By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
21 August 2011
Arsenal would have been runners-up in the Premier League last season and Blackpool wouldn’t have been relegated if match officials hadn’t made mistakes. (See table at bottom).
These are the headline findings from extensive new research that re-examined 713 ‘significant’ incidents – penalties, goal line incidents, offside goals – across the Premier League’s 380 games in 2010-11.
Arsenal ended up fourth with 68 points but should in reality have won 72 points and finished second to Manchester United.
Manchester City should have won nine fewer points than they did and finished fourth.
Blackpool and Birmingham should have avoided relegation while Wigan and Wolves should have been relegated along with West Ham. (West Ham should have had seven more points than they actually got but would have gone down anyway).
The research was conducted by broadcaster and journalist Tim Long for his radio documentary, Beyond The Goal Line: Football’s Technology Debate. The programme explores the need for technology, and how officiating errors can make a material difference to clubs, and versions are being aired in Australia and Britain.
The point is not to be critical of referees – because it is accepted they do their best in good faith – but to illustrate how even simple television replays can highlight erroneous decisions. Replays have shown this again this weekend in the Premier League, for example at Arsenal and Sunderland.
Long spent 250 hours analysing the 713 incidents, each of which on their own could or did lead to a goal. Of these, 361 involved penalties given (or not), and 152 involved goals given (or not) as a result of offside calls.
‘That isn’t a massive amount of incidents when you think about it, fewer than two per game on average,’ Long tells me.
‘So supposing there was a system that allowed the video evidence to be reviewed at the time, looking at these things wouldn’t necessarily take a long time.
‘I wanted to explore the extent to which decisions about offside goals or penalty calls did, in fact, even themselves out or not, and how they made a difference to the end of season table.’
Stoke would have won two more points but these would have been sufficient to finish four places higher in the table – and win an extra £3m in prize money from the Premier League.
Examples of wrong calls included the decision that famously left Wenger ‘too disgusted to speak’ in March — when a perfectly good goal from Andrei Arshavin at 0-0 against Sunderland was chalked off in error by linesman Andy Garratt. That cost Arsenal points.
Another decision Long considered was the clear handball by Nemanja Vidic as Manchester United played Arsenal on 1 May. Coincidentally, the same linesman, Andy Garratt, was involved, failing to spot that Vidic had denied Robin van Persie a clear opportunity to score with his head.
As it transpired, Arsenal beat United in that particular game so the bad Vidic call didn’t make any points difference to Arsenal or United, although Arsenal’s goal difference would almost certainly have been better by one with a good decision.
‘Actually a lot of the significant incidents I looked at were called correctly at the time and the analysis simply ratified the good calls,’ Long says.
‘More than 500 of the decisions out of 713 were right. But that still leaves just over 200 wrong calls in significant incidents over the course of the season.
‘And while not all those would have changed a result, quite a few of them would have done so.’