Refereeing Scandal Is An Opportunity For Change

5505545Today’s news that Celtic are writing to the SFA to “demand an explanation for why we didn’t get a penalty” is either classic spin or a misunderstanding of events that is tantamount to utter stupidity.

I don’t personally care which it is, but it needs to be corrected.

Whilst we’re at it, I want to exorcise the ghost of another piece of historical revisionism; the notion that Celtic were once responsible for a refereeing strike.

I was pulled up about that one on Twitter before the weekends events – during last week, actually, when we were discussing something completely different – and I find myself returning to the issue now because it’s suddenly become relevant, especially with Adrian Durham and others crying their eyes out.

First, let me get the obvious bit out of the way.

Celtic have not written to the SFA seeking clarification over the decision. They want clarification on how the decision was made, and there is a crucial difference. I don’t give a monkeys what Durham or others think of that. He calls it arrogance. I call it a necessary action, because something appears to be a little off about this incident and the more one looks at it the more questions it raises.

The first, and most obvious of them, is this; did the official behind the goal tell the referee that Meekins had handled the ball? If he did then why wasn’t that message heeded, the penalty given and the player sent off? It’s a simple enough question.

Television footage shows the official had a clear line of sight. He also appears to be talking to the referee on the microphone. So, Celtic are simply trying to get to the bottom of what exactly he said. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Celtic to query whether or not the officials were in agreement not to give the decision. I think that’s an important fact to have.

Durham interviewed David Raven, the scorer of the winning goal. He claims Raven’s enjoyment at getting the winner has been spoiled by the furore Celtic are raising. If that’s true I would suggest the player consider a different profession, because his fragile ego clearly can’t cope with the to-and-fro that goes with being part of a football team.

Quite how our club wanting clarity on a major moment in the game affects him I don’t know at all.

This doesn’t concern Inverness either. Celtic’s gripe is not with them.

For once, I’d appreciate it, and so would every Celtic fan, if people dealt in reality instead of trying to conflate issues. The issue here is simple. Our argument is with the SFA … it in no way affects the player or his club and he ought to stop whingeing.

He scored a winning goal. No-one can change that and no-one is trying to.

Congratulations to him for it.

Now his club should tell him to shut it.

This is already spiralling into another “Dougie Dougie” affair, and the referee’s chief John Fleming did neither himself nor the SFA a shred of good last night when he came out and defended the officials by saying they were “unsighted for a millisecond.”

That’s just garbage I’m afraid. It sounds like blowing smoke, like an effort to deflect.

Is this his own claim, or is he basing this on the official’s statements?

Because it’s simply not credible.

The footage shows that two out of the three officials had a clear field of view. He can spin it all he likes, but that remains a fact that can’t be refuted.

He claims that “the majority of people inside the ground wouldn’t have known”, which is a clear, and blatant, piece of nonsense. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who was at the match were clearly, unequivocally, sure of what they saw at the time and they were all in different parts of the ground. The Celtic players saw it, including Craig Gordon, who was at the other end of the pitch.

Furthermore, Meekins own reaction makes it 100% clear what happened.

Watch the replay. This guy expected to be red carded.

His body language screamed “OMG! What have I just done?”

Everyone in the ground saw it.

Except for the guys who were supposed to be watching for it, the guys who were only feet away from the incident … they saw nothing?

Aye, right.

This won’t wash. If they’re hiding behind an excuse like that they’ve absolutely got something to hide.

I may – possibly – have reluctantly accepted some kind of excuse regarding ball to hand or another such interpretation, some twisting of the rules which explained away the failure to act on what we all clearly witnessed … but this crap? No-one saw it?

Are we really being asked – and expected – to swallow that transparent fiction?

In the aftermath of “Dougie Dougie” there was talk that all communications between officials would be recorded. Did that ever come to pass? Is there a tape, somewhere, of what passed between McLean and Muir in that moment?

Or is someone, even now, taping over it with an episode of the Radio Clyde podcast?

Will we ever get answers to this?

I am not counting on it, I have to say.

One way to perhaps get this is to make it clear to the SFA that this decision was such an obvious howler that we would be “uncomfortable” with these people officiating any more of our games. We could go further, and Peter Lawwell could propose some kind of minimum standard for officials, with a sliding scale of consequences for decisions like these.

Clubs suffer from them. Players get bans for them. Managers occasionally lose their jobs based on them. Are referees the only people in our game immune from criticism and punishment when they so manifestly screw up?

