Sunday, 14 December 2014


The book that upset the applecart
ALTHOUGH neither is  now officiating in top-flight football, Mark Halsey and Graham Poll were once two of the Premier League’s top referees.

They both come from Hertfordshire, so are they good mates? Alas, no.
According to Halsey, they have experienced a “turbulent relationship” since as far back as August 14, 1999 when he took charge of his first Premier match (Wimbledon v Coventry City) with Poll as his fourth official.

In his book Added Time (published last year), he recalls; “ I was always nervous and superstitious before a game, but that day I was even more tense on my top-flight debut.

“Graham’s imposing presence seemed to add to the pressure. I had to get over any sense of intimidation.”

The match ended 1-1, and the match assessor, Roy Capie, gave Halsey seven out of  ten - “a decent mark”.

But evidently Halsey was less than comfortable with the level of Poll’s support.

He continues: “Being a fourth official is a strange discipline.

“Some fourth officials you don’t want as they are indifferent to you and the job.

“Others will jump in the trenches and fight both for you and with you and dig you out of the mire by helping you.

“Graham Poll was not one for the trenches. I wasn’t convinced he wanted me to do well that day.”

There was subsequent friction between the two at the fortnightly gathering of Premier referees at Staverton Park where, as well as analysing videos of their performances, they were supposed to “bond”.

Recalls Halsey: “After dinner, Graham’s group would go into corner and gossip and giggle before adjourning to his room with bottles of wine.

“His disciples included Paul Durkin, Graham Barber, Rob Styles and Mike Dean, and they became known as the “Red Wine Club”.

“I was never part of it, preferring the company of men like Phil Dowd, Andy D’Urso and my room mate, Peter Alton.”

Halsey acknowledges that Poll was “a top-class practitioner of refereeing” but says he had little respect for him as a person and the way he conducted himself.

Among the reason, he cites Poll’s “cock-of the walk attitude around Staverton Park and, in his opinion, an inclination to “big himself” at the expense of colleagues, especially those whom he perceived as a threat to his being appointed to big games.

“Graham was certainly good enough to get to the top on ability alone and without the need to act as he did.

“He had no need to be so Machiavellian about things in the way he was always manoeuvring in the background, ringing up people in power and getting in their ear.”

In his own book, Seeing Red, published in 2007) Poll makes only one mention of
Halsey - that the latter, who had not yet become a referee, played in goal for Welwyn Garden City in a 2- win against Pirton in a county association cup final in 1985.

However, in an article in The Independent, following  publication of Added Time, Poll slammed Halsey for “betraying” his former colleagues with critical comments, recalling that, contrary to instructions, the latter  used to wear a Bolton kit with his own squad number to training sessions during refereeing get-togethers.

Poll is quoted as saying:"The refereeing fraternity is absolutely appalled at what he is doing. He hasn't thought it through.

"I think it is absolutely appalling. Mark has got to take a long, hard look at himself, but he won't.

 “I know the guy. I have known him for years. He is that type of character, I'm afraid.

"I would never buy the book, and I hope lots of people don't as well."

Halsey responded by saying the pair do not get on and accused Poll of letting the profession down.

Ironically, both men are now effectively excluded from any official influence within the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Ltd ), with both working as occasional media pundits where they are called on to express their opinions on contemporary football - the more controversial, the better

Doubtless the ructions must  all have been exasperating for the general manager of the PGMOL, Mike Riley, himself a former top ref, and his colleagues.

However, probably wisely, Riley declined to become embroiled in the dispute.

Both titles are well worth reading and can be ordered from bookshops or online retailers.

Poll - unimpresed by his former colleague's complaints

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