Anything we do starts with rules and Football is no exception. I think we can all agree rules are needed to prevent chaos and to keep thing moving in the right direction, be it road rules, or sports rules… Football like any other sport has its own set of rules which should be followed, and the people behind making sure the players follow the rules are the referees. But what happens when referees make a mistake? What happens when the person who looks over the rules does not follow them himself? We will check that in this article, which will talk about the only player who managed to avoid the “hand of the law” with 3 yellow cards in a single game.
For this story, we need to travel back in time to 2006, when Croatia played against Australia in a Group F of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Not only was this a match that would decide which team would proceed into the next stage, but it was also a match with a lot of controversies.
The referee for this match was England’s top referee Graham Poll who refereed two previous games of the 2006 tournament without any incidents or issues whatsoever, but this was far from true in the match that was to come, where he alongside other things also issued 3 yellow cards to the same player; Josip Simunic.
It all started with Simunic foul in the 7th minute, which could arguably earn him a red card, however, we can understand a yellow card was reasonable for a match of such importance so early into the game. The match continued and Australia managed to equalize in the 38th minute, to which Croatia answered with a goal of their own in a 56th minute, thus making the scoreline show 2:1. Only 5 minutes after the Croatian goal, this story starts. It was the 61st-minute when Simunic once again fouled Australian player, pushing Harry Kewell near the edge of the penalty area for what he was shown the 2nd yellow card, and as a result a red card right? Well..not really. As the referee approached to show Simunic his 2nd yellow, Simunic already started walking towards the dressing room, but he soon realized Graham Poll did not hold the red card. The Croatian player managed to hide his shock and remained on the pitch despite the fact he knew the referee made a mistake. But why tell him? It was an important match for Croatia to win. Not really a fair play decision, but strangely enough no one noticed.
The controversy of the match and problems for Graham Poll did not stop there. In the 75th minute there was also undoubtedly a handball made by Stjepan Tomas, which should award Australia a penalty, however, Graham Poll only awarded them a corner kick. In addition, the last goal in 79th minute of Harry Kewell was scored while in an offside position. Despite all the controversy and mistakes from the referee, the one that went down in history as the most unusual one happened after the full time. When Simunic received his 3rd yellow card and finally a red card, which did not mean a lot at that point.
After the mentioned match, Graham Poll was sent home and with that, he was unable to be the referee at the finals, which was his long-lasting wish. After that incident, he decided to retire from international tournament refereeing. The next season Graham Poll returned to referee in the Premier League, where he was “welcomed” by chants like “World Cup, and you f***d it up” and cardboard cut-outs, coloured in yellow with number 3 on it.
While it is expected from a referee to be cautious not to make such simple mistakes like counting to 3, we must give Poll some slack. At the end of the day, Graham Poll is a human and we all make mistakes, sadly for him, it’s a mistake that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Graham Poll is still considered the best English referee of the last 25 years, who deserves our respect. On the bright side, he has got just another funny story to tell his grandkids about his time as a football referee.