Refereeing Mistakes (Burnley – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)


As the final whistle blew on an agonising home defeat to Hull City last week, a chorus of advent boos rang excruciatingly around the City Ground. Although it was far from a vintage Forest performance against the irritatingly compact Tigers, I’m pretty sure that the unfriendly jeers were being directed toward the three officials, who, through poor decisions, turned a goalless stalemate into a 2-1 defeat for the Reds.


After two controversial penalty decisions made it 1-1, the winning goal was bundled in by the hand of Paul McShane. Forest fans left the ground feeling aggrieved, having lost a game that we deserved at least a draw from.


As I walked along the River Trent, I heard one man cautiously whisper an age-old football adage to his disconsolate son, “These things even themselves out over the course of a season.”


But do they really even themselves out, or is it just another of Sepp Blatter’s old wives’ tales, used to mask the incompetence of referees and delay the need for radical reform within the game? I took the trouble to investigate further, using Forest’s 2012/13 campaign as a case study.


I trawled through the footage of our twenty games so far this season to try and discover how incorrect refereeing decisions had impacted upon our progress.


First and foremost, I was surprised to find out how few of this season’s ‘major decisions’ were actually wrong! By ‘major decisions’ I mean red cards (awarded or avoided), penalties (given or not given) and goals (allowed or disallowed).


Obviously in every game there are dubious decisions that go for and against teams (throw-ins given the wrong way, harsh free kicks, etc). I have stuck to the aforementioned ‘major decisions’ for two reasons. Firstly, because these are the decisions that actually directly change the course of a game and, secondly, because sitting in my Batman pyjamas tallying up every single bad decision from 30+ hours of football, whilst my wife is at work, may well lead to unscheduled divorce proceedings.


The results of my streamlined research are as follows. So far, during our 2012/13 campaign, there have only been two cast-iron, indisputable ‘major decision’ errors and both have gone against Forest. There are a further five decisions (including last week’s two penalty calls) which I personally believe were wrong but which cannot conclusively be called errors – three of these decisions went against Forest and two went in Forest’s favour.


The cast-iron incorrect decisions that cost Forest goals were the aforementioned Paul McShane winner for Hull City and the blatant Kevin Davies push that led to Bolton Wanderers’ first goal at the Reebok Stadium, back in August. In terms of these categorical mistakes, things haven’t evened themselves out for Forest so far this season.


But one of the big problems with this sort of analysis is that the majority of decisions are largely subjective. For example, Adlene Guedioura’s booking against Cardiff City seemed grossly unfair to me, as he appeared to simply lose his footing, but some spectators would interpret the situation as an attempt to unfairly win a free kick. This booking eventually led to a sending off.


Dexter Blackstock’s sending off against Derby County was a total injustice, in my opinion, but some neutrals feel that, if following the letter of the law, a red card was warranted. Similarly, the penalty Billy Sharp won against Leicester City seemed very fortuitous, but even after all the slow motion replays there was still a fraction of doubt as to what the correct decision should have been.


It would appear, whether looking at concrete cases or less clear-cut examples, that Forest have been a little unlucky with ‘major decisions’ this season. But that is as far as the analysis can possibly go! If you were to ask me where Forest would sit in the table, if all the wrongs were somehow righted, I wouldn’t have a clue!


If you delve deep enough online you’re sure to come across league tables that show the impact of bad refereeing decisions in the Premiership this season. I came across an ‘altered league table’, which suggests that, by correcting refereeing mistakes, Chelsea  should have been top when Roberto Di Matteo got the sack. I find it very hard to see how any such conclusion could have possibly been reached.


Firstly, the majority of decisions are so subjective that it is impossible to approach the task of re-calculating the league table without putting your own slant on things. There are just too many grey areas within football.

Secondly, even in the most clear-cut of cases, there is no way of determining what the effect of a reverse decision might be. Had Paul McShane’s goal been chalked off, the game would have inevitably panned out completely differently. Either Forest or Hull may have gone on to score the winner … or the game may have stayed at 1-1. This goes for any game; for that is the nature of football.


Although I have shown categorical refereeing mistakes to be few and far between, one thing is for sure … these errors do not necessarily even themselves out! Over the course of a season there will be winners and losers on account of poor decisions. The more they can get right, the better!


Having said that, the impact of these bad decisions is small and virtually impossible to measure; the best teams are the ones that don’t allow the performance of referees to be an excuse for failure!




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