ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

The 15 Worst Refereeing Mistakes Ever

The 15 Worst Refereeing Mistakes Ever

The 15 Worst Refereeing Mistakes Ever
14 November 2014

Who would want to be a referee? All that effort spent learning the rules, all that time expended getting your fitness up, and then you spend 90 minutes being shouted at by 22 players, two managers and thousands of fans, all convinced that every decision you make is wrong.

It's all quite unfair. Except, of course, when you really are wrong. Then you deserve everything you get.

Here's our list of the 15 biggest howlers ever made by the men in black. Everyone makes mistakes, but these are spectacular.

Graham Poll (Croatia v Australia, 2006)

Poor Graham Poll. A highly-respected official who had refereed two games at the 2006 World Cup flawlessly, he was firmly in line to be given the job for the final. But, inexplicably, in the final group match between Croatia and Australia he failed to send off Croatian left back Josip Šimunić despite booking him twice. Šimunić stayed on the field, only finally departing when a post-final whistle third booking for dissent finally earned him a deserved red. Poll retired at the end of the next season following all the mocking; it's not quite as easy as 1-2-3 then.

Karl-Josef Assenmacher (Holland v England, 1993)

The man who famously cost 'Turnip Head' Graham Taylor his job. With the score at 0-0, David Platt was bearing down on goal when Dutch defender Ronald Koeman unceremoniously hauled him down on the edge of the area. The immediate dispute was whether it was a free-kick or penalty, but the red card for Koeman was never in doubt - apart from, that is, to Assenmacher who immediately, bafflingly, issued a yellow. As is often the way with these things, Koeman ended up scoring the first goal - a delightful chip over David Seamon, Holland won 2-0, England failed to qualify for USA '94 and Taylor departed. Did he not like that.

Ali Bin Nasser (England v Argentina, 1986)

Possibly the most famous one of all and England on the wrong end of it again. With the score at 0-0, the Argentine genius Diego Maradona made a sudden burst forward, and played a one-two with Jorge Valdano, with the ball looping up in the air. Both Maradona and Shilton jumped for the ball, with the Argentinian emerging successful as the ball trickled into the net. Alarm bells should have rung, given Maradona's obvious height disadvantage but Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser was unmoved by the England players' vociferous complaints. They were still reeling four minutes later when the same player scored arguably the greatest individual goal of all time to make it 2-0. Despite a spirited comeback, England lost 2-1 and the 'Hand of God' had taken Argentina through.

Marco Fritz (Duisberg v FSV Frankfurt, 2010)

At least this particular howler didn't really matter. After a defensive mistake by Frankfurt, who were already trailing 4-0, Duisberg midfielder Christian Tiffert tried his luck from 25 yards. The ball hit the crossbar and rebounded a good couple of yards back into play yet, astonishingly, a goal was given following Fritz' consultation with his assistant Thomas Münch. Tiffert himself didn't really celebrate and the whole team looked quite sheepish. For Frankfurt it was just another kick in the teeth during a seriously bad day at the office.

Jorge Larrionda (England v Germany, 2010)

Poor England - again. Germany had raced into a 2-0 lead in this World Cup Second Round match, before a Mathew Upson header had got England back into it. Then, moments later, Frank Lampard sent a shot in which hit the bar, and landed clearly over the line before bouncing out. To the surprise of everyone in the stadium, Larrionda waved play on; the protests carried on until half time. A rampant Germany went on to deservedly trounce England 4-1, but you never know what might have happened had the goal stood. Larrionda was fired from the rest of the tournament and it led to the introduction of goal-line technology after Blatter decided it was an error too far. For Germany, it was payback for 1966, 44 years on.

Stuart Attwell (Watford v Reading, 2008)

As 'ghost-goals' go, this one is pretty special. Attwell had received considerable attention as the youngest referee in the Premier and Football Leagues at the age of 25, but nothing like that which followed his decision to award a goal in a Championship game at Vicarage Road. Watford's John Eustace, defending, played the ball a good four yards wide of the post, before a Reading player hooked it back into play and away. Despite no one appealing, Attwell consulted with his assistant Nigel Bannister, who had flagged, and awarded a stunned Reading a goal, instead of a corner. Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd said afterwards, "I've never seen anything like it. It's like a UFO landing, a mistake like that", while Reading winger Stephen Hunt described it as "Probably the worst decision I've ever witnessed in football", which is, at least, an achievement.

Rob Shoebridge (Coventry v Crystal Palace, 1980)

A classic of its era, this game saw a Clive Allen thunderbolt hammer into the goal, strike the stanchion holding the goal net up, and fire straight back out into play. Referee Shoebridge, seemingly confused by the speed of events, waved play on and even a consultation with his linesman failed to change his mind; Palace went on to lose the game 1-0. As well as being the true definition of hitting a shot 'almost too well'; it also really makes us nostalgic for the days of stanchions and proper goalposts.

