Howard Webb will become the first Englishman to step out at a FIFA World Cup™ Final since 1974 when he leads the Netherlands and Spain out in Soccer City. He sat down with his assistant referees, Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann, and FIFA.com to discuss the challenge ahead and reflect on the importance of teamwork.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of Jack Taylor, the last English referee of a FIFA World Cup Final 36 years ago?
Howard Webb: It is a really special honour. Jack is someone we look up to, he is a refereeing icon and has been a big supporter over the years so to be able to follow him is wonderful. I've just spoken to him on the phone, he has come over for the game so hopefully we'll have a chance to meet. Only 19 men have refereed this game so we feel very privileged to join this exclusive band.
Did you have any inkling you would get the Final before the appointment was made?
Our games went really smoothly, Darren and Mike did unbelievable work for me, and because of the way those games went we thought, 'we've got the chance of a latter stage game'. Other things need to fall into place, like your national team not progressing. We didn't want them to get knocked out but when they did, we realised it increased our chance. To hear our names actually mentioned at the meeting on Thursday was an unbelievable moment for us – we held hands tightly under the table. But the hard work is still to come.
The focus is on you, Howard, but it's clear you're very much a team.
One thing this tournament has demonstrated quite clearly is the importance of teamwork. The three officials taking charge of every game know that one mistake can cost the entire team and mean the end of your ambitions and we rely on each other. The experience we've been through, at the European Championship two years ago [where they went home early] and in domestic and Champions League football, and the World Cup experience here has made us into a really tight unit.
How do you prepare for refereeing a game that several billion people will be watching?
It is a huge game and the pinnacle of our careers but we need to prepare as normally as possible. The game will still last 90 minutes or maybe two hours, we'll still have 22 players and one ball. We will eat at the same time as normal, have some good rest like before a Champions League game, but what we will do is visit the stadium. We have been to Soccer City but only as spectators so we would like to walk the field of play the day before and visualise some situations that might happen. These guys will have a look on their touchline, on the surface and visualise themselves running the line. I'll walk the diagonal that I'll mainly patrol. We did this before the Champions League final and it just makes you comfortable in your surroundings.
What kind of team talk do you have before a game?
Darren Cann: Howard will give us our normal pre-match instructions usually on the morning of the game so we are fully focused. We are aware of the size of the game but have to almost treat it as though it's not the World Cup Final. If you thought about the many thousands of people at the game and billions watching on television you wouldn't be able to perform effectively.
Mike Mullarkey: We'll talk before the game about being the best we can be and having no regrets when we come off. With the radios, we give each other constant encouragement and support, saying things like 'great flag signal'. Although we are not involved in the immediate play all of the time, we are still involved in the game.
It's been an amazing 14 months – FA Cup final in May 2009, UEFA Champions League final in May and now the FIFA World Cup Final. How do you explain what you have achieved as group?
Refereeing is ups and downs and you need to keep your self-belief when things have not gone so well. It is also testament to our teamwork. You need good fortune as well. There are some really talented guys who've not been lucky here. The Champions League this year was the first chance we've had for some years because of the progress of English teams in the past. The fact the opportunity came around was good fortune but you have to take your opportunities when they come.
Will the experience of the Champions League final help you?
In terms of mental preparation, yes. The build-up was similar in terms of media attention and the messages you get from home. We will draw strength from having done that game so close to this one – it takes away some of the unknown factors. The fact we were able to perform under that sort of scrutiny, and that people were talking afterwards about the teams and not us, tells us we can do it again.
Are your families here?
My father came over for the first three weeks of the tournament, but actually went home last Tuesday. Like Mike's father, he had to fly back out on Thursday night.
Darren Cann: My father obviously had more confidence. He took a chance we might get to the final and he stayed. All three fathers will be sitting next to each other.
Finally, Howard, your wife told an interviewer that you can't control your kids, is this true?
She phoned me yesterday and said she was asked who wears the trousers at home – to be fair she is more of a disciplinarian at home, probably because I am away so much and when I go home I treat the kids and am very soft with them. She is the one who has to take control.