No longer the beautiful game

You really couldnae make it up.  Scottish top flight referees go on strike and the football authorities – the SFA one presumes – maintain the game will go on regardless.  They may even hire in referees from amongst other places, Ireland, to stand in this weekend.  Which will end the sectarian cries of bias, for sure.

At no point, yet, has the SFA backed its officials.  The immediate catalyst for the referees’ extraordinary decision appears to have been John Reid’s bravura, bulldog performance at Celtic’s AGM.  It was met with silence from the SFA.  Week in, week out, referees have opprobrium heaped upon them by managers, players, spectators, commentators and journalists.  In response, the SFA says and does nothing. 

Is it little wonder that referees feel they have no choice left to them but to withdraw their labour?  It might be stating a truism but the game of football cannot function without rules nor without its rulekeepers.  Yet, few, including their employers, stand up to the bullyboys in Scottish football and defend the men in black.  No one defends the rulekeepers despite the vital role they play.  Referees get paid a pittance compared to the overblown and pampered individuals that flounce and flop around them.  A culture of player and club power has arisen in Scotland that everyone feels powerless to tackle.  The lunatics appear to have taken over the asylum.

This culture of bullying and intimidation of match officials has spilled over into everyday life.  Referees are spat on in the street, they receive hate mail, their families are threatened, obscene graffiti is daubed on their property, folk phone their employers demanding sackings.  At work they are snubbed and bullied.  Their businesses are boycotted. Everyone feels entitled to call them cheats, liars and worse.  It’s one thing for it to happen during a game, quite another while out shopping with your wife and weans.

Well, the burd – who would admit to on occasion, ranting and raving at a poor referee-ing decision and to have carried her wrath into the post match pub debate – is on their side.  No one should have to go to work and endure what they do.  On and off the field.  And I hope they continue to withdraw their labour until the SFA appreciates how serious they are.

The only organisation that can sort the mess, which can restore order and instigate reform is the SFA.  For the first time in a long time, the SFA must show leadership and must stand by its men.  The balance of power in Scottish football must be shifted by a carrot and a long overdue stick approach.  Every inappropriate uttering, every insinuation, every besmirching of the character of referees should hit players, managers and clubs where it hurts.  In their pockets.  And in points docked.

And it is also time for Scottish football’s fans – not just because they love their club but because they love the game – to stand up and be counted.  It’s time for us to accept our share of the blame for our national pastime reaching this impasse.  There would be some merit in a fans’ code of conduct towards referees which of course could not be enforced (except by supporters’ associations and the like) but at least would signal an honourable intent. 

Many of those intending to take in a game this weekend will be members of a trade union.  Some will never have crossed a picket line in their lives.  The burd is one of them.  And I don’t intend to change the principles of a lifetime now.


3 thoughts on “No longer the beautiful game

  1. I must declare some previous on this issue – 20 years of involvement in the running of an Amateur Football League. The purpose of our Executive is simple – for Clubs to play competitive football on a (metaphorically at least) level playing field.

    We had a Club who were prone to threats and acts of violence on opponents and there was a long walk from the park back to their changing rooms. Some referees were no longer willing to officiate their games and there were some referees the Club said they did not want to officiate their games because they “had it in for them”.

    The actions of the management and players of the Club resulted in a situation where the playing field ceased to be level as only the very strong referees or the “don’t want hassle, just the match fee” ones could do their games. Meanwhile the rest got the full spread of referees appointed to their games.

    Seeking to influence referees has and will always go on by some Clubs (at all levels) but you cannot have Clubs dictating what referees are or are not appointed to their games. It is the integrity of the level playing field that is the real issue at Senior level and it is not referees who threaten it.

    As an aside, I found it telling that John Reid used the phrase “admitted to have lied to” rather than “lied to”. Clearly, he makes a distinction between the two moral positions. Maybe it helps him get to sleep at nights. I hope not.

  2. There won’t be any crossing of picket lines because as if things weren’t bad enough for refs they are the lowest order of second class citizens i.e. self employed and contracted to provide a service.

    I don’t think the refs would mind if replacements were brought in because we would very soon realise that our lot were just the same or a bit better than other nationalities.

    It is worth pointing out that football doesn’t have rules it has laws – seventeen of them. Just as in the old days when the executive arm of the law had a bit of discretion then so it is with refs. Gradually, as discretion has been removed so has their standing and respect.

    The problem peculiar to Scotland isn’t that refs are accused of being hopeless or blind – that’s a worldwide thing . The problem here is that they are accused of being biased.

    Neil Lennon is unfortunately, stupid enough to believe that. John Reid should be ashamed of himself as he knows that it’s simply not true. He is just pandering to those at his club who relish their victim status and see conspiracy in every decision that goes against them.

    The bottom line is that Celtic have won more SPL titles than any other club. Can anyone explain therefore how the perceived bias against them is manifesting itself?

    I’m sure Vladimir Romanov will be watching with interest to see how the SFA deal with Dr John. The Loony Lithuanian was severely dealt with by them and rightly so for his allegations of bias by refs.

    Sauce for the Gander?

    We’ll see.

    Will Dr John accuse the refs of having weapons of mass destruction next as the cartoon in the Herald had it today?

    • Thanks for that Rab. You are quite right re the bias thing. Nothing worse than having your integrity questioned by all and sundry.

      And for correcting me on rules. I should have remembered there are laws – I started the referee course many moons ago. Then I came to my senses: could anyone imagine me as a referee?! Don’t answer that….

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