Webb “gutted” to miss a red card in the 2010 World Cup final

On 20 October 2016, World Cup 2010 final referee Howard Webb will be launching his autobiography, The Man in the Middle. Webb has described how he was "gutted beyond belief" to miss the flying kick by Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong when he refereed the 2010 World Cup final. De Jong had crashed a high boot into the chest of Spain's Xabi Alonso midway through the first half, but Webb chose to only produce a yellow card for the then-Manchester City player when he should have shown a red. "Xabi Alonso headed the ball forward to David Villa but, as he did so, Nigel de Jong crashed into him," Webb wrote in his new book "The Man in the Middle," which is being serialised in The Times. "At that moment I'd been positioned just behind Alonso, about 10 yards away, so I hadn't seen the actual point of impact or exactly how De Jong had connected. However, I knew that it was a late and forceful challenge, and that it warranted a caution. None of my team spoke up on the radio to suggest otherwise, so I showed a yellow card for what I'd seen unfold before me: an untidy, reckless challenge from the Dutch midfielder. Hand on heart, it never, ever crossed my mind that this was a red card. In that instance, on that pitch, I was utterly convinced it was a yellow; not one percent of me thought otherwise. I hadn't bottled out of the big decision, I hadn't felt intimidated by the occasion, and I'd certainly not felt under any pressure from FIFA to curb dismissals. I'd simply handed out the appropriate penalty for what I'd seen with my own eyes, from my vantage point. And that's the truth. As I brandished the card, however, there was a furious reaction from the Spaniards, both on and off the field. I genuinely thought they were pissed off because of the general physicality of the Dutch team, not just this one particular offence. I also presumed they were riled because I'd chosen not to play advantage when the ball had dropped to David Villa from Alonso's header. It wasn't until half-time that I realised De Jong's tackle might have been worthy of a red card... I felt gutted beyond belief. It looked like I'd missed a red-card offence in the World Cup final. What a f---ing nightmare. I returned to the pitch with my head pounding and my heart thumping". (Source: ESPN)

Howard Webb opens up on astonishing referee civil war between Graham Poll’s ‘Red Wine Club’ and Jeff Winter’s crew. While the job of the man in the middle is to keep things calm between two sides on the pitch, when refereeing’s two cliques came together things can get feisty. In the red corner was Graham Poll’s ‘Red Wine Club’, who got the nickname because they liked to “relax with a tipple (or two) while off-duty”. In his autobiography, The Man in the Middle, Webb named Paul Durkin, Rob Styles, Mike Dean, Andy D’Urso and Graham Barber as belonging to Poll’s group. On the other side was Jeff Winter and his pals Mark Halsey, Mike Riley, Neale Barry, Steve Bennett and Barry Knight. Webb said there was a vague North-South divide with Poll’s group being mainly Southerners and Winter’s tending to come from the North. He added that group video sessions were a nightmare: “Keith [Hackett] would ask one of us to lead the meeting, giving this nominee carte blanche to hand-pick clips of his choosing. Unsurprisingly, this often accounted for some bum-clenchingly awkward moments, since the group’s social chasm meant that personal vendettas would intervene. Rob Styles, for example, would replay unflattering clips featuring a rival like Jeff Winter, before gladly dissecting his mishaps and blunders”. Howard Webb says he was able to get on with both sides but felt closer to Winter’s group and, during the video reviews, some members of the Red Wine Club would go over the top in pointing out his errors. “Come on, Howard,’ they’d sneer. You’ve got to do better than that, for f***’s sake. You’re letting us all down, pal . . .”According to Webb, referees were relieved when Hackett, who favoured the group bonding sessions, retired as head of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PMGOL) to be replaced by Mike Riley, who knew what was going on behind the scenes and scrapped them altogether. The feud between the two cliques came to a head during a team-building weekend at an isolated Lake District cottage. Webb wrote: “What had been intended as an informal beer ’n’ barbecue night in Cumbria almost descended into a version of Fight Night at the NEC, following a ruckus between Graham Poll and Mark Halsey. These were well-regarded, well-paid Premier League referees acting like badly behaved schoolboys. It was big Uriah Rennie who eventually stepped in, shouting ‘Enough!’ as he grabbed Poll and Halsey by the scruffs of their necks before dragging them apart”. At the time Howard Webb had only just been promoted to refereeing Premier League games, and says: “I remember thinking Jesus Christ, what the hell have I let myself in for here?” Webb was full of praise for current referees' chief Mike Riley, despite describing him as 'not the most sociable person in the world'. He wrote: "If you ever felt down and needed someone to put your head back on straight, Riley was your man. Mike had a knack of putting the spring back into your step, and I’d always emerge from our chats with a more positive mindset". (Source: The Sun)

Sergeant Webb, policeman and football referee. And before that, one referee who really was a banker! There are few more combative fields of work. But what strikes me most, from knowing the author a little and reading his autobiography, is that he is one of the least confrontational blokes you could wish to meet. He had to learn to assert himself and it didn’t come naturally. Maybe that’s one secret of Webb’s great success. Forget refereeing, Rotherham’s finest is one of the most recognisable people on planet football. Perhaps that stature comes from the non-officious personality that he and others, including an influential mentor in Keith Hackett, moulded into the man who would preside over the finals of the Champions League and the World Cup in the same year. As such, he’s an ideal role model. Take note any overbearing, attention-seeking jobsworths. Howard did it quietly but firmly up to that momentous year of 2010, flanked by his outstanding assistants Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey. That’s why it’s so ironic he will be remembered for the record 14 yellow cards he flashed in the final between winners Spain and the Netherlands – while failing to send off Holland’s Nigel De Jong for an assault with a chest-high boot. Howard plainly hated to be at the centre of controversy, let alone on that scale. But despite spending a career trying to avoid the headlines, he doesn’t shirk the big issues in his book. Bravely, these include the shock revelation that he has suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), ordaining behaviour way beyond superstition and rituals. Many fellow sufferers will be grateful for his honesty and benefit from it. He candidly confesses mistakes. Jose Mourinho correctly, but respectfully, predicted that one of them would get him fired as Chelsea manager. There’s a close-up on the biggest names; being the target of death threats; how uncalled for abuse from the likes of Craig Bellamy, Alan Pardew and David Moyes played a part in him quitting the middle at just 43. Why he regretted that decision; why he quit a new role with PGMOL, frustrated that the power of the Premier League seemed to prevent referees being publicly supported by their bosses; how success “comes at a price” in an unclarified passing comment on his marriage and family life. There’s also confirmation of historic bitter divisions in the select group of Premier League referees. From personal knowledge, it’s a pity that the most criticised species in the game can’t stick together more than they do. Their habitat can be a bear-pit of bitterness and backbiting. You could argue it takes big characters and personalities to referee. Howard seemed to succeed without being either, through an often tortured and painstaking process of self-examination. Webb positioned himself one step to the side of neutral (again avoiding conflict) to rise above the infighting; he steeled himself to make the big calls and assert himself fully in the middle – as he admits failing to do as a player, having been affectionately mocked by his bluff father Billy, a prominent local referee, as “a big girl’s blouse.” Yet this would be a fellow who’d go on to be threatened at the point of a pistol and a knife in his day job and unflinchingly control the biggest football matches on earth. Poignantly, it all sprang from the best of upbringings. The dedication at the start – to his dad – is deeply touching: “My fiercest critic, my biggest supporter, my chauffeur and my best friend.” (Source: The Star)