Being a Premier League referee means that you wield largely unchecked power with very few real repercussions — oh no, a week off! — even if you have a “bad day” at the office. Or, if you’re Mark Clattenburg in 2016, simply decide to not enforce the rules properly.
On that fine spring day two years ago, Tottenham Hotspur, looking to keep their title hopes alive against mid-table opposition, came into Stamford Bridge eager to prove how tough they were. Macho-man Pochettino said at the time, “it’s football, we are men, they are men; we need to show we are strong”.
By “showing we are strong,” he actually meant chopping down every blue shirt in sight, especially after Chelsea battled back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. Tottenham’s starting eleven collected a whopping nine yellow cards. There’s not a shred of doubt that some of those cards should have been a different color, but referee Mark Clattenburg proudly admitted later that he made the decision to keep the red in his pocket because he didn’t want to be blamed if Tottenham lost the title, which they did anyway. It’s the kind of irresponsible (not to mention cowardly) refereeing that gets players injured (and teams fined by the same umbrella organization to which the referees are somewhat accountable as well).
It’s with that in mind that we look at the referee for Sunday’s derby at the Bridge. Andre Marriner has officiated 21 Premier League matches this season. That makes him one of the league’s seven busiest officials and it also gives us a large enough data set to be useful.
So where does Marriner rank among his seven peers as far as discipline is concerned? Frankly, under the circumstances the picture this paints is a bit worrying.
It’s hard to draw any conclusions from penalties or red cards, since they happen so infrequently, but neither of Marriner’s totals in that regard (3 and 2, respectively), stand out from the pack. His rate of yellow cards (2.57) however lags well behind, both in terms of the Premier League average (3.09, including Marriner) and among his peers in the top seven most used referees in the division (3.59, not including Marriner). It’s unclear whether we can draw any real conclusions from that either — certainly there are many factors that influence the amount of yellow cards handed out in any given match — but it’s perhaps worth mentioning since it’s so clearly an outlier.
The most used referees in the Premier League (20 games min.) have a very consistent yellow card-ratio in fact:
- Michael Oliver — 25 games, 91 yellows (3.64 avg.)
- Martin Atkinson — 23 games, 79 yellows (3.43 avg.)
- Jonathan Moss — 22 games, 79 yellows (3.59 avg.)
- Anthony Taylor — 22 games, 77 yellows (3.50 avg.)
- Andre Marriner — 21 games, 54 yellows (2.57 avg.)
- Mike Dean — 20 games, 74 yellows (3.70 avg.)
- Craig Pawson — 20 games, 75 yellows (3.75 avg.)
Marriner, whom we should all still remember for sending off the wrong Arsenal player in the 6-0 at the Bridge, has developed a reputation for letting the game “flow” and for giving the players “freedom”. He’s a bit like Howard Webb in that regard, and Webb was a highly-regarded official. Then again, Webb averaged 3.31 yellow cards per game in his storied Premier League career.
What makes this statistical anomaly even weirder is that Marriner, who refereed almost as many Premier League matches at this point (277) as Webb did in his career (295), has a career average of 3.29 yellows/game.
Is Marriner getting soft for his (relatively) old age? Let’s hope that if things do kick off on Sunday a la the Battle of the Bridge, he will have the ... constitution ... to handle things better than Clattenburg and his 3.24 PL-career average did...
(all referee data from Transfermarkt)