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Seeing Red by Graham Poll

Release date: 26th August, 2007
Publisher: Harper Sport

List Price: £18.99
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In the wake of Pierluigi Collina's hugely successful foray into publishing, there has been a predictable spate of autobiographies written by football referees following their retirement.

First came David Elleray's Man in the Middle, an interesting account of how a top-flight official combined his work as a Harrow house master. Although occasionally a little too smug, there was no question of Elleray's love for the game, nor his professionalism: he remains haunted by a poor decision made in the 1994 FA Cup Final, for example, yet the book's rarity value was of great assistance when it came to sales.

Then Jeff Winter, former Middlesbrough 'boot boy', came up with his tedious account of life in the middle, thus justifying Steve Bruce's comment that he had the "personality of a bag of chips."

Now Graham Poll, a man not high on Winter's Christmas card list, has published his offering, Seeing Red.

The book's introductory blurb was clearly written by a 12-year-old as it refers to Poll as "the most high-profile referee this country has ever seen." If this is supposed to be a statement of fact, then the young boy urgently needs to log onto Google and check out Jack Taylor.

Nonetheless, Poll's story is an occasionally interesting one as he provides answers to questions missing in either Elleray's or Winter's efforts. His behind-the-scenes material is frequently insightful and often funny, but do we really need to know what goes on between the players as they stand in the tunnel before a match? For all the external bonhomie, evident when viewers watch on TV, it's a time when a few choice words and threatening promises are swapped. Is that a surprise? It shouldn't be.

Poll is much better when passing opinion about the state of the 'beautiful game'. Rather than pad the book out with what manager A said to manager B as two sides took to the pitch, this book would have provided a more compelling read had Poll, a top-flight referee since 1991, been allowed to develop this theme at greater length. He has clearly witnessed the worst of football's excesses, its inherent greed and seen the downright incompetence of some of the game's leading figures.

Unlike Elleray and Winter, however, Graham Poll manages to inject an easy humour into his narrative, which ensures that by the time he describes what happened at last year's World Cup when he completed his notorious three-card trick, the reader empathises with him. With hindsight, it is the one action for which Poll will remain famous, or infamous, depending upon your view.

If that sounds a tad harsh, David Elleray summed the referee's role up perfectly when he said, "Bad refereeing performances are remembered, while good performances are forgotten." Despite what most fans believe, the majority of referees have significantly more good games than they do bad and over the course of officiating at more than 1,500 matches, Poll managed to get the overwhelming majority of his decisions right, otherwise he wouldn't have risen to become one of the British game's best.

Nevertheless, let's hope that Poll's literary efforts marks the end of the present trend for referees to race into print even before they've filed away their yellow cards and whistles. Sport's finest referees are rarely seen because they let their respective game flow; it's a lesson current officials should learn because for now, the only time we want to see the men in black put pen to paper is when they're booking a player.

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