Before virtually any game of football nowadays, but especially before a significant match against a major rival, fans will always ask the above question.
But does it matter? Do any of them appear particularly pro or anti-Liverpool? This article will provide you with the stats, but you will have to make your own mind up; the main thing to remember when reading this is that there is no way to prove any bias on the part of referees, and this is not an attempt to do so. This has been compiled as people have shown an interest in the figures following a number of online articles about refereeing recently, and is intended to be taken for the light-hearted (albeit statistically accurate) piece it is.
To assess the refs, I have looked at three statistics: penalties, yellow cards, and sending-offs, both in favour of and against Liverpool. Of course, a big part of debating a referee’s performance is arguing over the “that was a nailed on penalty, ref” calls; the ones that got away, in other words. Needless to say, statistics on things that don’t happen are thin on the ground, so we’ll have to make do with what I have been able to track down.
I have limited the assessment to the eight refs currently working in the Premier League that have refereed Liverpool on at least ten occasions, to try to ensure a decent sample size. This excludes the likes of Kevin Friend and Mike Jones, who have only officiated fourteen Reds matches between them, and Chris Foy and Mike Dean, who as they originate from Merseyside, have never and presumably never will referee a Liverpool match.
I’ve also not looked at refs who are now retired; whilst it would be interesting, it’s of no use for future games (though just in case you are wondering, I can reveal that Dermot Gallagher and Steve Bennett never awarded a penalty against Liverpool in 36 and 31 games respectively, and Graham Barber took charge of the most Liverpool matches without brandishing a red to a Red; 21).
Firstly, a look at which ref has been the most harsh on Liverpool. The following figures are for cards given to Reds players, and penalties awarded against the team, with the whistlers sorted by the latter figure:
Andre Marriner’s most famous refereeing performance in a Reds match was surely a 1-1 draw at Arsenal in April 2011 when he awarded both sides a penalty in stoppage time, and indeed he has awarded a penalty against Liverpool more frequently than any of his colleagues.
Martin Atkinson (who has refereed more Reds matches than he has for any other team) is the most frequent issuer of bookings to Liverpool, and though he has sent off the most Reds players of the refs here, Lee Mason takes the honour of sending a ‘Pool player for an early bath most often.
Sending off two in one game obviously helped him here, and with a total of three Liverpool players sent off (which is more dismissals than he has issued to any other team) by Mason in just seven weeks in late 2009, it’s easy to see why he is viewed unfavourably by the Kop faithful.
A word here for the recently retired Peter Walton; in 23 Liverpool matches, he never once sent off a Reds player or awarded a penalty against them. Based on his ten games so far, it would appear that Lee Probert may replicate this feat.
But which refs have given Liverpool the most penalties, and their opponents the most cards (with the men in black again sorted by frequency of spot kick awards)?
Mark Clattenburg leads the way here thanks almost entirely to one game: the Merseyside derby at Goodison in October 2007 where he awarded Liverpool a pair of penalties, and sent off two Toffees. This in turn appears to have lead to his relatively small sample of Reds matches; following post match complaints regarding his performance by David Moyes, Clattenburg didn’t take charge of a Liverpool game in any competition between January 2008 and September 2011. Even allowing for the fact he missed 2008/09 due to suspension, that’s still a hefty gap.
Luckily for Clattenburg, he didn’t have to come face-to-face with Moyes following the above match until January 2012, some 162 Everton matches later. It seems like if you complain about a ref, you won’t be given him for quite some time….
At the other end of the spectrum, Martin Atkinson may not give Liverpool a penalty too often, but he certainly sends their opponents off with an alarming regularity. He hasn’t sent off more than four opposition players for any other team, yet Paul Scholes, Brad Friedel, Caleb Folan, Steven Pienaar, Laurent Koscielny, Emmanuel Frimpong, Jack Rodwell and Mario Balotelli have all been shown a red by Atkinson whilst playing Liverpool. But don’t forget, he has also shown red to four Reds during his career, so he clearly doesn’t always go in their favour.
But then Martin Atkinson is well renowned as a card-happy ref (twenty sending-offs in the Premier League in just the last two seasons is testament to that) so the fact he tops the red card rankings for both Liverpool and their opponents shouldn’t come as a surprise. It therefore intrigued me to see how a referee’s figures from matches with the Reds compared to their career average (for the competitions that they have refereed Liverpool in).
The following figures show a referee’s figures as a percentage of their average. For instance, 200% would be twice as much as their average, 50% half as much, and so on. This means we can find out if Martin Atkinson, for instance, is harsher on Liverpool’s opponents than other sides he has refereed (and with eight red cards dished out, he should be!):
It’s important to remember that the sample figures here are fairly small, so huge percentage differences aren’t particularly surprising, and as Liverpool are one of the Premier League’s traditional ‘big four’, who have challenged for the title during the period covered, it’s not too surprising to see their opponents treated a little harshly.
Clattenburg leads the way, though mainly thanks to the aforementioned derby match, and believe-it-or-not, Howard Webb is the top for punishing Liverpool’s opponents an above average amount in each of the three individual categories, and Lee Probert was the only other ref to beat 100% for all three measures.
Anyone who has witnessed any of the Liverpool vs Stoke encounters in recent seasons that Lee Mason has taken charge of will not be surprised to see him bottom of the table, and he is the only ref who is more lenient towards Liverpool’s opponents than he is towards other teams in general.
But what most people reading this will probably be most interested to know is which refs are overly harsh on Liverpool, when compared to their average for other matches? After all, football fans like little more than to moan about a man in black who they feel has done them out of a result. The figures are in…
Due to his tendency to award penalties against Liverpool (no team has suffered more from him than the four against that the Reds have), Andre Marriner has the highest average figure, and can therefore be said to be the harshest ref towards Liverpool on average (and since this piece was first written, Mr Marriner has been awarded this weekend’s Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Watch this space!).
That said, Martin Atkinson is the only referee who is harsher towards Liverpool than he is on average in two of the three categories, and no whistler books Liverpool players more regularly than other teams’ men, so perhaps he is the man in black to fear most at Anfield.
Credit should perhaps here go to Phil Dowd, as at least he’s consistent. In both of the above tables, he has the closest average to 100%, meaning he appears to treat Liverpool and their opponents most similarly to all other sides. He has also refereed the most Reds matches of anyone here, and also more Liverpool games than he has for any other side, so he has the best sample of data to draw from here, giving his tallies a little more credence than some of the other refs.
As you’d expect from the earlier figures, Lee Probert is the ref that seems to show the Reds the most leniency. It is perhaps a little disappointing then that twelve other teams have had him in charge of more of their matches than Liverpool have! He did take charge of half of his tally of ten Reds matches last season, so Brendan’s boys will surely be handed Mr Probert for a few matches this term. As he presided over away wins at Chelsea and Stoke, he certainly appears to be something of a lucky charm!
So there we are, the history of Premier League refs and Liverpool. When all is said and done though, none of this will matter in the next game when Luis Suárez is bearing down on goal when a defender’s boot makes contact with his shin, will it?