Webb: "Players have their eye on going to the World Cup and referees are no different"

Howard Webb is regarded as one of the top referees in world football. After plying his trade in the lower leagues during the mid-1990s, he made the step up to the top flight as an assistant referee in 1998, before taking charge of his first Premier League match five years later. He has been a FIFA-listed official since 2005 and in 2010 he was appointed to referee two of the biggest games in football – the Champions League final and the World Cup final. Here is his Footballers' Football Column.
Many of the players who I will officiate this season in the Premier League and the Champions League will have one eye on the World Cup in the summer – and I am no different. Both Mark Clattenburg and myself are up for selection for the World Cup in Brazil and hopefully one of us will go. I love being involved in tournaments and now my season is geared towards working hard to try and get that again next year by being selected for the World Cup, which would be my last involvement due to my age. Players play for their club every weekend and their immediate focus is to win the game. But they will also have one eye on the national squad and they understand they are being watched all the time and monitored. We are the same, how we do in Premier League or Champions League matches affect selection for the World Cup next year. That is the ultimate aim for the season. You hope your performances are strong and you are in good form and you get selected for a tournament. The referees selected for the tournament are due to find out in February or March. I was a referee at the Confederations Cup in the summer and that was a fantastic experience as was the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. The biggest honour of all as a referee is to be handed the World Cup final. There have only been 19 World Cup finals, so to referee one of them was a huge privilege. It does not happen to many players and it happens to even fewer referees so when you get appointed as a World Cup final referee then you understand what a big occasion it is. It capped off an amazing experience at the World Cup in South Africa and year in general. It was a difficult game to referee, so much has been written about it but it was a challenging game and a very tough job on the night. But that does not take away anything from the game and I look back on it with fond memories.
I was also the referee for the Champions League final in the same year between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich in Madrid and that went a lot more smoothly and we were able to remain anonymous for that game, which is what the aim is. If people don’t know who refereed a game then you have done your job, which is strange. Sometimes though it is not possible to remain anonymous, even if that is your aim because of the nature of the game. What can happen is if you try and keep a low profile in a game and not get involved then you can make a bigger problem. When I have been close to selection for tournaments I have gone into games hoping there would be no controversies and get through the game quietly. But if a situation happens then it is up to the referee to stand up and be counted. On a few occasions I have not done and learned along the way that you are there to do a job. If a big decision needs to be made then it needs to be made and if you don’t make it then it inadvertently end up raising your profile by not doing the job. If you make the call correctly and it is a clear one then no one really talks about you either because you have done the right thing. But if you don’t and try and keep your profile low then you can make a mistake. Speaking of making mistakes, this season has seen the introduction of goal-line technology in the Premier League. I think you will be hard pressed to find a referee who is anti goal line technology. We are taking about a matter of fact and the answer as to whether the ball has crossed the line or not is definitive. I had a bit of experience with it at the Confederations Cup, the system was not the same but it was very similar. There were not any controversial moments that needed the goal-line technology, but it was reassuring to have it. It is like having an airbag in a car, you don’t need it for 99.99 per cent of the time because you don’t crash your car too often, but you need them there for the time there is an accident and it is reassuring. One of the biggest issues in football at the moment is trying to present the game in a positive light. What people involved in a game have to understand is that what happens on the pitch can influence the next generation. So we need to make sure that it is positive.
Diving is an issue that promotes football in a bad way and we have to make people understand what they are doing. It is an issue and has been for a long time, but it is difficult to deal with and cut out completely because of the nature of it, we try and be as accurate as we can by getting in the right position, but you need a level of certainty to book someone for diving because you are calling them a cheat. From time to time we as officials will get it wrong and then it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth if a game has been won or lost on the back of a dive. Everyone involved needs to understand the damage that diving does to the game. But only a small number of players are involved in simulation and if you look at the number of incidents that happen in a game and across thousands of games then simulation is a very small percentage. But when it does happen it leaves a negative feeling. People can sort it out by not doing it.
When I speak at fans’ forums, people will say to me: ‘Why don’t you punish players who swear and the players who dive.’ The swearing issue, emotions are running high and players will sometimes overstep the mark with their language. But they have to understand where the line is. With the added media exposure on the game, it is natural that referees will be scrutinized more. And there are a number of former officials working in the media and their job is to talk about referees and decisions made during games. I think it is healthy when it is done with the intention of informing the public and bringing peoples attention the job of the referee and the processes we go through in making decisions. When I see and read people like Graham Poll in the Daily Mail, and Dermot Gallagher on Sky Sports or Talk Sport then they are pretty supportive where they can be. But if there is a mistake then it is only right that they flag it up, but if they can give some insight as to why that mistake might have happened, then that has to be beneficial. Football is a sport but it is also an entertainment industry and people pay good money to go and watch and anything that can improve their experience or give them more of an insight has to be a good thing. But if I have made a mistake then I will know that. I do watch programs like Match of the Day and The Football League Show to see what is going on in other games and watch other referees and learn from them. I will also watch my own games and I do listen to the criticism – if there is any. I hear it and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if I have made mistake then I will know I have made a mistake and don’t really need someone on TV confirming it for me, I know. It does hurt, if you make a mistake then you drive home feeling pretty dejected about it and it can be painful for a few days and while you have not lost a point or two points, it still lives with you. Your reputation is something you care about as a referee.

Source: Daily Mail