Wednesday, 28 December 2016




THE Professional Footballers’ Association should work harder to help members who are going through troubled times.

So says Ian Wright in his hard-hitting autobiography, A Life in Football.

He states : “A lot of players or former players don’t know what help is available to them or aren’t capable of finding out for themselves.

“This is where the PFA should come in. I don’t think they do nearly enough to ensure the wellbeing of footballers  after they have  finished playing

“We pay enough to them in our careers, and they get a cut of TV  money, but they don’t instigate the sort of help so many players need.”

“The PFA just seems to sit there.

Gordon Taylor  has been chief executive since before I  was playing, and I don’t know what he does apart from turn up at functions every now and again, show his  face and do his spiel.

 “The PFA doesn’t  seem to offer help unless you phone up and chase them.”

Originally from Brockley in South London, the author  (52), is a hero to many fans - especially those of the two clubs with whom he enjoyed his longest periods in the game, Crystal Palace and Arsenal.

But unlike most footballers’ autobiographies, his book is less a catalogue of  colourful and light-hearted  experiences and more  a serious narrative about how his life and career have developed - the downs as well as the ups.

Along the way, he provides insights about various aspects of football, including the role of agents for whom, by and large, he seems to have little time.

“There are more bad ones than good,”he says. “On the purely practical side, nobody needs an agent - they do nothing that a solicitor or accountant can’t do.

“When a player gets an agent,  all he is  doing is giving that person the opportunity  to be a middleman to make money for himself which, in the majority of cases, is all he does.

“Agents are like glorified hotel concierges. They answer the phone and fix up little things, but they do not necessarily advance a player’s career or make sure he still has one.”

Elsewhere in the book, the author is warm about many past playing colleagues, including Tony Finnigan and Mark Bright - with both of whom he was close  at Palace - but he is red-hot in his admiration for former Arsenal team- and room-mate Dennis Bergkamp, both in the way he played and in the manner he conducted himself off the field.

This fascinating book also includes many tributes - including a whole chapter of dedication - to another Arsenal player of yesteryear, the later  David Rocastle (who also happened to be a Palace fan).

Managers who earn plaudits include Steve Coppell, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, but he was much less keen on Bruce Rioch whose rigorously disciplinarian approach tended not to bring out the best in players. 

There is very little in the way of score-settling, but Wrighty  reveals that when he first joined Palace on a three-month contract in 1985, he had a bad time at the hands of a clique of older players led by goalkeeper George Wood, Micky Droy and Jim Cannon.

“Jim Cannon was the worst,”he maintains. “The big Scottish centre half had been at the club forever and behaved like the playground bully, always ready with a little dig or snide remark.

“It seemed like every time I thought I was making progress, he was there to knock me down.”

Friction between the pair boiled over one morning in a training ground spat which involved punches being thrown.

Another episode came after a match at Grimsby Town where visiting players always used to receive a parting gift of a large fresh fish to take home.

In the hope that it would placate Cannon, Wright acceded to a request to hand his fish over even though he knew the gift would have delighted his mum

To no avail. “Jim Cannon  took the fish, then on Monday was back to his regular, miserable bullying self.”

Memories of another player, Liverpool’s Steve McMahon, are also less than happy because of the poor welcome given to him on his first day training with the England squad following his call-up.

“He was really horrible - he went out of his way to be nasty.”

Later on duty for their respective clubs, there was an unpleasant clash between the duo resulted in the midfielder requiring stitches for a studs injury to his groin

 For a while, near the end of his playing career (when he was on the books of West Ham), the author  xsimultaneously enjoyed a spell as chat show host on ITV’s Friday Night’s All Wright which introduced him to such entertainments stars as singer Lionel Richie and actors Will Smith and Denzel Washington (but brought criticism from another chat show host, Michael Parkinson).

Other programmes included Surviving The Kalahari in 2002 which was “just frightening” - not least because it put him in peril from lions, hyenas  and elephants.

“Me a boy from Brockley - camping close to a water hole that wild animals were going to head for,”he recalls.“It was terrifying, but I loved that sort of thing because it was a test.”

But this line of stardom of proved to be a cul-de-sac, and the author much prefers doing what he does now - providing football analysis for various TV and radio companies.

When he started, he was encouraged by producers to be something of a studio jester, but this brought criticism from viewers so his style now is much more measured and serious.

“In the world of punditry, being on Match of The Day is the equivalent of playing in the Champions League,”he says.

