The day Graham Poll showed 3 yellow cards to the same player (2006)

The day Graham Poll showed 3 yellow cards to the same player (2006)

Disciplinary rules in football are quite simple. If a player breaks the rule, he receives a yellow card as a warning. If this same player commits a second offence, he again receives a yellow card, synonymous with red and immediate dismissal to the locker room. Sometimes, however, it seems that three yellow cards can be given to the same person before showing the red! In truth, this is a gross mistake that has only happened once in the entire history of the world Cup. This unusual moment, we owe it to the English referee Graham Poll.

Although he was a renowned referee in the Premier League, he remains for many “the referee with the three yellow cards”. Because while to err is human, it becomes much less forgivable when it is committed on football’s biggest stage, namely the World Cup. This monumental blunder was committed in 2006 during a match between Australia and Croatia, and it is something that football fans will never forget.

Graham Poll made the mistake on the final day of the group stages, as both teams tried to qualify for the round of 16. The match finally ended with a parity score (2-2) and Australia qualified. In the end, Vatreni’s elimination was a blessing, as Poll’s error involved a Croatian player. Otherwise, can you imagine the controversy?

The main thing is said, but this match reveals some interesting details that we have endeavored to highlight.

Graham Poll, a renowned referee

Before discussing in detail the story of the three yellow cards, we must first go back to what made Graham Poll a renowned referee. After all, he remains one of the most decorated referees in history and was one of the most respected on the pitch, at least until he made that mistake at the 2006 World Cup. this, Poll had a brilliant career as an umpire in England. He was involved in the early days of the Premier League having been shortlisted to referee top-flight matches in 1993. Even before that, he had refereed matches in the old British league then called the ‘First Division’.

Of course, without his track record as a successful referee, his appointment to the very shortlist of Premier League referees would have been greatly compromised. Over the years, Graham Poll managed to build a solid reputation and his legitimacy within the elite was no longer in question. At the end of a career that commands respect, the man still had more than 1,500 refereed matches to his credit in his 26-year career. In his early days, moreover, he was only an assistant referee and only his great dedication and his skills allowed him to be promoted to the position of central referee.

In 1996, Graham Poll was named to the FIFA list of international referees. Naturally, this appointment allowed him to referee matches of the World Cup and in particular that of 2006. Before this edition, he had also had the opportunity to referee matches of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. Unfortunately, due to his famous refereeing error, during the Croatia – Australia match, the Briton announced his international retirement.

The box-by-box story

Here we are ! After having deciphered the context and evoked the brilliant career of Graham Poll in broad outline, we can try to understand the circumstances in which these famous 3 cards were awarded.

The main interested party was the Croatian defender, Josip Šimunić. The spared player had done nothing to mislead Graham Poll, however, and therefore to consider him an evil genius would be completely wrong. However, something about this player had indeed confused Graham Poll, and this is what we will come back to a little later.

The first yellow card

It was in the 61st minute that the referee showed the first yellow card against Šimunić. This warning was given after a badly negotiated duel with one of the Socceroos. To make sure you don’t lose track, memorize this first card well.

Because, from there obviously, the problems began. In theory, Šimunić was playing with a sword of Damocles above his head since after being warned once, any mistake punished again would be synonymous with expulsion. However, Šimunić committed another foul and seemed to benefit from an additional joker.

The second yellow card

In the last moments of the game, after too much contact, Poll took a second yellow card out of his pocket to send it to Šimunić. And, like any good referee, he wrote down the player’s name and shirt number on the card before putting it back in his pocket. Much to the amazement of players, stadium spectators and viewers around the world, Poll showed no red cards.

At this point, Šimunić seemed to completely escape the rule due to a major mistake by Graham Poll. However, the Croat did not benefit from this risky favor for long, since in the end, he was expelled following a third sanctioned foul. Yet when Poll decided to show the red card, he still hadn’t realized the huge mistake he had just made…

The third yellow card

To slip through the cracks after being sanctioned twice without being sent off, any good mind would have continued to play with a low profile. Yet again, Šimunić did not quite follow this pattern of thought. Instead, he continued to protest the referee’s decision, even pushing him, which in itself is another punishable foul. For that reason alone, Poll dug into his pocket to pull out a third yellow card for number 3, followed this time by a red card which he waved in front of his face to signify the dismissal. At this stage, however, the damage was already done as the institution and the whole world witnessed a disconcerting series of three yellow cards.

How did it happen ?

Until the final whistle, Graham Poll didn’t realize what he had done. After realizing his mistake, he immediately demanded his withdrawal from the tournament and his return to England. His decision was obviously respected by FIFA, but one question still remained unanswered: how had he managed to punish the same player three times? Believe it or not but in truth, it was more a coincidence than an epic error of refereeing.

Questioned after the match, Poll explained the why and how. In effect, he used a two-column scoring system corresponding to the two teams. In each column, he wrote the names and numbers of the penalized players. Coincidentally, Šimunić happened to live in Australia from birth until he was 19 and evidently spoke perfect English with a very Australian accent.

In the heat of the moment, Graham Poll had noted the first warning on behalf of the opposing number 3, namely Craig Moore. Of course, the color of the jerseys should have been enough to separate the two sides distinctly, but quite understandably the referee was misled in the middle of a capital and extremely heated confrontation.

Seen from this angle, the error still seems forgivable even if one could legitimately think that a referee with so much experience had to avoid such a mistake. Be that as it may, this anecdote which occurred in added time of the match had no dramatic consequences since the Australians qualified, and the expulsion of Šimunić was only delayed for a short time!