Graham Poll deserves the footballing world’s understanding

Graham Poll was a highly regarded and prominent referee on both a national and international level. Therefore, it hardly seems right that the Englishman be remembered purely for one, understandable, mistake. 

The 2006 World Cup saw a Group F tie between Australia and Croatia; a tie that went down in the footballing annals for the most comical and unique refereeing blunder of all-time.

Graham Poll, the only English referee at the tournament, booked the Croatian No.3, Simunic, three times. Then eventually brandished a red card to him for dissent after the final whistle.

Poll confessed he didn’t even realise his mistake until after the game, upon which he was understandably mortified.

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Though the football world holds no sympathy for a professional referee, whose daily job consists of being able to count, Poll should not be slaughtered for his mistake; instead he should be awarded with a degree of sympathetic understanding.

Considering the length of his refereeing career, which spanned over 1500 matches and included finals of the Championship Play-offs, the Uefa Cup Final and two World Cups, it is hardly right that such a prominent and highly regarded referee be simply remembered for this:

Josep Simunic, the antagonist in this plot, was born and brought up in Australia. When, after the second booking, Simunic converses with the referee, he does so speaking English with an Australian accent, rather than a Croatian tongue. The referee then looks at the back of Simunic’s shirt and only registers the voice he has just heard and the number of the player; he then writes down in his pad, Australian No.3 Craig Moore.

In explaining his actions to the committee, Poll said he incorrectly noted down the name of the Australia number three Craig Moore when booking Simunic for the second time and failed to realise his error.”

Angel Maria Villa Llona – Fifa Referees Committee President, 2006

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This error would serve to be career-defining; Poll was to be sent home from the World Cup and subsequently retired from refereeing international matches. He also faced the mockery of football fans and pundits alike, while having to handle his new found infamy. Infamy constantly reminding him of his climactic fall from the pinnacle of his career.

The game was chaotic and clumsy; it involved three red cards, several flash points and players who possessed nationalities belonging to both sides. Thus their changing of dialect throughout the game, is certain to have caused confusion. Add this to the pressure cooker of a fiercely contested World Cup and a ticket to the final looming ominously over Poll.

Certainly the reasons for his mistake become apparent, an explanation that takes into consideration several factors which caused confusion and disarray. An explanation which consequently emphasises Graham Poll as being as vulnerable to human error as anyone else.

A unique blunder, one that if not completely forgivable, should be understood in the context of the situation he was in.