The north-south divide. Long may it continue (and God Bless dear ol’ Arsenal)

John McCormick:
There John McCormick: looking for directions


There’s a debate going on about refs and bias, fomented no doubt by some evil southerner who hates all us northern, whippet-breeding (and maybe also horse punching but that’s not us) working-class, cloth-cap wearers. Or maybe it’s just someone who likes football and puts information and opinion on the web and invites comment, just as we do. (You can judge for yourself by visiting

I suspect it’s the latter and I’d say M Salut said as much, and although some of the material he used may have suggested he was biased, I know we try to be objective and fair, except when baiting Mags and fans from Coventry, Leeds, Cockney or sundry other clubs.

Visit to see some of the material M. Salut quoted, from which I’ll select

“We had a total of 264 wrong decisions in the 19 games we did with Sunderland. That is more than 13 wrong decisions per game. Dreadful in fact. Of those 264 wrong decisions we had 149 in their favour and 115 going against them. The difference is 34 decisions in favour of Sunderland. And that is almost 2 decisions in their favour on average.”

I’d agree that it’s not the level of refereeing I’d expect but I ‘d want to see a statistical test before I accepted the difference in for-and-against decisions  meant anything. My first impression was that this difference could have come about by chance and I did do a quick chi-squared test of my own. I got a value (about 2.2 with  1 degree of freedom)  that suggested  the difference is not significant. I’m very rusty with such stats and confidence levels and  I haven’t looked at the primary data or the methodology (and I probably never will) but I think anyone claiming these differences mean anything is talking bollocks.

Then there’s this:

There are a lot of referees from the north east in the PGMO ranks, and at its simplest level one might ask if this is good score by a team from that region a coincidence?”

A quick visit to the Statcat (what an excellent site) allowed me to produce the following table, which gives the name and location of every referee to have participated in a premiership match between Sunderland and Arsenal since the start of the premiership


season home   away  
  ref location ref location
1996-7 Steve Dunn Gloucs Paul Danson Leicester
1999-00 Uriah Rennie S Yorks Paul Alcock Surrey
2000-01 Graham Barber Herts Steve Dunn Gloucs
2001-2 Mike Riley Yorks Paul Durkin Dorset
2002-3 Paul Durkin Dorset David Elleray Middlesex
2005-6 Matt Messias Yorks Alan Wiley Staffordshire
2007-8 Rob Styles Hampshire Keith Stroud Hampshire
2008-9 Lee Mason Lancs Alan Wiley Staffordshire
2009-10 Alan Wiley Staffordshire Steve Bennett Kent
2010-11 Phil Dowd Staffordshire Anthony Taylor Cheshire
2011-12 N Swarbrick Lancs Howard Webb S Yorks
2012-13 Anthony Taylor Cheshire Chris Foy Merseyside

I’m assuming what we find with Sunderland-Arsenal won’t be too different from what we’d find with Sunderland-Anyone else. There’s no one there from the North East (no, Yorkshire isn’t in the North East, just ask any Yorkshireman or any Geordie). Six matches have had someone from the north officiating, six or seven someone from the Midlands – ie Staffordshire/Cheshire, and I’ll include Merseyside (all just about equidistant between the clubs), and 11 have had someone from the south. That is data from the last 20 years, and there may be more refs from the north now than earlier. We certainly do get our share of them these days, but none are from the North East.

And are these refs biased? Here’s a breakdown of results and refs by region for our 38 games last season:


SAFC record, 2012-13
Won Drew Lost
Northern ref 4 6 7
Southern ref 1 1 4
Midlands ref 1 6 8

…Methinks our southern friend is trying too hard.


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3 thoughts on “The north-south divide. Long may it continue (and God Bless dear ol’ Arsenal)”

  1. I wasn’t sure whether this belonged here or at the original post (, so have decided to add it to both:

    The well-meaning attempts (by some Arsenal supporters) to portray Untold Arsenal’s approach to its Untold Referees referee survey as entirely non-partisan sit uneasily with the site’s own description of the series and its origins:

    “Untold Referees is part of Untold Arsenal – an ever growing collection of articles and comment on numerous aspects of football from a pro-Arsenal perspective. A list of other sections within Untold Arsenal is given at the end of this page, and on the home page of the site.

    “Background: Initially Untold Arsenal started to publish referee reviews of Arsenal matches, and through this we found some evidence of what appeared to be consistent bias by referees against Arsenal. The point was then made we would get a better overall picture of what is going on if we also analysed errors made by referees in non-Arsenal EPL games as well.”

    The methodology may have developed in a more even-handed way but the classic refs-have-a-down-on-us Arsenal mantra lies at the roots of the whole exercise. Add the nonsensical statement that Sunderland benefit from the bias of non-existent refs from the North East officiating at our games and you begin to see why the series seems so flawed.

  2. What you fail to factor in of course is the metro-centric view that the north starts somewhere near Junction 12 of the M1 so that Northampton (has to be North because it’s in its name), Leicester, Stoke, Tamworth etc are lumped in with the true north, which can be defined as the old counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland, County Durham and Northumberland.

    Ask most Londoners where Derby is for example and they’ll no doubt reply “ap norf samwhere init?”!

    So that now makes your chart read Northern Refs – Won 5 Drew 12 Lost 19 and that despite the fact I’ve never seen a bad decision go against us at the Stadium of Light or anywhere else for that matter.

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