Where’s the logic in that?

To defend these people, and make their position unassailable, encourages secrecy and multiplies the instances of failure.

And it breeds corruption.

Which brings me to the near-certain regurgitating of the lie that Celtic’s conduct brought about a strike by our officials some years ago. It’s such an obvious line to push that I half expected to wake up this morning reading it in the papers.

I still expect to before the week is out.

This is one of the most misunderstood – and deliberately misrepresented – moments in the recent history of our game. The background to it is often distorted and key elements of it ignored. Refs in Scotland had threatened to strike before a string of incidents involving Celtic came up. The reason was nothing to do with “threats” or lack of respect for them.

It was to do with money. Pure and simple.

Let’s deal with the alleged threats first.

You can tell how seriously they took the “threats” that none were ever reported to the police.

Those Steven Craven was claimed to have suffered were nothing more than a media invention – Craven himself explicitly denied that he had ever received any. For all the bluster about them, not one threat was ever actually substantiated, yet they remain “on the record” as if they were an absolute stonewall fact. They’re not, and never were.

There was also the curious case of Hugh Dallas, whose own personal crisis was ongoing during the strike, when he found himself accused of sending a sectarian email around all his refereeing buddies.

It’s a well-known fact that he personally approached the SFA and offered to arbitrate the strike, and have it called off, if the investigation into his own conduct was dropped … something that Stewart Regan rightly resisted. Dallas was later fired.

This absolute outrage never gets mentioned in the media, although I think it’s a salient point.

Yet it’s Celtic’s conduct during these events that has most been singled out.

Central to some of what happened was Neil Lennon’s determination that the club not suffer inexplicable decisions without seeking clarity. We certainly had good reason to want it at the time. The club became so convinced during that period that something wasn’t right that we, quite rightly, wanted a UEFA investigation into Scottish refereeing standards … which we never actually got.

Hearts actually called for a refereeing review at the time, saying that a failure to scrutinise officials and their decisions, and the manufactured furore over Celtic’s criticism could be getting used as a “cover for bias and match fixing”, which is hard to deny.

Yet what really sparked the crisis – apart from cash, which I’ll get to in a moment – was the intervention of a politician and a statement by a former one.

The former one, of course, was then Celtic chairman John Reid, who announced to the Celtic AGM that year (2010) that we would no longer sit at the back of the bus. “We’re not asking for special treatment, but neither will we be treated as less than anyone else,” he said. “Those days are gone.”

Reid, of course, was and is a diehard Labour tribalist, with no love for the SNP. So it was especially significant that he chose that meeting, and that statement, to stand up for one of its parliamentarians, Pete Wishart, who had put forward a proposal Reid, and the Celtic board, were all in favour of at the time, and probably remain supportive of today.

Speaking a few days earlier, Wishart, a St Johnstone fan, a guy with absolutely no axe to grind, had drawn attention to rules in England which prevent any appearance of bias by having officials declare which teams they support as part of their contract. They are then disqualified from taking part in games involving their respective clubs.

“”We’ve seen in England for FA Cup finals when referees have declared they support a team and they’ve excluded themselves from the final,” he said. “I seriously do think it would be in the interests of the game if (Scottish officials) did declare which team they support.

“Yes, referees are entitled to support a team. They may support one of the two big teams. Freedom of information has taken hold in our society and I think it should apply to refereeing decisions … when Rangers or Celtic come to McDiarmid Park I would like to know what teams these referees are supporting … and, if they are Rangers or Celtic supporters, I’d prefer they didn’t referee a match between St Johnstone and one of the Old Firm.”

There is nothing in Wishart’s statement but good sense. Reid echoed the sentiments, saying that it was an idea worth taking forward, and stated his view that such “bold, radical action” was necessary to combat “stories of lies, conspiracies and cover-ups” within the game.

No-one, now or then, could mount a realistic argument against the idea.

Yet every time reform on that front has been proposed, it has seen an outpouring of fury from the refereeing ranks, aided and abetted by their allies in the media, most particularly from former whistlers who now have press gigs.

These always open with accusations flying that their integrity is being questioned.

In light of the last few days, perhaps it should be.

At a time when everyone in the game is being encouraged towards transparency, referees seem to be demanding less and less of it … as well as being paid more for the shocking, substandard performances they routinely turn in.

And money was at the root of that strike.

