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How to fix Scotland's referee crisis, in several hard steps



Who'd be a referee?

The aftermath of the Old Firm game and the treatment of John Beaton - regardless of how you felt about his performance - has not been a proud moment for Scottish football. And it follows on from four months of seemingly endless refereeing controversies and criticisms. According to several managers and clubs, there is a real problem with the standard of officiating. According to the officials, it is harder than ever to do their job right, and they are being given an unfairly hard time...as well as being put at risk of harm.

And as ever there are lots of complaints and very few suggestions for improvement. That's because there is no easy fix. To be frank, it's not just referees who are to blame for this. Not by a long shot.

If Scottish football is indeed motivated to sort this problem out, it needs to deal with several different groups and the problems they have created. Let's go through them, one by one...

They make mistakes. Apparently this is news to many people in football, despite the fact that it is a pretty common occurrence amongst human beings in many other walks of life. Is this is down to bad luck, incompetence, or some sort of bias? That, I suppose, is open to debate.

So is the widely-held belief that officials have never been as bad as this. I myself often hark back to a 'golden era' 20 years ago. Back then, Hugh Dallas' gravitas (he was fourth official in a World Cup Final, after all), the possibility that John Rowbotham might abduct dissenting players and take them back to his home planet, and the beaks' annual fiddle of Willie Young's fitness test results (so he could continue exuding his wonderful command of games even when several yards behind the play) gave the impression that our referees were decent.

But the fact is that back then, and even earlier, newspaper columnists decried the standard of officiating. And twentieth century refs didn't have to cope with the forensic examination of their decision making that there is now.

That said, there hasn't been a Scottish referee deemed worthy of a World Cup since 2002, though there has been one at each of the last two European Championships.

So how do we stop them making mistakes? Apart from suggesting they need to get better - which is not particularly helpful - the best way to avoid this will be to give them more support, which we'll come to.

I'm not up for asking officials to explain decisions post-match...simply because no answer they give will actually satisfy those who feel wronged. Besides, they have enough on their plate without having to worry about media training as well.

It's easy to forget that in any given match there are many players - possibly a majority - who will actively attempt to deceive the officials. This may range from claiming a throw-in that isn't theirs to Darren O'Dea's disgraceful antics, with a heck of a lot of other incidents inbetween. If there are a million and one attempts to con the ref over the course of ninety minutes, is it any surprise that even a handful of them succeed?

Moreover there is the constant badgering and harrassing of referees by players. There's constant appealing and questioning of decisions, often in an aggressive or confrontational manner. It would require an iron will to not be discomforted by this.

Making it easier for the referees to do their job would certainly help. Sadly, it seems unrealistic to stop Ryan Christie appealing for a foul whenever he feels the slightest gust of wind on his back though. A good start would be putting the kibosh on dissent once and for all. There is no good reason why football can't copy rugby and have a system where only captains can talk to officials, with any backchat at all deemed worthy of a card. In one televised game recently Rangers' Ryan Jack could be seen shouting "f*** off" at a referee who was booking him for a foul. That can't be right.

Post-match interviews are wonderful entertainment, but it's actually pretty unfair to stick a manager in front of the cameras/microphone straight after a stressful match. Inevitably they will say things that, in the cold light of day, they probably wish they hadn't, or at least that they had phrased better. And often that includes slagging off referees. As one wit put it on Twitter recently: "a common side effect of a bad performance is blaming the officials."

But coaches and their clubs making statements insinuating conspiracies is inappropriate and embarrassing. And don't try to persuade me that there are sincere motives behind doing so. If there were, they would be suggesting changes that might help. And don't dare forget that all these moaning clubs have had representatives in high places in the SPFL and SFA in recent years ,yet have shown no interest in doing anything about these issues. The aims are simply to deflect from their own problems, appease the lowest common denominators amongst their support, and to put pressure on officials going forward.

And they forget that said lowest commond denominators include a tiny minority of Grade A morons who will be incited to do stupid things like, say, threatening John Beaton...

As ever, the sage Old Firm Facts sums it up perfectly.

See if you're sending threats to John Beaton, Chris Sutton or anyone because of football, you are an utterly pathetic waste of oxygen. If you had family or friends who cared about you they'd be mortified, but it's highly unlikely you have either.
— Oldfirmfacts (@Oldfirmfacts1) January 7, 2019

There's a bloke who sits near me at Caley Thistle games who accuses the officials of being biased against Inverness every single week, regardless of who they are, what they've done and what the score is. And I'm pretty sure it isn't tongue-in-cheek.

Let's face it, rocks will melt in the sun before Aberdeen fans stop singing their infamous ditty "referee, you're such a f****** p****. Referee, you're a horse's a***". But social media now gives the real nutjobs a loud voice, as well as an echo chamber for encouragement. That in itself is a societal issue, so expecting football to sort it out is not realistic though.

Here's how I'd like the SFA to handle things:

- Be completely transparent over who is on the panel that decides what happens to players that get cited. In fact, make them all referees. Whisper it, but the panel doesn't actually have referees on it. And yet, when they change the decisions everyone assumes the match official is the one who got it wrong.

- Force said panel to publish reasoning behind the decisions they make. This makes it harder for them to be inconsistent.

- There's a stupid FIFA directive that stops a decision being changed if the ref 'saw it at the time'. It's a stupid directive. Find a way of circumventing it. By all means re-referee all games, like in rugby, if the footage is there to do so.

- I'm a bit of a VAR sceptic, but officials and clubs want it and there's a way of paying for it, then go for it. It can't be any worse than what we have.

- And finally there needs to be a change in how referees are picked for matches and rise up the rankings. Because if Andrew Dallas is refereeing a League Cup Final then something is very, very wrong.

But how motivated are these different groups to change?

I'm sure for a start that referees would prefer to be as accurate and fair as possible. But they are a convenient scapegoat - for clubs, for players, for fans and even for the SFA. That's been the case for a long time. The current situation, one of coin throwing, death threats and police protection, should surely focus some minds. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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