Saturday, 13 November 2010
Blowing the Whistle
To say being a referee has never been an easy profession would qualify that assertion as a leading contender for understatement of the year. These last few weeks have been a wretched period for the men in black with yellow facings. The Dougie McDonald incident has turned into a saga with errors being compounded by admitted untruths and the integrity of the game - something football’s ruling bodies believe is sacrosanct - being tarnished some might say forever. However, it doesn’t help when some players add fuel to an already raging fire with comments that are, at best inadvisable.
I suspect I wasn’t the only one who read the comments made by Celtic’s Gary Hooper with a degree of incredulity the other week. The striker said at a press conference that he thinks referees "want" to give decisions against Celtic because they are 'one of the world's big clubs'.
"The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it. Maybe because referees want to give decisions against Celtic, I don't know," he said.
Over the years football fans of clubs outside the Old Firm could write about so many decisions that have gone against their team it would destroy a a fair percentage of a Brazilian rain forest. Moreover, many of these decisions have been when their team has been playing Celtic or Rangers.
Now, with the greatest respect, I would venture the opinion that the standards of refereeing in Scotland may not be at its highest right now. In years gone by, I hurled verbal abuse towards the likes of Hugh Dallas, Willie Young and Brian McGinlay. It's only now that - and I never thought I would say this - I appreciate Dallas and co. for the qualities they had.
We all like to have a go at referees but no one can seriously believe they're biased towards the Old Firm. Gary Hooper might want to revisit his remarks when he stumbles in the penalty box, sixty thousand Celtic fans roar for a penalty kick and the referee duly obliges (as an example take Celtic’s recent 9-0 demolition of Aberdeen at Parkhead - three of the goals were penalties…)
It’s a terrible indictment on Scots society when a referee gets abusive telephone calls and an assistant referee sees his family targeted for verbal abuse just because they give decisions some fans don’t like. At the risk of sounding like an old-timer from days gone by, there seems to be a lack of respect throughout society these days. Officialdom seems to be a prime target. We hear more and more stories of fire fighters being attacked on their way to incidents, of nurses being attacked at hospitals and police also coming under attack. It is said football is a reflection of society. We may be dismayed by the lack of respect by some footballers to referees and their assistants, the haranguing of the men in the middle and the verbal attacks after the game, particularly through the media but should we really be surprised?
As in any other profession, referees can make mistakes. With the huge sums of money in the game, one can argue that such mistakes can prove costly, the difference between winning and losing, of winning trophies and not winning trophies. However, decision-making is what makes football the game it is. So a referee makes an error. Does it really need to be replayed again and again, analysed by pundits who have never refereed a game in their life, and dissected by feverish tabloid newspapers eager to sell copy? If so, what about the player who misses an open goal, misses a crucial penalty or the manager who selects the wrong team? This happens every week and is mentioned in dispatches but is generally considered part of the win as a team, lose as a team philosophy.
The authority of the referee has never been questioned as much as it is at present. Perhaps players, managers and fans should think back to the days of Tom ‘Tiny’ Wharton, a larger than life referee who stood no nonsense from the footballers of the 1960s and early 1970s. Celtic’s Bobby Lennox once chased after Tiny during an Old Firm game insisting he had been fouled and that he should be given a penalty kick. Wharton refused but Lennox continued his argument insisting it was a penalty.
‘I think you’ll find, Mr Lennox’ Tiny Wharton said firmly’ ‘if you check the newspapers tomorrow that it wasn’t…’