Men in The Middle: Premier League Referee Performances 2023/24

Updated: 381 Football

Discover the truth about Premier League referees in the 2023/24 season. Dive into the data and behaviors of these key decision-makers, and see how they handle the pressure of scrutiny. Are they really as good or bad as we think? Find out the facts behind the whistle-blowing.

Men in The Middle: Premier League Referee Performances 2023/24
Dan Tracey Data Scientist and Football Editor

Writer, analyst, podcaster, Spurs fan. Three out of four is not bad. If there is a data angle, I will find it.

Men in The Middle: Premier League Referee Performances

They used to say that the sign of a good referee, was one that went unnoticed during the game. However, even if a referee does have a good game within the confines of the Premier League, they are now under more scrutiny than ever before.

Whether decisions are correct or incorrect, there are mountains of column inches, hours of discussion and days of audio debate all regarding the man in the middle. While just to add more fuel to the fire, here is some input of our own.

Decoding Premier League Referees: The Facts

🏅🔍 They used to say a good ref is one that goes unnoticed, but the scrutiny on Premier League refs is 🔝. 📰⏰⚖️ Dive into the data and behaviors of these key decision-makers for the 2023/24 season. Are they really as 🆗 or ☹️ as we think?

Not to necessarily say whether referees are good or bad, as ultimately such an opinion is subjective. Although we all have our opinions on those who blow the whistle at full time, it is always better to deal with facts.

Facts that come in the behaviour of referees during this 2023/24 Premier League season and with all the data complete for the season as a whole, we are now going to take a deeper dive into those who punish dives in the first place.

PLAY TO THE WHISTLE

When it comes to referee data, it does not offer as much depth as those who ply their trade in the Premier League. However, there are still enough points of analysis to understand how and why referees behave as they do.

While although the main facets of referee data will be fouls and cards, we can also get an idea of how lenient the men in the middle may or may not be and whether they have anything in the way of home bias.

The best place to start is by looking at the number of fouls per referee, and with the number of matches overseen being different, we will also present the data table on an average fouls per game basis.

Referee Matches Total Fouls Average Fouls
G Scott 6 105 17.50
R Madley 1 19 19.00
L Smith 2 38 19.00
S Barrott 15 302 20.13
S Attwell 17 352 20.71
J Gillett 21 436 20.76
D Bond 5 104 20.80
M Oliver 24 507 21.13
A Taylor 27 572 21.19
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.Although referees such as Graham Scott. Robert Madley and Lewis Smith have a high number of average fouls per game, they only refereed three games between them during the 2023/24 campaign and therefore, their averages do not quite tell the complete story.

🥇📊 Samuel Barrott leads the way!

🔝 In 15 games, he recorded 302 fouls, averaging 20.13 per game. 💪 Not far behind is Stuart Attwell, who blew up and stopped the game 20.71 times on average. ⚽️✨ #PremierLeague #Referees

Which means to make things as fair as possible, we should look at referees who have been in charge for at least 10 matches across the 2023/24 Premier League season and when applying this rule it is Samuel Barrott who tops the average list.

15 games in charge, 302 total fouls. This equates to an average of 20.13 per game and with Stuart Attwell overseeing two more matches with 17, his total of 352 fouls equates to 20.71 per game – second in the list when filtering out those with less experience.

While when we consider all the referees that have walked out to the Premier League anthem at least once last season, there was an average of 22.66 fouls per game. A figure that is rather interesting when you consider those who are below average.

The likes of Michael Oliver, Anthony Taylor and Craig Pawson find themselves in the below average portion of the list and perhaps they are not as strict as first thought or with experience comes the ability to let the game flow.

FOULS OR CAUTIONS

Although the number of fouls per referee will offer some form of insight, it does not tell anywhere near the full story and to expand on our newly found knowledge, we are going to now look at this from a cautionary angle.

Because the interest really comes around when yellow cards are added into the mix and when we look at the same names of elite officials, this is how they look from a total yellows and average yellows per game point of view.

Referee Matches Total Yellows Average Yellows
M Donohue 2 13 6.50
L Smith 2 11 5.50
D Coote 16 82 5.13
S Singh 1 5 5.00
T Bramall 11 54 4.91
P Bankes 10 49 4.90
D England 12 57 4.75
A Taylor 27 127 4.70
J Gillett 21 93 4.43
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Now if we once again ignore those outliers - any referee who has overseen less than 10 games we can see that David Coote has the distinction of awarding the highest average of yellow cards per Premier League game.

Coote oversaw 16 games across the 2023/24 Premier League season and during those 16, he awarded a total of 82 bookings. A figure that equates to 5.13 per game but it must be noted that he was not the only referee to be considered as card happy.

🔴🃏 Thomas Bramall & Peter Bankes on the coattails of leader David Coote

🎯 With an average of 4.91 and 4.90 cautions per game, they were not far behind tabletopper David Coote ⚠️ This surpasses the league-wide average of 4.57. ⚽️✨

Of the referees that met the 10-game criteria, there was very little difference between Thomas Bramall and Peter Bankes with them awarding 4.91 and 4.90 yellow cards on average respectively and considering the average was 4.57 per game, these are another two officials to be avoided.

As always, there are those referees that can be considered lenient by comparison and at the lower end of the scale, Samuel Barrott has to be commended for keeping his cards in his pocket. Once removing those referees that did not meet the threshold, the 30-year-old sat bottom of the table.

