My favourite eatery, one of those places I enjoy visiting frequently, opened a new branch this week and they invited me as a guest. The staff were great and showed me around and made sure I had as good a time there as I have at their first Glasgow site.
I do so enjoy sitting in there of an afternoon and eating and drinking and working. It’s a nice way to spend some time. Because of their generous hospitality I would have name-checked them here but considering what I’m about to write that might not have had the positive outcome I want for them.
It was whilst I was there that I realised the angle I would take for this piece, because I was reading as I waited for my food and I found out that Arsenal have vocally criticised the scandalous VAR decision they suffered at the weekend.
Arteta was fuming after the game, but that’s par for the course for a manager on the end of a bad call … what made this different is that his club backed him, aggressively, and I know that’s something we wish that we would do at times.
Imagine you had your own favourite restaurant and you went there one day and got food poisoning. Would you go back? Sure.
You might put it down to one bad experience and visit again on your regular routine. But if, after a handful of uneventful visits, it happened again, what would you do? Complain, maybe, ask them to up their game.
If it happened a third time, you’d probably avoid the place altogether, right?
And if you heard through the grapevine that others had suffered the same fate, with varying levels of seriousness, you might be relieved at only having suffered a day or two of stomach pains.
Would you care at that point what was actually going on with the place?
Would you care if it was staff incompetence or something sinister? No, because such explanations would be beside the point.
You’d find somewhere else to eat.
Today Paul Brennan put up a piece where he seemed to dismiss concerns over VAR by saying that if we were less good it would be a serious problem.
A lot of the replies he got expressed the view that this is a serious problem; they seemed to think that he’s suggesting that we keep on eating at our restaurant because all we’ve had are mild cases of the runs and that it’s therefore a matter of little consequence, an irritant rather than a threat.
For the record, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying at all; he was being ironical. Paul does not need to be told how serious this could be for us, he watches the same matches we do and knows that in this league where teams can assault our players with impunity and where eleven men behind the ball is the standard tactic and applauded by the media even when it doesn’t work that some of our games are going to come down to fine margins.
He also knows that the club from Ibrox does not have to be brilliant but merely one step ahead of their opponents in any given week and we will have a real title race on our hands. In that race VAR could have a devastating effect on us … he is one of the last people who would minimise that. He knows that it’s a big deal and a major problem already.
And here’s the thing; it doesn’t matter what the cause of this is, just as it wouldn’t matter to you what lay behind the illnesses from eating at your favourite place. It’s a good conversation piece but in practical terms it doesn’t matter a damn, only the outcome does. So, whether this is some sort of corrupt practice or sheer incompetence is less important than that we cannot trust the system to work to our benefit. That’s why it has to be addressed.
To me, it seems obvious that something stinks and someone needs to do the equivalent of going into the kitchen and poking through the fridges to see what the cause of the smell is. Not that you have to do too much digging to see the pattern in a familiar list of names like Collum, Dallas and Beaton; one look at those and you can identify the source easily.
So is this poison or just neglect?
Even if it’s poison, are we dealing with a maniac or a saboteur? Isn’t it just a semantic difference between a psychopath at work and someone who hates his bosses and wants to take down the restaurant?
Either way you would want an investigation.
I’ve said for years that some of the decisions we see are so inexplicable that they have to be the result of corruption, but again let’s consider that there are two possible types of corruption here; there is cheating and there is match-fixing.
I know we consider cheating to be the much more serious of the two, but is it?
I mean isn’t the guy sabotaging the restaurant a psychopath anyway regardless of his motivation? Isn’t a cheat still a cheat, regardless of his own motives?
Of course, he is.
And so whether some of these decisions are for Sevco gain or financial gain, we cannot just ignore them because our team happens to be winning at the moment.
The possibility that this could be some form of match-fixing is so obvious to me, and surely to others, that at the very least someone should be looking into that. The joke online last night was that if you bet on an Ibrox penalty kick every week you would make a right few quid over the course of the campaign … I’m moved to wonder if maybe somebody is?
And you can lay a bet on just about anything these days, and so much of it can be influenced by the officials, both those on the pitch and in the VAR room. Players are banned from betting on games, but every now and then a scandal emerges … why have we never caught officials betting on them? Because it doesn’t happen? Ha! Right! Don’t make me laugh.
On both sides of the border people are screaming at decisions which make no sense on the surface of it, and those are the kinds of things that VAR is supposed to make impossible now … so what in God’s name is going on?
Here in Scotland those names I wrote earlier are enough to convince even hardened cynics amongst our support that something is rotten, and we complain seemingly endlessly and nothing changes.
Part of the reason nothing changes is that Celtic stays silent.
I know Paul Brennan doesn’t believe this is something that we can safely ignore, and every now and again someone like him or me talks to someone at the club and is told that this matter is constantly under review and that representations are made to the appropriate people through the appropriate channels, and I guess I believe that to an extent. Our club doesn’t like to posture and shout from the rooftops about injustice … and especially not when we’re winning.
But see, I tend to think this is the best time to do it. When you come through the worst the officials can throw at you unscathed. Or are we really going to wait for a critical moment in a critical game before we raise nine kinds of Hell? I hope not.
Nobody should be kidding themselves, though, that we aren’t in trouble here just because we’ve not yet paid a high price for this, although we’re in the perverse position of ignoring a glaring, shocker in the last minute of the League Cup game at Rugby Park because most of us agree we didn’t deserve to take anything from the game anyway.
But in truth, as one of my favourite characters in one of my favourite movies of all time points out, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.“
The Haksabanovic penalty decision should have gone our way, even if it was no more earned than Ibrox’s late one against Hearts.
We’re taking our chances here if we don’t challenge this, and because we’re winning right now this is the best possible time to do it, so there are no allegations of sour grapes or anything else.
We no more have to accuse the SFA of cheating than you would stand outside the door screaming that your favourite eatery had deliberately slipped you some arsenic in the soup. But this club of ours should not be shy about publicly saying that this isn’t working and something is not right.
For the rest of us, we know exactly what we’re dealing with, as if we’d witnessed the guy tipping the stuff into the cooking pot like that CCTV scene in the Still Game episode with David Hayman.
When it looks like cheating and smells like cheating you don’t have to taste it to know what it is, and even if it’s not, is VAR a risk we can afford to take for much longer? I think we need to challenge more of these decisions publicly, and especially the ones that don’t affect the final result.
Because if we don’t, we’re just waiting for the ones that do.