This week I attended #buyyorkshire, the North’s biggest business conference put on by the Yorkshire Mafia. Great event and the two speakers I saw didn’t disappoint. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer, and former football referee Howard Webb MBE. Both achieved against the odds, and both so passionate and committed in what they did.

Summarising Howard Webb’s talk with images, he described how ordinary people with passion, dedication and a little bit of luck can achieve great things. He certainly did.


He talked about success and related it to lives of the people at the event.


He then explained, again relating it to working life, that sometimes you have nothing to go on but your gut feelings, of which 90% decisions are the right ones. He described two scenarios where referees had to make calls when they didn’t see a particular match defining moment. The first was when he was refereeing the 2009 Confederations Cup final in South Africa. Brazil and Egypt were drawing 3:3 in the last minute. A goal bound shot by Brazil was cleared off the line by a defender. Howard didn’t see the clearance and initially gave a corner. He then sensed something was wrong. He knew the ball had hit the Egyptian defender somewhere on the body. The Brazilian players claimed a penalty in unison. The defender fell to the floor holding his face to suggest the ball hit him in the head. Howard changed his mind and correctly gave the penalty. All on gut feeling. He went on to referee the World Cup final the following year.

The second example was when Thierry Henry appeared to deliberately control the ball with his hand before a goal being scored which meant France went to the 2010 World Cup finals at the expense of Ireland. That incorrect refereeing decision meant the referee who got the call wrong didn’t go to the World Cup! Destiny is shaped in the moments of our decision making.

Howard then explained there were times when he saw or heard things said about him that hurt him personally and his family.


The above doctored image got much coverage after it was posted on-line suggesting he might have a tendency to be somewhat lenient towards a certain team. It was how he overcame this and other self doubts that I found particularly interesting. He then went on to explain how you will never please all of the people all of the time and trying to do that will fail, especially in football where you are only ever going to please 50% at best. But for Howard, it was about the integrity of aiming to make the most right decisions possible, with the assistance of his linesmen, that mattered.

The reality is all people can’t be pleased all the time, if ever they could.