They had threatened such action the year before, when it was revealed that English Grade 1 officials were earning far more than they were. The SFA refused their demands then, and it was pretty clear to anyone with a fraction of intelligence that the matter was simply put on hold whilst they waited for a better pretext to take action than simply their own greed in light of what their counterparts were making.

In the aftermath, when the Scottish leagues had demonstrated their ability to survive without them, they went back to work. But they’d got major concessions. The proposal to declare their allegiances was off the table … and a fresh round of talks on their recompense was back on it. They duly got their pay rise before the following season started.

Yet it wasn’t enough. As late as last season, they were demanding more and the threat of another strike was held over Scottish football’s head.

We hear lots about how these guys are “self employed” and not the direct responsibility of the SFA, but that’s just utter nonsense. What they are, what they’ve always tried to be, are wholly separate from the game in that they never pay the penalty when they screw up.

Is this a screw up or something more? It’s important to get to the bottom of that.

But it’s equally important that we move forward with some kind of accountability mechanism, and afford clubs – not just Celtic, you’ll note – some kind of peace of mind for the future.

We could do worse than to blow the dust off Wishart’s fine idea.

This is another crisis that presents us with an opportunity.

Come on Celtic. It’s time to start leading from the front.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

16 thoughts on “Refereeing Scandal Is An Opportunity For Change

  • 21 April, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Well done James.
    Referees declaring which team they support would result in a major disadvantage to the Ibrox team for evermore. This is totally unacceptable to the Unionist establishment in Scottish Football. With ‘Gers supporting Refs unable to officiate at ‘Gers games how would ‘Gers games be able to be fixed, with late goals and soft penalties, and opponents sent off etc?

    You’re talking revolution here James and the SFA Loyal Unionist cabal won’t stand for it – as you well know, and neither will the Unionist papers which is nearly all of them.

    Isn’t it lovely playing the beautiful game in Bonnie Scotland.

    Did somebody just say ‘No Surrender’ up the back there?

  • 21 April, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I for one am infuriated by adrian durham,he suggests that rangers have been ROBBED!!?? is he mad?the biggest scandal in world football and he says they were ROBBED!! give me strength.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 11:28 am

    If \’Dougiegate\’ is anything to go by, Sunday\’s officials will close ranks, get their story straight with each other and just lie to Celtic.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Wow, you really are a sore loser!!!

  • 21 April, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Adrian Durham is a sh*t stirrer, pure and simple.

    If 2 officials, only 5 yards from the incident, are claiming they didn’t see it(which I don’t believe for a single minute) the Specsavers will be giving their SFA sponsorship the heave ho.
    This is blatant cheating, in front of millions of viewers, taken in the knowledge that no consequences will be visited upon them.
    48 hours to get their stories straight, SFA deflector shields on full and the media brushing away any claims of bias.
    This is Dougiegate all over again, and ten times worse.
    What if the Scottish Cup had been Celtic’s only way into Europe next year? The club would be looking at a potential £4/5m loss of gate income.
    RD’s defence of Scottish referees is based on one season in Scotland, he has no idea of what’s gone before.
    Not sure what the SFA grading system is but perhaps should mirror mine in giving a true picture of the standards.

    Worse than useless
    Just useless
    Useless(courtesy of Andy Walker)
    Out of depth

    UEFA however remain loyal to Scottish officials with the news that Collum is handling one of this week’s CL fixtures…..this is the guy who sent off players in successive weeks, both of which were rescinded on appeal. Though I suppose being the only referee in Europe with eyes in the back of his head gets him the gig.
    And wait for it, please don’t laugh….the official at the heart of the mistaken identity incident United v Celtic is one of the named assistants…………………whit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 21 April, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    No, I’m simply asking that referees are subjected to the same scrutiny they get everywhere else.

    Plain, simple, easy to grasp.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Adrian Durhams article………what a load of nonsense froM a so called hack who\’s take on the \” incident \” is
    a load of rubbish…….just shows what the media in Scotland is really like.
    Kenny Clark also popping up to defend the officials,
    the wagons are circling around this corrupt lot!

  • 21 April, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I agree fully,but you did point out the big problem, that is honesty would you believe me if I said that my team was Motherwell, there are to many ex referee`s sitting in season ticket seats at Ibrokes, you will never clean up the SFA/SPFL to many closet fans of Rangers I have stood close to them hearing them gushing over them, point is there not ashamed who is standing next to them, so where do you go for referee`s ask England ????

