Referees and football betting

refereesReferees. The age-old scapegoats of fans, punters and oftentimes football coaches alike. Even the slightest mention of a referee's name can spark an inferno of fiery comments on most online football forums and portals. If you are unsure about this, just search "Mike Dean Tottenham" on Youtube and read the various video comments. Countless details about a ref’s club preference or his relation to some managers can be found, whether they hold some truth or are completely fabricated.

However, our often exaggerated and often inexplicable animosity towards referees, is derived from the fact that officials can make mistakes (deliberate or not), some of which may impact our betting choices. Corruption is present in football, as on many other aspects of everyday life, however, it's substantially lower than most people think. Some referees do indeed favor certain teams due to bribery or threats, but these cases are very few and extremely rare on high-profile leagues.

How to use the ref to our advantage

Let's stick to the essence. The betting essence that is. Referees play an active role in every match. Isn’t it funny that we tend to lenghty analyze player and manager tactics before a match, but won't spare five minutes to check the officials? The weirdest part is that it is actually a really simple process, as all the stats are easily found. All you need is to understand these numbers in a smart way.

Referees are usually present in a match analysis before an important match i.e. a Champions League or World Cup tie. There you can find more bets concerning the referee’s actions (number of yellow cards, possibility of a red card or a penalty kick), so the “man in black” stats are more exposed. But keep in mind that a referee is present in every match and you don’t have to analyze his habits when trying to predict his decisions. As a matter of fact, if you take into account the referee’s attitude you may unearth helpful information even concerning the match result.

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Avoid misinformation

Some websites are trying to offer statistics about the referees: Number of home and away wins, draws, yellow/red cards, penalties and so on. These are real numbers, of course, but they don’t lead to a safe conclusion about where you should bet on. Why? Because the vast majority of this information is far too random or irrelevant.

Think about it: You read that a specific referee was in charge of eight matches and in all of them the home team won. What’s the use of learning something like this, if the home sides were indeed far better than the visitors? Or how can the number of awarded cards guide you on predicting the match result?

A more precise look

match officialsDon’t rush to dismiss all this information as irrelevant, though. These numbers can indeed prove to be valuable, if you look at them with a more precise approach. This requires some practice of course, but the result truly make it worth it.

The key here is simple: Divide the referee’s matches into specific categories and analyze his attitude according to each of them. Each football match is different than the last, so you avoid analyzing the referee's behaviour at a Manchester United-Watford tie along with a Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool. These are different categories. In fact, his behavior has to be archived according to the pre-match odds offered by the online bookmaker.

So, the question is not how many home or away wins a referee has officiated, but instead:

  • How many favorites or outsiders have won when he was in charge?
  • How many favorites have managed to win an away tie or how many outsiders made a huge upset?
  • How many penalties have been awarded to home favorites and how many to underdogs?
  • How about red cards? How often does he send a favorite home team’s player for an  early bath?

This information is valuable regardless of the referee’s mistakes. You're not after something tricky, like a (deliberate or not) penalty kick or red card. There are matches where the referee makes almost no difficult decisions, but has still “helped” a team win due to a few calculated whistles.

How to group the referee’s stats

Usually the categories are four (or eight, if you like to split home and away ties): Matches with a heavy favorite (odds up to 1.50), a strong favorite (up to 1.90), a light favorite (up to 2.30) and balanced teams (roughly equal odds).

When you archive the referee’s matches and numbers according to these categories, you’ll find out valuable details about lots of referees that you wouldn’t focus on otherwise. Is he affected by the home team crowd? Does he account the general atmosphere about who’s expected to win? Is he fair to underdogs, letting them get result when they deserve it? You’ll find out if a team theoretically has less chances of winning a tie when he is in charge.

Keep in mind that the referee’s numbers only reveal a trend. You don’t have to rely only on referee’s statistics to decide a bet, as you shouldn’t do with any single stat.

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