The Ref Review from the past. Man U 2 Arsenal 0; the unbeaten run is over

By Walter Broeckx

As you may know, Untold Arsenal reviews the performances of referees.  On many occasions people have said that they would have loved to having us around in the past so that we could have commented on key matches that Arsenal seemed to lose due to strange referee decisions.

And in particular they have asked about game 50. The game at Old Trafford that ended the unbeaten run from Arsenal.

A few weeks ago Andy Kelly got me a copy of that famous game. He is one of the writers of the book Woolwich Arsenal FC, The club that changed football and as someone interested in history it was not really a surprise that he could put his hands on a video of that game.

And so then we did a review of the match, just as we do them now.

Our referee in this historic review is Mike Riley – then just a referee, now head of the PGMOL.

MATCH REVIEW DETAILS – Mike Riley (2004-10-24)
Period 1
Min Type Foul from On C/NC Comment Weight
1 OTHER Cole Ronaldo C Clattered in him from behind with his body 1
2 OTHER Ronaldo Edu C Push in the back 1
5 OTHER Scholes Ljunberg C High foot 1
6 OFFSIDE Arsenal C “assumed correct, looked very close” 1
6 OTHER Rooney Cole C Ran on to him 1
10 OTHER Ljunberg Heintze C Little push 1
12 OFFSIDE MU c Clearly offside shown by replay 1
14 OTHER G. Neville Reyes NC “Tackle from behind not given, ref gives advantage but ball is lost look next line, could and should come back” 1
14 YELLOW NC Ref should have given at least a verbal warning, but a tackle from behind on the Achilles should always result in a booking 2
14 PENALTY mu Henry C “Defender sticks out a leg but retrieves it in time, correct no decision. Henry also never claims a penalty but just gets on with the game” 3
15 OTHER Edu Van Nistelrooy C Edu slipped and as a result clattered with Van Nistelrooy 1
16 OTHER Heintze Edu C kicked him on his tigh 1
18 OTHER Cole P. Neville C benefit of the doubt to the ref 1
18 OTHER Vieira Rooney C trip 1
18 OTHER Ferdinand Ljunberg NC “Pushed him in the back when he was going in front of him, not given “ 1
18 RED Ferdinand NC “Ljunberg was on his own and away to goal with only the keeper in front of him, a foul as the last defender a clear goal scoring opportunity is always a red card but nothing was given” 3
20 OTHER Vieira Ronaldo C trip 1
22 OTHER Bergkamp Heintze C trip 1
22 OTHER Bergkamp C Handbal given 1
24 OTHER G. Neville Reyes c Tackle from behind on the ankle 1
24 YELLOW G. Neville NC “Just a word, no card?? This was a classic example for a yellow card” 2
25 OTHER Ljunberg Heintze C trip 1
25 OTHER Vieira Ronaldo C trip 1
27 OTHER P. Neville Bergkamp C trip 1
30 OTHER Giggs Lauren C little pull 1
30 OTHER Ronaldo Vieira C First foul was from Ronaldo 1
31 OTHER Rooney Campbell NC “Came in late, ref saw it just pointed a bit pointless” 1
32 OTHER Van Nistelrooy Cole NC “Plants his studs on the knee of Cole, ref gives nothing, linesman under whose nose it happens also gives nothing” 1
32 RED Van Nistelrooy NC “This is a very dangerous attack that can cause the ligaments to snap, Later Van Nistelrooy was banned for 3 games for this assault I have been told” 3
34 OTHER Van Nistelrooy Lauren C trip 1
35 OTHER Cole Rooney C “Trip, twice attempted to trip him” 1
35 YELLOW Cole C I have no complaints with a yellow card but after all what happened before this seems a bit harsh 0
36 OTHER G. Neville Reyes C Sliding tackle from behind 1
36 YELLOW G. Neville C finally the card comes out against Utd 2
37 OTHER Rooney Reyes C just kicks him from behind 1
37 YELLOW Rooney NC “Deliberate kick, no chance to play the ball like that, should have been booked” 2
38 OTHER P. Neville Reyes C “another attack at Reyes, this time he plants his knee in the Arsenal player “ 1
38 YELLOW P. Neville C Ref starts to see the light in this rotational fouling on Reyes? 2
39 OTHER campbell Ferdinand C “push, assumed correct” 1
40 OTHER Scholes Bergkamp NC ?obstruction not given 1
45 OTHER Henry Heintze NC First foul was from Heintze who handled the ball 1
