Pressure? What pressure? Football referees have more support from the media than we think


The association football/media relationship has evolved since the sport was covered in newspapers, and on radio and television. The impact of the media on association football is undeniable with increased wealth in the game directly attributable to the increasing monetary value of television deals covering the English Premier League. This has, in turn, meant that refereeing decisions are now subject to intensified scrutiny and historically this has been identified as a significant source of pressure for referees.

Dr Tom Webb of the University of Portsmouth and member of The Football Collective provides insight into his latest research on the media and referees, which was recently published in Soccer & Society.

Sourced from The

This research utilized semi-structured interviews with the broadcast media in the UK alongside a notational analysis of 20 live Premier League matches in the 2013–2014 season, in order to analyse the pressure exerted by the media on referees. The findings from both the interviews and the notational analysis showed a notable empathy towards referees, with the live matches only allocating a total of 37.5 minutes of time discussing the referee over the entire 20 matches.

The comments from both the commentator and summariser related to the referee, as well as the post-match discussion from the 20 matches, were divided into four categories, with the following results:

Neutral comments: 113 incidents (41.85 per cent)

Positive comments: 69 incidents (25.56 per cent)

Comments questioning the referee’s action: 59 incidents (21.85 per cent)

Negative comments: 29 incidents (10.74 per cent)

The findings indicate that the pressure on referees is not as great as previously accepted. Interviews and notational analysis demonstrate a more considered interpretation of the role of the referee today in association football. In addition, the work that refereeing organisations such as the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (who manage the Select Group referees that predominantly officiate in the Premier League) are undertaking with media organisation appears to be an area of work worth developing and pursuing further if it can assist in reducing the pressure that is exerted on referees.

To read this article click here and to contact the author email: or to link up on Twitter @DrTomWebb or Linkedin. You will also find more about the author here on his University profile and his other research on Researchgate.

To cite this article:

Webb, T. (2016). Referees and the media: a difficult relationship but an unavoidable necessity. Soccer & Society. DOI:10.1080/14660970.2015.1133414.


Links to other relevant research:

  • Rayner, M., Webb, T. & Webb, H. (2016). The Occurrence of Referee Abuse in Rugby Union: Evidence and Measures Through an Online Survey. International Journal of Sport Management & Tourism, 21 (d).
  • Webb, T. & Thelwell, R. (2015). “He’s taken a Dive”: cultural comparisons of elite referee responses to reduced player behaviour in Association Football. Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, 5 (3), 242-258.
  • Webb, T. (2014). Elite refereeing structures in England: a perfect model or a challenging invention? Soccer & Society, 1-16.
  • Webb, T. (2014). The emergence of training and assessment for referees in Association Football: moving from the side-lines. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 31 (9), 1081-1097.
  • Nevill, A., Webb, T. & Watts, A. (2013). Improved training of football referees and the decline in home advantage post WW2. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14 (2), 220-227.


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