Graham Poll

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Graham Poll
File:Graham poll.JPG
Full name Graham Poll
Born (1963-07-29) 29 July 1963 (age 55)
Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England[1]
Other occupation Television pundit, newspaper columnist
Years League Role
?–1991 Isthmian League Referee
1986–1991 Football League Asst. referee
1991–1993 Football League Referee
1993–2007 Premier League Referee
Years League Role
1996–2007 FIFA listed Referee

Graham Poll (born 29 July 1963) is an English former football referee in the Premier League and is considered the best English referee of the last 25 years in a list maintained by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).[2] With 26 years of experience,[3] he was regarded as one of the most prominent referees[4][5] in the Premiership, often taking charge of the highest profile games. His final domestic game in a career spanning 1,544 matches was the Championship play-off final on 28 May 2007 between Derby County and West Bromwich Albion.[6]

As well as refereeing the 2005 UEFA Cup Final he was the English representative at 2 World Cups and UEFA Euro 2000.

At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, he refereed two matches successfully and, had he continued to receive high marks from assessors, would have been a candidate to take charge of the final. However, in his third game, Croatia vs Australia, he cautioned the same player (left back Josip Šimunić) three times before sending the player off. Poll retired from refereeing international tournament finals matches citing his error in the match. He continued to referee in the Premiership, Champions League and on international games, but said he would not allow himself to be nominated to represent the FA at any tournament finals as he felt he had his chance.[7]

Football career

Poll took up the whistle in 1980, progressing from the Isthmian League to become a Football League assistant referee in 1986. Five years later he became a full Football League referee, before being selected for the list of Premier League referees in 1993.[8]

Having held a FIFA badge since 1996, he took charge of quite a few European matches, of which possibly his most important was the UEFA Cup final between CSKA Moscow and Sporting Lisbon in 2005. Poll also took charge of many international matches, refereeing at top FIFA and UEFA tournaments such as Euro 2000, where Poll took charge of France versus Czech Republic, and Norway versus Slovenia in the group stages. He refereed his last ever Premiership match on 13 May 2007, between Portsmouth and Arsenal in which he controversially, but correctly, denied Portsmouth European qualification by ruling out a Niko Kranjčar goal for offside.

His last ever match, and his last in Europe, was to have been the Euro 2008 qualifying match between Finland and Belgium on 6 June 2007.[9] However, some time prior to that match, he took part in an interview which appeared critical of the support referees receive from the FA in the face of criticism by team managers and coaches.[10] The match was overseen on the day by fellow English referee Mike Riley instead. In August 2007, Poll released his autobiography entitled "Seeing Red", and now concentrates on media work, as a pundit for BBC Sport's football coverage, and as a columnist with The Daily Mail, his feature entitled "The Official Line".[11]

Everton v Liverpool, 2000 FA Premier League

In the dying seconds of the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool on 21 April 2000 with the score at 0–0,[12] the Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld kicked the ball at Everton's Don Hutchison's back while Hutchison was retreating towards his own half. The ball bounced into Liverpool's net, but Poll disallowed the goal, claiming that he had already blown the whistle to end the game. The television slow-motion pictures proved that this was incorrect, and after retiring in May 2007, Poll confessed that disallowing the goal had been a mistake that he regretted.[13]

Arsenal v Chelsea, 2004 FA Premier League

In 2004, Poll came under some criticism from then Chelsea Manager José Mourinho, after allowing a quick free-kick to be taken by Thierry Henry. Henry went on to score the resulting free-kick to give Arsenal a 2–1 lead but the match ultimately ended 2–2. Pundits such as Andy Gray later criticised Poll for not appearing to move away from the ball, to signify a quick free-kick had been allowed. Poll later explained the decision to award the quick free-kick arguing that the referee need not blow his whistle.[14]

2002 FIFA World Cup

Poll attracted controversy for his role in the Italy versus Croatia game at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, played on Saturday 8 June 2002. His two assistants that day were England's Phil Sharp and Denmark's Jens Larsen. In the opening minutes, Poll had waved away a protest that a Croatian player had been injured, instructing the player to stand. When play was eventually stopped the player left the field with a bloodied nose.

