A closer look at a season of unprecedented controversy in the Premier League

It has been the season of the asterisk in the Premier League, where the PSR joined VAR in dominating social media debate and fuelling conspiracy theories.

Here, the PA news agency looks at a season of unprecedented controversy in the top flight.

Diaz howler leads to refs’ review

Serious miscommunication between on-field referee Simon Hooper and VAR Darren England led to a Luis Diaz goal for Liverpool against Tottenham in October being wrongly ruled out for offside.

The penny dropped too late for England that Hooper’s on-field decision was offside, rather than onside, so that when England said “check complete” play had restarted without Liverpool being awarded a goal.

To its credit, referees’ body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) quickly acknowledged there had been “significant human error” and granted Liverpool’s request to hear the conversations between the officials, which were also made publicly available.

The Premier League said the incident had highlighted “systemic weaknesses” in the communication process and led to a review of how officials talk to one another.

Everton suffer initial 10-point PSR hit

The Toffees had been charged in March 2023 over a breach of Premier League profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) up to the 2021-22 season, but it took until November for the independent commission hearing the case to announce they were being docked 10 points with immediate effect.

The club succeeded in reducing the sanction to six points after an appeal board found in February that the commission made errors in law on two issues.

Further PSR charges for Everton and Forest

Everton and Nottingham Forest both had PSR complaints laid against them on January 15
Everton and Nottingham Forest both had PSR complaints laid against them on January 15 (PA)

The Premier League announced on January 15 that Forest and Everton had been referred to independent commissions after both admitted breaches of PSR related to the period ending with the 2022-23 season.

Forest were docked four points while Everton were deducted a further two. Last week Forest discovered their appeal to reduce the sanction had been unsuccessful. If the appeal board had handed them back two or more points, Burnley would effectively have been relegated by written reasons.

Last Friday, Everton announced they had withdrawn their appeal. A separate dispute between the club and the league over stadium costs will rumble on into next season.

Foxes charge sparks promotion uncertainty

Leicester were charged with breaching the Premier League PSR in March, and it later emerged through proceedings brought by Leicester that the league sought to have the case expedited so that any points deduction could be applied by the EFL to the Foxes’ Championship total.

Such a sanction could have had a decisive impact in the Premier League promotion race but ultimately the EFL discovered its current rules prevent it from applying a Premier League-related sanction to one of its own league tables.

Consequently any points deduction decided on by the independent commission hearing the case will be applied next season, with Leicester now back in the top flight for 2024-25.

Forest spark new VAR row

Forest's former referee analyst Mark Clattenburg was at the heart of two controversial incidents
Forest’s former referee analyst Mark Clattenburg was at the heart of two controversial incidents (Mike Egerton/PA)

Forest’s appointment of the league’s first referee analyst, former top-flight official Mark Clattenburg, was an eyebrow-raiser and he was quickly involved, heading to the mixed zone after the club’s defeat to Liverpool to highlight Paul Tierney’s error in not giving Forest possession for a drop ball.

But matters escalated to a much more serious level in April when the club issued an extraordinary statement immediately after a defeat to Everton. It highlighted what Forest felt were three clear penalty claims which the officials had rejected and went on to say the club had “warned” PGMOL that the VAR Stuart Attwell was a fan of their relegation rivals Luton, but that PGMOL did nothing about it.

Forest have been charged by the Football Association over that statement, while Clattenburg – who has now left Forest – was charged over comments he made about the officiating at Goodison Park, as were Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo and defender Neco Williams.

The statement could also lead to the Premier League taking action. Forest also suggested in a later statement that “contextual rivalries” should be taken into account by PGMOL when making match appointments.

While PGMOL chief of refereeing Howard Webb did concede that Attwell should have asked on-field referee Anthony Taylor to review the third penalty claim at the monitor, both PGMOL and the Premier League stand squarely behind the professionalism and integrity of their officials.

Wolves call for VAR vote

A Wolves fan holds up a red card protesting against the use of VAR
Wolves have frequently been frustrated by VAR (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Black Country club called for a vote to scrap VAR at the league’s annual general meeting on June 6.

Their statement said VAR was “undermining the value of the Premier League brand”.

The Premier League responded by saying it “fully supports” the continued use of VAR but Wolves, as a member club, have the right to bring the matter to a vote.