Over the Christmas break, I observed three less talked about incidents relating to officiating objectivity in Premier League football. These all concerned the application of the rules on the allocation of additional time at the end of the match. I find these interesting as they offer a means to consider consistency in the application of the rules, where there is lesser scope to appeal to context or referee discretion.
The first was in Liverpool’s 7-0 win over Crystal Palace. The second was during Leed’s 5-0 win against West Brom. The third occurred in Manchester City’s 4-0 win over Crystal Palace. In all three, I was surprised at the minimal allocation of added time at 90 minutes. Only one additional minute was shown by the fourth official Stuart Attwell despite six substitutions taking place at Selhurst Park. At the Hawthorns only two minutes of added time were held up by fourth official Michael Salisbury, again despite six substitutions. When Manchester City were four up against Palace, there was only 2 minutes added on by 4th official Andy Madley. Five subs took place at the Etihad.
The chart below shows the average added time allocated for a scale of score differences in EPL matches over this season and last. I’ve removed some outliers related to serious injuries and only considered matches where there is a five-goal margin or less between the teams. In short, when margins are tighter, on average, more additional time is allocated.
Are there other explanations for this pattern? Maybe. Perhaps time wasting and other gamesmanship is substantially less in matches that are effectively over.
Does it matter? Maybe not to the result. Crystal Palace (twice!) and West Brom were probably thankful to be put out of their misery. However, these data may point toward an inconsistent application of rules. If officials are inconsistent when it comes to something that should be easily calculated, can we expect them to be consistent for the more difficult calls? Being objective and fair is a key principle of the EPL. What’s more, there is a significant gambling industry that exists alongside the sport – for bettors and bookies every minute can matter.