Are referees bias towards United, or are they just lucky?

by Charlie Coffey

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Call it luck, call it bias. Either way, Manchester United have enjoyed a remarkably fortunate start to 2011. Howard Webb’s two debateable, game-changing decisions that went against Liverpool at Old Trafford were just the latest events to go United’s way since the turn of the year.

Firstly came a woeful performance at West Brom on New Year’s day, during which Gary Neville escaped punishment after his trip as the last man was ignored by the referee when most thought it should have resulted in a red card and a penalty to the Baggies. In the end United only just won with 11 men.

Next came another win by the same 2-1 score-line against Stoke last Tuesday. While United deserved that victory for breaking down a stubborn opponent, the other fixtures could not have gone better for them, with second and third placed Arsenal and Man City drawing with each other, Chelsea losing to Wolves, and Liverpool being humiliated by Blackburn ahead of their trip to Old Trafford in the FA Cup.

Even the action in the FA Cup may help United in the league. Although Chelsea received a confidence boost from their 7-0 battering of Ipswich, both Arsenal and City drew to Leeds and Leicester respectively, adding another game to their already crowded fixture lists. Then came Theo Walcott’s unconventional admission of diving after the match, which may have negative consequences for Arsenal in the future in terms of referees awarding them penalties and Walcott’s relationship with Arsene Wenger.

During United’s own game against Liverpool the two crucial decisions went their way which were, as I’m sure you know, the penalty awarded inside the first minute for a Daniel Agger challenge on Dimitar Berbatov that was scored by Ryan Giggs for the only goal of the game, and the sending off of Steven Gerrard.

Before we discuss Howard Webb’s influence on the game, I have to point out that United were absolutely terrible after the first five minutes, and barely deserved the win. Only Giggs, and perhaps Rafael, played at anywhere near their usual levels of performance and when I heard Berbatov was awarded man of the match for another lazy display I laughed out loud. Carrick gave a master-class in nervy, negative midfield play, Chicharito hardly received a pass to feet for the whole of his game, and Anderson, the man who has given United’s midfield an increase in intensity since his return to form, was on the bench.

Anyway, back to fortune. United were saved from their own poor performance by Webb’s decisions. Of the two big decisions I believe that the red card was the better one. While I did not see why so much from my seat, the replays and Gerrard’s lack of argument show that it was a bad challenge, and had it made contact any higher up Carrick’s leg than it did could have been much worse.

In my opinion, and from my viewpoint in line with the incident, I don’t believe United should have been awarded the penalty. Berbatov played for it, Agger’s contact was minimal at best, and if the same incident had taken place at the other end of the pitch I don’t think Liverpool would have been given it.

Although he is officially the best referee in England, it seems Webb is still affected by the crowd and the occasion, and his inconsistency can be seen in the way he sent Gerrard off but only showed a yellow after Nigel de Jong’s Bruce Lee impression at the World Cup final. He didn’t want to give a red early on in South Africa because of the occasion. Had it happened late on in the game he almost certainly would have done. So his judgement was affected then just as it was by the atmosphere of a United v Liverpool match at Old Trafford and a home crowd who all ‘believed’ they should have had a penalty.

Here is a stat for the conspiratory theorists out there: Howard Webb has awarded penalties to Manchester United in four of the last six games he has overseen at Old Trafford. Is this indicative of an institutionalised bias towards United by referees? Or is it because United attack teams at home so spend more time in and around the opposition box and have more chance of being fouled by opponents weary after chasing possession for long periods?

Whatever your own opinion on this is, you can’t argue with the fact that things are going United’s way at the moment. Their luck must change at some point, and unless they step their game up their unbeaten league record will fall too. Whether they will be too far ahead for the chasing pack to catch by that point may decide the league this season.

Do you think United benefit from bias, or are they just on a good run of luck?

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  • JJ

    bit of both, they had tons of luck last season too! I thought this season would be different, but no, the luck rolls on.

    Everyone loves Man U, it’s actually quite sickening! Clive Tilsley is the worst, he might as well say ‘I love Man U’ every 10 minutes!

