We must pray that God is on England’s side because the ref won’t be.

The ex-chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells a story that when he was appointed he discovered that he shared a love of Arsenal with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They decided to have their first official meeting in the box at the next game.  Where Arsenal lost, and lost badly.  The papers picked up on the story, saying that this was surely proof that God did not exist if both such eminent religious leaders went to the game but Arsenal still didn’t win.  Sacks replied by saying that on the contrary, it was surely proof that God was a Man U fan.


It is to be hoped that She is also an England fan.  And that media men and women find time to pray for England’s chances this week.  (Those not busy quaffing rose in Cannes that is).  For certainly England can expect no favour from any referee.  Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim in their book Scorecasting, look at common behavioural biases that effect the outcome of sports games.


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that they’d discovered that the loyalty of fans could dis-incentivise management from investing in improving performance.  They also demolish the myth of the Home Team advantage on players, but prove statistically that it is the ref that is affected, and often during games where the Home Team is at a slight disadvantage.  Brazil’s awarded penalty in their opening game – what most are calling a lucky decision – seems exactly an example of ref bias.


“We’ve found is that officials are biased, confirming years of fans’ conspiracy theories.  But they’re biased not against louts screaming unprintable epithets at them.  They’re biased for them, and the bigger the crowd, the worse the bias.  In fact, officials’ bias is the most significant contributor to home field advantage.”


Their evidence is based on analysis of 750 La Liga games studied by academics and reviewing over 15,000 games in the English Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and the Scottish League.  The bias only happens in games that are close, not where the Home Team is significantly ahead or behind, just like Brazil v Croatia, a “soft penalty” awarded at one all.


When the crowd shout at the players they don’t affect the outcome.  When they yell at the ref, that’s another matter.





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