Just after half time Christian Vieri had a headed goal disallowed for offside; TV replays showed the Italian player to be on-side when the pass was made.[15] Vieri netted the ball again minutes later to give his side the lead. Italy then had a second goal disallowed for shirt pulling, after a long free kick had found its way in. Both goals had been flagged for infringements by assistant referee Larsen. Croatia then found an equaliser through Ivica Olić, and a winner just fifteen minutes before the end via a deflected shot from Milan Rapaić. Poll had a busy game, as there were forty-two fouls, three goals scored, two goals disallowed, and two bookings.

After the game, Vieri said "Those weren't division one or even division two officials, they were village officials." Francesco Totti also complained about the lack of protection Poll had offered him: "I took a lot of kicks. He was an English referee in every way."[16]

As a result of the game FIFA were asked about the standard of refereeing at that World Cup. Their spokesman, Keith Cooper, said: "Generally the overall standard (of refereeing) is more than satisfactory. It is acknowledged that mistakes may be made. I'm not necessarily saying this was the case last night. I do want to emphasize that. It is in the nature of the beast that mistakes can happen. Referees are humans just like players and we shouldn't look at isolated matches, but the standard as a whole." Poll was given one more appointment at that world cup: Fourth Official to Pierluigi Collina in the second round match which Turkey beat Japan 1–0. "[17]

World Cup 2002 statistics

  • Games officiated: 1
  • Goals seen: 3
  • Bookings: 2
  • Reds: 0
  • Penalties awarded: 0
Event Games Booked Yellow cardRed card Red card
World Cup 2002 1 3 0 0

Arsenal v Sheffield United, 2003 FA Cup Semi-Final

Poll was consistently given the most important matches to referee and most passed without contentious incidents. When there was controversy, however, the nature of his role meant that he was criticised fiercely. One such controversy was when Arsenal met Sheffield United in an FA Cup Semi Final at Old Trafford in the 2002-2003 competition. Arsenal won the game 1-0 but in the lead up to their goal by Freddie Ljungberg, some commentators thought that Sol Campbell had fouled United forward Wayne Allison.[18] The ball broke free, and as United midfielder Michael Tonge tried to get the free ball he collided with Poll. This prevented him from tracking back to cover the scorer, to the dismay of Neil Warnock, the then Sheffield United manager.[19] Additionally, he allowed play to go on as Wayne Allison lay prone on the ground after what some perceived to be a foul. He further drew controversy by smiling as he left the pitch at half time, although in his autobiography he explained that it was a defence mechanism to cope with the abuse Warnock and others were shouting.[18]

World Cup 2006

Poll was the only British referee at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

 Togo v.  South Korea

This was the first game of Poll's second FIFA World Cup, with first time Finalists Togo taking on 2002 semi-finalists South Korea. Poll sent off Jean-Paul Abalo of Togo for a second bookable offence, although he accidentally showed the red card first and the yellow second. Lee Chun-Soo netted an equaliser for Korea from the resultant free kick. The match was eventually won by South Korea 2–1 with an additional goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan.

 Saudi Arabia v.  Ukraine

Poll's second game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup saw Saudi Arabia meet Ukraine. The Ukrainians finished the match as the 4–0 winners. Poll received slight criticism from commentators for not booking players for unsportsmanlike 'diving' when turning down a penalty appeal (as referees have been instructed to do by FIFA). In all, he showed six yellows, three to each side. There was an unfortunate moment in the first half for Poll, after he accidentally deflected the ball into the path of Ukrainian, Maksym Kalynychenko. The midfielder crossed the ball in front of the goal, and Andriy Shevchenko only narrowly avoided making contact.

