Don’t say that we weren’t warned, because we were. SFA officials have been openly rubbing our faces in the events of today for the last few weeks.
This blog has been steadfast in saying that it supports VAR, but you’ll have noticed the changes in tone in the last couple of pieces on this subject. Ian Maxwell let us know that people were concerned that this would be a car-crash on arrival; as the first major game – no harm to Hibs-St Johnstone – was one involving us at Tynecastle it was not hard to conclude that certain folk realised what today would bring.
Sport, any sport, is only as strong as the rules which bind it and guarantee that everyone treats the contest in the same way. There are echoes here of the Great Sports Day Scandal of 1999, where my friend Kayleigh’s victorious opponent in one game ran with an egg in one hand and a spoon in the other. What matters is not the shameless willingness to bend the rules – which exists and always will – but that there are officials who will permit that cheating to take place.
This, after all, is what we have officials for. It is why sports are refereed in the first place. It is why they start out with an agreed set of rules and then appoint officials whose job it is to make sure that those rules are observed. Even when the umpires are honest, examples of unscrupulous practices abound in every competitive environment.
In football they come in various guises. Almost every major scandal into cheating in the sport has involved corrupt officials, and it has happened in almost every country which takes the game seriously. One country resists the idea that corruption might be commonplace; Scotland. We are the only football nation which never even discusses that it might be.
The events of a 5 minute spell in the second half – where Jenz was not sent off for conceding a penalty whilst being on a yellow and where Heart’s initially scored penalty was re-taken – do not impact or change whatsoever what happened in the first 45 when three tight crucial calls went against us.
I am not arguing with the first, although you could … I am not even arguing with the second although some people will. It could have gone either way and I would have wanted it had it fallen for us. I wonder if Carter Vickers wasn’t a fraction late to the ball.
But the decision we don’t get, the one at the end of the half, which was as obvious a penalty as you’ll ever see, is so blatant and clear to the cameras that not giving it is, to me, the equal of allowing a competitor to do the Egg and Spoon Race in exactly the manner earlier described and pretending everyone follows the same set of rules. When the officials so clearly favour one competitor over the other there is no point in pretending that something isn’t rotten to its core. This does not even pretend to be a double standard … this is officiating by an entirely different set of rules, depending on which team wants the call.
English football makes refs declare allegiances although the game down there is not nearly as febrile and tribalist as this, and the stakes on individual decisions are not usually remotely as high. The game down there nevertheless takes this stuff seriously. Even accounting for that due diligence they have still had their share of corruption allegations.
Many of these have been thoroughly investigated. Many have ended up with people being kicked out of the game forever. They, like other countries, take it seriously enough to investigate allegations and potential problems.
Those who sneer at those countries where bent refs have been identified and prosecuted do so out of ignorance; it’s not, as some would have you believe, that those countries have problems that we don’t … it’s that they will seriously investigate these matters and we point blank refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of them.
This whole mind-set has been summed up by one member of our mainstream media; Hugh Keevins. He has the disgrace of having once said that we do not dare investigate these matters because if we found clear evidence of cheating that the game would be “finished.” As if the cheating itself would not devalue it and discredit all those who won honours whilst it was going on.
That decision today, to deny Celtic a penalty, when the cameras all showed us the same thing, and the VAR cameras must have showed it even more clearly than that, is frankly scandalous. Ange, on the touchline, telegraphed his disgust. Even the most unflappable guy in the business knows that was indefensible. No wonder he would not wholeheartedly endorse VAR yesterday; perhaps that man has been here long enough to sense how that would go.
The credit the team deserves for overcoming those circumstances today is immense. I am thrilled for the players who got their goals as much as anything else; Forrest was unlucky not to start in midweek and showed that today. Giakoumakis proves that he’s Celtic’s best penalty box striker. Taylor scores the winner; how great is that, for Celtic’s most improved player?
And then there was Maeda; what have I been saying about him? He only needed to get his head up again and the goals were going to start coming. He has scored a massively important one for us today and even if it’s not a winner it’s going to be crucial.
That is a classic example of overcoming adversity. And we deserve huge credit for it.
But let’s not kid ourselves; if that was a showcase for VAR it was only to highlight how it might be used for the most corrupt ends. That late first half decision is a scandal, and it should be called a scandal and to call it that would be especially potent on an afternoon where we’ve won the match, and especially where we had to fight uphill for the points.