Graham Poll (Liverpool v Everton, 2000)

It's our good friend Mr Poll again, and six years before his yellow card hat-trick, he was involved in a curious incident at Anfield. With the score at 0-0 in the final seconds, Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld booted a free-kick up field while the referee blew for full-time. Well - that's what people expected to happen, except Westerveld's clearance struck Don Hutchinson, Poll didn't blow for full-time (despite later claiming that he had) and the ball rebounded into the net. Poll at least did admit that he "got it wrong" in terms of the timing of finishing the match, but wouldn't go so far as to admit he hadn't blown his whistle.

Andre Marriner (Chelsea v Arsenal, 2014)

A serious case of mistaken identity in this error, as a rampant Chelsea, already 2-0 up, saw a shot at goal beautifully saved by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Unfortunately, Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn't the Arsenal goalkeeper, so a penalty was given. The red card was debatable - as the ball wasn't heading towards goal - but what wasn't debatable was the culprit. Unfortunately, referee Marriner managed to send the entirely innocent Kieran Gibbs off instead, despite Oxlade-Chamberlain's admission of guilt. Marriner later apologised, but it didn't change the course of the game too much - Arsenal capitulated 6-0 to 'celebrate' manager Arsene Wenger's 1000th game in charge of the Gunners.

Dermot Gallagher (Manchester City v Portsmouth, 2006)

Nothing less than an act of assault from Manchester City's Ben Thatcher on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes, as he led with the elbow, smashing into to the Portuguese midfielder during a Premier League game in 2006. He was knocked out and required oxygen on the pitch, yet the referee merely booked Thatcher and he completed the game. The FA, however, were not so lenient, banning the player for 8 matches with a further 15 suspended for two years. A shocking decision.

Mark Clattenburg (Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, 2005)

Pedro Mendes hasn't had the best of luck with refereeing decisions. The year before he was cleaned out by Ben Thatcher, he seemingly scored an audacious lob for Spurs in the last minute of a game against Manchester United, taking advantage of a Roy Carroll mistake. Despite the ball being at least a foot over the line, Carroll's despairing dive and push out was enough to convince the linesman and referee that it had stayed out - the goalkeeper's truly sheepish look across to the linesman just confirming his guilt. Of course, the game being at Old Trafford and a growling Alex Ferguson being on the touchline had nothing to do with it whatsoever, right?

Ali Hussein Kandil (Mexico v El Salvador, 1970)

El Salvador's first appearance at a World Cup Finals should have been cause for celebration - instead they left infuriated after a bizarre series of events in their second match against hosts Mexico. Kandil had awarded a free kick to El Salvador yet, during apparent confusion over whether it was a free kick or throw-in, Mexico simply took the free-kick instead and proceeded to score. Kandil, perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion, decided to go with it and awarded the goal, to the fury of the El Salvadorians. They refused to kick off, constantly moving the ball from the centre circle before simply booting it into the stands. Kandil blew for half time early to defuse the situation and Mexico added another three in the second half.

Felix Brych (Hoffenheim v Bayer Leverkusen, 2013)

One of the more forgiveable errors on the list, nonetheless this is something of a howler. Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling rose like a salmon to head home a corner in what looked like a routine set piece goal; the ball nestling in the back of the net and referee Brych awarding the goal. However, upon watching a replay, it soon became clear that the ball had not entered the net via the goal - instead, it had managed to get through a hole in the side-netting. Leverkusen director of sport Rudi Voller commented, brilliantly, saying, "(Hoffenheim president)Dietmar Hopp has spent so much money on such a beautiful stadium, you'd think he would be able to spend a few more euros for a decent net."

Charles Corver (West Germany v France, 1982)

Making Thatcher's attack look like a tap on the shoulder, German goalkeeper Harold Schumacher committed one of the worst fouls of all time when French defender Patrick Battiston latched onto a through ball and poked it past him. Schumacher ignored the ball and smashed into the player, who then lay motionless on the ground. He had damaged vertebrae, lost three teeth, and was unconscious, requiring oxygen to revive him; he later even slipped into a coma. Staggeringly, referee Corver, didn't even award a free kick, let alone send Schumacher off. The injustice was compounded when the German proceeded to win the game, saving the final penalty in a shoot-out to send West Germany into the World Cup Final. Don't let anyone ever tell you that sport is fair, because it's not.

Martin Hansson (France v Republic of Ireland, 2009)

The World Cup play-off decider could not have been more delicately balanced, with the heroic Irish holding France to a 1-1 draw in Paris and the tie all-square. And then a long free-kick into the area was blatantly handled - in two distinct movements - by France's Thierry Henry, who then crossed for William Gallas to bundle home. Yet referee Martin Hansson failed to spot it, the goal was allowed to stand, and Ireland went out. Henry admitted his indiscretion to Ireland defender Richard Dunne after the final whistle, but that was of no consolation to the plucky losers. Some justice was done however, as France self-destructed in the subsequent World Cup, with Nicolas Anelka being expelled from the squad and players boycotting the team finished bottom of their group.