During his ill-fated tenure as Scotland's first
minister around a decade ago, the former Labour MSP Henry McLeish was once
unwittingly picked up on a recording device describing his colleague John
Reid, a Labour peer who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, as a
It is probably not taking too much of a leap of
faith to imagine a few of the country's frazzled referees indulging in some
industrial language as they discussed Reid's ill-advised outbursts over
these past few, sorrowful days for the country's national game.
When the Celtic chairman finished up his act at the Glasgow club's AGM
last Thursday, a fresh series of problems were emerging.
For the first time in living memory, referees
are threatening to bring down a weekend of fixtures due to their concerns over
personal safety and threats they have received far from the madding crowd of a football stadium.
They insist this has been brought about by
public criticism from "factions" within Scottish football - or more precisely
"factions" within Celtic.
It must be said that Celtic seem hellbent on
bringing about change within the Scottish Football Association. It is said that
the Glasgow club would welcome the strike action and hope it will trigger a
wider investigation by UEFA.
Being read up on Marxism, Reid is well aware of
the disruption strikes can cause.
Where all this is leading is anybody's guess,
but Celtic, like the other 41 professional clubs in Scotland, cannot afford to
be doing without football matches in such choppy waters.
A strike is damaging to the image and financial
health of the game. Sponsors do not require any excuses to shy away from what
is already a limited brand.
The SFA could yet ferry in officials from overseas,
but this will surely only apply a plaster to a festering wound that shows no
sign of healing.
The SFA's sluggish approach to dealing with
matters through their much-maligned, slowly whirring committees is partly to
blame, but the governing body's new chief executive Stewart Regan had apparently promised
a review of the procedures that make the SFA tick until Reid broke his silence on the subject.
It would surely have been better to wait for Regan's analysis and raise any concerns privately, but this parlous situation has
been inflamed by Reid's decision to play to the gallery.
Any moral high ground Celtic had in what has
become quite a rancid debate over the standard of officiating in the country was
lost in their chairman's unhelpful diatribe against match officials.
Reid seemed to be a figure to be admired in office,
but his conduct was not statesmanlike.
One Celtic fan who attended the AGM told me
that Reid "needed to get some decaff and a menthol cigarette". It is hard to
disagree with such sentiments, but the good doctor is not for lying down.
Rather than be positive about the changes that
could be made in the future and the assistance Celtic could offer to help raise
standards, Reid opted to live in the past, appealing to the
base instinct of those supporters who continue to persist with the belief that the
majority of officials have it in for the club.
It is little wonder that these ravaged men are planning on going on strike this weekend when senior figures such as Reid, a
former British Home Secretary who was once nicknamed The Rottweiller, is happy to make such rabid
Reid has a responsibility to Celtic, but as chairman
of one of the UK's largest sporting concerns, he also has a wider responsibility
to the parish of Scottish football. He embarked on a spiel demanding the
resignation of referee Dougie McDonald for lying to the Celtic manager Neil
Lennon after a match at Dundee United in October. It was all quite calculated
to keep the issue bubbling.
Celtic won the game 2-1, but Lennon was told
the wrong version of how McDonald arrived at the decision to disallow a Celtic
goal after consulting a linesman. Lennon is already poised to turn up at the
SFA to explain his conduct and criticism of Willie Collum and Craig Thomson in
other matches. This is in keeping with Lennon's promise during a pre-season
tour of supporters's clubs to highlight any signs of wrong doing by
In his flawed wisdom, Reid would like to see a
scenario develop where referees are forced to admit their
"allegiance". In other words, Reid would like to know which referees
have a penchant for Rangers so they are not allowed to handle a match involving Celtic in future.
Reid has offended other chairmen, one of whom,
Stephen Thompson of Dundee United, suggested this morning that his Celtic
counterpart had spent Saturday afternoon referring to him as "Stuart" during
their league match at Celtic Park.
Buzzing around the periphery of the referee
debate is an offensive email regarding the Pope that was allegedly forwarded on
by Hugh Dallas, the head of referee development at the SFA. The increasingly
frazzled Regan is apparently investigating this topic. You could not make some
of it up.
This all harks back to a time when Roman
Catholics, many Celtic supporters, were refused jobs in parts of Scotland, because
they went to the wrong school.
One would like to think society has moved on from
such times, but it is difficult for others to leave behind the baggage.
If a man likes to watch Rangers or any other sides in his private moments, he is perfectly entitled to do so. It does not necessarily
mean he will set out to sabotage Celtic during his working hours.
To suggest referees are out to get Celtic is
creating a siege mentality that is dangerous. Some characters roaming the
streets need little excuse to assault someone. Reid's speech is reckless when referees
The late Scottish trade unionist and politician
Jimmy Reid once wrote that Reid "always viewed disagreement with his prevailing
certitude as treachery or a violation of the Holy Grail".
He appears to feel so in the right about this ongoing
matter, that he is blind to the pitfalls.
If referees are forced to confess which club
they like or follow then the Scottish game is done for.
What if a referee who likes Hearts has to take
a charge of a Celtic match, or an Aberdeen fan has to run a Rangers match? There would be no end to the problems that such a stipulation would cause.
Celtic and Rangers are not the only natural
enemies in Scottish football. Would a Dundee fan be allowed to referee a St Johnstone game, or a Morton fan be a linesman at St Mirren Park?
This air of suspicion has been going on for
years. The former Celtic manager Billy McNeill has always attested that some
referees were "anti-Celtic".
In Scotland, it is difficult to follow a
provincial team without someone asking: "Aye, but who do you really support?"
Does it really matter as long as people are honest? There has to be an element of trust in the human condition to do the right thing.
It is equally hard not to feel some sympathy
for McDonald in this malarkey. Let he without sin cast the first stone.
There is not a person alive who has not been
prone to a lie at some time in their life.
He messed up at Tannadice, but has been wrongly
persecuted. Even if the SFA do away with McDonald, it would not address the existing issue of declining standards.
The SFA should have moved swiftly to demote him
for a few games, but surely ending a man's career is harsh. He may yet be made
the fall guy once this is all played out, whether he resigns or is sacked.
From his time in office, Reid could surely have
fallen on his sword a few times, but refused to budge. Is a man not allowed to
atone for his errors?
If McDonald goes, the air of mistrust will not leave with him.
This may be sabre rattling and the referees
will turn up at the weekend after the SFA meet with the gnarled officials. If
not, this could be the first step towards the introduction of referees from
overseas becoming the norm in Scotland, a concept that has been mooted over the
If Irish referees arrive, will they have to
admit if they are Republican or Unionist? Will Scandinavian officials be forced
to admit if they have a liking for Henrik Larsson? Football would not have
referees if they did not enjoy watching a side at some stage.
Consider this point. The former Celtic manager Martin
O'Neill once castigated the Slovakian Lubos Michel for his performance in the
2003 UEFA Cup final, a figure who went on to handle the Champions League final
between Chelsea and Manchester United.
There are countless other examples of referees from various countries getting big decisions wrong all over Europe.
Just because referees are foreign, does
not make them better.