  • Red Sky

    Its quite plain to see that Webb is biased towards UTD, I do believe its the fan power, with 70,000 fans shouting down at you it takes a big man to control the game, over and over we’ve seen incidents happen at OT that you would not see anywhere else. So I agree with you, Webb may be that best we got, but he’s not strong enough.



  • King Kong

    If you play in Old Toilet, you are playing 11 vs everyone else so don’t expect favors. I predicted a red card and penalty 24 hours before the game but it will be stupid not to predict that.

  • Fred the Red

    2 debatable decisions?

    You call the sending off of Gerrard as debatable?? 😮 What planet do you come from?

    United could have had 4(!) penalties if this game was helped with video-refereeing.

    If you look at all the games of the season, I think you will find that United didn’t get penalites where they should have got in far more situations than the oposite.

  • jezz09

    ABU c**kmunchers, serious bitter taste around, UNITED are the best football club in the world, and all the rest of you have been trying to excuse your clubs shortcomings for years now. We get as many decisions going against us an any1 else, if not more. Pathetic

  • John

    it is not luck that the other teams didn’t win, that’s down to their own poor play. I guess you missed the shocking decision to allow the Birmingham goal which cost United 2 points? Or the penalty for handball not given in the same West Brom game? What about Drogba’s 2 yard offside goal against United last year that cost them the title? Or the blatent penalty not given for Birmingham against Arsenal when Van Persie handled it? Granted, the pen against Liverpool wasn’t a pen, but Allardyce and Southgate both said it was when they first saw it, then changed their minds after replays, you can see why it was given. The red card was an obvious red, 2 footed dangerous, reckless, awful. If it was Joey Barton or Nigel De Jong they would have got so much stick, but as it’s Steven Gerrard everyones afraid to criticise him and they just say it’s ok Stevie it’s only a yellow.

  • wisdom

    to my own understand, haward webb is a manchester united fan so given him manchester united match to handle what do you people expect him to do, he always targget to see defenders get down any manchester united player inside 18 so that he will award peniaty, so he should by no means allow to handle manchester united match expecially against che, arsl or liverpool, people said he is the best ref to me he is the worse because he always support one side which is not fair, given such penaity against Liverpool with Red card is unfair i must said he popposily did it so that united will get ground to win the match.

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  • Fred the Red

    wisdom, – u should change your nick as it is misleading

  • Mystical Mike

    everyone knows that was not a pen. Berbatwat fell over like a 4 year old doing the sack race, disgrace!

    karma, you wait and see!

  • George Raft

    You have fingered ex-policeman H. Webb MBE.
    Quite right too but he’s not the only one. The referees in the EPL are riddled with ManU “sympathisers”. The FA and media are too.
    This is really an establishment bias and goes back to Munich – how many dubious knighhoods have been handed to them: Sir Matt, Sir Blobby and Slur Alex – you really couldn’t make it up.
    ManUtd don’t care that they cheat their way to success – they have no soul.

  • Fred the Red

    Hmm… nobody seem to mention the 3 other penalty claims we had in the game. Wonder why…?

    Didn’t you watch the game? Or doesn’t it fit in your “referees for United”-campaign?

  • TRexRed

    Can all the united fans please just be honest with themselves. It was and never will be a penalty. You can watch it from every angle and speed it up or slow it down, it makes no difference. It was no penalty! The sending off was the right decision. Hard to take when the right decision was as a direct result of the the bad one. Manure were awful in the first half and had Liverpool not been one down and chasing te game Gerrard may not have been so desperate to put in a crunching tackle. When are the media going to start talking about the clear dive and the FA charge the cheat. Three game ban for Stevie three games for the Tom Daly wanna be!

  • Fred the Red

    TRexRed: “Hard to take when the right decision was as a direct result of the the bad one”. Was he sent off because of the penalty?

    I think you mean indirect result… Still though, it was a stupid tackle from Agger, and an even more stupid one from Gerrard. Liverpool got exactly what they deserved from that game: NOTHING!

