Howard Webb, gone from the pitch but not gone in terms of influence

By Walter Broeckx

I must admit that when I saw the first mention on twitter about Howard Webb retiring I thought it was a joke. It actually was a joke.  Something in the style of erecting a statue outside Old Trafford. And something about the bookmakers changing the odds for the worse for MU becoming champions in the coming season.

But apparently it wasn’t a joke. Howard Webb has stopped his job as a ref on the field. More about his future later in this article. Now let us first have a look at Arsenal and Webb.

Despite Webb being known as a Manchester United referee most of all because of some really high profile errors in their favour the cool numbers are that he was a much better ref in general for Arsenal than for Manchester United.

If you have read my referee talk over the years you will have noticed that when Webb was given an Arsenal match the first worry for me was: are we at home? And if yes, there was no more worry. Because our numbers clearly showed him as a home referee. Going with the crowd.  If we were away from home then the worry was: are the opposition a footballing team or a kicking team? If the latter then I was worried. If the first then not so.

Our average points per match under Webb was 2.33 in the matches he did with us in the PL. He did 15 matches of Arsenal in the PL by the way. And when you look at Manchester United he did 20 matches of them and they only got 1.85 points per match.

But he did give a few lucky decisions going in favour of Manchester United over the years and certainly at Old Trafford. It gave us a new name copyrighted Untold Arsenal: the Webbalty. An imaginary penalty given in favour of United when they were in trouble to rescue them. The most famous of them all was against Tottenham I think, when they were leading 0-2 and he gave United a lifeline that make them win the match in the end. But he also awarded a few penalties against Arsenal at Old Trafford that were rather dubious.

By the way the team that got the most points on average when Webb was around was…. Manchester City.  Amazing isn’t it? A Manchester crush from Webb?

We have been rather lucky in the past with Webb being assigned to a lot of home games for Arsenal. But when we got him at Old Trafford I knew we would come home empty handed.

My view on his refereeing style and performances is that I never really was a big fan of Howard Webb. I’m not saying he was a bad ref. Not at all. But it seemed that somehow for me because of his hair (or lack of it) the football authorities thought he was a second Collina. As if they thought Collina= bald and an excellent referee, Webb= bald so he also should be an excellent referee. I completely disagree with this. Having lots of hair or no hair at all will not influence you being a good ref or not. But we needed a bald ref after Collina and Webb was the chosen one.

When we did our reviews over the years us reviewers talked a bit behind the scenes. And one thing came back a lot when we talked about Webb. At times he was the best referee in the world. But this only lasted for around 45 minutes in each match. We had matches where he made no mistake in one half and the in the second half he committed mistake after mistake after mistake.

On first sight there might have been two reasons for this. One mental and one physical. The physical reason could be that he only could keep up his tempo and decisions making for 45 minutes and then couldn’t follow the tempo of the match, ran further away from evens and missed things.

The mental reason might be coming in the dressing room at half time having had an excellent match (and you can feel it as a ref that you had a great match) and then thinking to yourself: a piece of cake. And subconsciously you let yourself go a little bit, lose concentration and you lost control and the match.

But it struck us at times that in some matches the difference between the first and the second half was amazing. As if they dug out another bald person from the stands to do the second half. It was as if there was another person out there doing the match.

What I also disliked was that he let a lot of dangerous things go. The world cup final probably being seen by the rest of the world. But I have seen him let go dangerous attacks on our players (certainly at Old Trafford) that I couldn’t believe. Of course I could believe as it was Webb being the referee. But that ability to not punish dangerous attacks with red cards (he blatantly even didn’t call fouls) was amazing to see. And that was one of  the reasons why he never was my number one referee.

As for his future. Well, to do this we first have to look back. After having done lots of service to Manchester United in his early years (to help his career as I stated more than 20 dozen times) he is one that feels the powers shift and knows how to react to it. When City became the new flavour in town he became rather favourable for them.  I remember the last seasons some jokes being made about City having bought Webb. I think it was just Webb feeling where the power(=money) was and he instinctively knows/knew that it is a wise thing for your career to keep close to the money.

Now he has got a brand new created job under Mike Riley. Fine for him.  What his influence will be is not clear yet of course. Will he remain the ‘home referee’ he was? Or will he be the ‘close to the power person’ he also was? Time will tell.

I am willing to give him a chance. But I don’t have much hope that he will turn the PGMOL upside down. He is too loyal to the authorities I think to be the person cleaning up the PGMOL stables. Stables that are very dark and murky and some places where daylight never can be seen. Will Webb be the person to open up the doors and windows and let the sun shine in and come out in the open and give us what we ask? I really doubt it.

