Former World Cup final referee Howard Webb believes match officials need to be given a platform to explain their controversial decisions, but he has told ESPN FC that his suggestions were dismissed by the organisation in charge of referees in English football. Webb, who took charge of both the World Cup final and the Champions League final in 2010, took up a role with the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL) following his retirement from the game in August 2014, yet his desire to create a more public face for referees has been rejected. Now working as an analyst with BT Sport, Webb has given an exclusive insight into accusations of bias during his career, Jose Mourinho's "campaign" against Chelsea criticism and the future of officiating.
- Should referees be given a chance to explain their decisions in a more public forum?
- I firmly believe there is a place for a voice to provide some clarity on big issues in the game. The challenge is finding a way to present the case in a setting that does not just lead to a referee appearing on TV and being criticised for mistakes they may have made. There is a need to humanise referees, to show what it is like to make big decisions in the face of huge pressure.
- Should a referee talk to the media after a game and explain their thoughts on the big decisions?
- Appearing on TV after each game may not be the best way to do it. Match officials will make mistakes, but explaining why they might have been made can help to diffuse the situation. It would also be nice to show that referees do care if they make a mistake.
- Why would standing before a camera not be the best way to present a human side to refereeing, which you suggest is needed?
- Pretty much everyone involved makes errors in every match, but the credibility of an official would be damaged if they apologised one week and then made another error the next. Also, would TV companies want to speak to referees after they have had an excellent game? Probably not. The perceived mistakes and controversial incidents would be focused on and that may not present a balanced argument.
- Would current Premier League referees like to have chance to explain the decisions they have made?
- I think they would. I was working with referee Paul Durkin many years ago when he went on TV and explained why he had missed a clear penalty in a match between Manchester United and Newcastle. Gary Neville served up a terrible back pass and Paul was well out of position as a result. The referee was not in position to give the penalty and when he explained that after the game on TV, the reaction was so positive. To do that now, you would need to get clearance from PGMOL and that is why we don't see referees commenting on decisions.
- Should referees have a more prominent spokesperson to offer opinions on their behalf?
- That could be a way around this. In my year with PGMOL, I was working with the media privately and trying to explain why decisions were being made, to offer some perspective to pundits and analysts. I was not there to change opinions, just to chat through a few ideas on why a decision was made. Often our discussions did lead to a more balanced argument being presented.
- Why did the public not know you were doing this work with the media last season?
- I don't know why it was kept so secretive. I was at the BBC studios in Salford most Saturday afternoons talking to pundits before they presented Match of the Day (a Premier League highlights show) that evening. We had a chat for 15 minutes on the key talking points of the day and hopefully that helped to offer some insight into why a decision had been made. Conveying a message from a referee through members of the media may be an idea for the future.
- How did you feel when you realised you had made a mistake that changed the outcome of a big game?
- Very low. A referee tends to develop a sense for understanding reactions of players and you realise quickly if you have got something wrong. When this happens, it is vital that you don't cave in, or allow it to affect your judgement on the next big call. Also, the idea of balancing it out by giving the unfortunate team a decision in their favour cannot be considered. That merely means you are making two mistakes and compounding the situation.
- How did you deal with criticism from fans and the perception that you were biased against their team?
- It was the biggest annoyance for me as a referee. Everyone loves a conspiracy theory but the idea that any decision is made with a sinister undertone could not be further from the truth. Human nature means errors are made and will always be made - that is part of the game. The notion that bias against certain teams is in play is quite ridiculous.
- So how would you reflect on Jose Mourinho's suggestion last season that there was a "campaign" against Chelsea from referees?
- I can't believe he thought that was true. Do you think Martin Atkinson - who was singled out for criticism by Mourinho last season - turns up for a game thinking: 'I am just here to piss Chelsea off today?' Do you think any official wants a few days of abuse and negative headlines if they have a bad game? Of course not, it was a silly suggestion.