Who'd be a Scottish referee?

Although it's been largely drowned out by the clatter of Clattenburg's clanger, there's been a rather more interesting refereeing controversy north of the border, as Craig Anderson reveals...

It just doesn’t feel like a scandal unless the word “gate” is attached at the end, so thank goodness we’ve had “Refereegate” to keep us going in Scotland.

We’ve had columns upon columns of what went on in that now infamous match between Dundee United and Celtic – and THAT penalty, which led to the resignation of linesman Steven Craven and severely questioned the credibility of Dougie McDonald, the game’s referee.

Further to that, the role of Hugh Dallas as Head of Referee Development within the SFA has also been questioned, not only on the back of what happened at Tannadice, but amidst allegations of bullying by Craven in a Sunday newspaper.

Dallas, who was once a fourth official at a World Cup final, is a highly respected figure in the Scottish game, but Craven’s claims that the former ref insisted on going with the lie has also put him under scrutiny.

Of course those that know him and work with him, including the SFA, have rallied in support. However, Dallas will always back his referees irrespective of any bad decisions they may have made.

But there is no system in place to punish referees if they do make bad calls. They only get “marked down”. Now I’m not for a minute suggesting having them out in stocks with people throwing rotten fruit, but there should be at least some level of culpability on the part of Dallas, as well as the referees themselves, to help the fans try to understand their way of thinking.

As this rumbles on, newspapers are getting opinions from anyone willing to talk. One person who gave a view on the state of Scottish refereeing as a whole was Celtic striker Gary Hooper.

Hooper and Lennon celebrate, Dillon cogitates

Although the former Scunthorpe player was “fouled” in the incident, a lot of what he said could, in fairness, be easily dismissed as a hard-done-by attitude; Celtic players are somewhat suspicious of refs now.

However, one quote leapt out and could resonate with a lot of fair-minded fans over how refs seem to have it easy. If you ignore that he’s having a pop at the beleaguered McDonald in particular, in general terms he said: “If players don't perform we're out the door. Surely the same applies to referees? If he's told the papers he lied to the gaffer then I don't think he can stay in his position.”

It was the one thing Hooper said that actually sounded sensible. Despite his short time in Scotland he’s already identified that there's a problem with referees. If you wind the clock back 12 months, Motherwell manager Jim Gannon went on a one-man crusade against Hugh Dallas and the SFA last year.

The former Stockport manager commented after an Old Firm game: “Dallas had to defend the referee because the result of the game might have been different if he'd got his decisions correct at Ibrox.

"Celtic might look back on that result at the end of the season and decide that Ibrox in October is when they lost the league championship. There's a question mark over the standard of refereeing in Scotland and the mistakes that are being made are having an effect on the league table."

Many dismissed Gannon's comments as a guy new to Scottish football who didn't know what he was talking about. But a year on, with the current feeling about referees in general and Dallas in particular, was Gannon on to something?

Gannon vs Referees: There could only be one winner

Gannon was soon dismissed by Motherwell, and in fairness he had only highlighted a problem that we’ve all known about. But instead of giving officials a hard time, there should be more to help them.

There used to be a part of the SFA website called “The Whistleblower”, which gave refs a platform to explain a contentious decision. For some reason it was taken down – at Dallas’s instruction, it’s been suggested – but it served a purpose in giving referees a voice in explaining their thinking. You may not have agreed with it, but at least you had an idea why.

What hasn’t helped referees is, naturally, TV coverage. If anything, it's guilty of humanising the officials. Yes, they make mistakes and always have, but the world can see from a dozen different angles that you made a boo-boo and straight away you’re cannon fodder.

To use the old line, everyone makes mistakes, but the fact that there appears to be a lack of transparency only frustrates people, particularly if they see the same referees making errors over and over again.

I certainly don’t buy into the conspiracy and paranoia that’s being peddled around, so taking that way of thinking serves no purpose other than to deflect any negative attention from your team or their deficiencies.

In lying about the incident, Dougie McDonald has made people in the game doubt him. What can’t be forgotten is the fact that in the context of the game, he got his decision right. How he went about it is where he went badly wrong.

But as “Refereegate” continues to dominate Scotland’s back pages, Dallas and his colleagues are still very much in the limelight for a game that happened three weeks ago. Maybe it would be nice for some football to break out and take the heat off them. At least for a little while.

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