WORLD Cup Final referee Howard Webb has revealed how he and his wife of 11 months keep their romance alive — despite living on different continents.
Howard wed former Bundesliga referee Bibiana Steinhaus last March, but work commitments mean their’s has been a long-distance love since they tied the knot.
They are in the same room for just one fifth of the year.
That’s because the football-mad couple both work in elite level referee management — Rotherham-born, 50-year-old Howard in New York, while his wife who is eight years younger, has a similar job in England.
Every day, the pair spend hours on FaceTime, but Howard misses her madly.
“It is tough, I can’t pretend otherwise,” he says.
“We’ve gone for the hardest possible scenario. A German girl, living in England, me in America, it’s like: ‘Let’s make this the most challenging set of circumstances ever!’
“It’s not an ideal scenario, but it kind of works; it has always been what it is.
“I guess the biggest challenge will be when we live together! We haven’t quite done that yet although I am confident it will be ok.
“We are great, she is great, she is an impressive girl.”
Howard had to leave Bibiana behind in the UK after spending Christmas back home. He hasn’t seen her in the flesh since January 10.
So how do they keep their romance alive, when they live 3,350 miles apart?
“Good question! When you are apart and get back together it is great,” said Howard, who like his wife once had a career in the police.
“You get that first date sense again each time you get back together.
“We probably spend ten weeks of the year together.
“We connect on the Ipad every day. If we’re both working from home we’ll stay connected on FaceTime throughout the day. We don’t have many arguments, if I make a mess she can’t see it and vice versa!
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ideal, it’s not what I want forever. For now we just have to go where the work is.
“Undoubtedly, I miss her. There are other people in a similar boat, I guess. If you are in the armed forces and having to be away on a tour of duty. But we know it has to be a temporary measure as opposed to long term.”
Webb, who refereed 296 Premier League matches as well as a Champions League and World Cup Final, says the couple make the most of it when they are re-united.
They share a mutual passion in cooking and the gym.
“We spend time a lot of time training together, we got engaged after a training session, it’s what we do. We cook together a lot. I never used to cook, now we have the same cook books, only in German and English!”
The couple got hitched in locked-down Hanover, Germany, with no guests or witnesses.
Originally they’d met at a football seminar.
Father of three Howard separated from his first wife Kay to start a new life.
For five years, he admits he has not seen as much of his children as he’d have liked.
“Yeah, it is painful, but they come over here. It is not a normal relationship and I am mindful of that.
“I am sacrificing time, by being away from them, and it’s not always easy. That’s why I will eventually move back to live closer to them.”
All three children, Holly, Jack and Lucy are studying at University.
Holly is also a nutritionist at Howard’s beloved Rotherham United.
“Being apart from them is not ideal, I’m in contact with them every day, but it’s not easy. Also my parents are in their late 70s so not being able to be with them is a drain.”
The children’s new step-mum moved from Germany to England after being headhunted by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited.
Their dad is in charge of refereeing at Major League Soccer.
“It is bizarre that she moved to England from Germany when I am not there,” said Howard, who was born in Canklow, and lived in Whiston before living with Kay and family in the Moorgate area.
“After Bibiana finished refereeing in 2020 she had the opportunity in England that was too good to miss.
“She’s been living at my sister’s place in Holmfirth.
“It’s possible when my contract expires at the end of this year here, I will go back and join her,” said Howard, but then added there remained potential further opportunities in America. The World Cup will be played in North America in 2026.
“I enjoy the job in the US, there are not many like this around the globe.”
The couple’s backstory makes them a unique pair in human history.
Both were police officers, both referees, like their respective fathers, both have officiated at Champions League Final and World Cup Final level, and both retired from the pitch to manage refs.
“That’s never happened before and won’t again.
“It is unbelievably unique the way the things lined up that way,” said Howard, who became almost a prisoner in his New Jersey flat during Covid lockdown.
He explained: “I lived on my own for 15 weeks in my apartment. Our office closed on March 11, I grabbed my things, came back to the apartment, and the next time I saw somebody in person that I knew, apart from the woman who serves me in the supermarket, was June 24.”
Webb lives in a swish second-floor apartment on a marina front, overlooking the Statue of Liberty.
As a commuter he either takes the subway to Manhattan or the boat and then cycles on his mountain bike to his Fifth Avenue office.
“It’s a hectic lifestyle, here, work starts slightly later in the day and finishes later than back home.
“Going through Manhattan in my first few months (2017), I just found myself looking upwards all the time, it was so imposing.
“What would be a huge building in Rotherham would get dwarfed here.
“It’s buzzing. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and think: ‘I am cycling through Manhattan here, I used to work in a bank in Rotherham! (Before joining South Yorkshire police.)’
“So there was a sense of the surreal about it, yet after a time it becomes normal.
“The problem is the only people I know here are those I work with.
“I don’t have other friends outside the football world.
“Partly because that absorbs me so much, partly because I am here on my own so don’t socialise with couples or families.”
That leads to a lonely trot most days, along the Hudson River.
“I go running — or should I say jogging these days — along the waterfront or Liberty State park overlooking Ellis Island.”
He summed up: “I am happy. I am satisfied in my work, happy in my relationship, generally I am enjoying life, it’s kind of an adventure.
“There are not many opportunities like this in the world, I am privileged, but there are down sides for sure.”