  • Mick

    Gooner here.
    Webb is bent, full stop.
    Got to admit it is cleverly done though.
    Webbs Law……
    Any contact (however slight), or even a dive without contact, in the opp. penalty area at Old Trafford will result in a pen for Manu. Any handball in the area will (accidental or deliberate) also be a penalty to Manu. If any of these incidents occur in the Manu area, play-on will be called in 95% of these ocassions (unless he feels he has already denied a couple of clear cut pens in the game, in which case he might award one against his beloved Manu).
    Any dangerous studs up etc. challenges by Manu players will result in either, play being waved on or on the odd few ocassions a free-kick to the opposition being given (this may result in mass confrontation of the ref, swearing at the ref and sometimes physical assault on the ref but this will be ignored).
    Any sign of dissent by opposition players will be rewarded by a yellow card. Any swearing at a ref by an opposition player will be rewarded by a red card.
    An assault on the ref by an opposition player will be rewarded by a red card and will be followed by an FA investigation.
    Any dangerous studs up etc. challenges made by opponents on Manu players will be given immediate red cards.
    I could go on and on about what I’ve noticed but I’d be here all night.

  • Fred the Red

    Mick, mick, mick… how small-minded can you become?

    All this works the same way for your beloved Arsenal, and Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool for that sake. Arsenal have had quite a few “lucky” penalty decisions in their favour lately, not at least against United.

  • George Raft

    Fred the Red – obviously you don’t agree – yes, we all got that.
    Instead of attacking other posters, perhaps the moderators could bridle you (temporarily) so that others can have their say without ad hominems from a less than unbiased ManU fan – just a thought 😉

  • Mary

    Fred the Red – are you the message board Taliban or something? At the top of the page it says “Real football, real fans, real opinions” – I would question your eligibility on all three counts.

    Would it be possible for real fans to post some real opinions, or must we read your arrogant and pompous responses to anyone who dares to post on what must obviously be YOUR personal forum……

  • Red2death

    Tricky thing to believe that “their luck must change at some point”. I’ve been holding on to that for years and it still hasn’t happened!

    Results-wise Utd have been going through a golden age for the club these past 2 decades. Though on the pitch they’ve often not been the best team and when you analyze each season, it’d be a huge understatement to say there’s been a bit of luck (and dubious refereeing) involved.

    Of course you could argue that winners make their own luck and such. Though some things are just hard to explain with that logic like Neville escaping a clear red, phenomena like “Fergie time”, having one crucial talisman who can carry the team injury-free for most of the season, whether it’s RVN, Rooney, Andy Cole, etc. (and it’s not like the squad was so deep that if they were injured someone else equally good would step up – that’s not been the case).

    You could also make the case that every team gets lucky breaks every once in a while. But seriously, anyone ever counted how often it happens to Utd when it really matters? I’d wager luck accounts for about 10-15 points every season for them. Guess how many titles they’d have without it?

    Anyway, I’m already resigned to the fact that whether by luck or refereeing, Utd will get an advantage simply because they are Utd. Any team that wants to beat them are up against the odds. But I hope it happens anyway.

  • Mikey

    Mary, Mary fred’s entitled to his opinion, … its all water under the bridge anyway, dont we have the next games to moan about now? Fair is … decisions go two ways ALL the time, sometimes for, sometimes against … why must anyone need to be bent to make a call nowadays?

  • Fred the Red

    Mary, I thought a discussion forum was for discussions… Taliban? Are you sick?

    I love football in general, and have been a Manchester United fan all my life and of course I have opinions on these subjects.

    George Raft, you are free to have your opinions too…

  • George Raft

    “I love football in general, and have been a Manchester United fan all my life” – lol, a contradiction in terms.

    How you can keep a straught face is beyond me and the tenet of this article…

  • Fred the Red

    Wow, you’re funny! That is not a contradiction at all.