“There is a Caribbean saying that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation

“I’ll work as hard as it takes to stay on top of being the best pundit out there.”
* Ian Wright: My Life in Football is published by Littlebrown at £18.99.

Monday, 19 December 2016


John Inverdale - his media career started in Lincoln

WHENEVER he hears the song, Going Underground by The Jam, high-profile BBC and ITV sports presenter John Inverdale is transported back to Lincoln coach station.

That was the Top 40 song he heard being played as he was preparing to make his way back home to Bristol after landing his first job in journalism - as a cub reporter on the Lincolnshire Echo.

It was in the early 1980s, and Inverdale,  who had just graduated with a history degree from the University of Southampton and a diploma in journalism from Cardiff Institute, had been finding it particularly hard to land his first reporter's job in the wake of turmoil in the newspaper industry following a showdown between the print unions and the new Thatcher government.

"I wrote to every UK newspaper listed in Willings Press Guide, but to no avail," he told an audience in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire. "I even got the cold shoulder from a title in Stornoway."

Then, from out of the blue, came an interview offer from the Lincoln-based newspaper.

"The first question, the Editor asked me was: "What does Market Rasen mean to you?"

"Horse racing," I said.

"You've got the job,"came back the reply, after which the rest of the interview was to settle the formalities.

Unusually for a young man, Inverdale had been a racing fan since teenage years - partly because of a sustained period of illness which kept him off school (like John Cleese, he went to Clifton College).

In those days, racing was the only programme screened on daytime TV, so he used to follow the action from Kempton, Sandown, Thirsk and elsewhere.

He became so enamoured that, some time later, he bunked off lessons and caught a train from Bristol to the Cheltenham Festival, praying that he would not be seen by anyone who knew him. 

Opposite him in the carriage was a man whose face was hidden behind the broadsheet racing newspaper, The Sporting Life. When he lowered it, horror of horrors, who should the man be but his English teacher?

Master and pupil were equally embarrassed but they struck a pact - "if you don't tell, I won't tell" - that they sustained to the rest of Inverdale's time as a schoolboy.

To this day, he remains a racing enthusiast and rates National Hunt racing his second favourite sport after rugby union - with the Six Nations rugby tournament and the Cheltenham Festival as the highlights of his sporting year.

For Inverdale, a pretty mouth-watering annual calendar it is too, starting with the Australian open tennis in January and taking in other top events such as Wimbledon, athletics  and Ryder Cup golf.
This year has proved particularly special because it also incorporated the Rio Olympics and scintillating  Ryder Cup action where the fervour of the crowd brought out the best in some of the players, with two particularly memorable matches.
There was an audience of about 100 for the highly entertaining pie and pea supper event held at Cleethorpes cricket club.

Inverdale spoke highly of the inspirational on-field leadership  of the likes of Michael Vaughan (cricket) and Martin Johnson (rugby union), plus the entertaining laugh-a-minute personality of Boris Becker (whom he predicted, may no longer be coach of Novak Djokovic for much longer).
John McEnroe is also a great raconteur, not just about tennis but also about  his other interests, including wine and music. But, because he is so self-absorbed, he might not be best company if you were within him for an hour in a stuck lift.
 Inverdale  spoke entertainingly (if slightly ruefully) about an eight minute slot he had during one of his BBC interview shows with footballer Sol Campbell, then captain of Spurs. 
The club's, Alan Sugar, had only just sacked Swiss manager Christian Gross, so having Campbell  as a guest was particularly topical.
But the footballer, who had earlier refused to share a sofa with the two previous guests, Wimbledon. champion Goran Ivanisevic and gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci, stonewalled all questions about Gross' departure.
"I don't want to talk about it - these things happen in football." That was about the limit of Campbell's responses.
Nor was he much more forthcoming about an underwhelming England performance in a recent  international against mediocre  opposition.
In response, Inverdale determined not to ask the footballer about a. newly-launched DVD that Campbell was keen to promote.
Sol Campbell - uncommunicative

