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Man in the middle 113


I


t was undoubtedly a dire summer for England’s overrated footballers, but one


Englishman who did make it to the World Cup final was Yorkshire referee Howard Webb, who was rewarded with the biggest game of all following a string of impressive performances during the tournament. Unfortunately, the final between Spain


and Holland proved memorable for all the wrong reasons. Webb would certainly have preferred a quiet night, and a good-natured, flowing game of beautiful football. But it wasn’t to be. Instead, it was the dirtiest World Cup


final ever witnessed, complete with cynical trips and kung-fu kicks. The man from Rotherham ended up dishing out a record 14 yellow cards and a red for Holland’s John Heitinga over the course of the match – and at least


two other players were lucky to


remain on the pitch. “It was probably the most difficult game


I’ve ever had – and I’ve had some hard ones,” said Webb. “I felt a bit like a bride who’d seen three gorgeous sunny Saturdays and then, on her wedding day, she comes out of church and it’s raining. “Having watched it back there’s not a


lot I would change. I’m satisfied that under difficult circumstances we did a pretty efficient job.” It seems cruel that Webb, 39, should have


been confronted with the toughest game of his life in front of a world-wide TV audience of 750 million. But experience as a South Yorkshire Police Sergeant would no doubt have helped him cope with the pressure, even if his wife, Kay, did say before the game that she didn’t know how he managed to control 22-footballers on a pitch, as he struggled to control his own kids at home! The man in the middle


is always the most hated man on a football pitch, but there can’t be many more demanding jobs and


success


Webb’s as


a career ref deserves a huge amount of praise. Twenty years ago he was overseeing local


I felt like a bride who comes out of a church and it’s raining


of the Champions League Final and World Cup final in the same year. In


his time he


has given Cristiano Ronaldo, Crouch


kick-abouts


around Rotherham; now he has become the first Englishman since 1974 to oversee the World Cup final, and the first-ever referee to take charge


marching top-flight reds.


orders, and dished out more than 20 In an age where


Premiership footballers rarely fear


their own managers, the sight of Webb reaching for his pocket must


Peter and


Emmanuel Adebayor their


‘‘


be almost as terrifying to these multi- millionaire superstars as a tabloid exposé. The battle royale in the World Cup final


was far from the only challenging match Webb has faced. There was the 2007 Carling Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal of course, where a huge player brawl broke out, but Webb says he always tries to keep 22 players on the pitch if possible. “The important thing is getting it right,” he


said. “I don’t show cards for the sake of it or to impose myself on the game. I only show them when they are deserved. Ultimately, I want to manage the players and the match so that the best football can be played.”


‘‘


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