One of the surprises in the world of refereeing at the start of this season was the resignation of Howard Webb, from the referees’ list of the Premier League. Howard was the number one referee on Fifa’s list and will be well remembered for refereeing the 2010 turgid World Cup final between Holland and Spain in South Africa. He also refereed again with the same two English assistant referees at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and it has turned out that his final game as a referee was Brazil v Chile. Most of us would give our right arm to be able to say that.
The question is why did Howard choose to retire at this time? He is forty two and would have another three years of international football before reaching the Fifa retirement age of 45. What’s more, he could have carried on for perhaps another ten years on the Premier League. In England the Age Discrimination Act has removed any previous age limits. If a referee gets good enough marks and passes the fitness test he can continue. Peter Walton for instance was fifty two before resigning to take up the position of head of Professional Referees in North American football
In some way perhaps his retirement was not such a surprise, after all he has refereed the World Cup, the highest achievement for any referee, he is never going to get another game that will match that. On top of that, although his international games had continued to go well last season, in the Premier League, a few mistakes crept in. A friend at the FA told me that when he had asked Howard in the New Year how his Christmas had gone, he replied, ‘Family great – refereeing cr-p’. Just as players can have off periods so can referees, bad runs and even bad seasons. He is obviously still fit enough to carry on, but perhaps he felt it better to get out while at the top rather than have his reputation stained by some less than excellent refereeing
Some people may have been surprised to find that Howard was in fact a career policeman, a sergeant in the Yorkshire police. They had given him a ‘sabbatical’ to become a full time referee but I believe that he had been doing some part time policing, ten hours a week. It was fully expected that when he gave up refereeing he would return to the police. Instead he has left the police force to take up a position with the PGMOL which controls the top echelons of referees in this country. He has been appointed as their Technical Director and he will be working under Mike Riley the PGMOL Manager who is of course a former Premier and Fifa referee himself. He will be involved in developing referees who are working their way through the system, hopefully towards the Premier League. Mike Riley has stated that this is to continue its policy of developing top class referees. The truth is that there is some concern that there are not enough younger referees with the calibre capable of taking games at the highest level. Former manager of the PGMOL, Keith Hackett even suggested recently that in future we will have to ‘import’ referees from abroad to take games in the Premier League. With most Premier League teams made up with a majority of foreign players these days, perhaps it is not too fanciful a suggestion. So we wish Howard Webb every success in his new task. Incidentally, some while ago he was asked what was the best thing about refereeing. His answer was that it saved him from going shopping with his wife on Saturday afternoons. He’ll have to find another excuse now.