Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The worst referee decisions in football?

By Gary Morley, CNN
  • Incident in Manchester United-Tottenham game puts spotlight on refereeing decisions
  • Female official in Brazil awards goal after ball boy puts shot into visiting team's net
  • French referee embarrassed after World Cup incident involving Luis Fabiano
  • Englishman finally sends off player after giving him three yellow cards

(CNN) -- It is the role that every fan of the beautiful game counts on but which few people envy. The much-maligned position of the football referee is a job that attracts criticism, controversy and castigation on an almost weekly basis with little glory in return.

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is the latest to add his voice to the deafening boom of dissent so often aimed at various men in black around the world.

Despite a 5-1 victory for his side against Murcia in Spain's Cop del Rey, the Portuguese boss let rip at the referee Paradas Romero's record of showing more then six yellow cards per match. Romero added to this with a red card for Mourinho himself, after the 47-year-old told the official to "Go f*** himself" during the game, according to the ref.

The incident follows similar controversy in Britain where Manchester United's game against English title rivals Tottenham last month ended in farce when Mark Clattenburg allowed Portugal winger Nani to score despite his clear handball in the build-up.

Should referees be relegated too?

I wasn't sure if it was the elbow, upper arm or chest. He said it was chest. It was after the match I realized Fabiano had been dishonest
--Ref Stephane Lannoy

Clattenburg's clanger came hot on the heals of referee Dougie McDonald's blooper in Scotland where he awarded a penalty to Celtic against rivals Dundee United, before overturning his own decision before the kick was taken.

In honor of all of the above, Fanzone takes a look at the best moments of on-pitch gaffes from soccer's finest:

Brazilian ball boy scores equalizing goal

Silvia Regina de Oliveira was the first woman to ever referee a match in the Brazilian National Championship, and went on to handle games at the 2004 Olympics.

But her career went into decline two years later when she inexplicably awarded Santacruzense a late equalizer against Atletico Sorocaba in a Paulista Football Federation Cup clash.

One of the home team's players had fired a shot into the outside of the net, and the waiting ball boy took the chance to cheekily evade the visiting goalkeeper and tap a shot over the goal-line.

De Oliveira did not see the incident, but noticed the ball was in the net, so consulted with her linesman and awarded a goal -- sparking scenes of mayhem as the Atletico players protested.

Despite the video evidence, the result of the match was allowed to stand. "I should have trusted my own vision," De Oliveira later admitted.

Three yellow cards equals one red

Top English referee Graham Poll sabotaged his hopes of controlling a World Cup final in 2006 when he made a massive blunder in Australia's 2-2 draw with Croatia in a group-stage game in Germany.

Poll booked Josip Simunic after an hour and then in the final minute of regulation time -- but forgot to send the Croatian from the pitch. He had the chance to compound his error in time added on when he handed Simunic a third yellow card.

It was third time unlucky for Poll, who had correctly dismissed Croatia's Dario Simic and Australia's Brett Emerton after giving the duo their second respective bookings just minutes earlier.

Poll, who later admitted putting Simunic's first yellow card against Australia defender Craig Moore's name in his notebook, was widely mocked as the video spread around the Internet, and the 42-year-old's house was blockaded by media.

"It opened my eyes as to who my real friends are and how much my family meant to me," he said.

Fabiano one-ups Maradona with double handball

French referee Stephane Lannoy was left with egg on his face after allowing Luis Fabiano to clearly handle the ball twice before scoring his second goal in the 3-1 win over the Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup.

Lannoy was pictured laughing with the Brazil striker when he questioned him about how he had controlled the ball.

"I wasn't sure if it was the elbow, the upper arm or the chest. So I decided to have a talk with him, he said it was chest. Thereafter, I could do nothing but allow the goal. It was after the match I realized that Fabiano had been dishonest," Lannoy told L'Equipe newspaper.

Lannoy had a nightmare match, later sending off Kaka for a second yellow card after Ivory Coast's Kader Keita went down in a heap following an innocuous collision with the Brazil playmaker.

Lannoy was duped again in a European Champions League match this month, when he waved play on and failed to book Barcelona's Jose Pinto after the goalkeeper whistled to distract an opposing player.

Pinto was subsequently handed a two-match ban for improper conduct for deceiving Copenhagen forward Cesar Santin, who thought Lannoy had blown for offside when he broke clear of the defense.

The case of the 'ghost penalty'

Emerson Acuna was little known outside his native Colombia until December 2008, when the striker pulled off one of the most outrageous referee cons in the history of sport.

The Atletico Junior player, nicknamed "The Parasite," flung himself to the ground despite not being within meters of any opposing America da Cali players.

The match official surprised everyone possessing a modicum of visual capacity when he awarded a spotkick despite having a clear view of Acuna's swan-dive, and the home team converted the penalty and went on to win 2-0.

However, Acuna did not escape completely unpunished as he was sent off for another incident later in the match.

A quick half

German referee Wolf-Dieter Ahlenfelder secured his place in tales of notoriety with some decidedly erratic behavior in a 1975 Bundesliga match between Werder Bremen and Hannover 96.

He mistakenly blew for halftime only 29 minutes into what should be a three-quarter-hour period before a linesman pointed out his error, reported German journalist Eberhard Spohd.

Having finally completed the half, Ahlenfelder stuck his tongue out at a photographer, leading Bremen's president Bohmert to quip: "For this show we could have charged a higher entrance fee."

Spohd said that Ahlenfelder initially denied drinking alcohol, but later admitted to consuming schnapps. "We are men -- we don't drink Fanta," the official reportedly said.

A thorny problem

Scottish referee Les Mottram managed to be picked for the 1994 World Cup panel despite an embarrassing mistake in a domestic match the year before.

Mottram failed to award a goal when a shot by Dundee United's Patrick Connolly rebounded out of the net off a supporting stanchion and into the arms of a Partick Thistle player, who handed the ball to his goalkeeper.

Mottram somehow missed all that had transpired, not even noticing the illegal handball, and waved play on.

After the World Cup in the U.S., where he ordered an amazing 13 minutes of injury-time in Bolivia's 0-0 draw with South Korea, he left the unpaid ranks and took up a professional contract refereeing in Japan's J-League.

Dundee won their match against Partick 4-0, but English second division side Watford were denied a victory in 2008 when opponents Reading were awarded a goal for a shot which did not go between the posts.

Linesman Nigel Bannister convinced 25-year-old referee Stuart Attwell that the ball had in fact crossed the line, prompting a now retired Poll to comment in his column with British newspaper the Daily Mail: "This is the most bizarre situation I've ever seen in 40 years watching football and 27 years refereeing."

The goal that never was

Perhaps it is fitting that the last word should go to Clattenburg, who is unlikely to be on Tottenham's Christmas card list.

He has the reputation of being one of England's best referees, despite the Nani incident and this major error in another match at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground.

Clattenburg became the youngest Englishman to reach FIFA's international list at the age of 30 in 2006, but the year before he was vilified by Tottenham fans after failing to spot that Pedro Mendes' speculative long-range effort had bounced off United goalkeeper Carroll's chest and over the goal-line.

The hapless Northern Irishman scrambled back into his own net and shoveled the ball back into the field of play, and the match ended in a goalless draw.

Clattenburg was suspended from refereeing for eight months from August 2008 following an investigation into his business activities, having been charged with a breach of contract by his ruling body, Professional Game Match Officials Limited.