Just three referees have officiated more Premier League matches than Graham Poll.

He represented the FA at three major tournaments, and oversaw plenty of big matches throughout his career, from Merseyside derbies to title showdowns. 

Unfortunately for Poll, his career will forever be remembered for handing out three yellow cards to Josip Šimunić in a pivotal World Cup match in 2006.

The first was shown in the 61st. Šimunić, in what was a fiery match between Australia and Croatia, received a second caution (without the mandatory red) in the 90th minute.

He was ultimately sent off just after the final whistle when he pushed Poll, being shown his third yellow before the red. 

Poll is clearly one of the best referees in Premier League history, but this is an error which he cannot escape.

The incident led to Poll’s retirement from international football, with the Hitchin native saying, "What I did was an error in law. There can be no dispute.

"It was not caused by a FIFA directive, it was not caused by me being asked to referee differently to the way I referee in the Premier League. The laws of the game are very specific.

"The referee takes responsibility for his actions on the field of play. I was the referee that evening. It was my error and the buck stops with me."

Bet Calculator

The darkest day of Poll’s career might not have altered the course of the 2006 World Cup, yet it had a life-changing impact for the official.

It signalled the end of a great career in an embarrassing and sad demise. Only one more season officiating the teams featured in Premier League relegation odds followed before Poll hung up his whistle in the summer of 2007. 

This was barely believable at the time. An elite, massively experienced official making such a basic error in the World Cup was something that just did not happen.

Subjective mistakes occur, and sometimes referees will miss a clear red card, but this sort of mistake naturally attracted a lot of attention. Many thought Australia would have had cause to appeal if Croatia won the match.

Graham Poll ref

Speaking after the fixture, Poll spoke about how the error came about.

"In the 89th minute, when I produced the yellow, I wrote down the right jersey number but the wrong name.

"I had inadvertently given the yellow to the Australian number three, Craig Moore. This is the first time something like this has happened to me in my 26-year-long career."

Naturally, Poll’s autobiography gave further insight into how this peculiar mistake happened. 

He wrote, “My system had always been to identify teams in my notebook by their colours and not the team name. It is a system which I had found prevents confusion, believe it or not.

"So, in Stuttgart, I put ‘Red/White’ for Croatia at the top of my left-hand column and listed the numbers of the players underneath. In the right-hand column, I put ‘Yellow’ for Australia and listed their numbers.

"So when I cautioned Šimunić that first time, I correctly put a ‘C’ for caution against Red/White number 3 in the left-hand column and noted the time – ‘16/2’ (which meant 16 minutes of the second half).

"In stoppage time, I cautioned Šimunić again – but I didn’t realise it was again. He fouled Australia sub Joshua Kennedy and I showed him the yellow card – but, this time, as I now realise, I recorded it wrongly.

"I put the ‘C’ beside the Yellow 3, in line with the Red/White 3, which already had a ‘C’ against it. I didn’t note a time or offence."

It is worth noting that there is further context to his error – Šimunić was playing for Croatia, but he was born in Australia, so speaks English with an Australian accent, which may have been the root of the confusion.

Still, while that makes it easier to understand, it does not excuse the three yellows. It might not feel like it for Poll, but he was fortunate this did not impact the outcome of the match. 

Neither Australia nor Croatia were betting favourites for the tournament, and Šimunić staying on the pitch after his second yellow didn’t change the outcome. 

Poll, for all his refereeing expertise, for all his solid performances in Premier League predictions, will always be the referee who showed three yellow cards to the same player in a World Cup match.

To say his legacy was tainted by that fateful day in Stuttgart would be a significant understatement.


FIRST PUBLISHED: 24th August 2022

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.