But, with the "conversation" threatening to dry up, a voice on his earphone him told that there was two minutes still to fill. 
Inverdale found he had little option but to ask about the DVD - at which point Campbell became suddenly loose-tongued and effusive.  
"I hated myself afterwards for giving him the opportunity," revealed Inverdale. "I had given in and let him beat me. Thinking about it today still makes me angry." 
 It is common practice now for TV sports coverage, especially football programmes, to be hosted by past or present participants.
 Inverdale  acknowledged that their firsthand insider  experience of sport was invaluable, but he said there was also a role for  journalists who, through their training, knew how, why and when to ask the sort of questions that sports participants might shy away from - the questions most likely to prompt revealing insights.
Of the analysts he admired, he expressed particular respect  for rugby union's Jonathan Davies  because he has a knack of seeing in advance what is going to happen.
"If Scotland aren't careful, Ireland are likely to score in the corner," he once said. And, sure enough, moments later, that is just what happened. 
During a lively question-and-answer session, Inverdale, who is chairman of Esher rugby club, near his home in Kingston-upon-Thames, also spoke of his admiration for England's head rugby union coach, Eddie Jones, the demise of England's football team, the Allardyce  affair, the corrosion of athletics and cycling by drugs, security at football grounds and  the future of sport in a TV-dominated age.
He suspected that the decision of golf's governing body to award broadcasting coverage rights to Sky may have backfired.
Although the transfer generated  a short-term cash boost, the profile of the game has suffered because events such as the Open are now watched by 800,000 viewers compared with between three and four million when it was on BBC TV.
Inverdale was quizzed about an incident when he famously landed himself in hot water (especially with feminists) by describing 2013 Wimbledon ladies' singles champion Marion Bartoli as "not a looker".
The following day, he had the unsettling experience of having photographers camped outside his front door - a case of the media  turning on one of its own. 
 "It was not a pleasant experience," he said. "Bartoli has since become a good friend. My remark was misinterpreted.
"I was praising her for her determination. She didn't have the the long levers of Maria Sharapova  or the strength of Serena Williams, but she showed what could be achieved through sheer determination."
More recently there was an incident when Sir Steve Redgrave walked out of a studio he was sharing with Inverdale during Olympic coverage of the rowing.
It was reported in the tabloid Press as having been the result of a bust-up between the two men, but, according to Inverdale, it was nothing of the sort - it was prompted by Sir Steve's frustration that the rowing coverage would have to be cut short because time was overrunning.
Of his time in Lincolnshire in the early '80s, Inverdale said he loved the county's skies and always volunteered to carry out reporting assignments in places such as Boston and Sutton-on-Sea because he enjoyed the drive east from from Lincoln.
On summer weekends, he played cricket for Lincoln on both Saturdays and Sundays. "No wonder I didn't have a girlfriend," he quipped.
Then, when he did get a girlfriend (by now he was working for BBC Radio Lincolnshire), he was heartbroken when the relationship ended.
To help him get over it, he went  with a group of pals to Cleethorpes - his first visit to the resort - where they succeeded in their dual intention of watching the carnival and getting drunk.
"It was a blisteringly hot day in August 1983," he recalled.
Now married to Jackie and with two Chelsea-supporting sons, aged 24 and 22, plus a daughter who works for Nike, the 59-year-old follows  Southampton and Lincoln City, but he also has a soft spot for Grimsby Town.
He said he was  full of admiration for fans who would be getting up at 6am the next day to make the long trip for match at Yeovil.
"Even if Town lose 2-1 to a hotly-disputed goal in the last minute,  fans won't regret having made the journey,"he said. "That's the passion of sport for you."
Inverdale also had an amusing anecdote about playing in a celebrity cricket match against a team captained by  Eric Clapton in what the legendary rock guitarist had announced would be his last match.
Inevitably most of the crowd wanted Clapton to score plenty of runs in his final innings, but he skied the second ball to cover where Inverdale was fielding.
"The ball was so high that the broadcaster  had time to ask former Test player Mark Ramprakash, fielding at mid-off,  what he should do.
"Drop the ball!"came back the reply.
The advice was taken, allowing Clapton to prolong his innings till he reached 20 or so before losing his wicket. 
Inverdale acknowledged that he had been very "lucky" in his career, but there was one misjudgement for which he  is still kicking himself. 
He turned down an offer to cough up £5,000 for a half-share in the racehorse, Make A Stand.
With its winnings approaching £1-million, it was a decision he came to bitterly regret - not least when he found himself commentating at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, when the horse was running in the prestigious Champion Hurdle.
Although the horse was owned by his close friend, Peter Deal, this was a race that Inverdale did not want the pocket-sized chestnut to win - it would have been rubbing further salt into the wound.
"Even as I was describing the action, I was inwardly praying for it to fall."
But Make A Stand, trained by Martin Piper, surged to a famous victory, further enhancing the sour lemons taste in Inverdale's mouth.
"I try not to think about that horse too much," he said. "But If only . . .