45 YELLOW Ferdinand NC “runs half the length of th pitch to get involved, should have been booked” 2
45 OTHER campbell Giggs C trip 1
Period 2
Min Type Foul from On C/NC Comment Weight
46 OTHER Campbell Van Nistelrooy NC “just won the header cleanly afwerwards lttle contact, nothing wrong” 1
48 OTHER Heintze Vieira NC obstruction not given 0
49 OTHER Rooney Campbell C clear push in the back signalled by the assistant 1
49 YELLOW Rooney NC “dissent against the assistant, should have been booked” 2
50 OTHER C “ball doesn’t go out of play, game restarted with dropped ball after ball boy touches the ball too soon” 0
53 OTHER Edu Van Nistelrooy C Trip 1
54 OTHER Reyes Neville C “sliding, didn’t touch the player but he had to jump to avoid contact so correct” 1
55 OTHER Edu Scholes? NC didn’t look shoulder to shoulder to me and thus should have been given a foul 1
58 OTHER Neville NC “a throw for United, assistant siganls ball didn’t enter the playing field and Neville can throw again but he advances at least 10-15 meters” 1
60 OTHER Reyes Ronaldo C Trip 1
63 OTHER Vieira Heintze C not much to see but we go with the ref a we don’t have a replay but it looked as if Vieira played the ball 1
65 OTHER Edu Heintze C Trip 1
67 OTHER Van Nistelrooy Lehman C “stepped on his heel, signalled by assistant” 1
68 OFFSIDE MU C assumed correct 1
70 OTHER Bergkamp MU? C “assumed correct, not real visible what was wrong” 1
72 PENALTY Campbell Rooney NC Campbell stuck out a leg but retrieved it before tripping Rooney. Rooney dived to win the penaltye. Riley wanted to break the world record in giving consecutive penalties for United at Oid Trafford and this is penalty nr. 8. 3
72 GOAL MU NC A not correct penalty so a not correct goal 3
72 YELLOW Rooney NC “Should have gotten a yellow card for a dive, not given” 2
74 OTHER Scholes Bergkamp C Little kick from behind on the ankle 1
75 OTHER Vieira Giggs C tackle came late 1
75 YELLOW Vieira C “Card itself is correct, but in the light of other things we have seen ?” 2
77 OTHER Giggs Lauren C Trip 1
79 OTHER Edu Scholes C kick on the ankle 1
79 YELLOW Edu C correct card this time from the ref 2
79 PENALTY Cole Ronaldo NC “Caught him sliding and tripped him, not given” 3
80 OTHER Silvestre Ljungberg C Sliding tackle from behind 1
80 YELLOW Silvestre NC “Should been a yellow card, not given” 2
81 OTHER Van Nistelrooy Lauren C Trip 1
83 OTHER Carroll NC “It takes the keeper more than 45 seconds to bring the ball back in play after the ball went out, ref does nothing” 1
83 YELLOW Carroll NC should have been booked 2
87 OTHER NC “Cole shoots ball touches a defender, goal kick given” 1
88 OTHER Van Nistelrooy Lauren c Comes in with an arm in the air 1
88 YELLOW Van Nistelrooy NC “Keeps standing in front of the ball so that Arsnal cannot take the free kick, should have been a yellow” 2
89 OTHER Lauren Van Nistelrooy NC “frontal tackle, was a foul” 1
92 OTHER Saha Pires NC Two footed frontal tackle not given 1
92 YELLOW Saha NC As no replays are shown I give him the benefit of the doubt and settle for a yellow card. Could have been red if his feet where off the ground 2
93 GOAL MU C the goal itself was correct. Would it have happened if the ref would have given the foul senconds earlier? 0
94 OTHER Smith Ljungberg NC Frontal tackle not given 1
94 OTHER Scholes Bergkamp c kick from behind on the ankle 1

Well Riley had a good start to this game in fact. The first mistake we found is just after 14 minutes in the game.  The first tackle from behind on Reyes. He should have stopped the game and given a yellow card. The ref gave the advantage signal but the ball was immediately lost by Arsenal. So not an advantage at all. And no  yellow card.

The next incident that needs some explanation is the foul from Ferdinand on Ljunberg. Ljunberg bursting through the middle and would have been on his own towards the keeper. But then Ferdinand clattered in his back and brought him down. A clear foul but the ref did nothing. It should have been a free kick some 10 meters outside the penalty area but more importantly Ferdinand should have been sent off with a red card.  Doing nothing, like Riley did was inexplicable.

