C’mon ref! 5 of the greatest ever refereeing controversies in football

Some of these are farcical.


Referees have never been under as much scrutiny as they are these days. The introduction of VAR was designed to take the pressure of making that key decision away from the man in the middle but during its first couple of seasons in operation, it looks to have done quite the opposite making the man in green/blue/pink/yellow, the star or villain of the piece.

Down the years, of course, referees have been accused of taking the odd bribe or two and some of these alleged crimes, have gone down in football folklore just like the so-called “big European nights” at Anfield. Let’s now take a look at five examples that left a nasty taste in the mouth.

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Back in the early 70’s Brian Clough’s Derby County along with the club he would later go on to manage for just 44 days, Leeds United were the undisputed kings of English football and in 1973 it looked highly likely that The Rams would book their place in their first-ever European Cup Final at the first time of asking.

They looked to have got a favourable draw in the semi-final when they were paired with Italian giants Juventus, avoiding the winners of the previous two tournaments Ajax, and Real Madrid. Clough had put all his eggs in one basket as their defence of the Division One title had all but ended by the spring of 73, but when the English champions touched down on Italian soil the omens were not good as driving rain greeted their arrival in Turin.

Half an hour before kick-off, things took a more sinister turn when former Juventus and Wales legend John Charles, advised Clough’s faithful assistant Peter Taylor that Juve’s German striker Helmut Haller had been seen popping into match referee and fellow countryman Gerhard Schulenburg’s dressing-room.

After the teams returned to the tunnel at half-time with the score at 1-1, Haller once again nipped in for a quick word with Schulenburg, but Taylor had clocked him and hurried after him to try to overhear what was being said.

When Taylor asked Haller if he minded if he listened in on the conversation, the 1966 World Cup runner-up elbowed him in the ribs and called security explaining that they needed to restrain the crazy Englishman.

The second-half belonged to the home side with Derby players seemingly getting booked for the crime of standing within five feet of their opponent. Derby eventually lost the first-leg 3-1 and went out after a goalless draw at the Baseball Ground in the return. Oh and just for the record, Clough’s two most important players, midfielder Archie Gemmill and central defender Roy McFarland, were booked in Turin meaning they would miss the second-leg.]

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11 years on from that infamous night in Turin and Cloughie was once again the victim of a huge match-fixing scandal. In April 1984, Clough, now in charge at Nottingham Forest, took his side to Belgium to face Anderlecht in the second leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final with the English side two goals up from the first encounter at the City Ground.

Clough, however, was unhappy about the appointment of Spanish referee Emilio Guruceta Muro as this official had previous in this competition after some bizarre officiating in a Standard Liege v Napoli game.

Clough’s fears were heightened and the memories of Turin came flooding back when Anderlecht officials were seen entering Muro’s dressing-room prior to kick-off. Within 20 minutes the home side had halved the aggregate, but Forest were still more than capable of pulling off the result needed to take them to the final.

On the hour mark, however, things took a turn for the worse when Kenny Swain was adjudged to have brought down Anderlecht’s Kenneth Brylle in the penalty area.

The only thing was that Swain wasn’t even in the same postcode as his opponent.

Two minutes from time Edwin Vandenbergh put the hosts ahead in the tie for the first time, but their joy was short-lived when Hart headed home a corner in the dying seconds to give Forest the aggregate win…or had he? – For some reason, Muro decided to disallow the goal and send the Belgians through to the final.

Everyone in the ground knew Forest had been shafted but it wasn’t until 1997 that Anderlecht admitted their former president, Constant Vanden Stock, had used a local gangster to pay the Spanish referee £18,000 – They were banned from Europe for just one year.


After seeing Don Revie step into the England job and Brian Clough disappears after just 44 days in charge, it was huge achievement for Jimmy Armfield to take Leeds United to the final of the European Cup in 1975.

The English champions had already eliminated Barcelona in the semi-final and they went into this game as firm favourites against a Bayern Munich side that had struggled in the Bundesliga that season. The final, which was played in Paris at the Parc des Princes, was a bad-tempered affair from the off.

Leeds midfielder Terry Yorath setting the tone after four minutes with a challenge that ensured Bayern’s Bjorn Andersson would play no further part in the game.

Incredibly, Yorath stayed on the pitch but match referee Michel Kitabdjian was about to turn from hero to villain in the eyes of the West Yorkshire masses crammed onto the terraces. The first seeds of doubt were planted when Franz Beckenbauer blatantly handled the ball in the penalty area which went unnoticed by the officials and when “Der Kaiser” hacked down Alan Clarke inside his own box, Kitabdjian kept his whistle in his pocket.

20 minutes into the second-half Peter Lorimer scored a perfectly good goal to put Leeds in front, but our old friend Mr Kitabdjian decided to chalk it off for offside despite the linesman’s flag never being raised. That was the signal for the English fans to go on the rampage and they were too busy ripping up the seats to notice Franz Roth’s opening goal for Bayern and the furniture was still flying when Gerd Muller put the result beyond doubt nine minutes from time.

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Mention the name Byron Moreno in Italy and chances are the Camorra will put out a contract on you. The Ecuadorian official shot to notoriety at the World Cup Finals in 2002 when he officiated a round of the last sixteen matches between the Azzurri and co-hosts South Korea.

We’ve all heard referees being described as a “homer” but Moreno took this to a whole new level in a game that the Koreans eventually won 2-1 in golden goal extra-time. In the opening 45 minutes, Moreno awarded the hosts a penalty for no reason at all, which was saved by Italian keeper Gigi Buffon before disallowing a perfectly good golden goal winner for the Azzurri by Damiano Tommasi having adjudged the player to have been in an offside position.

Also in “tempo supplementari” as the Italians call it, Francesco Totti was sent-off for an apparent dive in the penalty area with Moreno at least 40 yards away from play.

After the game, Italy wanted answers and in September of that year, Moreno’s true character came to surface after he was suspended by the Ecuadorian football authorities for 20 matches after his performance at the World Cup and after some questionable time-keeping in a domestic league game between Liga Deportiva Universitaria and Barcelona Sporting Club.

He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in 2010 when he was arrested at New York’s JFK airport trying to smuggle six kilos of heroin into the country in his underpants.


If the Italians had been left incensed by the nature of their exit from the 2002 World Cup, Spain seemed ready to declare war on South Korea after another highly dubious encounter in their quarter-final meeting.

The man at the centre of the controversy this time was Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour, who seemed determined to send the co-hosts through to the last four by deciding that he was never going to allow Spain to score.

They did score, on at least two occasions and perfectly good goals at that only Al-Ghandour’s mind was obviously made up.

Spain coach and the man who has gone down in history as having the worst sweat patches of any international manager, Jose Camacho, confronted the officials after seeing his side lose out after a penalty shoot-out and up in the press area, journalists were busy filing their copies of the match with words such as “cheated “and “farce” dominating the following day’s back pages around the world.

Following Moreno’s and Al-Ghandour’s appalling performances, FIFA ethics were called into question and in 2015, after corruption within the organisation was highlighted, Italy and Spain’s 13-year pursuit of the truth looked to have been justified.

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