"I could haven been £500,000 richer!"
* Photo of Sol Campbell: Stefan Schafer via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 18 December 2016


Also available from Simon & Schuster:

Amusing anecdotes about cup football, both domestic and overseas, from Dan Walker, presenter of TV’s Football Focus

Saturday, 17 December 2016



  "I sometimes dreaded my stints on the pitch. I often spent that 90-minute period wavering between fear and loathing.  . . for me too many games would be endured, not enjoyed."

Astonishingly, this is the reflection on the last days of his refereeing career of Howard Webb, the man who was so highly regarded in the middle that his numerous high-profile achievements included the most illustrious appointment of all - a World Cup final

Of his last season in the  Premier League, Webb says the "vast majority" of matches wore him out "mentally and sometimes physically".

He found his enthusiasm of earlier, happier times being sapped (especially after "a  bad decision or a poor performance") by the flak that inevitably ensued - "mobbing by players, taunting from the terraces, intimidation by managers, pastings in the media and lost sleep".

On top of that there was the toll, not least from constant travel home and overseas, on his domestic  life.

When he was making his way in the game and climbing the refereeing ladder, the benefits outweighed the disadvantages, but now it seemed the balance had shifted.

Ironically, almost from the days he quit, moments of regret set in.

"I found it tough," he confides."I struggled a lot."I missed the spirit and camaraderie.

"Sometimes I found myself yearning for my old life in middle."

Webb's  candid revelations come in his deservedly-acclaimed  autobiography The Man in The Middle.

What shines through, in a world of sports celebrity ego, is his personal modesty, his refusal to blow his own trumpet, his willingness to admit to mistakes and regrets, his gentle humour and his generosity in speaking highly of others - not least his parents, Billy and Sylvia, and his own family - wife Kay and children, Lucy, Jack and Hollie.

Among those in the game, past or present,  who receive his plaudits are  Glenn Hoddle and Ian Wright.

Wright, for example, is described as being "among the nicest people in sport - a top, top fella".

Meanwhile, he says that Hoddle  is "ridiculously friendly, humble and down to earth".

Other notably good guys in the game, at least in Webb's book, include Patrice Evra, Per Mertesacker, Phil Jagielka, Scott Parker, Frank Lampard, the late Gary Speed, the Italian goalkeeper, Gianlugi Buffon, and (to a extent!) even Robbie Savage and Joey Barton.

Of the hundreds of footballers he has met, he says "the vast majority" proved to be "decent people and model professionals".

He notes: "They did their job and I did mine, and we tried to work together as best we could."

But Webb is particularly glowing, repeatedly so  in his praise of two unsung assistant referees, Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, who ran the line for him in many matches, both domestic and foreign, including the Spain v Netherlands World Cup Final on July 11, 2010.

He reckons that it was their ability, professionalism and moral support that helped propel him to the pinnacle of the game.

Unlike other referees who have penned their autobiographies, Webb mostly holds back from the temptation of settling scores - except in the cases of David Moyes and Craig Bellamy.

He recalls how the former once described him as a "f-ing disgrace" in the tunnel and how the same manager "appeared to have a deep loathing for refs and would often send in his assistants to harangue us on his behalf".

Bellamy, meanwhile, once yelled at him "you, f-ing sh-house" in full earshot of everyone in both technical areas.

Says Webb "I remember thinking, at the time, there weren't many more obnoxious players around than Craig Bellamy."

Other tricky characters, probably for all referees, include Neil Warnock and Steve Evans - both of whom, ironically, have managed Rotherham United, Webb's hometown club which he has supported since childhood (and of which he is now an honorary ambassador).

He also recalls an "awkward" moment once while shaking hands with player-turned-pundit Alan Shearer in the Match of The Day studios. "I noticed that while his mouth was smiling, his eyes were not."

What also makes the book so impressive - valuable even - is that the author "comes out" on his ongoing struggles with the part-psychological/ part neurological  disorder OCD  - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Had it it had been known about by the domestic and international football authorities during his time as a referee, it is quite possible this condition - possibly reflecting inner insecurities - would have delayed or even halted his  career.

He describes how  negative thoughts  which would intrude  into mind prior to matches could generally (but not aways) be banished if he tapped on doors, walls or floors  or even kept removing and replacing  his shirt, sometimes as many as six or more times.

