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.