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Referee!

Referee!

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Published by Stuart Fuller
Barry Collins looks at the pressures of referees these days
Barry Collins looks at the pressures of referees these days

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Published by: Stuart Fuller on Dec 02, 2011
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05/03/2012

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reveals what’s going through a referee’s mind whenhe’s making decisions on the
pitch
 Given the number of (arguably soft) penalties that have been awarded against TheRooks at The Pan this season, it might be tempting to believe the referees have it in forus. Tempting, but wrong. All of the available evidence suggests that Lewes should bebenefitting from refereeing decisions more than any other team in the Ryman Premier.
So what’s going wrong? It’s time to examine the psychology of a referee.
 
Home advantage
 Several studies into the behaviour of referees from various sports have all reached thesame conclusion: officials tend to favour the home team. As someone who was areferee
 –
albeit only at Sunday League level
 –
for more than a decade, those findings
are about as shocking as the discovery of a Mars Bar in Russell Grant’s fridge.
 Believe it or not, referees are no keener on an angry mob of people questioning their
parentage than the average Joe. They’ve got their Mondeo parked in the car park, and
their kit locked in the home dressing rooms. Human nature dictates that
 –
even withevery intention of refereeing the game fairly
 –
the official will sub-consciously favour thehome side.A 2001 paper titled The influence of crowd noise and experience upon refereeingdecisions in football decided to put this theory to the test. Several previous studies hadshown a direct correlation between the size of the crowd and refereeing decisions, butthe researchers aimed to prove the theory with a blind
 –
or, more accurately, deaf
 –
 test.
 
The researchers recruited 40 qualified referees and showed them a series of video clipson which they were asked to make a decision. Half of the referees were shown the clipswith the crowd noise on (without the match commentary), the other half watched in
silence. “The presence or absence of crowd noise did have a
dramatic effect on the
decisions made by the qualified referees,” the study found. “The bias observed was in
agreement with the hypothesis that the crowd is able to influence officiating. Thosereferees viewing challenges in the noise condition were more uncertain when makingtheir decisions, and awarded significantly fewer fouls (15.5%) against the home team
than the silent group.”
 
Referees may well feel the pressure when they’ve got 65,000 shirty Mancunians
bellowing for a penalty at Old Trafford, but sur
ely there’s less pressure to please the
home crowd in front of only a few hundred people at The Pan? While many studies
suggest that the home advantage is amplified by a larger crowd, it ain’t necessarily so…
 A 1996 study of refereeing decisions published in The Journal of Sport Science reported
that “the greatest home advantage in percentages of wins, away players being sent off,
and home penalties scored, was not in the English Premier League but in the EnglishFirst Division where crowd sizes were consid
erably less.” Indeed, if you look at thisseason’s figures on Statbunker.com, the referees in League 2 (where average crowds
are typically only in the low thousands) have handed 56% of yellow cards to the awayteam, compared to 55% for Premier League referees. The percentage of penaltiesawarded to home teams is almost identical in both divisions.
While The Pan might not appear as intimidating for referees as Old Trafford, it’sdaunting in a different way. In huge stadiums, you’ll often hear players and off 
icials
“blocking out” the wall of noise emanating from the crowd; at a ground such as The Panyou’ll hear every last remark from the crowd.
 
 
Then comes the “big club” factor. Having just dropped down from the Blue Square
South, and with an average home attendance that is two or three times that of mostclubs in the division, Lewes may well be the biggest match Ryman-level refereesofficiate all season. For those climbing the refereeing ladder, it may be the biggestmatch of their career. As ex-referee Graham Poll stated in a recent article in The Daily
Mail: “I don’t believe that any referee consciously goes out to give soft penalties against
small teams but I know that they only give stone wall penalties against the biggest
ones.”
 
What’s more, younger, inexp
erienced referees -
several of which we’ve seen officiating
at The Pan this season
 –
 
are statistically more likely to favour the home side. “Years of 
experience had a significant effect on the number of fouls awarded by the refereesagainst the home players, increasing with years of experience until a peak at
approximately 16 years,” found that 2001 study.
 
Turning the referee
 So, given these statistical advantages, why we have seen so many controversialpenalties and other decisions go against us at The Pan this year?
One factor might be the reaction of the players. On referees’ training courses you aretold to watch for “tells” –
 
indications of a player’s guilt. The most obvious is a player 
pleading his innocence by holding his arms aloft when an opponent tumbles in front ofhim, as Rooks defenders did for both penalties conceded in the 4-0 home defeat toHornchurch (look up the videos on YouTube if you can bear it). It may be a sub-conscious reaction, it may be unfair, but players that make legitimate chall
enges don’t
usually feel the need to protest their innocence.

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