Recognising that this was potentially distracting to his assistant linesmen  who were themselves geeing themselves up for the match, he would even lock himself in the loo while performing his strange rituals.

He says: "Given time and inner strength, I'm sure that I will be able to talk publicly about my OCD.

"I am aware that there are thousands of fellow-sufferers who may identify with my situation, and I think I'd like to help raise awareness of what can be a much-misunderstood and much-maligned  condition.

"I spent years believing  I was a crazy weirdo, and I'd hate to think that others with similar symptoms are feeling the same."

Webb's frankness, albeit preliminary, in describing his strange disorder, which he may never totally overcome,  will doubtless  encourage others who face the same challenge and may also lead to progress in how it can best be treated.

Throughout the book, the author has only the warmest words to say about the support from his mum, Sylvia, and his ex-miner father, Billy, himself a former , who encouraged Howard to take up the whistle, aged 18.

An undercurrent of the book, of which Webb is probably unaware, is that much of his motivation may have been prompted by a desire to please his father, a collier who spent a decade underground.

Webb was not always kind to his son when watching him play for such boyhood clubs as Bethel Rovers.

Unimpressed by his lad's readiness to shy away from tough tackles and shirk  headed challenges, Webb Senior would describe him as a " big girl's blouse" - hardly the best way to inspire a young player.

"I hated getting stuck in and tended to shy away from crunching tackles,"confesses Howard. "Unusually for someone so tall, I was pretty cr-p in the air and dreaded going up for headers."

But despite the brickbats, a strong  bond always prevailed between father and son, such that the former would often travel with him to matches, later dispensing post-match encouragement in times good and bad.

On one fateful journey, Billy fell asleep at the steering wheel  and their car ended up in dyke at the side of the A1 road near Worksop.

The book will be fabulously helpful to other referees especially those starting out in the game because the author is so forthcoming about his stinkers and about the challenges of managing the pressure (and often downright spitefulness) from players, managers, fans,  media pundits and sometimes even from fellow referees.

He recalls a "particularly troublesome" match in December, 2004, at Goodison Park between Everton and Bolton where he allowed himself to be swayed by the febrile atmosphere.

At around about the 30-minute mark - often a critical point in a referee's match control - he found himself "starting to hide which is a cardinal sin for my profession".

He says: "Rather than being intimidated by my surroundings, I should have. maintained the courage of my convictions, but I failed to do so.

"I was, to coin a phrase, bottling it. The game went from bad to worse, and I just wanted to go home."

Later, Webb refers to an observation from a respected Scottish ex-referee, Hugh Dallas, who compared refereeing to "riding a horse you've never met before".

Either it will prove docile or it will misbehave - and only experience will tell you how to handle the reins.

Advice from another referee,George Courtney, was along the lines of "to succeed as a ref, you've got to be prepared to be a b-stard without being a c-nt".

He notes that the midpoint of the first half can be a good time to show a first yellow card and he emphasises the importance of alertness from the very first second of the match - otherwise a situation can "slap you in the face when you're not ready for it".

Another referee, Graham Poll, also offered wise advice. In European matches, players tend not to respect referees who seek to communicate too much. They see it as a sign of weakness. What they respect is a card.

"If I was to keep UEFA happy, I needed to adjust my style and adapt my mode of communication,"says Webb. No more blah, blah, blah, essentially."

The author is also revealing about the cliques, factions and rivalries that existed in the refereeing world in his early days as a Premier League official.

On the one side, there was the so-called "red wine club" consisting of southerners such as Graham Poll, Paul Durkin, Rob Styles, Mike Dean and Andy D'Urso, while, on the other side, were (from the Midlands and the North) Jeff Winter, Mark Halsey, Mike Riley, Neale Barry, Steve Bennett and Barry Knight.

In the middle were the likes of Webb, Alan Wiley, Dermot Gallagher, Matt Massias and Uriah Rennie.

On one occasion, simmering tensions between Poll and Halsey turned particularly nasty, resulting in an unseemly ruckus between the two which only ended when Rennie dragged them apart.

Mike Dean is revealed to be something of a "prankster" while Lee Mason is a joker with a knack for impersonating players, managers and officials.

However, at the referees' Christmas party at St George's Park in Staffordshire, the latter  tends to specialise in impressions of Bruce Forsyth and Leslie Crowther.

