Does a Player’s Past Actions Affect Referees’ Decisions?

There was an incident in the Bournemouth v Sheffield Wednesday game last Saturday that seemed to me to have an interesting link with Bournemouth’s game at Reading on the Tuesday before. Unlike their game against Reading, Bournemouth managed only a draw with Sheffield Wednesday, which knocked them off the hotly contested top spot of the Championship. Their manager, Eddie Howe, however thought that they would have won if the referee had been awarded them a penalty early in the game when Callum Wilson was seemingly brought down by Wednesday’s Lewis Buxton. ‘I don’t want to get myself into trouble’ he said after the game, ‘but that was the most clear cut penalty I have seen this season. I don’t know if the number of penalties that Callum has got this season, has worked against him’.

So what was the link with Bournemouth visit to the Madejski Stadium? Royal’s fans present that evening will remember one contentious episode in that game. A Reading and a Bournemouth player were side by side, chasing a bouncing ball towards the touch line, well inside the Reading half. The Reading player, Michael Hector, seemed to kick the ball into the stand but the Bournemouth player went down clutching his chest suggesting he had been kicked. His team mates immediately surrounded the Reading player and voraciously demanded of the referee that he produced a card.

The Reading players piled in to support their team mate. Hector was already on yellow card so another one would see him missing the all important FA Cup semi final. The assistant referee at that end of the field came across to support his referee and they had a long discussion after the fracas had ended. I don’t think they were discussing the tackle but its aftermath. As the assistant referee returned to his line, the referee showed one yellow card, to Reading’s Alex Pearce, presumably for his over jealous defence of his team mate. He then restarted the game with a throw-in. In other words, in his opinion, no offence had been committed. Who was the Bournemouth player concerned? Callum Wilson.

Going back to Howe’s question, has the large number of penalties that Wilsons has got this season made referees shy off giving him more? Do referees take into consideration a player’s reputation or past record? It is no secret that referees will try to learn more about the teams and players that they are appointed to referee. This is certainly true in the higher leagues where referees will view videos of the teams in action but even in local park football, referees talk amongst themselves and they will know the teams and players likely to give them most trouble.

This doesn’t mean they will pre-judge issues, but where they are unsure their pre-information might come into play. No referee goes out thinking, he’s got too many penalties this season, I’ll make sure he doesn’t get another one with me. They might however remember his record if they haven’t seen it clearly. A known fierce competitor might get a yellow for his first bad tackle whereas another player might only get a talking to and a warning.

If we take that incident with Sheffield Wednesday, their manager Stuart Grey said he felt that his player had got a touch of the ball before Wilson went down. The referee might have thought this or perhaps he was not sure, so the knowledge that Wilson has gone down in the penalty area many times already, might just have a contribution to his decision. If he was certain however, that Lewis Buxton had tripped Wilson then it wouldn’t have any effect.

I don’t think this constitutes any bias on the part of referees but is part of game management and of course we sometimes gets it wrong.

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