 Croatia v.  Australia

His next game was the Group F match between Croatia and Australia on 22 June. Tom Dart, in his Times article on the match, commented that "The choice of Graham Poll as referee was surprising since he is familiar to the Australians who play in the Barclays Premiership."[20] Inside the first ten minutes of the game, Poll did not see a rough tackle in the box by Josip Šimunić as a foul. He followed to disallow a second penalty claim by Australia when Tomas handballed inside the box.[20]

After already sending off two players, Poll failed to send off Šimunić for a second yellow card late in the match, eventually sending him off for a third yellow for dissent at the final whistle.[21] Poll also stated that he had erred in his second booking of Šimunić, marking his card with the correct number (3) but in the wrong column; effectively noting it against Australia's Craig Moore. This meant he had no record of the previous booking when showing Šimunić his second card. FIFA initially noted all three bookings in its match report, before later removing the 90th minute (second) booking. The incident prompted the removal of Poll from the knockout stages referee pool.

The game ended 2–2, putting Australia through to the next round. Sepp Blatter later commented that "had Australia lost the game and gone out of the World Cup, they would have had grounds to request a replay."[22] Poll's assistant also missed that the second Australian goal by Harry Kewell was scored from an arguably offside position.[23] Within half an hour of the game ending, UK bookmaker Coral offered odds of 10–1 against Poll refereeing another match at the tournament.[24]


On 28 June, Poll was named as one of 14 officials dismissed by FIFA from the remaining World Cup 2006 matches following his error in the Croatia v. Australia match.[25] Maria Villar Llona, president of the FIFA referee's committee, said of Poll, "He is an exceptional referee and a great sportsman, who will be able to overcome the situation thanks to his strong personality and love of the game."[7]

Poll retired from international tournament finals football on 29 June 2006, citing the error as the reason. He said in his retirement announcement,

"What I did was an error in law. There can be no dispute. It was not caused by a FIFA directive, it was not caused by me being asked to referee differently to the way I referee in the Premier League. The laws of the game are very specific. The referee takes responsibility for his actions on the field of play. I was the referee that evening. It was my error and the buck stops with me."

In the press release, he also claimed that he had asked FIFA to be allowed to go home, to be with his family after the trauma of his mistake in the match.[7]

He continued to referee in the Champions League and on international games, but said he would not allow himself to be nominated to represent The FA at any tournament finals. "It's time for somebody else in England to have a go and I will do everything I can to prepare them. But for me tournament football is over," Poll said.[7]

World Cup 2006 statistics

  • Games officiated: 3
  • Goals seen: 11
  • Bookings: 16
  • Reds: 4
  • Penalties awarded: 1
Event Games Booked Yellow cardRed card Red card
World Cup 2006 3 16 4 0
  • The above table is representative of the Laws of the Game, so does not include the extra yellow card
    mistakenly shown to Josip Šimunić of Croatia during his well-documented dismissal: see Croatia v. Australia

Career highlights

International career details

1998 FIFA World Cup qualification

UEFA Euro 2000 Europe

2002 FIFA World Cup qualification

2002 FIFA World Cup

2006 FIFA World Cup qualification

FIFA Club World Championship 2005

2006 FIFA World Cup

Card statistics

Season Games Total Booked Booked per game Total Red card Red card per game
1995/1996 21 62 2.95 3 0.14
1997/1998 28 113 4.03 12 0.42
1998/1999 32 119 3.71 9 0.28
1999/2000 40 136 3.40 6 0.15
2000/2001 43 119 2.76 11 0.25
2001/2002 45 120 2.66 6 0.13
2002/2003 40 119 2.98 5 0.12
2003/2004 42 114 2.71 4 0.09
2004/2005 45 124 2.75 5 0.11
2005/2006 49 166 3.38 10 0.20
2006/2007 48 165 3.43 8 0.16


Poll has made several appearances on popular football radio show World Soccer Daily, where he is typically asked to provide a view from the point of the referee whenever major controversial issues occur. He also features weekly on Chappers Premier League Podcast alongside Mark Chapman and Kevin Day. As well as this features in the Daily Mail where he speaks on officiating at the highest level, talking about decisions referees have to make. He also appears regularly as a pundit on Setanta Sports 'Football Matters' show on Monday nights hosted by James Richardson and Rebecca Lowe. Since the end of 2009, Poll has also appeared as a regular news paper reviewer on Sky News Sunrise.

