I received a lot of comments about my discussion of the John Terry foul on James Milner in the F.A. Cup game between Chelsea and Aston Villa, and I have published them all, except for one, which I am now going to show here. I delayed its publication not because it was abusive or profane, but because I was unsettled by its assertion that in refereeing in the Premiership there was in the writer's mind a bias towards "the big money teams", the so-called "Sky 4"--Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United (alphabetical order, of course). The writer is a supporter of Aston Villa. Here is his comment, verbatim, and his URL, with permission:
There is a serious bias towards the big money teams, we call it the Sky 4 (though 4th is now up for grabs).. resulting in bad decisions like this. Which impacts teams such as Villa. It's unjust but cash rules.
THE "SKY 4":
First, I had better state my position. I started refereeing in 1964, seriously in 1969, was appointed to the North American Soccer League in 1971, onto the International panel in 1979, and then joined the pantheon of lucky officials to referee matches in Central America, Asia, North America, the Caribbean and Europe until I retired to become the Director Of Referee Instruction for the USSF and subsequently a FIFA Referee Instructor. In all those years I never came across any referee who was deliberately biased for one team or another, one country or another, or favored one player over another.
Now, I have known of the influences that affect a referee's judgment, and I have occasionally perceived that the emotional pressures on a referee working in front of 70,000 baying home-town supporters seem to make him shy away from tough decisions. But I couldn't prove it, nor would I try. I have seen a referee move the ball outside the penalty-area for a free kick rather than give a penalty. That wasn't bias; it was cowardice. And I have seen referees who were overawed by or intimidated by star players: spineless perhaps, but not swindlers.
I'm going to put my scientist's coat on now, and tell you what you have to do to show bias operating. First, you have to show that (in this case) an inordinate number of tough decisions go in favor of the Premiership Fab Four. But that alone is not enough. Second, you have to show that the lower-ranked teams are NOT favoured by similarly tough decisions in matches against teams that are not among the Fab Four. Third, you have to show that the top four do not themselves suffer tough decisions going against them in the league. Only then can you sift out that referees do indeed favour Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United over the other clubs in the league. In making scientific decisions, negative data are just as important as positive.
So, to Damian Brown, loyal Villa supporter, I have to say you have no case, because you don't have the data to support it. And your remark about cash ruling the operation of a referee is very unfair, if not defamatory. We were never allowed to accept even the humblest of gifts; nothing more than a pin or a pennant. The United States will not have a referee at the World Cup this summer, because (among other indiscretions) our most likely candidate was foolish enough to accept a mere shirt from a star player. Clothing, not cash, finished his career, and rightly so.
Next: The unwise assessor, and what is "old school"?