Glenn Moore: Poll evidence suggests he is a good referee - and a controversial figure

It is said a good referee is one who does not get noticed. On that basis Graham Poll must be a terrible ref. Anonymity is not, however, a luxury afforded to the modern Premiership referee, and especially not to the country's leading official. Poll knows that, and while there are strong grounds for believing he generally enjoys the attention, the Tring official will not have relished being in the eye of the storm this week. He would rather be recognised for excellence than the criticism he has drawn from Chelsea and Everton.

He will not, though, shirk the big decisions when he runs out at the City of Manchester Stadium tomorrow afternoon to officiate Manchester City v Newcastle United. He did not on Wednesday night, which is why, when he could have done with a quiet week, he dismissed Everton's James McFadden. Poll is a better man-manager than Darrell Hair, the controversial Australian cricket umpire, and more inclined to use common sense, but he has the same determination to uphold the laws, come hell or slo-mo replay.

"The thing from Tring" also has a similarly thick skin or, more generously, strong character. Many a man would have crumbled after his high-profile three-card rick in the World Cup, when he booked Croatia's Josip Simunic three times. Poll has returned from that personal nightmare to perform as impressively as any player this season, notwithstanding John Terry's harsh dismissal.

Poll is, by any assessment, England's best referee. He has topped the assessors' marks for several years. He is widely respected (despite the World Cup) in Uefa, Fifa, and among his international peers. Last year he was chosen by Fifa to officiate at the replayed Bahrain v Uzbekistan World Cup eliminator, after the original game was annulled to a referee's error. Uefa have continued to use him for internationals and Champions' League fixtures.

Tellingly, he does many of the big Premiership matches - he has refereed 14 of the 27 matches played between the "big four" Champions' League qualifiers in the past two-and-a-bit seasons.

Critics might suggest it shows how moderate the other officials are but few people appreciate just how difficult refereeing is in the modern age. Not only are matches played with a relentless intensity, at an awesome, relentless pace for high stakes, every decision is captured for analysis by a bank of television cameras.

One manager recently told me: "You have to be really mentally strong to get out on the football pitch, people don't realise that. To know you are playing in front of 30,000-40,000 people scrutinising you, and that evening there will be 12 million more doing it, and on top of that people will pick you out and maybe take the mickey out of you for five minutes on a television programme, then many people wouldn't leave the dressing-room."

And that manager was talking about playing, when there are 10 team-mates for support. Imagine the stress on a referee.

It is, perhaps, hardly surprising then that men like Poll, Pierluigi Collina and Anders Frisk have big egos - referees need one to maintain the necessary self- belief. Poll, a boyhood Queen's Park Rangers fan, built up that carapace of confidence the hard way. His first match was in 1980, when he was 17. The fixture: Woolmer Green Reserves v The Anchor (a pub), in the North Herts League. His parents came to watch, perhaps to support him, perhaps to defend him.

Soon afterwards, he has recalled, he had told his mother, who was driving him to a game, that, "I thought it would be a nice idea to drop into the bar at the final whistle for a chat with the lads. The game finished in near anarchy and I took the decision to abandon it with four minutes to go due to bad light - it did not go unnoticed that the games on neighbouring pitches ran their full course. After which I jumped in the car fully kitted up and complete with muddy boots. 'I take it we're not going into the bar, then?' said mum before speeding off."

Such experiences are the reason for hundreds of referees abandoning the game in their first year but Poll persevered. He had decided he was not going to progress far as a player (in the Southern Amateur League) and preferred "the challenge" of refereeing. "Given the way society is today," he has said, "it's a huge, huge challenge to control 22 guys who half the time just want to have a good, old go at each other when you're armed only with a whistle and two cards."

By the age of 29 he was refereeing in the top flight, at 33 he was officiating for Uefa. Such success creates envy and he is not entirely popular among his fellow referees. Other colleagues are grateful for his willingness to stand up for the profession, campaigning in private for better facilities, and for seeking to explain the profession in public.

The move to full-time officiating in 2001 was, he has said, a mixed blessing. It has given him more time to work on his fitness and preparation, and be with his family (his wife of 13 years, Julia, and three children).

But he has noted: "It is our job now. The scrutiny on everyone in the game is relentless and that creates pressure. At one time you never recognised a referee at all. Now we are in the media and named if we are seen as having done something wrong. We have not asked for it. It has been thrust upon us. Some like it more than others.

"Personally I like to do the game, finish and then go home. Before I had a very responsible and pressured job Monday to Friday [he was a sales director]. Then when I refereed on a Saturday it was a welcome release. That has changed and that is one of the differences for me. I still enjoy it very much but it is not quite as enjoyable."

Case studies: Games where referee Poll taxed players' patience

18 December 2001 Arsenal 1 Newcastle 3 (Premiership)

Arsenal's Ray Parlour sent off for two bookable offences, despite Newcastle's Alan Shearer protesting with Poll not to show the red card. Craig Bellamy then dismissed for elbowing Ashley Cole, before Poll awards a penalty against Sol Campbell for a trip, when it seems he touched the ball. Thierry Henry has to be restrained from confronting Poll after the game. He gets a three match ban.

8 June 2002 Croatia 2 Italy 1 (World Cup)

Italy have two "goals" disallowed. One is for offside, but when the ball was played Christian Vieri was behind the ball. The second was for "shirt tugging" by Filippo Inzaghi. "He is a village referee," said Vieri.

13 April 2003 Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 0 (FA Cup)

Poll obstructs United's Michael Tonge as he challenges for the ball. It breaks to an Arsenal player, resulting in an attack and Freddie Ljungberg's winner.

22 June 2006 Croatia 2 Australia 2 (World Cup)

Poll finally sends off Croatia's Josip Simunic after giving the defender two yellows in normal time, and a third after the final whistle.

5 November 2006 Tottenham 2 Chelsea 1 (Premiership)

Poll books five Chelsea players, disallows a seemingly fair goal and sends off John Terry for the first time in his career. Terry claims Poll gave him conflicting reasons.

8 November 2006 Everton 0 Arsenal 1 (Carling Cup)

Poll sends off James McFadden early in the tie after the Everton striker allegedly called him a "cheat" for not awarding a penalty.

Opinion Poll: What they say about the Tring man in the middle

'I am still really baffled by it [the second yellow card]. I have looked at it myself over and over again. On the pitch, Graham Poll said to me [the card] was for the barge on [Hossam] Ghaly. After the game he said it was when Ledley King and I fell.'

Chelsea captain John Terry after Poll dismissed him against Tottenham.

'I don't understand why Mr Poll wanted to be part of the show. We scored two goals. One of them was disallowed and only Mr Poll can say why because I can't.'

The Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho after the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham

'The laws of the game are very specific. The referee takes responsibility for his actions on the field of play. I was the referee. It was my error and the buck stops with me.

The first couple of days after it just came back to me over and over and over again in my mind. You think you'll wake up, it's only a bad dream, but it isn't, it's reality.'

Poll on Croatia v Australia at the 2006 World Cup

'It was one of the worst performances of a referee I have ever seen in a World Cup. I marked him 3.5 out of 10. He lost complete control. It was pretty grim.'

Former World Cup referee Clive Thomas after Poll shows Croatia's Josip Simunic three yellow cards before sending him off in the game against Australia

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little