Rob Harris (referee)

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Robert J. Harris (born c. 1957) is an English former football referee who operated in the Football League and Premier League. He was for a time regarded as one of the best linesman on the Premier League, before his promotion to first the Football League and then the Premier League referees lists. But his Premier League referee period did not go well as he was the recipient of criticism for some very high-profile contentious incidents at Arsenal, West Ham and Tranmere which without doubt disrupted his time on the referees list. During his refereeing career he was mainly based in the city of Oxford.


He took up Refereeing in 1975, He quickly progressed through the local Oxford Junior and Senior Leagues onto the Hellenic Football League. After that he got further promotions onto the Football Combination in 1982 and then the Southern League in 1985. He became a Football League linesman in 1988.

During the 1989-90 season Harris was involved in the match looked upon as saving Alex Ferguson's Old Trafford career, the FA cup third round tie between Nottingham Forest and Manchester United in which Harris acted as a linesman. The match was believed to be important as after some seven games without a win, should Manchester United lose this game Ferguson would be sacked soon after, this being his last chance to get a win. During the second half of the match Mark Robins scored for Manchester United, but with only three minutes of the match remaining Nottingham Forest felt they had equalized when following a goalmouth scramble the ball found its way into the Manchester United goal. The referee immediately gave the goal until Harris flagged for an infringement against Nottingham Forest and the goal was disallowed, Television replays after the match were unable to discover the reason for his decision and what he could have seen from his position on the line. With Manchester United winning the match 1-0 they went on to win the FA cup that season, giving Ferguson his first major trophy as their manager.

He made progress and in 1992 he became one of the first ever FIFA assistant referees. A few months later he assisted Philip Don in the FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Sunderland. He was one of the first assistants for the new Premier League when that started a few months later.

Two years later came further honours. In May he was appointed to assist Philip Don once more, this time in the 1994 European Cup Final between AC Milan and Barcelona.[1] This was the first time that three English officials have controlled the Final, (In May 2010 Howard Webb and his team of English officials were appointed to the 2010 Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid). Harris was also appointed to the National Referees List for the following season (1994-95).

Over the next four seasons he established himself in the Football League. He took charge of a greater number of games, including play-off matches, and in 1998 he was promoted to the Premier League referees List.

Harris has also refereed two Coppa Italia finals; first in 1999 between Parma and Fiorentina, and then the 2000 final between Internazionale and Roma.


Harris served as a Premier referee for three seasons but three major incidents marred this period. In May 1999 he sent off three West Ham players as they lost heavily at home to Leeds United.[2] David Elleray was fourth official. After the game Harris narrowly escaped being attacked by home supporters as he waited in his car at traffic lights. This led to a new policy by the Premier League where all officials are transported to games by people-carrier, to reduce the risk of such an event.

In January 2000 he sent off Clint Hill of Tranmere near the end of their home FA Cup tie with Sunderland.[3] As Hill was leaving the field Tranmere made a substitution but in the confusion no player was actually withdrawn. None of the officials noticed this, and the home team continued to play with eleven men rather than ten in the final minutes.[4] This error of Law is treated very seriously, and as a result Harris was suspended and did not officiate again for another two months.

Harris also showed Aston Villa player Lee Hendrie two yellow cards in a match against Arsenal at Highbury Stadium in October 2000. He only showed the red card after numerous players from both teams pointed to the large video screens alongside the pitch, which showed the team line-ups plus information on goalscoresr, bookings and substitutions.[5]

These errors led to him being nicknamed "Rolf", after Rolf Harris.

He did carry on at Premier level for the next season, after which he was stepped down to the Football League as from the 2001-02 campaign. This coincided with his moving from Oxford to the Isle of Wight, making him the only League referee ever from this location. He only remained on the Football League for this one season, before he was then stepped down again for the 2002-03 season to Football Conference Level where he continue to referee until November 2005 when he retired to become a FA Assessor.

Personal life[edit]

He is married to Ann with whom he has a daughter and two sons. He also enjoys his life with his two grandchildren Georgie and Charlotte. He works for Ford UK, as the warranty director for the UK.



  • Football League Handbooks, 1988–1993
  • Rothmans Football Yearbooks, 1994-2002 (2000 edition, p21)
  • David Elleray (2004) The Man In the Middle, Time Warner, p202-204
  • Gilbert Upton (2005) Football League and Premiership Referees 1888 to 2005, Soccerdata


  1. ^ AC Milan v. Barcelona, 1994 European Cup Final: report from website.
  2. ^ West Ham v. Leeds, May 1999: website.
  3. ^ Tranmere v. Sunderland FA Cup tie, 2000: website.
  4. ^ "Row mars Tranmere giantkilling" as they continue with 11 men after sending-off: report from website.
  5. ^

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