Isaac is officially delighted

The aspiring young Liberian referee was gifted a special surprise by his hero Howard Webb

Back to all stories | Posted on 14 Mar 2018

World Cup referee Howard Webb sent a wonderful surprise to an impoverished teenager who receives Mary’s Meals in Liberia – and dreams of becoming the world’s greatest football official.

Isaac, 14, who is nicknamed ‘Popo’ after the sound of a football whistle, was stunned when a Mary’s Meals worker delivered a FIFA official’s kit, a signed Howard Webb autobiography, photographs and incredibly, the historic yellow card that Howard flashed a record 14 times in the 2010 World Cup Final.

Isaac, who comes from a poor family, lost his father at the age of eight and supports his disabled mother with the small payments he receives for officiating at matches in his home town of Gbarnga.

He is one of the 1,230,171 children in 15 countries who receive Mary’s Meals every school day. These life-changing meals are served in school to give pupils like Isaac the energy to concentrate on their education and look forward with hope to a life free of poverty.

After lacking the confidence to play football, Isaac’s outstanding refereeing talent was spotted when he was just nine years old. A coach encouraged him to be a linesman during a training session – and Isaac discovered his love for the game.

From that moment on, he set his sights on becoming the next Howard Webb, who in 2010 became the first person to referee both the World Cup and Champions League Finals in the same year.

Impressed by Isaac’s commitment to learning and his love of sport, Mary’s Meals’ Liberia communications officer, Gerry Naughton, decided to try to reach out to Howard Webb through sports presenter, Adrian Chiles.

Howard got in touch from the United States almost immediately to find out more about Isaac. He said he felt ‘humbled’ by the schoolboy.

“This is an amazing story and I was pretty moved. I spent a few weeks in Nigeria working for FIFA in 2009 and I know about the obsession with Premier League football in West Africa, but it’s unbelievable that somebody like Isaac has even heard of me, never mind holding me as his role model,” said Howard.

Speaking about the legendary referee, Isaac said: “I love watching Howard Webb for his movement in the game. I saw him on TV and I just like him. When he's got some rude guys on the field, the man can discipline them by using the yellow and the red card.

“I prayed by Almighty God today when I received these gifts that I will be standing with Howard Webb one day and that we two can interact. I will tell him thank you for his gifts, and I would like to take some advice from him for the rules of the game.”

Mary’s Meals’ Liberia communications officer Gerry, said: “Because he eats a daily nutritious meal provided by Mary’s Meals, Isaac is able to stay in school and concentrate on learning, while the little cash he gets for refereeing can go a bit further to support his family.

“The gift from Howard, and the words of encouragement, mean so much to Isaac, his classmates and the football players. The kit is a bit big for Isaac but he was desperate to wear it – and just like Howard, he’s not afraid to use that yellow card!”