Premier League Career: 2003-2014
First Premier League Match: Fulham 0-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers (18 October 2003)
Final Premier League Match: Hull City 0-2 Everton (11 May 2014)
Rotherham United supporter Howard Webb has taken charge of the biggest match an official can ever get – the World Cup final. His experience of the 2010 final in Soccer City between Netherlands and Spain turned into a bit of a nightmare as a bitty and sour encounter brewed into a card festival record for the World Cup final.
However, Webb deserved his opportunity after an excellent tournament before the Johannesburg final and he was the leading official for 11 seasons in the Premier League before deciding to call it a day at the end of the 2013-2014 season.
Refereeing was in Webb’s blood from an early age. His father had been a ref for 35 years, so it was something that was very natural for him. He first took up the whistle in the local leagues in 1989. He was appointed as a Football League assistant referee seven years later, juggling the weekend work with a regular role as a police officer with South Yorkshire police.
In 2000, he made the National List and was promoted to the Select Group of officials three years later. His first match in the top-flight was a fairy uneventful goalless draw in October 2003 between Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
A month later, he handed out his first red card, again in a 0-0 game between Bolton Wanderers and Southampton. Saints defender Michael Svensson was the unlucky culprit. In 2008-2009, Webb issued his highest proportion of red cards in his Premier League career – sending six players off in 38 games. Among his victims in terms of dismissals in that season were Nemanja Vidic at Anfield and Cristiano Ronaldo at The City of Manchester Stadium.
Webb was in the middle for two Chelsea cup final victories in the first decade of the new millennium. He took charge of the Blues 2-1 victory over Everton in the 2009 FA Cup final and two years earlier, the 2-1 League Cup final success against London rivals Arsenal. An ugly brawl on the eve of the final whistle saw both managers end up on the pitch trying to calm the melee down which led to red cards for Emmanuel Adebayor, John Obi Mikel and Kolo Toure.
The peak of Webb’s career was 2010. He took charge of the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid when two Diego Milito goals helped Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Madrid showpiece. He then went to South Africa as England’s representative at the World Cup finals and was praised for his control of several matches in the group stage.
This won him the ultimate reward – taking charge of the World Cup final in Johannesburg between Spain and the Netherlands. It should have been the dream occasion but it turned into a nightmare. The Dutch’s reckless style of play meant the game simply did not flow at all and despite his best efforts, he couldn’t allow any rhythm into the match. 14 yellow cards were dished out in the 120 minutes with Jonny Heitinga sent off in extra-time for two bookable offences. In Webb’s defence, the only huge mistake he made was not to send Nigel de Jong off for a kung-fu challenge on Xabi Alonso in the first half.
He got plenty of support afterwards. BBC pundit Alan Hansen said: “Webb tried to make the game flow but on this occasion he was left with no choice.” Keith Hackett agreed, saying: “Anyone who criticises the officials lacks the knowledge and experience of someone who has refereed.”
He also was a representative at the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the World Cup finals in 2014.
In August 2014, Howard Webb elected to retire from refereeing, three months after taking charge of his final top-flight match which was a 2-0 victory for Everton away at Hull City on the final day of the previous season.
Since then, he has been a video analyst for BT Sport, held a role as director of referees for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and in March 2017, took a role as Manager of VAR operations for the MLS in the United States.
When you consider who the best referee was in the first 25 years of Premier League football, Howard Webb has to be near the top of the list.