graphic. I must say that I am really surprised by the position of Clattenburg in this table as in general he has been a middle of the table man for most teams. Did he have a bad day at the office in the only United game he did?

Mike Dean in third place shows that he knows what he has to do to stay at the top. A bit cryptic maybe. Regular readers will understand, if you are new: food for thought.

Let us now see at the league table and the bias score put together

PGMOL Vs ManchesterUnited - Incorrect calls Seasonal Handicap - ManchesterUnited (Weighted) 2011/2012

United started well in the season and you see that until game 5 the ref bias was in their favour. The first swing can be seen in week 6. United dropped points in that game when the ref showed a big negative bias against them.  Week 8 we see the same. A negative bias and dropping points again. Those are two games that stand out of the refs because it is clearly visible that the ref in those games didn’t give them anything at all. So even Manchester United drops points when the refs are giving them the wrong decisions. Who said it doesn’t matter and you have to be stronger and better and should overcome such things? In these numbers you can clearly see that it does matter a lot that when the ref is “against” you in his decisions it is very hard to win games.

Of course the flip side of this is that when you have the ref on ‘your side’ it gets easier to win  games. So one could ask himself: how many of those points in games with a very big bias in favour of United were won thanks to that bias from the refs? Because if you accept the first paragraph in which I say that United clearly lost points because the ref making a mess, then you have to consider the second option also.

Another good example can be seen in game 13. Lots of decisions going for United but a few major mistakes by the refs against United on big decisions. And again we see United dropping points.

If the bars are as big above and below the zero line it just shows that the ref in general had a bad game. But when one bar is much longer than the other side it means the refs had a biased game.

Do you still believe that refs have no influence on the outcome of the games. Be it a positive or negative one?


There is no denying the fact that Manchester United had a clearly positive bias from the refs in general. If you want to deny it be my guest and go through all the 32 games and point at where we are wrong in our numbers. It is in the open and you can check each decision.

In fact those few games when the ref made mistakes that went against United they dropped points. And maybe that is the best indication of them all that shows how important the refs can be.


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5 Responses to How the Refs treated Man U last season

  1. Dave says:

    This was a thoroughly good read. And the research is detailed and specific, good work guys.

  2. gary says:

    wow just wow. i wonder if there is a connection between refs, fa, manutd and thats what rafa was on about years ago when he said about the exec tickets for fa at utd .
    always thought i was just biased lol
    great work ,

  3. Zoob says:

    Think this is really interesting analysis, but has more value when you look at the ‘bigger picture’ – for example when you show the average bias for United home and away games. When you look at specific ref bias, including refs who have only reffed one United game, even though there may be multiple decisions in a game, you’re still effectively looking at a sample size of 1.

    Obviously easier said than done, but if you did the same ref analysis based on those who have reffed at least 5 (or preferably 10) United games over the years, you would probably see a different picture.

    Your weighting is an interesting concept, but what might also add context to how much weight the good and bad decisions have given what the score is at the time. So a key decision – penalty or sending off going against United when they’re already winning 3-0 will have less impact than a key decision in their favour when the game is 0-0 or they’re losing 1-0.

  4. Dogface says:

    Hi Zoob,

    We would love to have time to do all this – but our data is avaliable to anyone who wants to perform this kind of analysis.


  5. Zonko says:

    Good work.
    Even taking into consideration games where man utd may be 3 up it’s still very valid consideration some titles have been won/lost on goal difference.

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