So nothing will change. Apart from the fact that before we had one referee who served Sir Alex completely in the person of Mike Riley. We now have two such Sir Alex servants at the top of the PGMOL. Luckily Sir Alex is gone. But just as with Webb, he isn’t gone completely….

The books

The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.


14 Replies to “Howard Webb, gone from the pitch but not gone in terms of influence”

  1. Now that’s something you don’t see too often: The names Collina & Webb in the same sentence.
    It looks as though his new position is some sort of PR type thingy for PGMOL. I see it more as a lightning conductor for PGMOL.
    Best of luck to him and he takes a really mean penalty by the way.

  2. I am sorry but I can only see this as simply the ‘blind leading the blind’ and a reward for incompetence. I have heard him being interviewed this week on Radio 5 and also Sky News and it was embarrassing.

    Obviously for me another shocking decision around Howard Webb.

    On the bright side I will not have to endure that arrogant man with such horrible body language in front of me again – either on TV or at the Emirates.

  3. Webb was a bit of a mixture, not the worst ref in the PGMOL stable, but he still made some grave errors. In the WC final between Holland and Spain he was very weak, or perhaps….

    Even with that I didn’t detest him as much as some others e.g. Mason, Taylor or Mike Dean.

    Now we have a changing situation. Amongst fans there is growing awareness about ref incompetence and concern about bias. Is it that Riley and his employers are trying to counter this awareness by using Webb as a leading propagandist – Gallagher’s role to be changed from that of sole mouthpiece for the PGMOL to one which supports and supplements Webb’s initiatives?

  4. Nothing will change until BOTH Riley and Scudamore have moved on and more transparent governance is in place at top of both PGMOL and PL. If you don’t cut off the head of the beast…

  5. Both this and the previous article are interesting and informative.

    I’m fascinated that Webb is moving on/up at this point. He’s in his 40’s, and there are already Ex-refs in media defending the indefensible. It seems his reffing of WC2010 final must’ve been warmly accepted by .”whomever” as from what I could see, the violence within the games during WC2014 – extended to many more matches. (Correct me if I’m wrong, please).

    Is this all happening because Micky R will move to pastures greener in the future? Surely it isn’t happening just so there’s another buffer between Mike and Rest of the world?

    My flabber has never been so ghasted!

  6. To say about an allegedly fair, competent and unbiased match official “But when we got him at Old Trafford I knew we would come home empty handed”….is the most appalling indictment of blatant corruption.
    Webb and his kind should have no place in football.
    The fact that he has now relinquished the whistle and has a new position created by Riley, makes inevitably despairing sense.

  7. Very thought provoking, Walter.

    Your suggestions about why he might have been so much worse in the second half of matches are interesting.

    I saw him interviewed on BBC Breakfast about his new job. He was very careful to talk in a pleasant voice without actually saying anything at all. This is probably how he will continue to operate. But I am concerned that someone with his blind spot on dangerous play is now even more influential in the PGMOL.

  8. Great series of posts.

    Probert’s partisan performance in the final, in front of ninety thousand people, the coverage afterwards, the record from the Calcioploi trial, all tell us how important control of the media narrative or propaganda is when it comes to football alone. Food for thought!

    It’s up to football fans to demand better. So, thanks again to the volunteers at Untold.

  9. I mean: Phil Neville on MOTD? Not that any of us watch that discredited organ, but seriously? After his failure at Utd? Alongside Savage?

    What was wrong with, I dunno, Peter Beardsley. Hehe. He might have had a strong accent but at least he could play football! And, I would suggest ,for football fans the latter is more important! 🙂

    No wonder Danny Kelly ( a rare thing: a reasonable Tottenham fan!) is still moaning at prehistoric attitudes in kids football on his radio show!
    All the proper English football coaches are kept off the telly!

    And that’s why Utd have gone for a Neo-Dutch revolution.

  10. Savage, Neville, Higinbottom. To name a few.

    There’s a Cadre of Mancs in the press boxes. Alongside Liverpool TV. Not guests like the ex-Arsenal players, these chaps will be “broadcasting” day in day out.

  11. Before I start this rant, I am too young to referee (12) I want to be a referee when I can (14). I also go some Arsenal games & at the last one (Palace 14-15) I brought a Howard Webb poster. Howard was a great referee, like to see you referee that World Cup final of 2010. The stats you bring are sh*t. I quote: ‘Webb clearly favours teams from the north, apart from West Ham, but that’s the lucky Hammers for you’ Sorry I am a true Arsenal fan, but never visting this blog again. Carry on writing bollocks about referees to turn peoples heads safe in the knowledge that you could never referee at the highest level & that you need to blame someone, because of course you are always right!

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