When Howard Webb and his team entered their cubicle following the final whistle at Vienna's Ernst-Happel-Stadion in the Group B match between hosting nation Austria and Poland at UEFA Euro 2008, the police sergeant of Rotherham imitated a Polish team-official swearing at "English referees!", as captured by the film "Referees at Work". Webb had previously awarded a correct penalty kick to Austria in the very last minute of play.
Only two years later, the same Howard Webb was in charge of the probably hottest and most difficult World Cup final ever. He issued a binary amount of bookings and also one dismissal. But one scene stayed in everybody's mind and turned out to be the biggest problem of the English referee team's performance: a kung-fu-kick "performed" by Nigel de Jong that was only "rewarded" with a yellow card. The match got out of control after that. As Howard Webb later admitted, this should have definitely been a red card for serious foul play, as the Laws of the Game clearly define it. An error of perception, undoubtfully.
In August 2012, English official Mark Clattenburg refereed at the Olympic Games and was appointed for a quarterfinal between Mexico and Senegal. A Senegalese player, called Pape, Souaré committed a foul on Mexico's Héctor Herrera. This time, neither the main referee Clattenburg, nor assistant referee Simon Beck, who obviously saw the situation very carefully having a free area of vicinity, nor FIFA took the right decision: the English team received the final between Mexico and Brazil. Mexico's Herrera sarcastically wrote on twitter that he was afraid of this final referee, because Clattenburg allowed Herrera's opponent to kick his head...
The main question however is: was this tackle only reckless, meaning that the yellow card was ok, or was it serious foul play? When the Senegalese player was in the air, holding his studs up, there is a clear movement of his foot towards his opponent. A red card in my opinion, a very dark one. Here, the borderline between serious foul play and violent conduct are more or less spongy. So, again an error of perception? Or was it considered as an error at all? It would frighten me if not..
In December 2012, England's new FIFA referee Anthony Taylor dismissed two players for nearly the same foul play [4:53 and 8:33]:
According to the Laws of the Game, there are seven sending-off offenses but we will focus on the one applicable here. In their pertinent part, the Law 12 states that a “player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits [...] serious foul play.” IFAB’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees explains that “a player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.” In addition, “using excessive force means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.”
Both players obviously took every risk and had their studs up. Serious injuries of their opponents could have been possible. In both scenes, there is no sign of retracting the stretched foot. In the second scene Gibson rather did the opposite and executed, at first, an unintentional but then intentional kick. I also disagree with the commentary that there would not have been any form of "intent", as Cole was "following the ball with his eyes". There is no intent either to retracht the studs. So in both scenes excessive force was given, at least for my taste.
Later on, West Ham's coach bewailed a defective consistency in the refereeing of Anthony Taylor. Mr Graham Poll even stated in his column that the decisions would have been "baffling" and "at very best, extremely harsh".
The FA itself issued the following statement: "The FA can confirm that red cards shown to West Ham United's Carlton Cole and Everton's Darron Gibson have been rescinded," a statement from the FA read. “Both players were sent from the field of play in the Premier League fixture between the two clubs at Upton Park on Saturday 22 December. Their three match suspensions have been withdrawn immediately."
In Germany, one frequently encounters a certain myth when a referee books a player to the displeasure of a football fan, who then shouts towards the bar's TV screen "On the island (= in England), that would not even have been a free kick!". But as one says, in every myth, there is a glimmer of truth...It appears as strange that tackles which are considered as serious foul play in nearly every European country, such as kung fu kicks and studs up fouls, are fundamentally differently regarded in England. While Webb's error was a real error of perception in this specific moment, Clattenburg's call and the FA's reaction on Taylor's sending offs are frightening and threatening to my mind.