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Premier League referees: Do officials favour big clubs such as Man Utd & Arsenal?

17:41 SAST 2017/11/29
Assistant referee offside
New research has examined data in an attempt to establish if any bias exists against certain clubs in England's top flight

Every football fan has had a sneaking suspicion that certain referees give their club a hard time.

That sense of paranoia may be fuelled by things such as the number of cards dispensed by individuals during games, or the awarding of penalties to opposition teams.

Usually it is simply a case of confirmation bias, but Free Super Tips have used a new algorithm to examine which teams are actually favoured by referees.

Using data from the last five seasons - from 2012/13 to 2016/16 - and applying an affinity algorithm that takes cards, fouls and penalties given, they have come up with some interesting conclusions.


Bournemouth are, somewhat surprisingly, the team most favoured by referees in England's top division, with a 66 per cent level of 'referee affinity' and, according to the research, Cherries fans should be quietly thankful when Jonathan Moss officiates their games.

Arsenal and Liverpool follow Bournemouth with 64.6% and 62.72% referee affinity, while Swansea and Everton complete the top five. Chelsea follow in sixth with 61.72%.

Interestingly, Tottenham and Manchester United seem to be considerably less favoured compared to their rivals.

Team Club referee affinity Best referee
Bournemouth 66% Jonathan Moss
Arsenal 64.6% Chris Foy
Liverpool 62.72% Mike Jones
Swansea 62.53% Mark Clattenburg
Everton 62.46% Craig Pawson
Chelsea 61.72% Craig Pawson
Southampton 60.12% Anthony Taylor
Leicester City 60.08% Andre Marriner
Manchester City 59.86% Jonathan Moss
Burnley 59.8% Kevin Friend
Tottenham 59.78% Howard Webb
West Ham 59.29% Lee Probert
West Brom 59.1% Howard Webb
Newcastle United 58.47% Lee Probert
Manchester United 58.15% Lee Probert
Crystal Palace 56.63% Andre Marriner
Stoke City 56.05% Robert Madley
Watford 52.23% Roger East
AVERAGE 59.89% -

* Newly promoted clubs Brighton and Huddersfield Town not included due to a lack of Premier League appearances.

** The affinity percentage data ranges from 30% (negative) to 90% (positive) with 60% (with a range between 54% and 66%) representing the point of neutral bias.

The full dataset can be seen here.


As you can see from the table above, the idea that Premier League referees might subconsciously favour Manchester United is not borne out in reality.

In fact, of the traditional 'top six', Arsenal appear to receive the most favourable treatment from referees.

The Gunners are followed closely by Liverpool and Chelsea, while Manchester City and Tottenham even seem to fare better with referees than the Red Devils.

Interestingly, according to the data, Man United now receive 33.3% fewer penalties than they did during Sir Alex Ferguson's reign, as well as being deemed to have committed 37.67% more fouls.

Top six breakdown:

Team Club referee affinity
Arsenal 64.6% (above average)
Liverpool 62.72% (above average)
Chelsea 61.72% (above average)
Manchester City 59.86% (above average)
Tottenham 59.78% (below average)
Manchester United 58.15% (below average)