  • 21 April, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    This was even more clearcut than the Henry handball for France v Ireland, it’s just not good enough for it to be stated the officials “missed it” unless they are certified as visually challenged. People crying sore loser miss the point (as usual). Clubs have no divine right to win matches, but they do have a divine right to honesty from officials and the SFA, which is clearly not the case on an all too regular basis.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    James this one for me is a bit of a parsons nose.

    I totally agree with you that referees club allegiances and also memberships of clubs and societies especially if they are clandestine should be in the public domain.

    I don’t however agree with any other view about the penalty than it wasn’t given and indeed the one for your opposition late which also wasn’t given.

    That kind of thing happens in football.

    It is not logical to assume anything else about whether the game was changed because there was still 45 minutes to play and you guys were winning.

    Yes Caley whoses budget is a fraction of yours got a fortuitous break but that is football and you were still in pole position- and the game was yours.

    In the last round I seem to remember a penalty coming for free and the Hearts fans just got on with it.

    When I heard that your club had now taken the time to write a letter to the SFA I shouted at the radio that I wish Mr Lawwell had felt strongly enough to have written about the 5 way agreement or written to shareholders about his decision to pay the living wage to the staff who work for the club!

    Stuff that means much more to us all than a debatable decision by a ref.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    If Celtic seriously want to do anything about this,which is questionable, as can be seen from previous incidents,then it should push for the referees to identify the Club they support.
    It could be the starting point of ensuring refs who support a certain team don’t referee their own team’s games.
    It would also need to ensure that Rangers or Celtic supporters do not referee either Clubs games.This has to be in Scotland unfortunately.
    How many of the referees on Sunday were Rangers supporters?I would guess at least 1 possibly 2.There was possibly 1 Celtic supporter.
    The main man McLean is a Rangers supporter and he obviously decided no penalty .He refereed 3 Celtic games this season and there was problems with decisions going against Celtic in all three games.We have lost 5 games so far this season and McLean has refereed 3 of them
    We have to keep the pressure on the the SFA and this Fleming guy.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Durham was one of the English media men squealing about goal line technology after the 2010 world cup. I bet he didn\’t take to well to Maradonna\’s hand of God either. Plus he openly admits to rangers been his Scottish team. If you ever listen to his show you know he talks a lot of crap at times.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Finloch,first a wee question on the above statement.
    Are you willing to say what school you attended?.
    Now to the article James,don’t you think Celtic should do everything in their power to find another league to play in, outside Scotland,as to me this is the only way we are ever going to get away from the bigoted,sectarian people who run Scottish football.

    Another wee story in the story about the ref’s strike action.The foreign ref’s they brought in did a fantastic job,it was the best week of refereeing before or since then.
    At the time I proposed that they could get together with other association’s,even in Britain.
    Week 1 Welsh ref’s do the Scottish league.
    Week 1 Scottish ref’s do the Irish league.
    Week 1 Irish ref’s do the English league.
    Week 1 English ref’s do the Welsh league.
    It could then be rotated every week and each countries refs would only referee their own country every four weeks,and gain valuable experience of refereeing in other countries.

  • 21 April, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Well said James, for too long now the Lanarkshire/Ayrshire Referee Associations have been allowed to corrupt the game in Scotland. There are a clique of refs from this cabal who have been fast tracked to European competitions despite their incompetence or lack of experience. Willie Collum, if you ask fans of any club in the league is one of the worst refs in the country, why then, was he fast tracked ? Andrew Dallas, who at best can only be described as serving his apprentice, why then, was he fast tracked ? I think we all know the answer to that one. This cabal should be investigated, even if it’s only to quell the rumours ( the only way to get ahead at the LRA is to be a member of a certain Lodge in Carluke). There are also rumours these two associations mark the performances of their own members and the SFA allow this to happen. I think more pressure should be heaped on the SFA. We should be demanding complete transparency on all refereeing matters. I really don’t think we’re paranoid enough.HH

  • 23 April, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Suffice to say other major sports sort out disputes on the playing surface , instead of letting poor officials pass the buck onto the useless sfa , and the saga gets dragged on for a week or more as we, ve seen this week , and live actions have improved various sports , but our hierarchy are content to keep us a laughing stock and argue black and white all week long , time to get a grip and sort all dubious incidents there and then ?? SEEMPLEZ “”

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