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Howard Webb

Jack Taylor was the World Cup Final referee in 1974 and I was born in 1971 but while I don’t remember that one, one of the most pleasant outcomes of going out to the (World Cup) Finals in South Africa in 2010 was the fact I got to know Jack quite well. He came out to the finals and was well into his eighties then and I met him the day before the finals in Johannesburg. I spent some time with him and he talked about his Final in ’74 and looking back on his career. Clearly he was a giant of a man in the refereeing World; he was a big guy anyway with a broad stature and big frame and his dark mop of hair slicked back. The first referees I can remember were George Courtney and Keith Hackett when I first started. When I was a kid I had no ambitions about refereeing the game, it was all about playing and aspiring to be a World Cup winning Captain and never dreaming in a million years that I would get there to the Final as a Match Official. It was only when it became apparent that my playing abilities weren’t quite what I hoped they would be that my Dad introduced me to refereeing.

He had done some when he had finished playing and it was only getting to know refereeing through him that it really came to my attention and I thought that it might be a good idea to take up refereeing as a younger guy as there weren’t so many younger guys around doing it. So I did my course and it was at that point that I started looking around to see what the good referees were doing and which ones were impressive and which ones I would like to emulate; the ones who hold themselves well or make their decisions well.

I suppose being quite a tall guy, the guys I looked to were the characters on the field of play like George Courtney or Keith Hackett from Sheffield who was quite local to me. These are the guys I probably modelled myself on in the early days. One of the really good things about doing the job I do is that I’ve been able to become really good friends with these people I used to look up to. George Courtney will send me a text messages when he sees my games and he’ll send me postcards from his holidays, and I treasure every one. Keith Hackett has stayed in touch too; for a while he was out boss but he has become someone I can call a friend too and it really is quite special.

Someone else I used to look up to a little later after I had been refereeing for a while and someone who used to make me sit up and take notice was Luigi Collina from Italy. He is now head of refereeing with UEFA and is therefore my boss for Champions League football and I get to spend quite a bit of time with now which to me feels quite a privilege. He is someone I used to take notice of when I watched him on Channel 4 in Italian football; he always seemed to be able to make big, brave decisions which were always correct when you watched them back. He was someone the players seemed to respect and he was quite unique because of the way that he looked and made me think that looking a little distinctive was perhaps not a bad thing and makes people notice you a little more.

The World Cup was an amazing thing to be involved in. There have been nineteen World Cups so far and so only nineteen men have so far taken charge of a Final and there are some two million registered ad qualified referees around the World just now so to be in that small exclusive group is quite special. You try to treat and referee the game as a normal match but you do sense it is something massively important.

I remember the game was 8.30 but we had a really early walk-out at 8.15 because of the VIPs and the National Anthems. At quarter past eight they pressed the bell for the teams to come out. My two assistants came out to pick up their equipment from the desk and I came out into the tunnel at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg where there are no steps, it is just quite a steep tunnel up to the pitch. We were about two thirds of the way down where we agreed to assemble. I was there looking down towards the pitch and I could just see the pitch – not fully, but just enough to see that there were two podiums. One was just off the pitch which had the ball on it which I had to remember to collect on my way onto the pitch; it was the white and gold ball produced especially for the Final by Adidas. And there was the second podium just on the pitch with the words FIFA on it and on top of that was the World Cup Trophy itself, but it was the shiniest piece of metal I had ever seen in my life. I had seen it so many times on TV before and replicas but I didn’t expect such a wonderful sight and to think we were about to play for that Trophy with the Golden World on top and the green at the base was an amazing thing to see as I waited to walk out for the World Cup Final. Those memories and that walk out will stay with me forever, collecting the ball, onto the pitch and past that Trophy and to turn around and face it and to know that you’re about to be involved in something quite amazing was very special.

It was a tough game. People said what a great game it would be between two teams who know how to play football in the right way and what a beautiful game it should be, but games that are so important often aren’t and so often Finals don’t live up to expectations. It was difficult; it was such a physical game, a battle and at the end although you hope the talk will be about the goals and the players unfortunately I was heavily involved because of the number of physical challenges and the reactions from people. At the end of the day you are there to do a job and you have to do a job to the best of your abilities and being the Final you don’t want to over-react but you don’t want to under-react and it was quite a difficult balance to strike and it was a long two hours. But looking back now after four years I’m still amazingly proud of what we did in South Africa in 2010. To get to the Final was quite an achievement and not just for me but my team as well. It is very much a team effort what we do and I can’t do it on my own and I need really skilled assistant referees on either side and I’ve got some of the best in the World. I look at my career and feel lucky that it has coincided with these amazing experts who are specialists in what they do helping me to deliver the games successfully

Howard Webb

Howard is supporting the Sporting Memories Network in tackling dementia, depression and social isolation- read more here

 

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Howard Webb is supporting the Sporting Memories NetworkHoward Webb is supporting the Sporting Memories Network