Poll's dark days of 2006 end in fury at Valley

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By normal standards even a referee with a hide as tough as Graham Poll's should have taken exception to the criticism that followed his performance at The Valley on Wednesday night, where a decision that "fathoms belief" deprived an "absolutely disgusted" Alan Pardew of a debut victory as Charlton manager. Yet 2006 has been anything but a standard year for England's leading referee and, in this Chinese Year of the Dog, Poll could be forgiven for looking back and believing he has endured the life of one.

The new Charlton manager's understandable anger at the handball decision against Djimi Traoré that led to Franck Queudrue's stoppage-time equaliser for Fulham has provided Poll with a fitting farewell to arguably the worst year of his career when controversy appeared to follow his every action even when it was not of his own making.

On Wednesday the "thing from Tring" was prompted to penalise Traoré on the instructions of his assistant, Steve Artist, and yet the venom of The Valley was directed at only one man.

This has been the year when Poll has prompted the scorn of, to name just a few, Pardew, Jose Mourinho, John Terry, Ashley Cole, David Moyes, James McFadden and Jean-Paul Abalo (the Togo captain he dismissed in the World Cup group game against South Korea). It was the year he attracted unswerving support from Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin Jol and Keith Hackett, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, and, of course, it was the year of ridicule for the three-card trick that almost overshadowed Australia's World Cup advance against Croatia and which led to his retirement from the international circuit.

Regardless of his image as a referee who revels in the limelight too readily, and certainly his autograph-signing session at Goodison Park did little to dispel that notion on the night he dismissed McFadden for swearing against Arsenal, and the misery of his error-strewn performance on 22 June, it was hard not to sympathise with Poll.

Earmarked as a potential World Cup final referee before that night in Stuttgart, he finished with his reputation torn after booking Josip Simunic three times (no one remembers how the Croatians swarmed around the referee to contest almost every decision that night) and halting play 15 seconds early just as a potential winner for Australia was heading for the goal-line.

"It was inexcusable," Poll confessed a week later, having been informed by Fifa, football's world governing body, that he would not be retained for the knockout phase. "I didn't realise until after the game that, following 23 years of hard work, working up from pub level, my dream was over."

At that juncture Poll sounded broken and many believed his career would follow suit. Instead, he has remained in demand for the Champions' League and the grandest Premier League occasions, albeit with last month's draw between Manchester United and Chelsea taken off his agenda after he became immersed in further controversy when he dismissed the England captain, John Terry, in the champions' defeat at Tottenham on a particularly fiery Bonfire Night.

Yet if Poll has continued to annoy and frustrate throughout 2006, then his residence in the spotlight has, perversely, also promoted more appreciation of his talents.

As Jol, the Tottenham manager, explained on the November night that Mourinho, Cole and Terry spoke of conspiracy against Chelsea: "He's certainly one of the biggest personalities and, on performances in the past, if you judge him on that, he's probably one of the best. In Europe they would judge him as one of the best."

Poll's year: A whistle-stop tour

22 June Croatia v Australia, World Cup group stage

Fails to send off Josip Simunic after two yellow cards, giving him a third, and a red, for dissent at the final whistle. Also, blows 15 seconds early just as what should have been Australia's winner is crossing the line.Poll is dismissed from rest of World Cup and retires from international tournament finals, citing his errors as a reason: "The buck stops with me."

5 Nov Tottenham v Chelsea, Premiership

Sends off John Terry for a second yellow card. Terry says Poll gave him different reasons for his dismissal, for which Terry is subsequently charged by the Football Association. Ashley Cole claims Poll said Chelsea "needed to be taught a lesson".

8 Nov Everton v Arsenal, Carling Cup

Sends off Everton's James McFadden, claiming McFadden called him a "fucking cheat". McFadden denies it, maintaining that he had described a Poll decision as "Fucking shite".

27 Dec Charlton v Fulham, Premiership

Awards a controversial free-kick leading to Fulham equalising in the last minute.