Tag Archives: Keith Hackett

Referees in the Middle: Howard Webb

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.


Referees in the Middle: Mike Jones

Premier League Career: 2008-PRESENT

First Premier League Match: Hull City 0-5 Wigan Athletic (30 August 2008)

Mike Jones is approaching the landmark of 200 games refereed in the Premier League. He is one of the more modern refs, having only begun his referee career two decades ago. The 49-year-old from Cheshire’s first match in the Football League was a Division Two clash between Mansfield Town and Hull City in August 1997.

After 11 seasons in the Football League, Jones was promoted to the Select Group of Referees in 2008, allowing him the opportunity to take control of Premier League matches. His first match in the top-flight was Wigan Athletic’s resounding 5-0 victory away at Hull City in August 2008. That still remains Wigan’s biggest Premier League victory.

Big finals haven’t come the way of Mike Jones yet. His most high-profile appointment was the 2007 League Two play-off final, sending off Marc Tierney of Shrewsbury Town in their 3-1 loss to Bristol Rovers. Tierney became the second player to be sent off at the new Wembley after its significant redevelopment.

Some like the way he attempts to allow games to flow. Others don’t. Former top-flight referee Keith Hackett was especially critical in 2016, saying in an article for the Daily Telegraph: “Too soft and inconsistent to be a referee at this level.”

The most embarrassing moment of Mike’s Premier League career came in October 2009 when he was involved in one of the most bizarre goals in Premier League history. Sunderland were playing Liverpool FC and took the lead early on at the Stadium of Light, courtesy of a goal from Darren Bent. Replays showed Bent’s shot took a deflection off a beach ball that had been thrown onto the pitch by visiting supporters before kick-off! The goal was allowed to stand and Sunderland won the match 1-0. Jones was demoted for a week from Premier League duty and the beach ball eventually ended up being an exhibit at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

However, he is still going strong and I would expect him to be part of the Premier League refereeing fraternity for some time to come.

Referees in the Middle: Keith Hackett

Premier League Career: 1992-1994

First Premier League Match: Ipswich Town 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (30 August 1992)

Final Premier League Match: Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool FC (30 March 1994)

The majority of Keith Hackett’s career was before the introduction of the FA Premier League but even though he had reached the planned retirement age before the reformation in English football, his exemption onto the list for the inaugural season showed how well-respected he was.

Hackett’s record is right up there with the best in the business. In a list maintained by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics), Hackett is within the top 100 referees. When he retired in April 1994, he had been refereeing for over 34 years.

Like many of his peers, Hackett began in the local leagues in 1960, taking charge of games across Yorkshire. He became a Football League linesman in 1972 and four years later, had progressed to the full list of officials. He was just 32 years old when this milestone was achieved.

His best period was the 1980s. He was one of the youngest referees to ever have the privilege of officiating at the FA Cup final which was in those days, the ultimate domestic honour in English club football. Hackett’s year for the showpiece was the 1981 classic between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City which finished 1-1 before the Ricky Villa magic in the replay days later.

Three years later, he was back at Wembley to do the all-Merseyside Charity Shield when a Bruce Grobbelaar own goal meant Everton beat Liverpool FC. The domestic set was complete when he got the 1986 League Cup final as Oxford United won their only knockout trophy, defeating Queens Park Rangers 3-0.

In 1988, Hackett was the English choice of official at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. He took control of the hosts’ 1-1 draw with Italy during the group stages which was played in Cologne. Later that summer, he went to the Olympic Games to officiate in the football competition in Seoul, South Korea. Again, he looked after a West German match, this time the semi-final with Brazil which ended 1-1 but saw the South Americans win on penalties.

In October 1990, he had to deal with one of the toughest incidents of his or anyone’s career when a 21-man brawl broke out at Old Trafford during a league clash involving Manchester United and Arsenal. Hackett and his match officials handled a tricky situation with stern punishments for both clubs. After consultations between them and the FA, Manchester United were docked one point and deducted two points from Arsenal’s total. The Gunners’ still won the league championship.

When the Premier League began, the new league could trust on Keith Hackett’s judgement and control. He took charge of 36 Premier League matches, handed out just 38 yellow cards and didn’t dismiss a single player. In that period, he only awarded three penalties and two of those were in one match when Oldham Athletic lost 4-1 to Tottenham in the inaugural season. He retired just short of his 50th birthday in 1994 with his last match in the middle being a blockbuster encounter between Manchester United and Liverpool FC. United won the midweek match 1-0 with Paul Ince scoring the only goal.

After retiring from officiating, Hackett became a referees’ assessor and in March 2004, he replaced Philip Don to be appointed General Manager of the PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board). His knowledge has also come through in publishing through books, cartoon quizzes and columns for the Observer and the Daily Telegraph.

He is honest enough in his assessments too. At the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, he stated in a strong article that the likes of Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Roger East shouldn’t be retained on the current elite list.

Keith Hackett is still a strong voice in the game and he won’t hold back either. People listen to his frank and honest assessments nowadays, just like they did when he was controlling football matches in the middle.