How the club each referee supports determines their schedule

How the club each referee supports determines their schedule

Nottingham Forest’s extraordinary attack on the appointment of “Luton fan” Stuart Attwell as Video Assistant Referee for their Premier League defeat at Everton has sparked a debate over the involvement of match officials in fixtures that directly impact the club they support.

Here, Telegraph Sport outlines the rules and processes governing the appointment of those officials to such games:

Declaration of allegiances

Every official must declare any allegiances they have with a club, whether that is simply supporting a certain team or any other connection that could be considered a conflict. They must also declare any allegiances held by immediate family, particularly those in the same household.

Controversially, those allegiances are not publicised as a matter of course, leading to wild speculation online about who certain officials support. This is particularly acute when it comes to those based in the north-west, who are often accused of being fans of Manchester United or Liverpool.

Ban on officiating such clubs – and their arch-rivals

Match officials cannot be part of fixtures involving such teams or those played by their arch-rivals. The most high-profile public example of this is Michael Oliver being unable to referee his beloved Newcastle United or Sunderland. An analysis by Telegraph Sport of clubs officials show several of the current Select Group 1 Referees whose allegiances are not publicly known have been kept away from Liverpool and Everton matches, suggesting a close connection to one of those teams.

How the club each referee supports determines their schedule
Michael Oliver is widely considered to be one of the league's best referees - Reuters/Tony O'Brien

Restrictions on fixtures directly affecting such clubs

This is where it gets complicated and is behind Forest’s complaint about Attwell. In an ideal world, there would be enough elite match officials to avoid all potential conflicts of interest for the entirety of the season. However, the pool of such officials is so small in an era of VAR that this is all but impossible. A straightforward example of where a match official might be kept away from a fixture at the business end of the campaign – particularly a final-day title- or relegation-decider – in which the club he or she supports would stand to benefit directly from a given result.

In the Forest case, it is debatable whether Luton stood to benefit from an Everton win, which gave the latter a five-point cushion over Rob Edwards’s side. By contrast, a Forest win or, in particular, a draw would have kept all three clubs closer together. That would not be the case in upcoming Forest matches, in which defeat would undoubtedly benefit Luton.

Other criteria

Conflicts of interest are not the only reasons an official may have no involvement in the fixtures of a particular club. He or she may have a controversial history with that team that makes it wise to keep them away from their matches until any ill feeling dies down. Officials are also not allowed to referee the same club for two successive games, with a month-long break seen as the ideal. Performance more generally also plays a huge role in determining who gets what matches, with officials who make significant mistakes often rested the following week or moved to lower-profile games or positions.

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