He does so because of awarding just 47 yellow cards across 15 matches and this equates to an average of 3.13. A figure that was 0.31 behind referee Paul Tierney who should also get some commendation for awarding just 3.44 cautions on average.

THE YELLOW RATIO

Now that we know who likes to kill the game with constant interruptions and who is partial to waving their yellow card more often, it is now time to see if there is a correlation between the two statistical tables.

How do we measure this? We can take a fouls-to-yellow ratio and in doing so, we can see just how lenient the latest crop of Premier League referees really are. 

Referee Matches Total Fouls Total Yellows Fouls To Yellow Ratio
S Allison 3 76 11 6.91
R Welch 2 53 8 6.63
S Barrott 15 302 47 6.43
R Madley 1 19 3 6.33
P Tierney 25 544 86 6.33
J Smith 4 93 15 6.20
S Singh 1 31 5 6.20
G Scott 6 105 17 6.18
M Salisbury 14 332 54 6.15
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Once again we will apply the previous caveats, and this means Samuel Barrott is the referee of most interest. We referenced above that he is not in a rush to get his yellow cards out and this is further reinforced in our third data table.

Oliver may have blown the whistle 302 times last season, but these indiscretions were only converted to a yellow on 47 occasions. Meaning that for every foul that was awarded, it would take 6.43 for a player to be cautioned.

🕰️🎟️ Samuel Barrott - a patient referee!

⏳🟨 Despite blowing the whistle 302 times last season, he only showed a yellow card 47 times. 🚫🟡 On average, it took 6.43 fouls for each caution. ⚽️✨

Next in line is Paul Tierney and after overseeing 25 Premier League matches, 544 fouls would lead to 86 yellows. A caution every 6.33 fouls and just above the average of 5.78 that was found across the division.

At the other end of the scale, it is Peter Banks who also hogs the spotlight. Only 10 matches in charge last season but no less than 213 fouls were awarded. An average of 4.35 fouls for a yellow and it seems as if you do not want to get on his wrong side.

IS THERE ANY BIAS

Josh Brookes - Photo Credit: The EFL

With this data now painting a clearer picture of current Premier League referee behaviour, it is time to provide the biggest brushstroke of all and this comes courtesy of measuring home versus away bias.

🏟️👀 Are referees biased against away teams?

👀⚽️ Let's calculate the away bias ratio of our Premier League referees. 🏟️🗳️ If the ratio is more than 1.00, we'll uncover some away bias.

It is often accused that referees have bias against teams playing away from home and with the data table below, we are going to now reveal which referees are guilty of at least some form of unconscious bias.

To do this, we must measure the number of total fouls our referees have given against the away teams and divide that by the number of total fouls our referees have given against the home teams. In doing so, we will generate an away bias ratio and if the ratio is more than 1.00, there is away bias.

Referee Matches Home Fouls Away Fouls Away Foul Bias Ratio
S Singh 1 20 11 0.55
J Gillett 21 238 198 0.83
D Bond 5 56 48 0.86
T Robinson 21 259 225 0.87
R Jones 22 263 245 0.93
S Allison 3 39 37 0.95
J Brooks 22 246 234 0.95
D Coote 16 201 195 0.97
L Smith 2 19 19 1.00
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Of the 29 referees in the data sample (six up from last season), 20 had away bias last season. Although it is not by a huge amount per referee, it is interesting to see all the same and if any teams are on their travels while Robert Madley is in charge, you could be in trouble.

He may have only officiated one game, but still managed an average away foul bias ratio of 2.17. Not great for the visitors but one wonders if there were more games overseen by Madley, would the average value soon decrease?

🗺️💨 Away bias alert!

😮🔄 Out of 29 referees in the data sample, 20 showed bias towards away teams last season. ⚖️⚽️ Keep an eye out: if your team is on the road.

Do away teams have to scrap harder for the points that they are trying to earn and in turn have to be more combative on the field of play. In fairness, that is a more logical conclusion than a referee preferring one club over the other.

When trying to find the most neutral referee of all, that accolade is currently bestowed Lewis Smith. 19 fouls for the hosts, 19 for the visitors and if you are looking for an official to call things down the middle, then he is the one.

While the official who has swung the other way and favoured the away teams, is none other than Sunny Singh with an away foul ratio being as low as 0.55. Although if we were to remove him because of the previous caveats, it is Jared Gillett who favours the home teams the most.

CONCLUSION

In terms of the data above, it certainly shines a new light on referees and although we will never truly know if referees are as strict or as lenient as we conceive them to be, we can at least get a better idea of how they want the game to unfold in front of them.

By the same token, we can never say with any real conviction that a referee is biased, especially as impartiality is very much the name of the game. Which means although we may have an idea which is either backed or not backed up by data, it will ultimately stay as a hot topic for debate.  

Methodology

Referee data supplied by https://www.football-data.co.uk/

Meet The Author

Researched and written by Dan Tracey ahead of Publishing by Steve Madgwick

Dan Tracey is a multi-talented writer, data analyst and podcaster whose six-year career in the sports data sphere has seen incredible successes. From helping UEFA create their annual technical reports to writing articles for Sports Betting Websites including sites like TheLinesUS and Goal - there's no shortage of areas where his expertise shines through! In addition he can be heard on podcasts lending an insightful voice as well as providing weekly betting angles - all culminating with him teaming up OLBG.com in the present day. Simply put: wherever you find angled data being crunched? You'll also likely find Dan not far behind!



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