Graham Poll philosophical about yellow card error

Graham Poll was one of the best refs of his generation, but the Englishman will always be remembered for his yellow card gaffe at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

English referee owns up to World Cup mistake

English referee Graham Poll worked at two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006. ((Ben Radford/Getty Images))

When the average person goes to work, he or she can take comfort that normally mistakes they make at the office will not be a matter of public record.

Soccer referees have no such luxury: their errors are scrutinized and dissected ad nauseum, their mistakes served up as fodder for the critics and fans who make a sport out of poking fun at the men in the middle of the action.

Nobody knows this better than Graham Poll.

During his 27-year career, Poll officiated matches in the English Premier League, as well as countless games at soccer's biggest tournaments, including the UEFA Champions league, UEFA Cup, FIFA World Club Cup, the FA Cup, the World Cup and European championships.

A lifelong soccer fan, Poll's firm but fair style on the field earned the Englishman the respect of players and his fair share of marquee officiating assignments, allowing him to carve out a reputation as one of the best arbitrators of his era.

Graham Poll on….

How he became a ref: "Thirty years ago, nobody had a desire to become a referee; it was something you sort of fell into. I loved football, and when my team at work folded, I wanted to contribute so I gave [refereeing] a try. My father was a referee and after three games I fell in love with it. It's a fantastic challenge, both physically and mentally, and when you do it right, it gives you a fantastic sensation when you drive home after the game."

On man-management: "It is the most important quality a ref can have, to manage the players. Other refs might say you just administer the laws and get on with it, but for me the job of the ref is to go out and within the framework of the law — not the letter of the laws of the game — try to get the best entertaining game of football that you can get from those 22 players."

On the potential use of goal-line technology to help refs: "Something needs to be done because it's happening more and more often. The point is that now, within seconds, everyone in the stadium knows categorically whether it's a goal or not. Therefore the only person who doesn't know is the person who needs to know, the ref, and that doesn't seem right or fair. He should be able to refer that decision upstairs to a colleague who was watching the video. That has to be more satisfactory than what's going on today."

On the potential use of instant replay: "I think it underlines, not undermines, the authority of the ref. How does the lack of clarity and lack of use of technology undermine the refs? If we had video replay, a ref would be prepared to review his own decision and clear things up and get it right. And the credibility of the game would be enhanced."

But mention Poll's name to the average soccer fan and one thing springs to their mind — his horrendous gaffe at the 2006 World Cup in Germany when he issued three yellow cards to Croatian defender Josip Simunic in a first-round game against Australia.

With hundreds of millions of people around the world watching, Poll made the biggest mistake of his long and distinguished career. The incident has become Poll's legacy, and he's become the butt of countless jokes in his country. But incredibly, he remains philosophical about it.

"I was told once by a sports psychologist that you should only worry about things you can affect. Once that happened in front of a global audience, it became inevitable that I would be remembered for that," Poll told

"What you have to do in life is just deal with the cards you've been dealt. It happened, it was my fault, nobody else's, and now I have to live with it. Given the career that I had, I'd rather be known for officiating a World Cup final, but I'm not and I have to get on with it."

The Australia-Croatia match was the third match that Poll took charge of in Germany, and it would be the last World Cup game he would ever officiate.

After already sending off Croatia's Dario Simic (in the 85th minute) and Australia's Brett Emerton two minutes later, Poll reached into his pocket in injury time and showed a yellow card to Simunic for dissent.

Simunic slumped off the field, but the problem was the Croatian should have been expelled after Poll showed him a second yellow card in the 90th minute.

How was Simunic allowed to stay on the field after receiving his second yellow card? Poll erred in his initial booking of the Croatian by marking his notepad with the correct jersey number but in the wrong column; effectively he noted the yellow card against Australia's Craig Moore who, like Simunic, wore No. 3.

"I took charge of over 1,500 matches in my career, during which I sent off 154 players, of which 110 were for double yellow cards, and I never had to refer to my notebook to see if I cautioned a player — I just knew," Poll said.

"I always made sure whenever I cautioned a player I looked at him, I said his name and number to myself, I made a mental note of it, without referring to my notebook. But I wrote it in the wrong column. It was my fault."

Lucky for Poll, his mistake didn't affect the outcome of the game, which saw the Australians advance to the next round after earning a 2-2 draw with Croatia.

But the consequences were dire for Poll, who was one of 14 referees who were dismissed by FIFA after the first round. His blunder became worldwide news and was splashed all over the front pages of the English newspapers and was replayed endlessly on television. While he was in Germany, reporters were camped out in front of his house back in England, making life unbearable for his wife and family.

When he returned back to England, he was mercilessly hounded by the press. It was a difficult time in Poll's life, both for him and for his family.

"It opened my eyes as to who my real friends are and how much my family meant to me," Poll admitted. "Certain people who I thought were my friends let me down and didn't support me, and that's a good thing because you realize who your friends are, so a lot of positives came out of that."

Shortly after the World Cup, Poll announced his retirement from international tournaments, although he would continue to officiate games in the Premiership, UEFA Champions League and qualifying matches for Euro 2008.

A year later he retired from refereeing all together, walking away from the game after never fulfilling his dream of working a World Cup final. He does, however, take solace in the fact he was able to work at two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006.

"Having refereed in England and all over Europe and the FA Cup, you think you've seen and done it, until you work the World Cup and then you realize that this is a different level," Poll said.

"This is global, the eyes of the world are on you and to get to one is fantastic but to get to two was unbelievable. For me, it was the highlight of my career."

To this day, Poll still gets ridiculed over his mistake in Germany — he recently went to a comedy club with a friend, where he elicited not so subtle stares and pointing from the other patrons who whispered under their breath.

It's become an all too regular occurrence for Poll, but the Englishman refuses to be bitter about it.

"I'm grateful that I went to two World Cups. I loved my career: 27 years and over 1,500 matches. No regrets at all," Poll stated.