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Match Officials

Men in Black: David Webb

9 April 2013

By Russell Kempson

What's in a name? Quite a lot actually, when you're David Webb and a Football League referee.

The surname is famous across the globe, with Howard Webb having taken charge of the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan and the World Cup Final between Spain and Holland, both in 2010. Howard remains England's premier match official.

A web of intrigue? For David, most certainly. The pair, though not related, have been frequently mistaken for each other over the years. But David accepts it with a chuckle. He knows Howard well and is quite happy that many of their colleagues, to avoid further confusion, often refer to them as 'Little Webby' and 'Big Webby'.

"Howard's a lovely guy," David said. "I've been fourth official with him once, in the Premier League, and some people even asked me if he was my dad. He used to get the confirmation letters of my appointments, before the days of email, and I've turned up at matches when the local press has written that it was Howard who was going to be refereeing.

"Every referee aspires to do what he has done, which has been magnificent. It gives us all the inspiration to keep on learning, to keep progressing. And he hasn't changed one little bit. Even after doing the World Cup Final, he's always still got time for everyone. A bit of coaching, passing on tips, stuff like that."

Webb can meet Webb perhaps at least three times a season. It is when the Talent Group, the referees shortlisted for future elevation and of which Little Webby has been a member for three years, get together with the Select Group, the Premier League creme de la creme of which Big Webby is the doyen.

"It's everyone's long-term aim to get in to the Select Group," David said. "In any job, you hope to get as far as you can. You just knuckle down and work hard."

David, 35, has never been shy of hard graft, in the middle or away from it. He works for a charity that supports adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

"It's very rewarding," he said. "And the man-management skills needed are not that different from refereeing. It's all about building relationships - with the vulnerable or with the players. And I've found, very much so, that each job can help the other."

Helping himself paved his path to taking up the whistle when, in 1992, he went to Wembley to watch his beloved Sunderland take on Liverpool in the FA Cup Final, which they lost 2-0.

"I was only 14 but I read the match programme and saw this advert that said that the FA wanted referees," Webb said. "It was like one of those World War I 'Your Country Needs YOU' posters.

"I loved football and thought I'd give it a go. But I think I was a bit young, I didn't have any transport and it was quite tough going. So I gave it up after a year and continued playing as a right-winger, who didn't like to tackle. It was great, I still enjoyed it.

"But I found myself talking to referees, asking what was going on, why they were making the decisions they were. And after a six-year break, I got back into it. I got promoted, quite quickly really, and four years in the Wearside League toughened me up no end. In the first season, I was throwing cards all over the place. But I developed my skills and it made me a better referee. It stood me in good stead. Following Sunderland, sadly but obviously, went by the board. It had to be done."

With the Black Cats exiled to television viewing only, Webb arrived on The Football League line in 2006.

A year later and he had graduated to the middle. The "quite quickly" route had been maintained. Bury against Brentford heralded Webb's debut as the man in charge and, on a humid yet rain-drenched day, he took to the field.

"I travelled down the night before, which I was not used to, and it was a big build-up. I was so nervous but nothing really happened in the game, no cautions, it went very smoothly. But it was so hot, despite the rain, and I'd concentrated so hard that I felt so drained afterwards. I had a serious headache."

Webb, from his Wearside base, is no stranger to travel. A trip to the United States to officiate in the Dallas Cup, which involved Manchester City and other age-group teams from Italy, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay, furthered his education.

"It was a good experience and I stayed with a family in Dallas," he said. "I think they struggled to understand my North East accent - mind you, so do people when I go down South in England - but we keep in touch regularly."

And his journeys abroad will not diminish. A love of cricket keeps him involved with Beamish & East Stanley CC in Co. Durham, assisting with the coaching of the 11 to 15-year-old youngsters, and the batsman-fielder is adamant that, after attending a friend's wedding Down Under, he will be present at the first test between England and Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane, which starts on November 21st.

"It'll be a 10-day trip," Webb said. "A bit of a whistle-stop tour. I'll miss one Saturday football match back home, maybe a midweek game as well, but I'd love to follow a full Ashes tour out there in the future.

"Perhaps when I've finished working and refereeing. All the warm-up matches, all the Tests, the lot. Now that would be fantastic, my ultimate dream."

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