The 11 Most Controversial Referees Of All Time

With Fergie set to bring Howard Webb to Man United on a full time contract we count down 11 of the best refs of days gone by.
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1. Tofik Bakhramov

The so-called ‘Russian’ linesman (he was in fact from Azerbaijan) who made the most hotly-debated decision in World Cup history when he decreed that Geoff Hurst’s shot had crossed the line in the 1966 World Cup final. Asked years later to explain his fateful decision, Bakhramov simply replied: ‘Stalingrad.’

2. Pierluigi Collina

That rarest of things: a referee respected and admired in equal measures by players, managers and fans. Unmissable thanks to his intense glare and bald head (he lost his hair in a fortnight after suffering from alopecia), Collina reached the pinnacle of his profession when he was given the whistle for the 2002 World Cup final between Brazil and Germany. He now works as a financial consultant.

3. Graham Poll

‘Those weren't division one or even division two officials,’ fumed Christian Veiri after Italy were controversially beaten by Croatia in the 2002 World Cup, ‘they were village officials.’ Premiership stalwart Graham Poll was the man under fire, getting two clear decisions wrong to swing the game in favour of the Eastern Europeans: disallowing both a fine Vieri header and a dramatic last-minute equaliser from Marco Materazzi.

4. Ken Aston

Aston devised the yellow and red card system in the wake of the fiery England v Argentina World Cup match in 1966. He invented the warning system in his car at some traffic lights as he drove home. ‘The light turned red,’ he remembers. ‘I thought, yellow – take it easy, red – stop, you’re off.’

5. Jack Taylor

The butcher from Wolverhampton became the first official ever to award a penalty in a World Cup Final when he blew for a foul in the 1974 Germany v Holland game. The Germans hadn’t even touched the ball when he pointed to the spot after Uli Hoeness brought down Johan Cruyff in the box virtually straight from kick-off. ‘You are an Englishman!’ barked a disapproving Franz Beckenbauer. The Germans won anyway though, as usual.

6. Gamal Ghandour

A fairytale penalty shoot-out victory for the home nation it may have been, but Spain’s 2002 World Cup quarter final meeting with South Korea was marred by some of the worst refereeing in the history of the tournament. The Spanish had two perfectly good goals disallowed by the Egyptian official, and at the end of the game Ivan Helguara had to be restrained as he charged at the ref. Coach Jose Antonio Camacho branded the match ‘a scandal.’

7. Clive Thomas

The Welsh official also known as the Terror of Treorchy managed to enrage Brazil in the 1978 tournament when he ruled out a Zico winner against Sweden in the last second of the game. Thomas claimed the ball was in mid-air as he whistled for time. The Brazilians appealed and it was the end of Clive’s international career.

8. Arthur Ellis

Britain’s first celebrity referee, Ellis’s best-known game was the 1954 World Cup fixture between Brazil and Hungary, which came to be known as the ‘Battle of Berne’. He awarded two penalties and send off three players for fighting – one of them a Hungarian MP. The two teams brawled in the dressing room afterwards, while Ellis sat calmly drinking a cup of tea. He later became an official on TV show It’s a Knockout.

9. Kim Milton Nielsen

Earned the ire of all England when he dismissed David Beckham and disallowed a Sol Campbell goal in the 1998 World Cup match with Argentina. ‘I received many letters from England, and I was most impressed by the Danish postal service,’ says Neilsen. ‘Letters addressed to "World Cup referee, Denmark" got to me.’ But the Dane stands by his decisions. ‘I have seen the game many times on video since. Some have said Beckham’s was only a soft kick, but that does not matter, it is a red card offence.’

10. Byron Moreno

Another official to raise hackles in Japan and Korea, Ecuadorian ref Byron Moreno made so many dubious decisions during the Italy v South Korea second round clash that crowds in Rome chanted ‘death to the referee’ and councillors in Sicily named a row of toilets after him. Moreno had disallowed an Italian golden goal, turned down a clear penalty claim and sent off Francesco Totti, helping the host nation to progress. ‘It seemed as if the authorities sat round a table and decided to throw us out,’ fumed Italian Minister for Public Offences Franco Frattini. Moreno was later banned for 20 matches by the Ecuadorian Football Association after suspiciously playing 13 minutes of extra time in a league game.

11. Charles Corver

The Dutch official guilty of overlooking perhaps the most blatant foul in football history. During the 1982 World Cup semi between France and West Germany, Harold Schumacher thundered out of his area and smashed advancing French midfielder Francois Battison full in the face with horrifying force. His forearm removed two of the Frenchman’s teeth and left him prostrate on the ground for three minutes. Many feared Battison was dead. Corver did not even produce a yellow card; the lucky Germans went on to claw back a 3-1 deficit to win on penalties. ‘We have been eliminated brutally,’ said French manager Michel Hidalgo.