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By ESPN Staff

26 years of experience and one mistake

One of the most recognisable faces in football, former referee Graham Poll has hit the headlines during his 26 year career and hardly ever for the right reasons.

Viewed as England's top official for a number of years, Poll has received worldwide praise for some of his performances and gut-wrenching criticism for others. Most notably his decision to give three yellow cards to Croatian defender Josep Simunic at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Keen to prove that there is more to him than just a few mistakes, Poll has written an autobiography in an effort to redress some of the negative media attention that has followed him during his career.

'What is written in the papers does not necessarily mirror the public opinion', he says. 'People in the street empathised with me and said they were sorry for what had happened. Even today, a guy in the cab said: "I really felt for you at the World Cup."

'I got so many messages of support from people after Germany. Five hundred letters from people saying "don't give up". You take heart from that sort of thing and put the media criticism aside.'

The former official, who retired at the end of last season, admits that it comes with the job that referees are subject to criticism. Every decision is debated and replayed hundreds of times in slow motion, but the man in black does not have that luxury of time must make the call in a split second.

'When you start off, there's no-one watching your games', says Poll. 'There's no analysis and no-one to tell you you're wrong. In your mind, you think 'everything is fine.'

'You have to have thick skin as a referee, but it builds up over time. In Stuttgart 26 years of experience, all those layers of skin, were stripped away by one mistake.'

Indeed, it is a shame that one of England's finest referees will be remembered for one negative incident, yet it is something that Tring's most famous resident has taken in his stride.

'People seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that I had failed', he says. 'That was very hurtful. Not only for me but also for my family. But you like to think that the public respect you, even if they don't like you very much, and all I had ever wanted was to be respected as a referee.'

With a storm of criticism in the fallout to the World Cup, Poll decided to continue on as a Premiership referee for the 2006/07 season, although was not able to avoid the constant media attention that followed him around.

'John Gregory [ex-Aston Villa manager] once said to me: "You want to be popular Graham, you're never going to be". So I knew that as long as I was doing a good job on the pitch most of the time, the abuse wouldn't bother me.

'People say that I was attention seeking, but all I wanted was to be respected a referee, that was what was important to me. Underneath it all it's nothing to do with attention seeking. I was prepared to do what was right, whether that was in favour of a big team or a small team didn't matter to me, and that's something we should applaud.'

First hounded for his sending off of John Terry and the reaction from Chelsea that followed their defeat to Tottenham, Poll also found controversy from Charlton manager Alan Pardew over a substitution of Alex Song and even in the final game of the season as Portsmouth were rightfully denied a European place after he disallowed a goal against Arsenal.

'No other referee at that time had things written about them in that way,' he argues. 'I said to Keith Hackett [referees' chief]: "I've done nothing wrong, but I'm headline news." I looked at the media reports and thought: "Why am I being singled out like this, this is grossly unfair", but there was nothing I could do about it.

'Then when there were two people from a national newspaper on my doorstep, that's when I felt it was time to retire.'

Having claimed in the book that one England captain, John Terry, was not fit to lead the side out having alleged that he made up accusations over his dismissal. Poll is more complimentary when it comes to former skipper David Beckham.

'I've always got on very well with David on and off the field,' he says.

'With his move abroad, I wonder if the timing was different and if he was given the chance again, would he be happy with the move? I know he was very upset to miss out on the possibility of one hundred England caps; but now he's back in the England fold, I think he could have waited one season before making the move to the MLS.

'One more season at Madrid would have seen him go through to Euro 2008, and then go to America. I don't think he'd ever admit it to you, but I think that would have been the right move for him at the time.

'Still, at the time he made the decision, there was no future for him at Madrid. He wasn't going to come back to England for a team outside the top four and he made the decision as best he could in the situation he was in.'

Making the best of a situation is a philosophy that has served him well as a referee, Poll has few regrets about his career and is one of the few to have officiated at two World Cups, overseeing 1,554 matches throughout his career.

'The beauty of refereeing is that is no prototype for a good referee', he asserts. 'We did psychometric tests at the World Cup in Frankfurt to see if there was one thing that guaranteed a top referee. But there wasn't.

'Utilising the personality you've got in order to sell the decision is important. You couldn't get bigger differences than between me and Mike Riley who were the two best refs in the country. We are completely different characters, but both effective in what we did on the pitch.'

In terms of things that he would like to see changed in the modern game, the former official is keen to see some more respect shown by the players and managers alike.

'Referees bend over backwards to try and show respect to players,' he says. 'To try and understand the pressures that they are under. It would be nice to see some of that back. Some players are, but it would be nice to see the majority act that way.

'It would also be nice to see managers not comment personally on referees. To start suggesting that a penalty was given because he favoured one team or the other is personal and that's one area I'd like to see stopped.'

On the introduction of video technology, he asserts that: 'Referees generally tend to think that the game is best when there's a human ref involved.'

While some managers may disagree, Poll is a strong enough character not to let it get to him. 'It's a real honour when so much rubbish has been written about you, that Sir Alex Ferguson writes [in the book's foreword]: "I didn't agree with a lot of his decisions, but I respected him, he's a decision maker with a smile on his face and he's made a real contribution to football," 'he says.

Despite all the controversy, to be respected as a referee is something that builds up over a 26 year career, and even one mistake can't eradicate that.

• If you'd like to buy a copy of Graham Poll's book, Seeing Red, then click here.

• Or read a review of the book here.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter