A dead-on honest official has plunged Spanish football into turmoil this week by going to the police with a sensational story; he claims that he was called to a meeting where he was told that the coming El Classico was to be rigged in favour of Real Madrid, and that he and his colleague running the other line were to make the major calls as this would protect the referee from scrutiny.
This story, which has erupted overnight, will cause mayhem in Spain, where the derby match is about more than just football; it is about identity, culture and politics.
The match, due to be played next month, is now at the centre of a huge anti-corruption probe, with investigators said to be taking the claims extremely seriously.
They centre on an as-yet un-named official, who claims the Spanish league’s head of referees asked him to give decisions favouring Madrid.
The refereeing head claimed he was under pressure from his own committee and the Spanish FA to make sure the game swung in favour of the Real team.
The official refused. When he was put under even more pressure, he went to the police.
At the start of the season, the Atletico Madrid manager, Diego Simeone, told the media he believed Madrid would be helped to the league title, saying that it was “dangerously prepared” for a Real win, because the club had only won a single title in seven years.
In Spain, such talk is not readily dismissed, nor is it ignored in Italy and Germany, where they have long experience of such things.
In England, officials have yet to be caught in match-fixing scandals, but players have stood trial for their own scams and schemes.
Here in Scotland, such talk is completely ignored.
This scandal, of course, comes hot on the heels of a truly deplorable refereeing display in the Motherwell-Celtic game at the weekend, when Alan Muir failed to spot two clear-cut penalties and didn’t take action against several Motherwell players for shocking tackles.
Yet it took until yesterday morning, in the aftermath of some meaty challenges, which drew no official sanction, in the Sevco-Livingston cup tie on Tuesday – against guess which team? – before our media discovered there was a problem.
That’s three full days of utter silence … and now, with Sevco howling in the background because of, ironically enough, Andrew Dallas, The Daily Record suddenly says we have a refereeing crisis.
Nice of them to get to it, at long last, but their sudden interest in this subject is just another reason no-one in the Celtic Family buys their newspaper.
Still, the debate over our dreadful officials has caught fire at last and perhaps this time it will go somewhere.
It’s just a shame that, once again, a truckload of decisions were ignored and disastrous refereeing displays tolerated until something incurred the wrath of Ibrox.
What concerns me about that, beyond the obvious, is that by focussing on the wrong questions you’ll most likely wind up with the wrong answers.
Our refereeing problems go beyond simple incompetence.
This won’t be resolved by saying officials should protect Sevco players better, or that these decisions “even themselves out.”
That old aphorism is so much vomit at the bottom of the lavvy on a Saturday morning.
Our officials get too much protection from the SFA.
Those who screw up should be warned. Those who continue to should be drummed out of the game. I don’t want to hear this continuous nonsense about them being “only human” and entitled to mistakes. Air traffic controllers are only human too. How many mid-air collisions should we allow for in a career?
Above all else, we better start taking the issue of corruption and match-fixing seriously here.
The media has been extraordinarily lax when it comes to these issues.
When players were being disciplined for gambling on football matches their response was scandalous. They made excuses for them, instead of condemning this activity as posing an existential risk to sporting integrity – a concept they’ve never given a damn about anyway.
The more I look at their conduct the more I think our media is actually dangerous to the sport.
If it were up to them we’d live in ignorance about all kinds of things.
In Spain, at least, one brave and honest official has blown these issues wide open, and the media is reacting accordingly, supporting calls for a full inquiry.
They might even get it.
But it’s another shameful affair in a game mired in disgrace at the moment.