Webb blows the whistle on officiating woes

Howard Webb, a former Premier League referee and technical director of football's officials, was once told by the Premier League to keep quiet after he publicly backed referees.
Howard Webb, a former Premier League referee and technical director of football's officials, was once told by the Premier League to keep quiet after he publicly backed referees.

LONDON • Early last year, Howard Webb gave an interview to The Times of London defending the competence of English referees against an onslaught of criticism.

You would think that was his job then as technical director of football's officials, sticking up for colleagues after Jose Mourinho, in particular, had led a fresh attack.

What is fascinating, and troubling, is the response that Webb encountered - internally.

Mike Riley, his manager, called him into an office and said that Richard Scudamore, executive chairman of the Premier League, was angry.

Webb's comments could be construed as picking an argument with Chelsea. He was told to keep his mouth shut. Webb was stunned by the finger-wagging reprimand.

"The interview I did was really supportive," the 45-year-old says. "We'd had a really bad year. We were coming under some pressure. Mourinho had come out and battered Martin Atkinson, spouting conspiracy theories and I thought 'right, we are having a bad time but what a load of bulls*** that is'.

"I was keen to speak out. I did it with permission. But I get pulled after by Mike Riley saying 'Richard Scudamore isn't happy about this'. I keep that article at home as a reminder of why I left. In my eyes it was ridiculous that we couldn't do a supportive piece like that. It was kind of the last straw."

Not long after, Webb, the son of a lower-league official and a former policeman, walked away from Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

In his autobiography The Man In The Middle, to be published next week, he talks candidly of the other tough times he faced as a match official, famously the 2010 World Cup final which was turned into a kicking match by the Netherlands.

He reveals the struggles to maintain self-belief, especially when he suffered from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder that brought intrusive, negative thoughts. He was also battered incessantly for a perceived Manchester United bias.

"Referees make mistakes and sometimes they feel the pressure and sometimes they might lack courage," he says. "But totally it's not borne out of any conspiracy, corruption and bias but human nature that runs through all of us."

The latest English referee to come under attack is Anthony Taylor, who will supervise Monday's Premier League meeting of Manchester United and Liverpool.

He lives 10km from Old Trafford, which former referees' chief Keith Hackett believes could lead to allegations of partiality, reported the BBC.

Taylor has no United ties and supports National League North side Altrincham, but Liverpool supporters have already gone to social media questioning his integrity.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Webb blows the whistle on officiating woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe