Howard Webb takes centre stage

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PRETORIA - English referee Howard Webb is used to the ups and downs of taking charge of high-profile games but even the confident Yorkshireman seemed a little surprised with the mass media attention ahead of Sunday's World Cup final.

Webb and his two English assistants will be in charge of Sunday's final between Spain and the Netherlands at Soccer City in Johannesburg and their training session, normally an anonymous event away from the media, on Saturday drew television cameras and reporters from all over the world.

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The English trio had a gentle half-hour session before taking their seats at a table on the field for an open-air press conference - something that would be unthinkable ahead of a regular league game where referees are rarely allowed to talk to reporters.

"We have become somewhat accustomed to this, it is not the first thing that we are trained to deal with, we are more comfortable on the field of play doing our job but it is something that we know is part and parcel of the wonderful appointment we received," he said.

The 38-year-old Webb heads into Sunday's game as the first referee to take charge of a Champions League final and a World Cup final in the same season.

The bald-headed referee had already had a taste of mass media interest after his wife Kay made a light-hearted comment on a breakfast television show on Friday.

"I don't know how he does it. He can't take charge of his own children. I don't know how he manages it on a football pitch," she told GMTV - comments that were swiftly reproduced across the world.

For whether Mrs Webb realised it or not, this weekend her husband is an international celebrity.

Proving that point, the first question Webb, who has three children, faced on Saturday was from a Dutch reporter asking for his reaction on his wife's quip.

"I will speak to my wife when we return," said the policeman with a grin, before adding, "I am certain she was only joking, my children are very well behaved."

Webb is the first Englishman to officiate the final since Jack Taylor in 1974 and he acknowledged the advice he has received over the years from Taylor, who took the brave decision to award a penalty against hosts West Germany in the first minute of that game.

"He is something of a refereeing legend in England and I have got to know him fairly well - he was a fairly big supporter of me early in my career. To take advice and support from somebody like Jack was a real honour," he said.

"He took a big decision in that game and part of our job is to take big decisions, sometimes courageous decisions at any time in a game and that's our duty on Sunday night," he said.

The fathers of Webb and his two assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey are all ex-referees and all three will watch the final at Soccer City.

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