For much of his career, Webb combined refereeing with serving South Yorkshire police, first as a constable, then (he was promoted in June, 2000) as a sergeant.

On his first day on foot patrol, based in Doncaster (the most enjoyable period of his policing career), he recalls his attempts to restrain a drunk which, until back-up arrived,  culminated in both men grappling on the ground in the town centre - watched by onlookers, many of whom were cheering on the drunk!

On another occasion, there was even more danger when he was part of a team dealing with an armed robbery.

Often, his police training helped him on the football field. As he says: "I don't think it's a coincidence that many refs are coppers or teachers adept at managing discipline resolving conflict and enforcing rules and regulations."

What is required is the mettle to make quick decisions within tight frames, the self-control to keep calm when the heart is thumping and the capacity to take action without dithering.

Between school and joining the police, Webb also had a five-year spell working for the  Rotherham branch of Yorkshire Bank (where he first met Kay whom he married in July, 1995, at Whiston parish church).

But he founded banking work humdrum and left under a cloud after a particularly foolish escapade involving what he scribbled in complimentary diaries provided for customers

But back to the football - specifically the World Cup Final.

Webb provides fascinating insights both into the pre-match preparations in the dressing room and into the match itself.

With four yellow cards in the first 22 minutes, it proved to be a difficult and draining match - one he does not look back on with any pleasure.

But, in his assesssment, he is almost certainly too hard on himself. Most of the millions who watched the match on TV will probably have felt that it was not the officials but the players, especially some of the Dutch, who let down both themselves and the integrity of such a showcase occasion.

The book is also full of amusing anecdotes - for instance, the occasion when Peter Walton forgot to take his disciplinary cards on to the pitch.

When it came to cautioning Jordan Mutch, then with Birmingham City, he flourished an imaginary yellow card - then continued the charade by putting the "card" back in his pocket.

He is also illuminating on the apprehension experienced by match officials (including assistant referees) in advance of TV's Match of The Day, especially if they have made one or more serious errors. 

What about now? Webb  could have enjoyed another couple of years in the middle  but felt it was correct to get out while still at the top.

For a while, he worked for the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Ltd) but found his role unsatisfactory because it was ill-defined. He used to find himself "mooching about like a spare part".

In particular, he says he became increasingly "hacked off" that officials were seen - and often verbally battered in the media - but were never heard. The PGMOL offered officials no platform, often  for fear of ruffling the feathers of Premier League managers.

Webb is happier in what he does now, combining studio work as  a refereeing analyst for BT Sport with working 12 days a month (he is  midway through a three-year contract improving refereeing standards for the Saudi FA).

What about the future. Webb has twice been asked to stand as a prospective Labour MP - for Barnsley Central and for Rotherham - but declined

His ex-miner dad had been a paid up member of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the pair had always held socialist values, but he felt a life in parliament would have consumed his whole life and that nailing his political colours to the mast might have alienated some friends and colleagues.

This review of an exceptionally readable book would not be complete without a word of praise for Stockport-based ghostwriter Joanne Lake who played a key role in the project.

Her imaginative and colouful  knack with words, phraseology and structure is impeccable  - as evidenced in the opening paragraph of Chapter Nine where Webb is at pains to quash the rumour that he had a soft spot for Manchester United.

"Let's get something straight once and for all,"he says."Contrary to what you might have seen on the internet, I have never shared a bed with Sir Alex Ferguson. There is no statue of me outside Old Trafford. My kids are not called Rio, Wayne and Christiano. There is no Red Devil tattoo inked on my left buttock. The only United I have evcer supported - hand on heart - is of the Rotherham variety. And that's the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Marvellous stuff! This title surely deserves to be voted Sports Book of The Year.

An FA Trophy match between Droylsden FC and Belper FC. "It was an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end.Within minutes of kick off I had lost total control. It became one of those games - all refs have had them - where my performance slowly, painfully and publicly nosedived. I was out of my depth. That match gave me cold sweats and sleepless nights for weeks afterwards."
Darlington v Exeter City on Aug 19, 2000.

Fulham v Wolves on Oct 18, 2003.

Hull v Everton on May 11, 2014.


Hull. He likes the people, and his sister, Claire, went to Hull University - and it is not far from his home in Rotherham. By coincidence, he refereed the last match to be played at Hull's former Boothferry Park ground and the first to be played at the KC stadium.


Raleigh Grifter.

Howard Webb: Man in The Middle is published at £20 by Simon & Schuster: