Leading England's representatives onto the pitch at the Euro 2008 championships in June will be one of the proudest moments of Howard Webb's football career.This content was published on June 9, 2008 - 15:09
With England's football side not featuring in the tournament, referee Webb and his two assistants will fly the flag as England's sole representatives at the tournament in Switzerland and Austria.
The Yorkshire police sergeant has been chosen, along with linesmen Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, as one of the 12 elite teams to officiate at the third-biggest sporting event in the world. swissinfo spoke to Webb at a referee's workshop in Regensdorf, near Zurich.
Webb will be keeping order between Austria and Poland on June 12 at the Ernst Happel stadium in Vienna.
swissinfo: What are your expectations for Euro 2008?
Howard Webb: I expect a lot of intense emotions from the fans, and some of it will rub off onto the referees too. We will be under a lot of pressure to get it right, but we have been training hard to prepare ourselves physically and mentally for this challenge.
swissinfo: Talking of emotions – how do you feel about the English football team not being there?
H.W.: Everyone watches the games back home and it's an excellent social event so I'm disappointed that they won't have the opportunity to enjoy the tournament this time round. But it does lift some of the pressure from me by not having the same scrutiny on the tournament from my home country.
swissinfo: English referee Graham Poll got it wrong at the 2006 World Cup by yellow carding the same player three times. Is that in the back of your mind?
H.W.: Graham was an excellent referee and I'm really disappointed for him that he made a big mistake in such a big game. We all go into games wanting them to be controversy free and for the players to be the stars of the show.
We can learn from everybody's mistakes. Because of what happened to Graham we have put certain procedures into place to avoid that ever happening again.
swissinfo: Referees have been told to be tough on dissent, diving, violent tackles and player confrontations. Is the behaviour of players getting worse?
H.W.: I don't think it's got worse in the last few seasons because the message is getting through to players that the game is a thing that needs protecting. They have an important role to play in terms of ensuring that their behaviour doesn't drop below a certain line.
Some people are turned away from football because of some of the behaviour they see on the field. Simulation, dissent and confrontation are a slur on the game that needs to be cut out. We have seen more and more poor tackles in the game that would endanger the safety of the opponent. The message is clear: we have to be strong where excessive force is used.
swissinfo: Do you think players are under more pressure to win?
H.W.: We have to remember the pressure that players are under from their coaches and supporters – it's a results business. But the relationship between referees and players is a lot better than many people believe.
swissinfo: Does your police training help you referee?
H.W.: Some of the skills translate from one thing to another – the management of people and the ability to assess the situation fairly quickly and make a decision based on what you have witnessed. It's no coincidence that quite a few referees in England are police officers.
swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen in Regensdorf
Howard Webb was born on July 14, 1971 and lives in Rotherham, Yorkshire. He is a sergeant in the South Yorkshire police force, but has taken a five-year sabbatical to concentrate on his career as a football referee.
Webb first took up the whistle in 1989 in his local Rotherham leagues. After working his way up the professional leagues in England, he became an assistant referee in the Premier League (the top division in England) in 1998.
He officiated his first Premier League game as full referee (Fulham vs Wolverhampton Wanderers) on October 18, 2003.
Webb became an international referee in 2005, taking charge of a match between Northern Ireland and Portugal on November 15.
Euro 2008 referees
Konrad Plautz (Austria)
Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)
Howard Webb (England)
Herbert Fandel (Germany)
Kyros Vassaras (Greece)
Roberto Rosetti (Italy)
Pieter Vink (Netherlands)
Tom Henning Ovrebo (Norway)
Lubos Michel (Slovakia)
Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain)
Peter Fröjdfeldt (Sweden)
Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)
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