Refs ready to strike a pose
Feature by Stuart Gillespie
Updated Tuesday, 23rd November 2010
Love them or hate them, without referees we wouldn't have games to go on Saturday afternoons. And, unless things change soon, that's exactly the scenario we could have this weekend.
I've been toying with whether to write about the impending referees strike for a few days. Part of it was because I didn't really have the time until now, and part of it was because I was convinced it wouldn't happen. As someone who is a union rep at work, I know full well that strike action, or even the threat of it, is just a bargaining chip on the way to getting what people want. Rarely do they go on strike.
However, it now looks likely that Scotland's top officials will indeed walk out, with foreign refs being drafted in to take their place. But why are they striking? Usually, if you strike at work it's because you want better pay or improved conditions. Scotland's refs, it seems, are making a stand. That's usually a bi-product of strike action, not the reason you do it.
It would appear they are annoyed at the criticism they are receiving at the moment and the abuse they are having to take. The latter is perhaps understandable as it seems these guys are being given abuse while at work or walking down the street. That shouldn't be happening.
As for the criticism, well, that's been happening ever since I went to the football. As far as 11 SPL clubs are concerned, I'm not aware of it being any worse this season. My opinion of Scotland's refs is not high, but I'm not aware of their performances being significantly poorer in the last few weeks. So what's the problem?
To get to the bottom of this recent dispute we have to go back a few months to a game between Dundee United and the men in green and white when referee Dougie McDonald overturned a decision to award Celtic a penalty. This provoked outrage from Hoops boss Neil Lennon, but it later emerged McDonald had lied about what happened. Oh dear.
Had this happened with a referee in charge of a lower league game, he'd have got away with it. It would have been forgotten and we could have moved on. However, it was a televised SPL game, and the decision was against a side of paranoid, tinfoil hat wearers that make the conspiracy nuts who believe the American government caused 9/11 seem almost sane.
Suddenly, as far as Celtic were concerned, it was open season on referees. Lennon moaned and whined. Gary Hooper claimed referees liked giving decisions against them. Last week, the club's chairman John Reid stirred things up again. In the examples of Hooper and Reid, these were not comments made in the heat of the moment. Clearly, the message from the club that is outraged by everything and ashamed of nothing is the referees are out to get them.
Now, I have some sympathy with Celtic for feeling McDonald should no longer be a referee. I agree wholeheartedly with that. His integrity is now non-existent and he should not be allowed to referee again. But this utter nonsense that everyone is out to get them is just pathetic.
And yet, they seem to be getting away with it. Reid and Hooper have not been punished by the SFA. If I was being subjected to a constant stream of accusations and abuse from high ranking people in my work place, I'd be demanding my boss did something about it. But our referees have had to sit there and take it while the SFA sat on their hands, talked about procedures and committees when it's blatantly obvious who was involved, what they said and what should happen to them.
So on that front, I can understand the strike. However, what they expect to happen now is anyone's guess. Celtic are believed to welcome the strike, so they won't apologise. The SFA moves with the speed of Mark Yardley, so we can expect some news from them in July. And if the referees back down, it leaves them looking even sillier than they already do - which is quite a feat with the way things are at the moment.
It's all a complete and utter mess - but, with the way Scottish football is run, does it really surprise you it's ended up like this?