Premier League Career: 1993-2007
First Premier League Match: Southampton 3-3 Sheffield United (2 October 1993)
Final Premier League Match: Portsmouth 0-0 Arsenal (13 May 2007)
Few referees’ past and present have had the impact Graham Poll did. He is one of the most iconic referees the Premier League has ever seen. Graham took charge of a number of the top clashes in the top-flight, including some tasty confrontations between Manchester United and Arsenal. His career spanned 1544 matches over 26 years and is considered among the best. Sadly for Graham, a fateful error of judgement in Stuttgart during the 2006 World Cup seems to be his lasting legacy.
Born in 1963, Poll took up the challenge of refereeing when he was just 17. He quickly progressed through the ranks and became a Premier League referee in time for the 1993-1994 season. His first of 330 Premier League games was a belting match between struggling Southampton and Sheffield United at the Dell. Mr Poll wouldn’t get a quiet debut. He sent off Sheffield United’s David Tuttle for two yellow cards and witnessed a great comeback by the visitors’ from 3-1 down to rescue a 3-3 draw.
As his career spanned 14 Premier League seasons, Graham’s red card tally is quite high – 64 in total, an average of 5.1 red cards per season. Here are some of his most famous dismissals;
- Vinnie Jones and David Lowe were both sent off after the pair decided to start a boxing bout during a match between Wimbledon and Leicester City in September 1994.
- Paul Heald was given his marching orders at St James’ Park in October 1995. With all three substitutes on and the goalie dismissed, Vinnie Jones finished the match in-goal for Wimbledon. They lost 6-1 to Newcastle United.
- During the draw between Manchester United and Liverpool FC in April 1998, he sent Michael Owen off for a late tackle on Peter Schmeichel. It was his first dismissal of his professional career.
- In a clash between Sunderland and Manchester United in January 2001, Poll produced three red cards. Sunderland’s Alex Rae and Andy Cole of Manchester United were dismissed for a head-to-head confrontation.
- Controversial and slightly harsh red cards were dished out to Ray Parlour and Craig Bellamy in the Arsenal vs. Newcastle United contest at Highbury in December 2001. Thierry Henry was so unhappy with Poll’s performance, he tried to confront him at full-time and had to be restrained by Alan Shearer and Arsenal’s coaching team.
- In Chelsea’s first-ever Premier League defeat in November 2006 to Tottenham Hotspur, England captain John Terry was sent off for a clash with Ledley King. Jose Mourinho expressed his disapproval in his post-match interview.
One of his most regretful Premier League moments came in the closing seconds of a Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park in April 2000. With the score at 0-0, Liverpool FC goalkeeper Sander Westerveld kicked the ball at Don Hutchinson’s back. The ball span into the empty net but Everton were denied by a claim made by Poll that he had already blown his whistle to signal full-time. Television replays later proved this was incorrect and Poll admitted his error in judgement on the eve of his retirement in 2007.
On an international scale, Graham Poll was widely-respected. He was the English representative at EURO 2000, World Cup 2002 and World Cup 2006. He was also chosen to take charge of the 2005 UEFA Cup final between Sporting Lisbon and CSKA Moscow in Lisbon. However, it all went wrong for him in Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz Arena during a group stage match at the 2006 World Cup finals.
Croatia were playing Australia and the Europeans needed to win to stand any chance of progressing for the knockout rounds. A draw would be good enough for the Socceroos. It was a tough match to referee and Poll’s performance was pretty good for much of the match. He correctly sent off two players and gave Australia a rightful penalty in the 2-2 draw. Unfortunately, he booked Josip Simunic of Croatia on the hour mark and failed to record this in his notebook. When Simunic made another blatant foul in the closing seconds of normal time, Poll showed another yellow card in the defender’s direction, which should have spelt his dismissal from the match. However, the red card didn’t arrive and he continued to play on. Commentators had spotted this but not the man who many felt had a decent chance of landing the World Cup final. As the final whistle was blown, Simunic’s petty arguments continued and he said too much. Graham thrust another yellow card (Simunic’s third of the match) and finally showed him the red card. It was an absolute nightmare. He was told of the error around 15 minutes after the full-time whistle. He knew his tournament was over.
He did one more season of domestic and European club football but was constantly reminded of his summer faux-pas up-and-down the country. The spark had gone and during the 2006-2007 season, Graham Poll decided to retire at the end of the season. His final Premier League match was a goalless draw on the final day between Portsmouth and Arsenal. In this game, he correctly ruled out a Niko Kranjcar goal for offside. If the goal had stood though, Pompey would have qualified for the UEFA Cup.
Four months after his retirement, Poll released his autobiography entitled “Seeing Red.” He now works in the media, doing a regular column for the Daily Mail and has also dedicated some of his spare time to charity work including running the 2008 London Marathon.
His career might have not finished right at the top but Graham Poll made a significant impact on refereeing in this country for several seasons, earning plenty of respect along the way from players, pundits and managers. It is unfortunate that he is remembered more prominently for his mistake at a World Cup rather than the lessons he would later give to younger referees coming through the ranks.