    Just because your own team doesn’t have the quality needed to be a serious contender to United’s crown, you come up with all kinds of referee bias bullsh**t. There is a lot of ABU’s out there, and I can understand that because it hurts when one team is so much better than the rest for such a long time. But excuse me for enjoying it 🙂

  • George Raft

    So our bent ex-policeman gets an MBE, Berbatwat ie awarded MOTM by the same ITV pundits that said he went down too easy (polite for dived).

    Ryan Babel for expressing the same feelings as most posters here (excepting, Fred who enjoys winning by any means), is on a charge:

  • Fred the Red

    George, u moron. Haven’t you read any of my comments? I did not say anything about winning by any means. I said I was pro-video refereeing, to get this game as fair as possible.

  • George Raft

    “moron”, eh? Now you’re behaving like the FA.

    Truth hurts – now go away and glory in your cheats.

  • ffan

    To suggest that Webb is a UTD fan is ridiculous and ignores a historical fact.
    Since when would a Yorkshireman give preference to a Lancashire team?

  • Pak Choi

    “I said I was pro-video refereeing, to get this game as fair as possible.”

    Ha ha ha very funny mister man u man…. we want video refereebut make sure official watching on replay telly is man u friend too just like lovely mister howard so we can get nice disisions again and again. Ha ha ha Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal men, we win EVERYTHING!!!!

  • Dave Sawyer

    ffan – i think the mancs are definitive proof that you don’t have to come from the same area to support a team. Your comment is worthless.

  • Howie the Webbster

    Yo kids – I did it AGAIN!!!! I am so marvellous at letting United win – I deserve a medal – oh i got my MBE already.

  • Howie the Webbster

    +Yo kids – I did it AGAIN!!! I am SO marvellous at letting United win I think I deserve a medal. Oh silly me, I got my MBE already… and the World Cup Final (I was rubbish in that game too)… and all the accolades from the FA and media…. and all the big games so that my influence can be massive. I really am TOP REF

  • Howie the Webbster

    Hey Fergie, lend us a million mate

  • Mary

    “I love football in general, and have been a Manchester United fan all my life”.

    You’ll be from Surrey, then?……

  • Mary

    “Mary, I thought a discussion forum was for discussions…”

    My point exactly. Not much ‘discussion’ on your part – if anybody says anything that differs to your opinion, you harrass them with your bile.

    Very much like the Taliban, as a matter of fact…..

  • Dave Sawyer

    The idiot’s probably about 30, Mary, and ‘football in general’ for the last twenty years (ie since the idiot became aware of it and chose the team that was winning) means football since the inception of the Premier League, and the man u bias which has been prevalent during that period. I’d be surprised if he’s ever seen fair football – I know I haven’t for the last 20 years but I was fortunate enough to see the previous 20 when football was real – before sportsmanship gave way to the money-induced win-at-all-costs mentality which arrived with Murdoch and his media-backed regime of ubercheats. This is the Age of the unscrupulous businessmen using football to further their own megalomaniac desires for greed and power. Look at FIFA, Blatter et al, Abramovich the oil share thief, the FA with its limp policies and lack of gumption. “If the ref didn’t punish the player at the time they can’t go against his original decision” Why not? “We can’t have video replays because you couldn’t have them at every football game” If your Sunday league team gets a ridiculously bad decision against them, it’s not going to cost them millions, is it? But now that football is set up with its embarrassingly high wages and stupid sponsorship money and ludicrous transfer fees and obscene amounts paid for TV rights – one biased ex-copper’s decision CAN have far-reaching consequences for football clubs – and CAN keep morons believing the lies about the self-styled greatest team in the world and their arrogant claim that they play at the theatre of dreams. But that’s all it is. Theatre. A farce. They’re not really the best team around – they just own the producers and directors of the farcical show which satisfies their smug greed and blinkered attitude. It’s a crime story not a comedy. Murdoch, Charlton, Ferguson, Poll, Webb, Foy and many, many more – all part of the Big Lie – all depriving us of the great game whilst patting themselves on the back for their successful swindle.

  • George Raft

    Howie the Webbster,

    You can have an oak leaf cluster to go with your well deserved gong.

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