Football: Top ref Webb in rainy World Cup warm up

Howard Webb refereeing at Sport FX South Yorkshire World Cup Festival
Howard Webb refereeing at Sport FX South Yorkshire World Cup Festival
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Howard Webb admitted he’d been on Cloud Nine ever since watching his beloved Rotherham United triumph at Wembley on Sunday.

But this most grounded of sporting personalities - off pretty soon to referee at the World Cup in Brazil - was very much back down to earth yesterday as he spent a day in the rain, refereeing local school kids.

Whether it’s the world’s top footballers or a bunch of eager youngsters, Howard approaches both equally with a passion for refereeing and an enthusiasm for football that is undimmed by his years at the top.

Many in his home-town of Rotherham recall that after he refereed the World Cup Final in 2010, then the very next time he picked up his whistle he took charge of a humble first round tie in the Rotherham Charity Cup on a recreation ground at Thrybergh. He even ran off into the long grass to look for a lost ball.

Yesterday, as the rain swept down, he was helping once again do his bit to promote football at the football initiative he supports, the Sport FX South Yorkshire project which, weekly, provides coaching for up to 1,000 youngsters at nine schools.

The recognition isn’t only one way when the kids start turning up... “Eyup, here come the Fir Vale lot,” says Howard. “Hiya lads, how are you?” he shouts in greeting but some are already walking towards him to shake his hand as if he’s just another mate.

He chats to other groups, personable as ever, time for all - it’s not bad having the world’s No 1 referee in charge of your game.

The Sport FX South Yorkshire World Cup Festival, held at Sheffield Hallam University’s Bawtry Road Sports Park, involved teams from the nine schools Howard’s football coaching initiative works with - Aston Academy, Brinsworth Comp, Clifton School, Dinnington Comp, Fir Vale School, Firth Park Academy, Sheffield Park Academy, Barnsley Horizon Community College and Sir Thomas Wharton Academy, Doncaster.

There were two teams from each school with the morning session for Year 7, 8 and 9 concluding with finals and then Y10, 11 and 12 in the afternoon and Howard taking their final too - and it rained all day.

“The SportFX South Yorkshire coaching sessions are proving a big success with the young people,” says Howard.

The project, youngsters from 10 to 19, works in partnership with South Yorkshire Police and the S&H County FA and Howard added: “It’s a great way to engage with kids through a shared passion for football. Those who take part are making new friends and learning new life skills.”