Sunday, May 22, 2022

Conspiracy Of The Whistler In Scottish Football

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The Highland Bear
Unashamedly watching the world through Blue tinted specs. Contributor to The 4th Official.

Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory? From JFK and what really happened to Hitler fleeing to Argentina.  One of my favourites would be the theory of the moon landings being faked as it leads me to today’s topic. The tinfoil hat brigade that are clearly wired to the moon, seem to have discarded their headwear of choice only 24 hours after crying foul after Rangers beat Hibernian at Easter Road.

Let’s talk about Refereeing in Scotland.

Scottish football is a unique and quirky game in itself. For the past 30 years, it has been dominated by Rangers and Celtic. Not since Aberdeen in 1984-85 has a team outside Glasgow’s big two won Scotland’s premier prize. Within Scottish football is tribalism that has dominated proceedings between Rangers and Celtic. The grand old conspiracy that the referee is biased.

We have seen the photoshopped images of John Beaton smiling awarding a penalty or having a celebratory pint in the Crown bar. It creates a frenzy and feeds a narrative. Look at the Old Firm game in December 2018. Largely uneventful? Both managers praised the performance of the referee.

Yet something then changed in the hours after the match, and he came in for stinging criticism. Criticism that ended up with his phone number leaked and abusive messages. All because one team didn’t win. Who could blame the whistler if they took the easy decision next time not to award a penalty? Fear of reprisals or windows done in. That’s the exact scenario that’s been created. Smears designed to pressurise officials. Look at Hugh Dallas after 1999. These people have families, yet the lunatic fringe have open season whenever they want. It’s wrong on every level. Social media is the fuel that is igniting this particular rancid fire.

When Ian Bankier described Celtic’s concern at officiating at their AGM, he knew exactly what he was doing. A team 4 points behind in a season of great magnitude. Ramp up the pressure, apply it as we head into the tight festive period. Maybe a deflection tactic from their own failings knowing this will be taken every time. This tactic has been used numerous times in the past by others. Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at mind games. Before a powder keg visit to Highbury or Anfield, he would call for a strong referee. Knowing Keane & Viera would do battle, this was often used to great effect. Rangers’ managers have also used this tactic in the past as well as those of smaller clubs who would visit Ibrox or Celtic Park, hoping to gain any slight advantage they can.

On the basis of fairness and equality, the Jim Farry and Jorge Cadete affair with Fergus McCann hasn’t been forgotten, and I can’t see that changing. Add on the Dougie McDonald incident and you can argue why the Celtic support may feel aggrieved. However, there was no outcry over the past decade of refereeing standards when Rangers were either in the lower leagues or woefully being swept aside. Everyone can make their own conclusions.

The Referee conspiracy feeds the element that thrives on the conspiracy of referees supporting one team or the other.  We have all seen or heard the good old WhatsApp stating ”xyz” was a season ticket holder of one team or another. Referees are involved in football as they love it as much as you or I. They will be supporters too and probably grew up supporting one team or another.

That’s not questioning their integrity, it’s stating the obvious. You can understand to a degree why some may have a reservation about an official taking charge of their game only a few years after showing up in full kit of his boyhood cub for 5 a side. Debunk it all and ask them to declare if they support a team or ever held a season ticket. If so, remove them from games involving that club or rivals. For their sake as well as the clubs. Transparency.

Some will argue about foreign refs best appointed. We have already seen that after the referee strike a few years ago.  It’s Scotland. We will still find a way to accuse bias. Dutch ref? Rangers for sure. Italian? Oh, they must be Celtic leaning. It won’t solve anything.

I’m going to put my cards on the table immediately and state I believe this really isn’t the case. Quite simply, our referees aren’t corrupt, they are just terrible.

Rangers defeated Hibernian at Easter Road on Wednesday night courtesy of a Kemar Roofe penalty after a Ryan Porteous foul on Ryan Kent. Blue tinted specs off, it was a clear penalty. The referee was correct. Quelle the surprise when we hear the outpouring of “shocked” or other sarcastic tones from the usual suspects in the media. The stark reality is many of these pundits lose objectivity when it comes to Rangers and Celtic. Why? Because it affects the team, they support.

Let’s flip to Celtic V Hearts. Kyogo scores an offside goal in my opinion. What we have seen is a defiant argument from the Celtic support that the goal was legit. Others not so much.  And if the roles were reversed, we would see exactly the same thing.

