Webb departs centre stage as king of whistle-blowers

England’s elite referee ready to educate a new generation of men in the middle

Chief Football Correspondent

Come Saturday afternoon, for the first season-opening weekend since 2003, Howard Webb will not find himself in the tunnel of a Premier League stadium wondering what kind of game he will encounter out on the pitch.

For Webb, 25 years in refereeing, starting with his very first game at the age of 18 in December 1989 in Orgreave in Yorkshire, are over and he has seen pretty much everything along the way. A World Cup final in Johannesburg, a Champions League final at the Bernabeu, Fabrice Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane and enough big-match decisions to fill several careers.

This Saturday, the most high-profile English referee since Jack Taylor, will find himself in a television studio in Salford watching live match feeds and keeping track of his fellow referees’ performances. Webb, in his role as the new technical director of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) will be on the phone to the television networks to explain the rationale behind decisions.

He could still be refereeing, and is young enough, at 43, to go to the European Championship in 2016. Having officiated at his second World Cup finals this summer, Webb decided that it was time to go out at the top. His boss, Mike Riley, PGMOL general manager, described it as the most “unselfish” decision Webb could have made, with the key part of Webb’s new role mentoring the next generation of Premier League referees.

There will be some who will forever accuse Webb of an alleged bias towards Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, or berate him for failing to send off Nigel de Jong in Soccer City four years ago, when the Dutch player planted his studs into Xabi Alonso’s chest. But most will acknowledge that it has been a remarkable career, in which his highly acclaimed standing in the world’s most lucrative, widely scrutinised sport is global – a rarity, sadly, for English footballers these days.

Coping with the scrutiny has not always been easy. “I think at the very start you look for confirmation of how well you’re doing and you probably look in the wrong places,” Webb said. “You learn quite quickly not to do that. You go to the newsagents and buy the paper that gave you the highest mark!

“You learn quickly that you need to have that self-confidence and learn where to get the valid information from. Everyone’s opinion is valid but you have to make sure it doesn’t affect the way you go about what you do.”

Indeed, part of the training Webb will oversee for Premier League and Football League referees is a mental toughness programme developed by Sheffield Hallam University. While many referees can grasp the technical and physical requirements of the job, it is that ability to make cool decisions in the heat of a game that separates the best from the rest.

For Webb, formerly a sergeant in South Yorkshire police, that part of the job came a little easier. He took a five-year sabbatical from the force in 2008, but since 2013 has returned to do 10 hours a week alongside his refereeing – on community programmes encouraging young people to play football. In the last month he has quit both refereeing and police work, the only two jobs he has known.

As for the United favouritism allegations, Webb says he gives them no consideration because they were baseless. “What does play on my mind is when I’ve made a mistake,” he said, “particularly an influential one that has affected the outcome of a game.

“I’d be dishonest if I said it [a mistake] didn’t bother me. One paper listed the five games I’d want to forget over the course of my career. Well, there’s more than five. Against the backdrop of more than 500 professional games – I can think of many top footballers who have made plenty of mistakes but are still top footballers. If our integrity is questioned by people in a serious way, that’s a different matter. The level of integrity we have as a group is really high.”

He will miss his old team of linesmen, Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, who will continue without him this season. “I am stealing [former referee] Pierluigi Collina’s line when he said it can be lonely out there in that stadium for a referee, even though you are surrounded by 70,000 people. But it is not so lonely when you have your mates talking in your ear. After 22 minutes of the [2010] World Cup final, I said to them over the headset, ‘This is not going to plan’ and they said ‘Hey, believe in yourself. Keep going.’”

As for the potential introduction of video technology, as being trialled in the Netherlands this year with managerial appeals for decisions going to a video judge, Webb is wary. He cautions that football does not lend itself to the stoppages  that American football accommodates.

“We are keeping an open mind to anything. If we’re not careful it will end up opening more questions than answers. We need to be careful not to change the basis of the way the game is played, the high intensity and fast flow that makes it such a good spectacle.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones