Bad refereeing and World Cups

Published : Jul 29, 2010 00:00 IST

English referee Howard Webb had a torrid time in the World Cup final.-AP
English referee Howard Webb had a torrid time in the World Cup final.-AP

English referee Howard Webb had a torrid time in the World Cup final.-AP

The Dutch, notably and consciously inferior to the gifted Spaniards, embarked on a bruising policy of harsh challenges, deliberate fouls, which cast a pall over the whole game. By his early failure to act decisively and responsibly, referee Howard Webb had vitiated his authority. Over to Brian Glanville.

Had the big, bald policeman English referee, Howard Webb, only sent off Holland's Nigel De Jong after just 17 minutes of the World Cup final after his shocking assault on Xavi Alonso, what a very different game it would have been. But Webb let him stay on the field and from that moment, it was downhill all the way. The Dutch, notably and consciously inferior to the gifted Spaniards, embarked on a bruising policy of harsh challenges, deliberate fouls, which cast a pall over the whole game.

By his early failure to act decisively and responsibly, Webb had vitiated his authority. How ironic that near the end, the only player to be dismissed should be the Dutch centre back Heitinga, for the second of two fouls infinitely less serious and dangerous than that committed by De Jong.

I have to confess that I have never been among Webb's admirers, watching him officiate in the Premier League. I still remember with something of a shudder antecedent which radically changed a match at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Spurs. Tottenham were leading comfortably 2-0 when Webb from some 30 yards away suddenly and bafflingly awarded a penalty to United. This for a manifestly non existent foul. United scored from the spot, Tottenham collapsed and eventually went on to lose 2-5. Which may not have said much for their morale, but said even less for Webb's officiating.

There were those, who hardly knew their football history, who expressed surprise that a Dutch team should be so bellicose. Go back though to the 1978 final of the World Cup in Buenos Aires, which I attended, and what do you significantly find? Why, a match against an admittedly ruthless Argentine team in which the Dutch committed no fewer than 50 fouls. The first came from a young defender, Jan Poortvliet, as early as the opening minute. There was no doubt that the Dutch were angered by the behaviour of the Argentines, who had taken the field five minutes late and had protested against the light bandage worn round his wrist by the Dutch left winger Rene Van der Kerkhoff; who was destined in the last minute of ordinary time to hit the post, when a goal would have given Holland the trophy. Sergio Gonella, of Italy was, alas a weak and ineffectual referee, who let far too many offences go unpunished. The Argentines, who actually had no business being in the final at all, since they had manifestly bought the Peruvians, whom they beat 6-0 in the decisive group game which put them in the final, went on to win in extra-time.

If you count that amazing endlessly dramatic and decisive match in Rio in 1950 as a final — in fact, thanks to FIFA's madman's flytrap of a design, it was actually a final game in the final four team group — then Webb was in fact the fourth Englishman to referee a World Cup final.

In 1950, in a Maracana stadium packed with 200,000 cacophonous Brazilians, the referee was the calm, brave, impeccable Southampton headmaster, George Reader. Given the passion and the partisanship, it was a stupendous feat to keep the match in which Uruguay so sensationally beat Brazil under such cool control.

Forty years later in Switzerland, the Cambridgeshire referee Bill Ling took charge of the final, but it was the Yorkshire referee Arthur Ellis who emerged as the hero of the competition, for his courageous and decisive handling of what came to be known as ‘The Battle of Berne', between Hungary and Brazil in an embattled quarterfinal.

The Brazilians, eventually defeated by a better team, were the chief offenders, but Ellis sent off Hungary's right half Josef Bozsik, a driving right-half and a member of the rubber stamp Communist parliament, together with Brazil's famed left back, Hilton Santos, after they had come to blows. He later expelled the Brazilian inside left Humberto Tozzi though the player went down on his knees to beg to be allowed to stay on.

In the final when Germany rallied in spectacular fashion — was it the drugs they were later suspected of consuming — to beat the Hungarians 3-2, But did Hungary in fact equalise? Was Ferenc Puskas, their famed left footed captain, who had bulldozed his way back into the side after missing several games with injury, onside when he streaked away to beat the keeper Toni Turek? The Welsh linesman, Mervyn Griffiths, didn't think so, for his flag went up, the goal was disallowed and the Hungarians had shot not a goal, but their bolt.

1962 saw another battle, the so called “The Battle of Santiago'. “It was uncontrollable,” declared the hapless English referee, the tall Ken Aston, a schoolmaster from Essex. In Santiago, Chile, the hosts met Italy. There was abundant bad blood before a ball was kicked. A couple of Italian journalists had stirred up anger and resentment in Chile by writing scathing and somewhat scurrilous articles about the country. Some, especially from the Italian side, felt that the Chileans exploited this furore, which, after all had nothing to do with the Azzurri and even the Italian sports journalists, to whip up hostility.

Even the Italian Press declared that their players were far too easily provoked by the Chileans. They accused Aston himself, some what disputably, of being “hostile and provocative.” Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the worst offence of a torrid match went unpunished when Leonel Sanchez, Chile's left winger, broke the nose of Humberto Maschio, the Argentine born inside right, with a left hook. It was behind Aston's back, but his linesmen who must have seen it badly let him down. So it was just two Italians who were expelled, Ferrino, for a foul on Lands, in the seventh minute, David later for a retaliatory kick at Sanchez's head. Chile won. Aston limped through the rest of the tournament, with Achilles tendon trouble.

The 1974 final in Munich, between West Germany and the Dutch was well refereed by Jack Taylor, a Wolverhampton butcher, who gave a penalty kick to both Holland, in the opening minute, and West Germany. Though he himself would later admit that he should not have ruled offside a goal scored by Germany's prolific Gerd Muller for a non existent offence. Muller, however scored the German winner in a 2-1 victory.

The Brazilians never forgave Arthur Ellis for his unquestionably brave refereeing in Berne. “Ellis no English!” I remember a Brazilian insider telling me, well after that stormy day in Berne. In fact, he was English to the marrow, but then so is his fellow Yorkshire-man Webb, who hardly did as well as Ellis in Johannesburg.

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