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'He was probably never quite the same referee again. It changed him as a man'

Howard Webb believes fellow referee Martin Hansson has struggled to deal with making the wrong call during Ireland’s 2010 World Cup play-off against France.

France Ireland Wcup Soccer Shay Given and Sean St Ledger plead with Hansson after the call. Source: AP/Press Association Images

“I WAS AT home watching the game with my eight-year-old son and you could see the handball in the replay. I wanted to ring him on his mobile and tell him to give the handball!

“Obviously he didn’t have his mobile on him out on the pitch but that was one of the reasons why my view on video technology changed at that point.”

Howard Webb and Martin Hansson were two of the world’s top referees in 2009. They also happened to be close friends.

Ex-police officer Webb had established himself as an elite official in England, while Swede, a fireman by trade, was doing the same in his home country and on the international stage.

That year, however, his role in one of the most infamous sporting moments in Irish sport would alter the trajectory of his career dramatically.

Failing to spot Thierry Henry’s blatant handball in extra-time, Hansson awarded William Gallas’ goal in Paris as France progressed to the 2010 World Cup finals at the expense of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Boys in Green.

Webb still stays in touch with his former colleague, but admits the incident had a lasting affect.

“He was gutted, devastated,” Webb said. “He was probably never quite the same referee again. He dropped down from the elite level and he still referees locally in Sweden.

It probably changed him as a man as well. There was a very interesting documentary about him (The Referee), it was dark and about his life around that time. It’s worth having a watch.

“It’s no consolation to the Irish national team but still that hurt him a lot.”

Source: The Documentary Network/YouTube

Hansson had been named as a referee for the World Cup finals in South Africa the following summer but was demoted to fourth official after the blunder.

“If anyone thinks he walked away from that game thinking it didn’t matter, he did go to that World Cup but only worked as a fourth official. He would have been a shoe-in to take games at that tournament and he was probably my best mate in refereeing at the time.”

Soccer - 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa - Group H - Switzerland v Spain - Durban Stadium Webb (centre) with Hansson (right) during the 2010 World Cup. Source: EMPICS Sport

The call also changed Webb’s beliefs about whether video replays should be introduced to the sport.

My view was that this is a key crucial game here affecting who goes to the biggest tournament in the world and it takes two years to qualify,” he added. “It wasn’t one of those ambiguous situations, it was black or white.

“It was a clear handball, it needs to be called correctly and it wasn’t. It had huge consequences for the Irish team and huge consequences for Martin Hansen and his team on and off the pitch.

“My view changed at that point. How we do that is another matter, and it is what we are talking about six years later.”

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Ben Blake

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