Rangers and Celtic are unquestionably the main draw in the Scottish game. Over the past 30 years, we have seen some title races go down to the wire, goal difference whilst others were over before easter.  What has changed over the years is technology has allowed a lot more scrutiny on every aspect of the game, especially refereeing decisions.  With almost everyone having a smartphone, you can see a thousand different camera angles of every contentious call. There will always be a debate, such is the beauty of the game we all love. The Referees and their assistants are now under a microscope like never before. The pressure to make the right call is increased ten-fold and as we are finding out, mistakes are highlighted and pursued.

Rangers & Celtic will dominate the tv schedule. Even the highlights will have extended viewing. They are the main draw. Referees and assistants are now under increased scrutiny for incorrect decisions. A split-second call if correct will barely get a second glance. It’s the incorrect offside or a red card missed that causes bedlam. The truth is it’s most likely the same, if not more mistakes are made in the other games. They simply aren’t highlighted in the same way and that doesn’t make it right.

Ask yourself this. When was the last time you heard of an English topflight referee facing criticism on the level we see in Scotland? I imagine most will struggle. Our English counterparts are professional full-time referees. They are given the wage and also the resources to be able to carry out their task to the best of their ability. In Scotland, we are faced with part-time officials comprising people from everyday jobs such as teachers, politicians, solicitors all making up our game.

They are not paid the same, nor do they get the same level of training.  The one factor we sometimes forget in all of this is the human part.

For example, we have Douglas Ross, an assistant referee who is a current serving MP & MSP. How can we fairly judge their level of performance on the field on a Saturday after the gruelling schedule that his career has? This isn’t a criticism of Douglas Ross, mere observation of the workload before you take into account being a match official. For one, I commend the effort and dedication of all who take on 2 jobs.

This season the winner of the Scottish Premiership will gain automatic Champions League access and a bounty of 40 million pounds. A game changing amount of money. We will have officials in charge of these fixtures that contain talent that runs into tens of millions of pounds, who are part-time. That simply isn’t good enough for our game.

We need to revolutionise the refereeing department in Scotland and actually help our match officials rather than hinder them as we see now. At the other end of the table, relegation can mean job losses and livelihoods gone. A referee has a bad game. There is no accountability. They can return fairly sharp if they suffer a demotion for a week or two.  These teams can’t.

Simple answer. Make them full-time professionals.

The SFA, SPFL or both need to invest in our game. If James Bisgrove can attract arse cheek sponsors for the Rangers Shorts, then surely someone can add a few more to pay for our whistlers. Allow them to train full time and enhance their skills. It can only benefit the product we see on the field. Secondly, VAR is a must. It allows them to make these calls knowing that if they have got it wrong, it can be overturned. Microphone up. Look at Rugby Union. You can hear referees talking to players. Explaining decisions. It takes away the frustration of not knowing why they have made certain calls or waved away players arrogantly.

Have their Mic hooked up so smartphones at the game can listen in. It would encourage players to behave with clean language and maybe better role models for kids watching on. Allow match officials to do post-match interviews. They should be able to explain a decision to the public. It may even win them the respect that may have been missing previously.

Unless we change and give our officials the tools and best chance of success, we will keep seeing mediocre performances. The paying public are being short changed and deserve our game to function as well as can be.

I will say again, I don’t believe match officials are biased or corrupt. I just don’t think they are very good. I’ve seen my team on the receiving end of some atrocious decisions over the past few years. I’ve also seen them benefit from some rather fortunate ones, to say the least. The same can be said for Celtic. The big 2 with the big crowds usually come off best. Have to be honest when I say this.

There are solutions out there if the games governing body want to find them.

In the meantime, we will probably have a festive run in full of mind games and siege mentality. Media will sensationalise everything to generate clicks and fuel the lunatic fringe that craves the conspiracy only to be true when the narrative is correct.

I’m pretty sure that after Thursday night, many tin foil hats that were worn with such pride the night before, were quickly discarded with the nothing to see here attitude and vice versa.

And that’s Scottish football in a nutshell.

Editorial Note: I have a favour to ask you. Did you know this article was published first on our exclusive Patreon page days back? If you love Scottish football while sick and tired of the same old biased MSM coverage, this is for you. The 4th Official needs your support. Due to the unprecedented situation as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, the digital media space has been completely devastated. There has been a massive shortfall in revenue (even while viewership is up) as we scramble how to make sure that we go on with our daily job. We are proud to put up exclusive stuff on Scottish football as well as an early release of our podcast interviews with relevant personalities of the game (recent guests have been Marvin Bartley, Matt Polster, David Martindale, Greg Docherty, Daniel Stendel & a lot more) on our Patreon account and hope you would support us in these tough times. We have supporters from at least 13 countries, and you can be too by chipping in just £2.99/month (or become an annual supporter). Become a proud Patron of The 4th Official!

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