worst referee decisions

Let’s take a look at the 15 worst referee decisions in football

Football or soccer games are not only remembered for players, managers, or results but also referees and their decisions. In many games, referees steal the limelight due to their decisions, despite starting players performing impressively or managers winning tactical battles. If referees do not feature in the headline of a match story, it’s good news for them. But, sometimes referees take center stage because of some of their calls that decide the fates of the teams and the results of the games. 

In the history of football, many unfortunate incidents have happened in plenty of big games due to bad refereeing. Due to increasing controversies in title-defining games, FIFA introduced the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to decrease referring mistakes. But still, mistakes have not been eliminated fully. In this article, we will talk about the 15 worst referee decisions in football.

Also Read: What are the Yellow Card, Red Cards, and Penalty Cards in Football?

Worst Referee Decisions in Football

Josip Simunic: three yellow cards (2006 World Cup)

In a group stage match in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Croatia took on Australia, and this infamous incident happened in that game. The Croatian center-back Josip Simunic was shown two Yellow cards by the on-field referee Graham Poll. Generally, a red card is shown to a player after two yellow cards. But instead of sending the player off, the referee allowed him to play before showing the third yellow card of the evening to the player. Later, Poll was removed from the referring panel in the tournament.

A Favour to Uruguay (1930 World Cup)

The host country, Uruguay, received unexpected support from one of the police officials during their semi-final clash against Yugoslavia in the 1930 FIFA World Cup. Once during the game, the ball went out of play, but a police officer sent it back into the field and Uruguay took that opportunity to continue the play and score a goal. The match referee gave a verdict in favor of Uruguay. Later, the hosts emerged victorious with a 6-1 margin.

Frank Lampard Denied vs Germany (2010 World Cup)

Frank Lampard’s shot crosses the goal line vs Germany (Credit: Twitter)

During the high-voltage match between England and Germany, Frank Lampard’s thunderous strike came down off the woodwork and crossed the goal line before jumping out of the danger zone. The linesman didn’t pronounce it, despite constant objections from the Englishmen. Later, several replays showed that there was more than a few inches between the ball and the line. This is still regarded as one of the terrible decisions made by the referees in the modern era.

The Notorious Handball (Chelsea vs Barcelona, UCL)

The second leg of the Barcelona vs Chelsea semi-finals in the UEFA Champions League witnessed one of the most terrible refereeing blunders in history. Despite Gerard Pique’s clear handball, referee Tom Overbo denied Chelsea a penalty, which was labeled a disgrace by Didier Drogba. The referee later acknowledged that it was his worst performance.

The Ghost Goal (Championship)

This is one of the worst referee decisions in English football. The youngest referee in the Premier League at that time, Stuart Attwell, surprisingly awarded Reading a goal when Watford cleared the ball away from the danger zone. This is regarded as the infamous “ghost goal” in football. This worst referee decision in the Watford vs Reading game led to Attwell’s six-week ban.

The Red Card Chaos (Arsenal vs Chelsea)

Match referee Andre Marriner stole the limelight in Arsen Wenger’s 100th game as Arsenal manager. In a 0-6 defeat against Chelsea, Eden Hazard’s shot was blocked by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain inside the penalty box. The match referee showed a direct red card to Kieran Gibbs instead of Chamberlain. Despite the player’s pleading, Marriner didn’t change his strange decision. However, he later apologized for his terrible mistake.

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Controversial 2000 AFCON Final

In the final of the 2000 African Championship, Cameroon was favored by the match official. During the penalty shootout, one of Nigeria’s goals was wrongly disallowed by the match referee, helping Cameroon lift their third AFCON trophy.

Referee, the scorer (Turkish League)

Referee scores goal (Credit: Getty)

This was one of the worst mistakes a referee could make during a match. In an all-important game between Besiktas and Ankaragucu in the 1986 Turkish League, a shot took a clear deflection from match official Ahmet Ackay to find the back of the net. Ackay didn’t disallow the goal according to the rules. Ankaragucu won the game 1-0 and lifted the Championship trophy.

Henry’s Handball vs Ireland

In a 2010 World Cup qualifier, France faced Ireland. The French golden boy, Thierry Henry, willingly touched the ball to assist William Gallas in the win. Surprisingly, the referee did not raise his hand, and the goal stood. Despite fervent protest from the Irish camp, France was pronounced the win in that game. The Washington Post termed this as the “worst referee decision” of the decade.

Harald Schumacher’s Great Escape (1982 World Cup)

The most deadly on-field collision happened during the France vs West Germany game in the 1982 World Cup. German goalie Harald Schumacher tackled Patrick Battiston so hard that the French defender had to be given oxygen instantly. Despite this punishable offense, Harald was not shown any card by the match referee. Harald was voted as the most hated person on earth at that time for this.

Maradona’s Hand of God

Most probably, every football fan knows about Diego Maradona’s goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, which is referred to as the “Hand of God.” In the second half of the game, Maradona used his hand to send the ball into the back of Peter Shilton’s net. The English protest was not able to overturn the referee’s decision to award a goal to Argentina. Later, Argentina went on to win the World Cup. This is one of the worst referee decisions the world has ever seen.

Bayern pips Nuremberg

 Thomas Helmer
Thomas Helmer (Getty Images)

Bayern Munich’s Thomas Helmer’s backheel went well wide during a Bundesliga game against Nuremberg. But, the linesman decided to award the Bavarians a goal in that incident. This phantom goal led to Nuremberg’s relegation from the German top flight at the end of the season.

Graham Poll’s Blunder

The English referee became one of the most controversial figures in the Premier League when he denied Everton a goal in the dying seconds of a Merseyside Derby in 2000. The Toffees scored a stunning free-kick in extra time against Liverpool, only to be denied by Poll, who had blown the whistle.

Mark Clattenburg’s rare mistake

Mark Clattenburg
Mark Clattenburg (Getty Images)

Mark Clattenburg was one of the most celebrated referees in the Premier League. However, he also made one controversial mistake during the Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur game in 2010. United forward Nani was tackled heavily by one of Spurs defenders inside the penalty box. The referee didn’t award a penalty or a free-kick at that time. The Spurs goalie mistakenly placed the ball on the turf to take a shot, as he thought a free-kick was awarded to them. Nani took the chance and tapped it into the empty net. It all happened due to the silence of Clattenburg, who hesitated to make an instant decision. 

Ball Boy became the scorer

It was like a never-seen-before situation in a football game in Brazil. A ballboy provided a late equalizer for Santacruzense against Atletico Sorocaba. During the extra time, the ball boy collected a wide shot and tapped it into the net. The match referee allowed the goal to stand despite it going out of play seconds before. There was widespread protest against this worst referee decision in Brazil, leading to the referee’s suspension.

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