Neville then carried on with kicking Reyes and again a tackle from behind didn’t result in a yellow card. Just a word from the ref. By now he should have felt what they were doing. He wasn’t a rooky ref.

A few minutes later Van Nistelrooy planted his studs just above the knee of Cole. Right under the nose of the assistant who did nothing. And the ref… he also did nothing.  That was a reckless and dangerous attack that could have resulted in a wrecked knee for Cole. No foul and no red card against Van Nistelrooy is just amazing.

United should at this stage have been down to 9 men on the field.

The way Riley handled this game resulted in Cole taking out Rooney and he got a yellow card. That was correct but not if you compare that with the fouls that had gone unpunished by United so far in this game.

Neville then finally got a yellow card for his third attack on Reyes. And a minute later Rooney just lashed out when Reyes was shielding the ball and he had no chance of playing the ball. Rooney was not booked.

Phil Neville then got a booking for taking turns on Reyes. I thought the ref was starting to see the light.

The last memorable thing in the first half was the fact that the ref gave a foul to United when it should have been a foul for Arsenal if any foul would have been given. Ferdinand came running half the field to get involved in the discussions without getting booked. What was he doing there? He should have been under the shower for a long time. Riley again let Ferdinand off the hook.

Overall he did just well enough on the un-weighted decisions but he was amazingly wrong when it came to the important calls and giving all the benefit to Manchester United. A very one-sided performance from the ref in that first half.

In the second half the ref just continued as before. In the 55th minute he made the first mistake in favour of Arsenal. Up to then he had made 14 wrong decisions in favour of United.  The foul he didn’t see was from Edu on Scholes when Edu pushed him off the ball.

Rooney escaped once again in not getting a yellow card when he clearly showed dissent against the assistant who flagged him back. Poor teamwork from the ref. A good ref doesn’t allow the players any dissent against his assistants. Should have been his second yellow card.

On we march until minute 72. Rooney goes past Campbell who sticks out a leg, retracts his leg but Rooney goes to ground in an attempt to win a penalty. Mike Riley who up to then had given 7 penalties in favour for United in the 7 visits before this game knows this is his moment and gives a penalty. United scores from the penalty. Two wrong decisions from the ref of course and in fact should have been 3 decisions as Rooney dived to win a penalty and should have been given his … third yellow card in that game.

So a player who should have been booked twice dives for the penalty and the player who should have been sent off for a dangerous lunge at Cole scores the penalty….

Then comes a moment where Riley makes a big mistake in favour or Arsenal. Ronaldo cuts inside Cole who started a sliding tackle and catches the leg of Ronaldo. Now that Mr. Riley really was a penalty. But after the first one he thought it was enough maybe?

For the rest of the game the ref kept on missing fouls and missing obvious yellow cards against United players.

The introduction for the second United goal was again down to a mistake from the ref. Saha came in with a frontal tackle against Pires near the half way line. Pires can just kick the ball back and jump up to rescue his legs. This should have been given a foul immediately and a yellow card against Saha.  The ref gives nothing the ball ends up with Lehman who kicks it up front and then United win the ball and go on and score the second.

The odds that this goal would have been scored when Arsenal would have taken a free kick at the half way line looks very slim.

COMPETENCY SUMMARY – Mike Riley (2004-10-24)
Period 1 Called Total Correct %
OFFSIDE 2 2 100.00
OTHER 25 31 80.65
PENALTY 1 1 100.00
RED 0 2 0.00
YELLOW 3 7 42.86
TOTAL 31 43 72.09
WEIGHTED 36 56 64.29
Period 2 Called Total Correct %
GOAL 1 2 50.00
OFFSIDE 1 1 100.00
OTHER 17 26 65.38
PENALTY 0 2 0.00
YELLOW 2 8 25.00
TOTAL 21 39 53.85
WEIGHTED 25 55 45.45
Totals Called Total Correct %
GOAL 1 2 50.00
OFFSIDE 3 3 100.00
OTHER 42 57 73.68
PENALTY 1 3 33.33
RED 0 2 0.00
YELLOW 5 15 33.33
TOTAL 52 82 63.41
WEIGHTED 61 111 54.95

The first half was not good but the un-weighted score was just acceptable. When we put weight on the decisions it gets unacceptable.