Personal life

Born in Hitchin,[1] Poll grew up in Bandley Hill and Shephall, and attended Ashtree Junior School and Alleyne's School.[26][27] Poll is married to Julia. The couple have two daughters (Gemma and Josie), and one son (Harry).[28] Poll also continues with charity work, and ran in the London Marathon on 13 April 2008, finishing in a time of four hours and 20 minutes.[29] The proceeds went to the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home.[30] On SkyOne television panel show, A League of Their Own, Poll confessed to being a Queens Park Rangers supporter.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roberts, Damion (5 February 2015). "Interview: Former referee Graham Poll on his return to action at Hitchin Town". The Comet. Stevenage: Archant. Retrieved 10 November 2015. Poll was born in Hitchin and went to Thomas Alleyne School in Stevenage, before taking up refereeing locally in both the Hitchin Sunday and the Stevenage Sunday League. He had moved to Tring, and then to Reading, so being born in the town 'didn’t really come up; I wasn’t seen as having any particular allegiance.'<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "IFFHS". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Mark Kendall (29 June 2006). "Poll ends international career". Sky Sports. Retrieved 10 July 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lawrie Madden (23 August 2002). "Poll: Scrutiny is relentless". Retrieved 10 July 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  5. "World-Poll blows whistle on wedding anniversary". Reuters. 5 June 2006. Retrieved 23 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Graham Poll's retirement: Guardian Unlimited, 28 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Lutz, Tom (29 June 2006). "Poll retires from international game". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 29 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Profile: the Football League official website. Retrieved 4 February 2008. he has now retired
  9. Poll no-show for his last ever game as a referee, Finland v. Belgium, 6 June 2007): (6 June 2007). Retrieved 7 June 2007.
  10. Interview given in May 2007 regarding FA support for referees: (30 May 2007). Retrieved 31 May 2007.
  11. "The Official Line", Daily Mail column written by Poll: the Mail's own website. Retrieved 4 February 2008.
  12. Everton v. Liverpool, 2000: website. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
  13. "Time to forgive Poll for howler": Liverpool Echo, 9 June 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
  14. "Poll explains free-kick decision". BBC News. 13 December 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Italy v. Croatia, Vieri's disallowed goal: website. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  16. Italian reaction to game versus Croatia at 2002 World Cup: website.
  17. Keith Cooper's comments following Italy v. Croatia, World Cup 2002: website. Retrieved 6 September 2007.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Winter, Henry (14 April 2003). "Warnock fury as Arsenal set up double Double". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 'Bodycheck' on Michael Tonge, FA Cup 2003, and Neil Warnock's reaction: Article at the Guardian Unlimited website. Retrieved 4 February 2008.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Tom Dart (23 June 2006). "Croatia 2 Australia 2". London: The Times. Retrieved 23 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Worldcup06 22.6. Croatia - Australia 2-2". Retrieved 10 July 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Poll's head may roll after FIFA analysis". Fox Sports. 24 June 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Poll set for early World Cup exit". BBC. 23 June 2006. Retrieved 23 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Ryan Mills (23 June 2006). "Socceroos Advance at World Cup After Mistakes, Late Kewell Goal". Bloomberg. Retrieved 23 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Ref Poll sent home from World Cup". BBC. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 28 June 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Graham Poll" (pdf). Hall of Fame 2010. Sports Stevenage. 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  27. "Graham Poll - Legendary English Football Official". Testimonials. IMG. Retrieved 9 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Wife and children, two daughters and one son: The Guardian, 1 June 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2008.
  29. London Marathon 2008, finishes in 4hr 20min: from a report at the website. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  30. Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, Marathon proceeds recipient: website. Retrieved 13 April 2008.

External links

Preceded by
UEFA Cup Final 2004
Italy Pierluigi Collina
UEFA Cup Final referees
Final 2005
England Graham Poll
Succeeded by
UEFA Cup Final 2006
Germany Herbert Fandel
Preceded by
Peter Jones
FA Charity Shield
Succeeded by
Graham Barber
Preceded by
Peter Jones
FA Cup Final referee
Succeeded by
Steve Dunn
Preceded by
David Elleray
League Cup Final
Succeeded by
Paul Durkin