A look at some of the worst refereeing mistakes of all time...

Graham Poll – Everton 0 v 0 Liverpool – 21st April 2000

Poll will forever be remembered for his performance during the Croatia – Australia group match at the 2006 World Cup. Accidentally booking the same player three times is a horrendous mistake, but forgetting that you have booked someone during a heated encounter that had already generated two red cards isn’t half as big a mistake as forgetting that you didn’t blow the whistle 5 seconds ago.

With the clock ticking down and a Merseyside derby draw on the cards Liverpool goalkeeper, Sander Westerveld, attempted to punt the ball upfield, but somehow managed to find Don Hutchinson’s back. The ball rebounded towards goal and trickled over the line for what looked like an Everton winner. However, Poll claimed to have blown the final whistle as Westerveld kicked the ball and refused to allow the goal. Television replays would show that no whistle had been blown and Poll was forced to admit regret for his mistake….ten years later.


Clive Thomas – Brazil 1 v 1 Sweden – 3rd June 1978

Similar to Graham Poll’s mistake, Welshman Thomas blew for full time just as Brazilian legend Zico rose to head home a cross that would have sealed three points in the 1978 group game against Sweden.

Technically not a debatable decision because by the rules of the game the match had ended, but his decision to call time in the middle of an attacking move, during a tied game is certainly debatable.


Howard Webb – Man Utd 5 v 2 Tottenham Hotspur – 25th April 2009

Webb drew the ire of Spurs fans nationwide when he decided to award a penalty to Manchester United, adjudging Heurelho Gomes to have felled Michael Carrick in the area (4.48 on video). Not only would television replays show that the keeper made contact with the ball first, but they would also highlight just how far away from the incident Webb was, with some guesstimates resting at 30 yards.

At the time of award Spurs were leading the reigning European Champions 0 – 2, the resulting penalty was converted by Cristiano Ronaldo and sparked an emphatic reply from the home side who eventually ran out 5 – 2 winners.

This mistake was considered so bad that the FA demoted Webb to the Championship. Fourteen months later he would referee the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and Holland….covering the amount of errors in that game would require a blog post of its own.


Mike Reed – Liverpool 3 v 1 Leeds – 5th February 2000

Perhaps the most serious error a referee can make is to show favouritism to a club, which is exactly what Reed did when Patrick Berger scored the goal that gave Liverpool the lead against Leeds. As the ball nestled in the back of the net Reed turned, clenched his fist and punched the air, seemingly delighted that the goal had been scored.

The Leeds fans, justifiably, were outraged and the obvious questions about Reed’s impartiality were asked. His excuse? He was congratulating himself on his decision to play advantage in the build up to the goal….the Premier League didn’t buy it;

“While we understand the emotions involved, it is essential that match officials do not make gestures which could lead to misinterpretation.

The impartiality of our officials must not be open to question.

Mr Reed has been warned to keep his emotions under control in future or face further action. Instead of refereeing the televised game at Everton (against Newcastle) on March 19, he is to be appointed to an alternative game.”

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find a single video or photograph of the incident, surprising considering the implications it had on Premier League refereeing. Even a Google search doesn’t produce all that many responses, which is bizarre considering he refereed throughout the formative Premier League years. He “retired” not long after the match in question.


Tom Henning Ovrebo – Chelsea 1 v 1 Barcelona – 6th May 2009

One of the most talked about referee performances of all time, which resulted in one of the most talked about fallouts of all time.

The Norwegian had form, an abject performance during the Italy – Romania game at Euro 2008 led to the Italian FA demanding an apology, Ovrebo admitting that he had made mistakes during the game and Uefa deciding to end his tournament early. However, being deselected would be the least of his worries after a horrendous performance during the Champions League Semi Final in 2009.

Ovrebo turned down a number of penalty claims from Chelsea players during the game, which meant that the game remained at 1-0 and gave Barcelona the chance to score a late away goal and snatch a place in the final at Chelsea’s expense. In fairness I don’t think he made as many errors as Chelsea fans would have you believe, but the most obvious was to turn down penalty shouts when Pique had clearly handled in the area.

If ever there was a game that turned on the performance of the referee, this is it and rumour has it that Chelsea fans were so outraged that police had to smuggle Ovrebo out of England. All this just 4 years after Anders Frisk was forced to retire as a result of the backlash surrounding a game between the same two sides.

Unlike Frisk, Ovrebo continued to referee in the Champions League and was perfectly placed to commit another series of howlers during the Bayern Munich – Fiorentina game in 2010.


Dougie Smith – Glasgow Rangers 7 v 0 Hibernian – 30th December 1995

One of the most embarrassing decisions of all time came during the festive season of 1995. Rangers were well on their way to making it eight in a row and Hibs were the latest team to be on the receiving end of a hiding from the perennial champions.

English wildcard Gazza was an integral part of the Glasgow side’s midfield. Known for his off the cuff attitude and sense of humour he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to make the most of the situation when he noticed that Smith had dropped one of his yellow cards. Marching towards the man in black he extravagantly thrust his arm into the air jokingly booking the official.

Having handed the card back to Smuth, Gazza jogged off only to be called back by the less than impressed referee who had decided to return the favour and placed Gazza’s name in the book.

When questioned by a Hibs player Smith replied “He might be able to take the f**king piss out of you, but he’s not taking the f**king piss out of me”.


Les Mottram – Dundee United 4 v 0 Partick Thistle – February 1993

Players striking the ball so hard that it rebounds back from inside the net is nothing new, think back to Clive Allen for Crystal Palace in 1980 and Mark Hughes for Southampton in 1999. Hughes’ rebounded off the advertising boards behind the net and the referee assumed it had been blocked on the line, Allen’s rebounded off the stanchion and the referee assumed it was the post.

Paddy Connolly’s goal for Dundee United against Partick Thistle in 1993 was almost identical to Allen’s, his volley rebounding back off the stanchion and out of the net, so whilst Mottram missing it was a big deal, it wasn’t anything new. However, the fact that a Partick Thistle player caught the rebound, held it for 2-3 second before handing it back to his keeper to punt back up towards the centre circle for kick off does make it new and far more embarrassing.

Mottram waved play on, completely oblivious to his mistake, despite the protests of the United players and obvious delight of the Thistle faithful. He went on to referee at the World Cup in America in 1994 before moving to the J-League and being voted “Best Referee” four times.


Silvia Regina de Oliveira – Santacruzense 1 v 1 Ateltico Sorocaba – 23rd September 2006

Perhaps the most bizarre incident of all, I struggle to understand how any referee could miss this one.

Atletico Sorocaba held a slender lead in the final minute of the Paulista Football Federation Cup when Santacruzense striker Samuel managed to fashion a chance to equalise, unfortunately he sent it the wrong side of the post. Players and officials began to make their way back down the pitch. With their backs turned the ballboy took the opportunity to roll the ball back onto the pitch and kick it into the empty net. De Oliveira turned back towards goal and upon seeing the ball in the back of the net decided to give the goal.

Let me recap. She saw it go wide, turned round, turned back and saw it inside the net, dismissed what she had originally seen and ignored the fact that the players weren’t celebrating etc instead awarding the goal and giving Santacruzense a last minute equaliser.

It truly has to be seen to be believed and it goes without saying that Ms de Oliveira and her assistants were promptly suspended by the Brazilian FA.


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