10 Most Infamous Referees in Football

Tony MabertContributor INovember 28, 2011

10 Most Infamous Referees in Football

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    Being a referee is a thankless task. They dedicate their lives to helping the game they love, and all they get in return is abuse from players, fans and media alike.

    Perhaps the hardest part is that the reward for them doing a good job is usually for their performance to pass without comment.

    However, sometimes the man in the middle deserves the fame, or the infamy, that is heaped upon them.

Graham Poll

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    A referee so notorious that he was given a nickname: The Thing from Tring.

    For a time, Poll was the top referee in England and represented his country at two World Cups and a European Championship.

    Sadly, his second World Cup would be his last. In Germany in 2006, he showed Croatia's Josip Simunic a second yellow card but, in the mistaken belief it was the defender's first, let him stay on the pitch.

    He had previously gained notoriety for allowing Thierry Henry to score a quick free kick against Chelsea.

    If you want to have a quiet life as a referee, don't upset Jose Mourinho.

Howard Webb

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    The former policeman from Rotherham is the best referee in England and one of the best in the world.

    Last year, he became the first official to take charge of the finals of both the Champions League and World Cup in the same year.

    Despite that, there are plenty of fans in England who have not put Webb on their Christmas card list.

    Supporters of both Tottenham and Liverpool have been on the receiving end of contentious decisions from Webb when playing Manchester United, the latter of which led to then Reds midfielder Ryan Babel tweeting a photoshopped picture of Webb in a United shirt.

    In the World Cup final, Webb showed a record 14 yellow cards as Netherlands set about trying to stop Spain's play by kicking them off the park.

    Webb got it in the neck from both sides, with the Dutch accusing him of being too liberal with his cards, and the Spanish noting that Webb did not show a red one any earlier than 10 minutes before the end of extra time.

    Even the game's top officials just can't win.

Tom Henning Ovrebo

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    The Norwegian official will not be welcome in certain parts of West London after his performance in the huge Champions League clash between Chelsea and Barcelona.

    In the second leg of the 2009 semifinal at Stamford Bridge, Michael Essien put the Blues ahead early on after the goalless first leg. The home side then had four separate claims for penalties turned down by the psychologist from Oslo. The merits of each of those claims are debatable, but what was not was his decision to send off Eric Abidal despite replays showing the Barca defender had not touched Nicolas Anelka.

    Andres Iniesta scored a spectacular equaliser in injury time, putting Barca through on away goals. Didier Drogba, who had been subbed off earlier int he second half, incurred a three-match ban for reacting at the final whistle by screaming into a camera, "It's a f****** disgrace!"

    The result led to pundit Jamie Redknapp making the ridiculous post-match assertion that Ovrebo was not fit to take charge of such a big match simply because he was from Norway.

    Chelsea were denied a rematch with Manchester United in the final, and Barca won their third European Cup in Rome.   

Stuart Attwell

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    Attwell became the youngest referee ever to take charge of a Premier League match. The Nuneaton youngster officiated the 2008 fixture between Blackburn Rovers and Hull—a game featuring old warhorses such as Tugay Kerimoglu and Nicky Barmby—at the age of just 25.

    Less than a month later, however, the fast-tracked official's name was on everyone's lips for all the wrong reasons. 

    In a Championship match between Reading and Watford at the Madjeski Stadium, Watford's John Eustace hit a strike yards wide of the target, only for the assistant referee to flag for a goal.

    Attwell, despite being far better placed to see the incident, gave it. Since then, he has been known as the "Phantom Goal" referee.

Mauricio Espinosa

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    While not technically a referee, Ecuadorean linesman Espinosa was momentarily infamous for his dodgy vision in Bloemfontein at last year's World Cup.

    Despite being 2-0 down and totally outclassed by Germany in their second-round match, England were given a lifeline when Matthew Upson pulled a goal back on 37 minutes. Just moments after the restart, Frank Lampard's audacious chip from range beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and went in off the underside of the bar. 

    England's players and fans were celebrating, but only for a split second before seeing the ball bounce back out and the linesman flag stay down. 

    Espinosa was some 30 yards behind the play—perhaps understandable as Lampard's effort from some distance—but the ball had clearly crossed the line.

    Perhaps if Germany had not continued to dominate in the second half, scoring two more goals after the break, then more of a media witch hunt may have been instigated by the English press. But as it was, Espinosa avoided having his e-mail address and phone number printed in the papers.

