Bobby Madley quit as a referee last summer in a move that was said to have sent ‘shocks’ through PGMOL, the overlords of officialdom, but the former official has broken his silence about what happened and it raises even more questions about PGMOL and what they get up to out of sight.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Bobby Madley (C) gives Jose Fonte of Southampton a yellow card for a foul in the box during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 10: Bobby Madley (C) gives Jose Fonte of Southampton a yellow card for a foul in the box during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2018 amid all the Arsenal chaos, Bobby Madley, a Premier League referee, quit, reportedly unexpectedly, causing ‘shocks’ through PGMOL, the overlords of officialdom.

Five minutes later, everybody forgot all about him until he returned this week with a story that makes a weird tale seem even more bizarre.

This week, Bobby Madley revealed that he was sacked by PGMOL for sharing a video of himself mocking a disabled person.

We can all agree that is a sackable offence, yes?

Good. So far, straightforward.

At the time of his sacking, however, PGMOL released the following statement: “Bobby Madley is no longer employed by PGMOL. We understand that he has decided to relocate due to a change in his personal circumstances.”

Now, if I’m sacking someone for discriminatory behaviour, I’m going to include that as part of the statement to make it clear that that sort of behaviour is not tolerated in my organisation.

PGMOL said nothing. Actually, they did more than nothing, they acted like they had no idea why Madley was ‘quitting’ – actively misleading people after it became public.

The first anyone knew Madley was no longer a Premier League referee was when Sam Wallace revealed it in an exclusive for The Telegraph and there was no mention of any sort of discriminatory behaviour. That came a few weeks later when The S*n got their hands on the details.

When have you known PGMOL, the Premier League, FA or any of them to sack anyone without significant media pressure?

Around Madley there was none.

The main story doing the rounds at the time of Madley’s announcement was he was moving to Norway to live with his partner. PGMOL, as you’ve read, played stupid.

Mostly, they whole story just went away, as these things tend to do, until Madley decided to write about it this week. At length.

“I’m not proud of myself,” Madley said this week in comments he had no need to make about a video few have seen in which he reportedly shows a disabled person and ‘jokes’ that he “had a chance of winning the parent’s race this year.”

“I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It destroyed my career, my reputation and caused immeasurable damage to my family life.

“Out of context I accept this reads shamefully,” Madley added. “I accept that. However my intention was that the joke was aimed at myself.

“I sent it as a private text to somebody who I trusted, somebody who understood the context of previous sports day comments and was aware of the fat shaming I had received.

“I regret taking the video, I regret sending that video and whilst it was a dark humoured joke it was just that. A joke. It was not intended to shame anyone, it was not intended to be seen by anyone other than the person I sent it privately to in a text message on my own personal phone (not a work phone).”

This whole issue raises a number of problems for me and the more I read of Madley’s statement, the more I found myself urging him to just shut up.

Firstly, later in his post, Madley employs the ‘my dad was disabled so I can’t be accused of discriminatory behaviour’ defence which is as offensive as the ‘I can’t be racist, I have a black friend’ proclamations of someone who has just said something racist.

Secondly, he points to being fat-shamed by the media as part of the reasoning behind his comments, because everybody know that the best way to make yourself feel better is to make fun of someone else.

Thirdly, ‘it was just a joke’ is not, and has never been, an acceptable explanation for saying or doing discriminatory things. Even if making a joke is genuinely what you think you were doing, you lost your job over it. “Whilst my actions were badly misjudged, it was a joke. A private joke,” Madley says repeatedly in a variety of ways. Stop saying ‘it was just a joke’, then maybe you can listen and learn why it isn’t funny.

Madley took a video of a disabled person as he made his ‘joke’ and sent it to someone else. It wasn’t even a ‘heat of the moment’ ‘joke’ or something that ‘just slipped out'(although most people don’t have trouble with discriminatory statements just slipping out when they aren’t in there to begin with) – he took the time to pick up his phone, video this person, come up with his ‘joke’ and then send it to someone else.

I understand what Madley’s trying to say when he claims he was mocking himself rather than the disabled person, but that doesn’t make it OK. Abuse and discrimination against people with different abilities, mental and/or physical, is one of the biggest hidden shames of our society that causes very real harm.

Fourth, if Madley was sacked, as he clearly says he was when he writes, “I was dismissed with immediate effect for gross misconduct on grounds of discrimination,” why did PGMOL not say that? Why did they act like it was such a shock Madley was no longer going to be a referee?

Do they care more about the reputation of PGMOL, which has been in tatters for years because of things just like this, than making a clear statement about discrimination?

It seems they do as The S*n claimed PGMOL placed a gagging order on Madley which, if true, appears to have lapsed at the end of 2019, hence his blog post.

Did PGMOL ban Madley from admitting he had been sacked for discriminatory behaviour?

Does that sound like the actions of an organisation that believes itself to be accountable in any way to anyone?

This was an ideal teaching moment for PGMOL in terms of football and wider society. It was a chance to highlight that, even when you think you are making fun of yourself, you can also be harming someone else. PGMOL could have also shone a massive spotlight on a vastly under-reported problem and drew attention to the casual ableism we all employ on a regular basis.

They did none of that. They simply acted like they didn’t know what was going on.

Referees, as we know, are a secretive bunch. They do not like to open themselves to scrutiny from the outside and have shown no desire for true transparency.

It’s what makes it easy to come up with conspiracy theories.

As Madley notes in his blog post, “Premier League referees are not allowed a social media account. No Twitter, no Facebook,” so they have no way to address what is said about them. To his credit, he addresses head on the rumours that spread on social media immediately after he was sacked that a video had appeared somewhere of him being overly friendly with a dog.

“The fact was somebody posted that I’m a ‘dog botherer’ in relation to me being a Huddersfield Town fan (the Terriers) and so the rumour began,” Madley wrote before explaining how it morphed out of all control until people were demanding the police get involved. Not to investigate the threats aimed at Madley, but to investigate him for the unfounded claims of bestiality.

As for what he actually did, the mocking of a disabled person, he has paid a heavy price. The secrecy with which it was all dealt with, however, means that it is disabled people who will continue to pay further.

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.