The bobby, the butcher & the octopus
July 11, 2010

Good luck to the English team in the World Cup Final!

Our footballers might not have made it to tonight’s final in Jo’burg’s Soccer City Stadium but England will be represented by the three-man team of match officials: Howard Webb, Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey.

Howard Melton Webb, the 38-year-old South Yorkshire policeman, will be the man in the middle. This will be the first time an English referee has been in charge of the World Cup Final since Jack Taylor, the Wolverhampton butcher, in 1974.  

English football supporters are not renowned for their tolerance towards the man in the middle but I hope on this occasion we will be willing our national representatives to come through the match with their reputations in tact. Webb has taken charge of three previous matches in the tournament, including Spain’s opening match defeat against Switzerland, without the need to brandish a red card or point to the penalty spot.   

Back in 1974, when the total footballers of Holland took on their German hosts in the Munich final, Jack Taylor was called into decisive and historic action after only one minute of play. A rash early challenge  brought the legendary Johan Cruyff down on the edge of the penalty area and Taylor had no hesitation in awarding the first ever penalty in a World Cup Final. Johan Neeskens converted the spot kick and everybody’s favourites appeared to be on their way.

As the ball was placed on the spot, the referee recalls that our old friend Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer, the German skipper, addressed him in an accusatory tone with the words, “Taylor, you’re an Englishman”. Ever the diplomat, Beckenbauer has never been short of a few words about the English, as we have heard in this tournament.  

There was no respite for Taylor in that game. Next he controversially denied Gerd Muller, Der Bomber, an equalising goal for off-side before awarding his second penalty of the match, this time for Germany, with just 26 minutes on the clock.

Germany went on to lift the trophy, winning the match 2-1. Paul Breitner stepped up to score the equalizing penalty and Der Bomber was  not to be denied, netting the eventual winner after 43 minutes. So it was quite an eventful first half for Taylor, now 80, who is still annoyed by suggestions that he awarded the Germans a soft penalty to even things up.  

It is often said that the best match officials are those who go unnoticed. Let’s hope Howard Webb and his assistants remain inconspicuous this evening, that the football flows and we get the  final to remember that this tournament badly needs.  If Spain can reproduce the passing game which they displayed against Germany  in the semi final we should not be disappointed. 

Off the field, the South African nation should be proud of what has been achieved but on the pitch too many matches have underwhelmed and too many top players have mis-fired. The dodgy Jabulani  has not helped and FIFA’s persistent refusal to embrace readily available technology to assist referees has ultimately embarrassed them on the biggest stage. 

Meanwhile, Paul the octopus has made his choice for tonight’s game and the bets have been pouring in for Spain!

We’ll see. I hope he’s got it right for Gem’s sake but the Dutch, of course, will have different ideas.