English referees tend to be in the spotlight in international tournaments for the wrong reasons – Graham Poll with his 3 yellow cards in Germany 06 and now Howard Webb with the penalty award that gave Austria a point and more crucially, effectively ended Poland’s Euro 2008 campaign.
In the aftermath of the draw, Poland manager Leo Beenhakker blamed Webb for what he called Poland’s exit from the Euros, saying:
“Maybe he wants to show he is a big boy and has the guts to do it, I don’t know.”
After the game ended, Poland fans raged against Web, with hate-filled videos and images popping up within minutes of the match ending. One article on Soccerlens profiling Howard Webb received around 300 comments in the 3 hours between the end of the game and the point where comments were closed and subsequently removed. The comments were full of hate and vitriol, aiming sexual abuse and death threats towards the English referee and claiming that Webb had taken bribes to give that penalty (you really had to see them to understand the depth of anger and hatred vented in those comments).
As we have discussed earlier, football fans can be idiots and as a reader as already suggested, football offers an escape and emotional release from day-to-day drudgery, and these emotions can turn violent when idiots en masse are sufficiently incensed.
If you saw the game, you’d know that Austria had spurned clear scoring chances until they conceded the goal, and that the Poland goal might have been called offside on another day. All of this went out of the window though, considering the stoppage time penalty that Webb gave.
Referees are under tremendous amounts of pressure and I presume that English referees are under even more pressure after Poll’s mistake in Germany – perhaps the FA should go easy on the refs and tell them to do their best instead of asking them to defend England’s honour and integrity?
Webb thought that was a penalty, and he had the guts to make the call. This isn’t about wanting the limelight, it’s about doing the right thing and doing your job right. Even if he got it wrong – and refs do get it wrong sometimes – he didn’t shirk away from giving a decision.
Poll got victimised in the English press for pretty much the same thing. Will Webb, who has been an exceptional referee so far, be given the same treatment? I sincerely hope not, just as I hope Webb’s safety is not under threat from England-based Polish fans.