Date: 5th February 2019 at 12:05pm
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Scottish football is heading for a crisis over officiating.

The SFA will not avert it with hastily thrown together “summits” designed to distract us from what the issues are. The standard of refereeing is a joke. In case this is being missed at Hampden, things are not improving. They are getting worse, and it’s not a steady decline but a cliff-edge drop.

But what do we expect here when we have governors who know they can blow smoke and get a sympathetic hearing from clubs and managers and, of course, the media? Officials know that in spite of their abysmal displays they have more protections than ever before.

The system of secrecy and non-disclosure, the one that has given the appeals panel the liberum veto – giving the casting vote in any deliberation to the stupidest, or least honest person in the room – as well as an attitude where we’re all encouraged to show respect to our officials that they have not earned … the problems are more ingrained than ever.

That system, the one almost everyone realises needs tearing down, is more secure than it has ever been, in spite of months of this.

Today, Tom Boyd has offered us a solution which, to me, works better than any other.

He has called for foreign refs in the top flight.

To date, not one person has ever offered me a solid reason why this is not a good idea.

There are people in our media who simply say it would be unacceptable for us to even obliquely suggest that we don’t trust our refs … but to those people I say simply this; nobody in their right mind actually does, and to pretend otherwise is ludicrous.

Look, I don’t care what the reasons for this state of affairs are. Because at this point whether its bias or cheating or simply grade one incompetence, it really doesn’t matter at all. It’s unacceptable either way, and for us to kid on that we can continue like this is absurd.

More and more of our time is being taken up on discussing why our officials are so bad, why they get so many big decisions not only wrong but shockingly, strikingly, inexplicably wrong. Nobody who looks at this dispassionately believes officiating in Scotland is anything more than dreadful.

Nobody believes that our officials are doing the job right.

I’ve heard all the arguments against making refs in Scotland declare their allegiances, even the pathetic ones like that made by the radio pundit Hugh Keevins (and not for the first time) the other night, which amounts to him saying he is perfectly happy living in ignorance lest he have to deal with uncomfortable truths. This mind-set is so ancient, so creaking, so out of touch and such a scandalous abrogation of any responsibility to the sport that it makes your jaw drop.

I repeat; nobody has ever presented a coherent, sensible, rational reason why we do not have a system like that which works so well in England.

Every referee down there does declare which football club they support.

There is no reason whatsoever not to do so in Scotland, except for one; the suspicion that far too many would be declared in favour of one team.

If that suspicion is right, we should have it confirmed and deal with it. If it’s wrong, then we should have that particular theory stamped on once and for all and our game will be better for it. No good can come from not knowing. Nothing is to be gained from secrecy.

The longer it goes on like this the more people will wonder what the SFA is trying to hide.

The longer it goes on like this the more scrutiny people will pay to every bad decision.

The more they try to hide behind those walls the more people will try to climb those walls to see what’s on the other side.

With social media the genie is out of the bottle; Beaton can attest to that, with that now infamous photo of him drinking with the Ibrox fans after the New Year fixture having gone viral. There’s nowhere to hide any longer.

Celtic fans are about as angry about this stuff as I’ve ever seen them.

We’re keeping score now on all of this, and people can call us paranoid as they like; until something changes the SFA is giving us no reason to believe that our concerns are unjustified. All the mealy mouthed statements about the honesty of our refs is frankly of no value whatsoever.

Some people do not believe it. The rest of us don’t care.

Because whether it’s simply that they are crap at their jobs or they are up to no good, the consequences are the same. Bad officiating costs clubs points, prizes and money. They can cost managers their jobs. They steal dreams from supporters and create a climate of distrust which is toxic.

If our officials aren’t going to improve – if they aren’t going to be made to improve – then we’re looking for other solutions and one of those other solutions is for football in Scotland to do what the clubs themselves do; if the home grown talent isn’t getting the job done, look to foreign fields for a higher standard.

If it works with coaches, players and managers it can work with officials too.

It would solve so many problems, including the logistical one which would be presented by refs declaring their allegiances and us finding out that 95% of them support a certain Scottish NewCo which plays out of Ibrox; hey, don’t take my word for it. Steve Conroy confirmed this yesterday in his interview with the BBC, and which I flagged last night.

Because, of course, that’s one of the arguments; if we found out that almost all of Scotland’s Grade One officials supported either Celtic or the Ibrox club (stop laughing at the notion that we’ve got even token representation; imagine for a moment it’s a 50/50 split) and we then weren’t able to use those people for those games, how would we ever get refs for big matches?

Well, Boyd’s suggestion would take care of that, wouldn’t it?

See, I’m not saying – and neither is he – that we ditch all our referees and stop them from officiating in games. But in those big matches where major issues are at stake, why not bring up someone from England or from the continent?

What’s the problem with that?

Where does the idea fall down?

“It would be an admission that we don’t trust our own refs,” one hack hollered on the BBC when this was brought up last time.

And my answer to that is “And what? Most of us don’t.”

The problem here is too many people who want to pretend this isn’t happening.

We’re almost at rock bottom as far as the current standards go. Do we wait for them to sink further?

And then what? Continue to do nothing, even when the writing is on the wall so big that it can be read from ten miles away without eye-glasses? How bad does it need to get?

I speak as a Celtic fan, and I write this stuff from the Celtic perspective.

My own allegiances are not exactly a secret.

When asked if I think refs are biased against my club I have a simple answer; I don’t particularly care. In some ways I would prefer the predictability of outright bias to the anarchic and volatile refereeing we have right now where you can have two identical incidents in a match with two wildly divergent results.

And that happens all the time.

If pushed to answer the question properly, I would say with no equivocation that even the names of certain officials fill me with dread because I suspect my team won’t get a fair shake. We know who they are; they come up over and over again in these articles.

But I do not believe that this is a Celtic fan only issue, and whilst I see the appeal in Boyd’s suggestion from a Celtic fan’s point of view, I think it would meet with universal approval if the fans for once where asked what they would like to see happen.

I do not believe Celtic fans are any more concerned about this than the fans at other clubs who watch decisions every week that they cannot believe.

Even those who foolishly continue to believe that this is a “Glasgow club thing” and that we get as many dodgy decisions as the Ibrox club does – point out our four penalties in one match, if you please – must see the logic in what Tom Boyd has suggested today.

It is a common sense solution whilst we try to sort out the problems we’ve got in football governance and in the whole selection of, training of, and development of our referees. Because something has clearly gone wrong – badly, badly wrong – somewhere in the system.

Our national team has not been a major tournament in decades, and we take that seriously even if we don’t know how to fix it. But we try. It has resulted in so much chopping and changing and shuffling and rearranging and tweaking and tinkering that you could get dizzy trying to chart it. We know though that it starts at the bottom, at the grassroots level, and there’s no reason to believe that our problem with referees doesn’t start in the same place.

It all has to be pulled out at the roots, and a whole new structure built. That’s the job of years, and apart from the obvious problem that this job won’t be finished until we actually start, there’s the thorny issue of how we cope in the here and now.

And Tom Boyd has done what nobody else in the media has, and he has offered a solution. It’s an imperfct one, but it’s a genuine step in the right direction and whatever criticisms come his way for proposing it – and they will, of course they will – it’s more than anybody else has done or will do.

He at least wants to tackle this.

Others, not so much.

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