The second half went from bad to worse. The ref hardly managed to get a score of 53% on the un-weighted decisions and when we put weight on the decisions he only gets a score of 45%.

In total the score is 63% and if we put weight the total score is just under 55%. TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE RESULT FROM ANY REF.


BIAS SUMMARY – Mike Riley (2004-10-24)
Period 1 Manchester United % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 16 53.33 14 46.67 30
Correct For Weighted 18 52.94 16 47.06 34
Incorrect Against 0 0.00 12 100.00 12
Incorrect Against Weighted 0 0.00 20 100.00 20
Fouls Commited 18 56.25 14 43.75 32
Fouls Penalised 13 72.22 14 100.00 27
Period 2 Manchester United % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 10 52.63 9 47.37 19
Correct For Weighted 12 57.14 9 42.86 21
Incorrect Against 3 17.65 14 82.35 17
Incorrect Against Weighted 5 17.24 24 82.76 29
Fouls Commited 15 57.69 11 42.31 26
Fouls Penalised 9 60.00 8 72.73 17
Totals Manchester United % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 26 53.06 23 46.94 49
Correct For Weighted 30 54.55 25 45.45 55
Incorrect Against 3 10.34 26 89.66 29
Incorrect Against Weighted 5 10.20 44 89.80 49
Fouls Commited 33 56.90 25 43.10 58
Fouls Penalised 22 66.67 22 88.00 44

Well the bias score tells the whole story. Mike Riley was rubbish in this game. Being rubbish in a game can happen you know. We are human…

But in his rubbish he was also clearly biased. Almost 90% of his  “mistakes” were in favour of Manchester United.  He penalised 88% of the Arsenal fouls but only 66% of the Manchester United fouls.

It was a disgrace that the left Ferdinand and Van Nistelrooy on the field. Was he too much a coward to do his job? Or was it on purpose? This was one of the most biased performances of all times from any ref.  The fact that he gave all those penalties to United in those consecutive home games is telling a whole story itself.

And the fact that such a ref does not get not kicked out of football is a disgrace in itself. But the fact that this unfit, biased referee later on in his career gets promoted to being the head of the referees is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Unless it was part of being reward for  making a stupid fool of himself in this game?


If you are thinking of commenting on this report and have not read our ref reports before you might like to read this first….

Untold Arsenal has a team of qualified referees who have reviewed more than 40% of the EPL games from last season. The reviews themselves were based on full match video footage with the advantage of video technology features such as slow motion and pause.

By reviewing those 155 games we have made a database of more than 7000 decisions that have been judged by our panel of dedicated and qualified referees.  We have then compared our figures with those of another web site that also analyses refs – and a comparison of results is in our Looking for an independent second sources  article.

A guide to our work comes in the Measuring the competence of the referees  and The Competence of the refs, part 2 articles.  The index to the full series of articles on the season is given here.


Untold Arsenal

Arsenal History Index

Ordinary is Pointless

The Great History of Arsenal Competition – complete with prizes

21 Replies to “The Ref Review from the past. Man U 2 Arsenal 0; the unbeaten run is over”

  1. Thank you Walter & DogFace.
    We all knew it, but having it confirmed by a sound review eases the pain just a little.

  2. This is the reality of Alex F***U-Son and manU, they used to buy refs in all of their big games during 1995-2010. What a disgrace.
    Arsenal would have carried on for ages had the match officials been fair.

  3. Some typical scenarios can be found here…
    1) Wasn’t the Nistelrooy/Cole tackle similar to Balotelli/Song last season? If it was, and Nistelrooy was punished after the game, why didn’t they punish Balotelli in the same manner? Perhaps because he finally got his red card and “it all evens out in the end.” But if he was given an additional ban, City could face some issues there…
    2) Ref giving a penalty after a dive, then not giving one after a clear foul: you usually hear that refs don’t want to give too much of an advantage to the winning side – two penalties in a row in a close battle is too much. But the fact is, this can often signify that the ref already knows he made a mistake with the previous pen and is “making amends” by not calling another one. Again, “it all evens out in the end” – but what if Arsenal’s hand wasn’t forced?
    3) Advantage without advantage – time and again, refs give advantage to teams that quickly lose possession. I rarely see them draw the game back. Usually they play along as if it was all the losing side’s fault. If the tackle is on one of the key attacking players, you could bet they were going to lose the ball. Someone should reeducate those refs in what “advantage” really means.
    4) No punishment for an atrocious tackle: this happens quite often in England, where refs tend to support the idea that breaking legs, snapping ankles and what have is a crucial part of “the beautiful game.” Pulis and Shawcross come to mind: “… but he’s a good boy.” When a ref doesn’t want to penalize players of a particular team, he’d go on talking and talking to the players until the 90th minute and then give them a yellow. Sometimes it seems that they are afraid to affect the outcome of the game – a red card in the 15th minute will almost always result in a loss for the punished team. But you can’t just shirk away from your responsibility…
    5) Overlooking last-ditch tackles: refs rarely give red for them, as if they were convinced the player wouldn’t have scored anyway. But that’s not for the ref to decide. Why oh why do they not abide to the written rules?…

