Man In the Middle – Book Review

The Man in the Middle – By Howard Webb- Published by Simon & Schuster UK- Price £20.

This is the autobiography (albeit assisted by Joanne Lake) of a rare breed of men and an even rarer breed of Englishmen who have refereed the FIFA Men’s World Cup Final to give it its full title.

That great day came in Johannesburg in “South Africa2010” in the match between Holland and Spain where he shared his honour with friends and colleagues Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey as his Assistant Referees. Both the meeting at which they heard the news and the match itself with some of the criticism it threw up are amply covered with the joy of the former tempered by the problems of the latter.

Football of course has not been Webb’s only career having been inducted into the police force in 1993 and there are stories of unintended bravery in both occupations. Indeed the work with the “force” is both ably woven and blended into the whole book and especially shows the struggle of trying to win promotion equally in both capacities.

Plenty of space is devoted to the long road from youth football to the top with promotions coming regularly and with advice and assistance given by more senior referees, including his father who supported his son’s refereeing throughout his career. Of particular note in the early years came when as a boy first at the job being physically threatened by an errant father as too often is the case. Many might and often do quit in such circumstances but Webb carried on both regarding and regardless to continue with such banes as biased club linesmen and the wait for promotion.

In what turns out to be a revelatory Chapter 4 we see that even when reaching the top the rivalry and factions occur between men who are supposed to be the closest of colleagues which will throw a light on the fact that even as professionals referees are no different to others.

There are many insights into players refereed, match incidents and the game as seen from a different perspective to most football autobiographies as it is seen from the referee’s point of view .What stands out most from this book is the author’s complete honesty and self deprecation especially in regard to the chapter encompassing that World Cup Final in the chapter entitled “Today’s Your Day” wherein he cautioned nine players and dismissed one. In the final chapter we are invited into favourite reminiscences on the cusp of retirement with a hint of pathos displayed but also a touch of heart on the sleeve.

Above all this is a book showing that love of football that all referees must have, but also one written with complete honesty which does not shirk to self criticism since there must be few referees who would admit so readily to their mistakes.

This is a great read even if you are not interested in refereeing because of all the background stories and match incidents.

There are 305 pages including Index and the book is well illustrated with colour photographs.