Urs Meier

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    Such a fate had befallen Swiss referee Meier six years earlier, again for having the temerity to give a decision against the Three Lions at a major tournament.

    At Euro 2004, England were drawing with Portugal at 1-1 in their quarterfinal match when Meier disallowed Sol Campbell's goal because of a perceived foul by John Terry on goalkeeper Ricardo. Portugal went on to win the match on penalties.

    How did Fleet Street's finest respond? By publishing Meier's personal details, of course. Meier, dubbed "The Swiss Banker" due to his profession rhyming with a term of disparagement, received thousands of complaints and threats from irate England fans with nothing better to do, and was for a time placed under police protection.

    Well done, everyone.

Ali Bin Nasser

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    The main blame for the infamous "Hand of God" goal will always be squared at Diego Maradona, but some of the blame has to be shared by the officials.

    With the 1986 World Cup between Argentina and England at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium locked at 0-0, Maradona gave his country the lead in notorious fashion soon after the break.

    "El Pibe" played the ball to Jorge Valdano and continued his run into the box. The return pass was intercepted by Steve Hodge, but the England man only succeeded in slicing the ball into the air.

    Goalkeeper Peter Shilton was clearly the favourite to win the race for the aerial ball, but somehow the diminutive Maradona beat him in the air and knocked the ball.

    Everyone on the pitch, in the crowd and watching at home could see that the ball had been punched into the net by Maradona and not via his head. Everyone, that is, expect for Tunisian referee Bin Nasser and his linesmen, who awarded the goal.

    Maradona then went from the ridiculous to the sublime by scoring an incredible solo effort to make it 2-0, and even though Gary Lineker pulled a goal back, the game was won by the eventual world champions. 

Jose Manuel Barro Escandon

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    Not exactly a household name, but Señor Barro certainly caused a stir in his native Spain when he got a little too card-happy.

    In January 2009,  Recreativo Linense were leading Saladillo de Algeciras 1-0 in their regional league match. Recre had a player sent off nine minutes into the second half, and the incident sparked a mass brawl on the pitch between the two teams.

    Barro lost control of the match and had no choice but to abandon it. Eager to reassert his authority once both teams were separated in their respective dressing rooms, the official went in and showed nine players from each team a red card for their own part in the kerfuffle. That meant that 19 of the 22 players that started the match would face suspensions.

    The Recre coach, understandably irate, said afterwards: “I don’t know what happened to the guy...the referee has set a new record.”

Clive Thomas

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    The Welsh official ruled with an iron fist during his career at the top level in the 1960s and '70s, earning the nickname "The Book,"  such was his propensity for metaphorically throwing it at players given half a chance.

    Thomas twice caused FA Cup upsets of the wrong kind when his over-ruling of better placed assistants saw goals for Ipswich and Everton disallowed in two separate semifinals.

    He also drew ire from the Dutch when his failure to spot a foul on Johann Cruyff by Czechoslovakia's Antonin Panenka allowed the Czechs to score the decisive goal in the semifinals of the 1976 European Championship. Panenka would go on to dink home the deciding penalty in the final shootout to defeat West Germany.

    But his most infamous decision came two years later at the 1978 World Cup. With the Group B match between Brazil and Sweden tied at 1-1, Zico scored what he thought was a last-gasp winner with a header from a corner, only for Thomas to burst their bubble as he had blown for full-time between the corner being taken and Zico heading it in.

    That's why he's called "The Book."

Pierluigi Collina

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    Bald head, bulging eyes. So famous he was on the cover of an edition of Pro Evolution Soccer.

    Quite simply, the most iconic referee of all time.

    A severe bout of alopecia as a young man gave him his distinctive appearance, completely without hair on his head or face.

    The Italian was also a top referee as well as a shiny one. He was the man who allowed three minutes of added time at the end of the 1999 Champions League final, during which Manchester United scored two goals to overturn Bayern Munich's 1-0 lead in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.

    He was also in charge when England won 5-1 in Germany in a qualifying match for the 2002 World Cup. Collina would go on to officiate the final of that tournament between Brazil and Germany and, just as in the two aforementioned matches, goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was on the losing side. 

    Collina's odd fame saw him endorse several brands, including Opel cars (a European division of General Motors). As Opel also sponsored AC Milan, this was seen as a conflict of interests and Collina was struck off. He resigned and refused to renege on that resignation when the Italian refereeing authorities tried to convince him to come back.

    Collina was so well known at the height of his fame that he even appeared on the cover of Pro Evolution Soccer 3. He was the world's first (and, so far, only) superstar referee.

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