10 Most Famous Football Referees
Like them or loathe them, referees play a crucial role in the game of football. Charged with ensuring players abide by the rules of the game and maintaining order and discipline under the watchful eyes of millions of fans, the man or woman in the middle has a great responsibility. Over the decades, several referees have found themselves in the spotlight. Here are 10 of the most famous football referees.
One of the most iconic names in the world of football, Pierluigi Collina is undisputedly the most famous referee on the planet. Known for his piercing eyes and bald head, the Italian was named FIFA’s ‘referee of the year’ six years in a row. Born in Bologna, Collina rose to fame after taking control of high-profile matches in Serie A and the Champions League during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2002, Collina stepped onto the pitch ready to referee the World Cup Final between Germany and Brazil. He was also chosen to umpire the 1999 Champions League Final and the 2004 UEFA Cup Final. Collina retired in 2005, but he is still connected with the game, providing consulting services to refereeing associations in Italy and the Ukraine.
2. Graham Poll
Graham Poll is one of the most famous British referees of all time. Taking charge of a series of highly-charged Premier League games during a career that lasted more than 25 years, Poll retired after refereeing the Championship play-off final between Derby County and West Brom in 2007. The most significant appointment in his career was refereeing the UEFA Cup Final in 2005. He was also selected to represent English referees at two world cups and at Euro 2000.
3. Kim Milton Nielsen
At 6ft 6, Kim Milton Nielsen was known as a no-nonsense great Dane. By the time he was listed as a FIFA referee in 1988, he had already officiated 154 international matches and over 50 Champions League matches. Most England fans and Pendle Sports shoppers will be familiar with the name Kim Milton Nielsen. He famously sent David Beckham off in the World Cup after he kicked out at Diego Simeone when England played Argentina, sparking mass hysteria and widespread heartache. The Dane has an impressive biography, with UEFA Cup and Champions League finals on his record, as well as several hard-fought international contests. After reaching the FIFA retirement age of 45, the Danish referee retired in May 2006.
4. Howard Webb
English referee Howard Webb became the first referee to officiate both the World Cup Final and the Champions League final in the same year in 2010. He was named Best Referee of the Year by FIFA in 2009 and was also commended for his services to football in the New Year’s Honours List 2011. Before turning his attention to footballs and football kits, Webb was a police officer. He retired in 2014 to take on the role of Technical Director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board and he also appears on TV as a pundit and analyst.
5. Markus Merk
Markus Merk is the current record holder for refereeing the most Bundesliga games. Crowned FIFA referee of the year three times, Merk was also awarded the title of DFB German Referee of the Year six times. In 1988, Merk became the youngest ever official to take charge of a Bundesliga game at the age of 25. Merk was part of a team of referees selected for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and took charge of several international matches between 1993 and 2008. After retiring, Merk worked for a Turkish sports channel. As well as being proficient in enforcing the rules of the game on the pitch, Merk is also a qualified dentist.
6. Jack Taylor
Jack Taylor is famed for two decisions he made in the 1974 World Cup Final. Moments into the game at the Olympic Stadium in Munich, Taylor blew his whistle and pointed to the spot, awarding the first penalty in a final to Holland. Uli Hoeness was adjudged to have fouled Johann Cruyff, and Taylor had no hesitation in making the decision. Half an hour later, Taylor was pointing at the spot at the other end, giving Germany an opportunity to strike back. Taylor acknowledged that those 90 minutes changed his life, despite the fact that he assumed control of more than 1,000 matches over the course of a career that spanned three decades. In 1999, Taylor was inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame, and in 2007, he was presented with a Football League award.
7. Bibiana Steinhaus
Player turned referee, Bibiana Steinhaus, made history when she took the match ball and became the first female referee to oversee a Bundesliga game. Steinhaus expressed an interest in following in the footsteps of her father, also a referee, at an early age, and she went on to pursue a very successful career. Steinhaus was selected for UEFA Women’s Euro 2009, the 2010 Women’s U-20 World Cup and the Women’s World Cup in 2011.
8. Mark Clattenburg
Former Premier League referee, Mark Clattenburg, took charge of several high-profile matches before bidding farewell to the UK to take up the position of Head of Refereeing at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. Clattenburg, who was born in County Durham, refereed the final of Euro 2016, the 2016 FA Cup Final and the 2016 Champions League Final.
9. Paul Alcock
English referee Paul Alcock spent six years running the line before joining the Premier League list of referees. The most significant moment of Alcock’s career occurred in 1998 when West Ham’s Paolo di Canio pushed him over after being shown a red card. Di Canio was given an 11-match ban for the incident.
10. Ken Aston
Ken Aston was a trailblazer of his time, inventing red and yellow cards and coloured flags and donning the black uniform with a white trim for the first time. Aston’s red and yellow card system was used at the 1970 World Cup Final and was inspired by his wife, Hilda. In 1997, Aston was awarded the MBE and he spent many years lecturing and mentoring after retiring.
Referees get a lot of stick, but without them, it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy the game so many of us adore.