    Thank you for this review, another piece of the great work you’ve been doing.

  4. To me it was obvious what was happeningespecially the foul on Ljunberg when he was clear on goal. That was bias refering.It can not be a natural mistake at this level. I have never believed Arsenal lost that game because MU were the better team that day.
    Let’s hope your ref reviews for last season see the stirring of a rebellion against the referee system we have in England at the moment. A rebellion that brings an end to what is happening.

  5. Walter,
    Wonderful, brilliant to strike a blow against the planting of the bad seed in the Manure patch which has flowered into the head of the PGMOL. This is Exhibit A in any case that advocates for a fair pitch. Well worth the wait. It should go far and wide.
    (And please fix the column headings to the right for better legibility.)

  6. This was clearly a game that Arsenal lost due to the decisions of the ref. This has been going on way to long. Shame on the EPL!

  7. If you comment here for the first time You will be held in moderation till Tony gets back.
    Sorry for that but I have no access to the behind the scenes thing of this site 😉

  8. I watched that game in total disbelief and have always thought we were shafted by a ref that had either been bought or was just really poor.

    Thanks for this article prooving it once and for all. Officially we are 49ers but in reality we should be half centurions.

  9. Thank You Walter. I do believe this game scarred Reyes who was such fun to watch when on song. Yes there were other issues with the weather and his homesickness etc…but this played a big part.

  10. I didn’t need to read this, I knew full well United should have been down to 8 by the end of it and Rooney dived for the pen when I watched it live on TV.

    Great review though and Im glad someone put it into writing.

    This match was attrocious and theres no point buttering it up saying Riley made a mistake. If there were ever a game that proves a ref was bought, this was it (and Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4).

  11. The sad thing was the effect the result had on the team.

    We were absolutely flying and then we got screwed in this game. After that the team went through a really bad run of form and was why we failed to challenge to retain the title.

    Did the players know something we didn’t?
    Or did the whole farce of a game destroy their confidence? – Because to me if you lose and know you were the better side it shouldn’t have an effect on your confidence.

  12. @walter and tony why not post this on the current site as well? that way many people can comment there seeing as this one doesnt get many guests

  13. You begin to wonder if there are any connections to inexplicable flurries of unusual betting,…. just a thought !

  14. Walter, I can’t remember all they details of the game, just a series of premeditated nasty tackles and the Rooney dive. However, this is an excellent report.

    What a pack of scum the Manures are & what a very biased ref Riley was. A total disgrace – but he obviously impressed someone with this performance – to be rewarded with his present position!

  15. I seem to have lots of memories of these games.

    The two that stick in my mind are:
    22 August 1999 Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2
    The two reports here mention the rotational fouling of Vieira that Graham Poll ignored and set the precedent for Riley to follow 5 years later.

    8 May 2002 Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1
    We won the league that night which means that United’s disgraceful tactics were not picked up by the media (are they ever?). Van Nistelrooy punched Ljungberg and Sky decided that it wasn’t worthy of a replay. I’m sure if it had been the other way round we would still be watching it. Paul Durkin was the referee and here is a report:

  16. The interesting thing in the 2002 match is that the only players booked were, you guessed it, Arsenal players…

  17. From the clip, Don Fergus was utterly rapturous and the crowd in a delirious froth – both post-Weimar – in the spell of psychodrama that Riley wove and made possible. Their entire fan base has since felt Entitled to Championships and have neither conscience nor specific memories of how illegitimate their “victory” was. This match is Exhibit A in all that’s wrong with the EPL/PGMOL connection; and a case study in crowd psychology gone wild at the old toilet crime scene.

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