Imagine you moved to a new neighbourhood where nobody gave a damn.
Where you could see that those around you had no standards. That their lawns were overgrown and rubbish strewn. That their houses were falling to bits. That they played the music too loud. That they let their kids run wild. That their pets roamed freely, snarling and biting at will.
You know how the world gets like that? Because people stop giving a damn. The world doesn’t start that way … that’s what it becomes.
Because it’s easier not to care.
In a fantastic Wire moment, Cedric Daniels puts it to his boss, Burrell; “You’d rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel.”
Scottish football resembles that neighbourhood, and it’s no accident that we got this way. Our game is rife with people who don’t give a toss anymore.
I’ve written recently about how our media goes out of its way not to look at the decisions referees make. Some of them are quite open about why. They would, literally, rather live in shit, just as long as nobody drew their attention to it.
The idea of them working a shovel?
Jesus. They might actually have to earn a living if you made them confront real problems.
You have to be mad not to know that Scottish football lives with a certain amount of corruption.
We know there are officials who allow their biases to influence decisions.
How do we know that? Because it’s true in every walk of life known to man.
Put someone in authority and you will, in some manner, create a petty tyranny where there will be those who are treated with undue consideration and those who get no consideration whatsoever.
We accept that any number of our organizations are institutionally biased, from the police force to the judiciary.
We know that the media is biased.
We know that there is discrimination in every social provision from health care to education.
This is the world we live in for God’s sakes. It’s acknowledged.
We acknowledge it because we want to make it better.
Just about every major football association in Europe can cite examples of match-fixing and other refereeing corruption which happened within it.
Here in Scotland we look down at these foreigners as if that proved people like Marvin Bartley right; they are all dodgy anyway, so why should we be surprised? But we forget that we only know about those cases because those countries had the courage to look. Courage we’ve never had.
What would we find if we did look?
Well, I said many moons ago that I am convinced that some game or other in which I have had an emotional investment has been either partially or wholly decided on a corrupt basis.
There are games that come to mind and there are others I’ve probably never thought about which might fall within that rubric.
But I am sure of it, and always have been.
Ask anyone in the upper echelons of Scottish football for their view on whether or not there is corruption in our game and they will invariably tell you that it’s unthinkable.
But even if all we had to go on was the idea of some kind of national exceptionalism which makes our officials somehow better and more moral than those in other nations, it would be absurd to answer the question in that way.
On top of that, we have much to be concerned about.
We know referees have lied to clubs. We caught one.
We know the governing body has been guilty of sectarian behaviour. We caught a senior official; a referee no less, the head of referees in fact.
We know that even the national coach has been a bigot because he sang his dirge down the phone to some woman he was messing about with.
And we know that an SFA President wilfully, deliberately, stalled the registration of a Celtic player and that he paid for that with his job and his reputation.
We know another SFA President signed into life the employee benefits trust system at Ibrox … and then presided over an organisation which pretended not to know that the side contracts existed.
This is the tip of the iceberg; to be blunt, this is only the times that we caught them.
There is without a doubt much more under the surface. We’re supposed to just ignore all that.
Imagine, though, we somehow possessed the magical ability to know for sure that nobody at the SFA was acting out of bias or prejudice.
Our game still wouldn’t be safe from corruption, and this is definitely not an area that anybody wants to explore, but it needs to be looked at and it needs to be considered because the threat of it is real and ever present.
Some years ago, when Hugh Dallas was fighting for his job after being caught sending sectarian emails, referees were on strike.
Celtic were being blamed.
Actually, all we wanted was for them to explain some of these dire decisions that they make, some of them seeming to defy all reason and explanation. We never did get our answers. The referees got a modest wage rise and in addition the most absurd protections offered to officials anywhere in Europe.
Those “protections” are an open door to fraudsters, scammers and gangsters. Referees never have to explain the ridiculous choices they make on the pitch, and that allows them to do anything they want. Always, sooner or later, such a system will be exploited.
Maybe it’s an individual referee taking advantage of his freedom to brandish cards, give penalties and free-kicks and control the flow of a game.
Maybe it’s a group of them, trying to influence an entire competition for monetary gain.
And maybe they are working with outside parties, people who stand to make a lot of money if certain calls come at certain times in critical matches.
The referees don’t even need to be the instigators.
Imagine you were a Scottish football official and one night when you were out having a drink some individual approached with you with … a proposition?
Even if you wanted to resist said individual, that would depend on who that person was and how much you thought you could handle.
A few slaps? Maybe. A petrol bomb at your car? A different matter.
An attack on the house where you live, where your wife and kids sleep? How many of us could handle that?
This isn’t fanciful stuff by any manner of means.
There are people close to the game who worry about this, people in positions of authority outside of football who know that it’s more than possible.
It has certainly happened before.
Not too long ago, criminal elements struck a blow very close to home and the reason they did was that an official at Celtic had been working with the SFA to coach kids on how to react if such people tried to muscle their way into their lives.
So we know these people flit around on the periphery of the game.
We suspect that they have influence at certain clubs.
Is it a stretch to imagine them corrupting a referee?
Is it crazy to think that the sort of people who have co-opted police officers and politicians and who routinely blackmail and terrorise businessmen and women all over this country might just have a passing interest in the results of football games where they could make tidy sums of money?
You can bet on anything now.
Corners. Fouls. What time the first free kick is at. How many free kicks in a half. Yellow and red cards, of course.
One of the popular wagers on SkyBet is to take a punt on “booking points” which you can mix and match with other criteria.
Imagine you’re refereeing a game and someone comes up to you the night before and says they need a certain scorer, 2.5 goals in the match and 70 booking points.
As an official, could you deliver that?
Well, say you know that the scorer you need takes penalties for one of the clubs. Give a decision in the box favouring his team, book the player who committed the foul, a couple of others for dissent when they complain and maybe find a way to flash a red.
If he scores the penalty, you’re at least part of the way there, and you could easily the steer the game in the direction of the additional two goals.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with various scenarios on which people could win big.
And this is why we should all be concerned by the weekend’s events, and by what has taken place in previous weeks and months and years. It’s why refereeing reform and proper scrutiny is essential if we are to know for sure that our game is clean.
We can either live in shit, or get shovelling.
Too many people at the top of our game do not want to work a spade.
That should not stop the rest of us from campaigning on this issue, until finally something is done about it.