Collum Gets The Celtic Game, And Ibrox Fans Don’t Realise They’re To Blame For It.

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On Monday, we all wondered what the SFA would throw at us this week. We knew there would be a curveball, and we knew it would come out of left field. But what they did is so surprising that instead of detonating over Celtic Park like a megaton bomb, it’s detonated over Ibrox instead. Everything we feared about getting Beaton is multiplied, massively, on their side of the city by the decision to give the game to Willie Collum. It is their nightmare scenario.

There are a lot of us who don’t believe our club does enough when it comes to tackling the thorny issue of officiating. Beaton should not be near Celtic games; there isn’t a one of us who does not believe that. But the most heinous charge our club has publicly levelled against Beaton is when our manager called him incompetent.

The Ibrox club has not once, but twice, effectively called Willie Collum a cheat, and demanded he not officiate their matches, and there are people who will tell you that strategy has worked for them, and in some ways it has, because he hasn’t gotten a game that involves them in the league since they made that demand.

But see, that’s where the danger lies for them.

Collum refereed a Scottish Cup game shortly after that demand. But it was a low-key afternoon.

I am moved to wonder if there’s not a simpler explanation for what we’ve witnessed; is there a belief, at Hampden, that Collum would be in significant danger if he refereed in front of a full house at Ibrox or in a league match involving their club with something major at stake and where large numbers of their fans were present?

That’s not a crazy idea when the club paints a target on somebody’s back the way they did here. The SFA badly let Collum down in not giving him league games against them up until now … but in terms of his personal safety, perhaps this is the only reasonable choice in what’s left of the current campaign. With only Celtic fans in the stadium, it might be the only circumstance in which the SFA feels that Willie Collum will be safe refereeing one of their games.

This is not a great stretch when you consider what Celtic fans, players and officials have had to endure at that same ground. It’s also easy to believe when the club itself claimed not to be able to protect a member of the broadcast media.

There have been no such unsavoury incidents at Parkhead. In fact, the only serious incident involving an Ibrox official during a match against Celtic in recent memory was when a coach in their women’s team, Craig McPherson, physically assaulted Celtic women’s manager Fran Alonso in March last year, for which he served a six match ban.

The SFA would never admit that Collum has been kept away from games against that club out of concern for his safety, but it’s either that or they kowtowed to a club’s demands.

The SFA can’t be seen to let a club pick and choose who gets to referee it; the appearance that it has done so has been devastating to their credibility, and must leave other officials staggered.

But if they felt Collum might be at risk then the decision is obviously easier to understand, as is the reason why there’s been no official statement on this. It’s a nasty business overall.

So, of course Collum will referee the game on Saturday, and in hindsight we should probably have seen this coming, because whatever decisions he makes at the weekend, he certainly does not have to worry about being physically harmed either on or coming off the pitch, and after the Ibrox club made sure to let their fans know that they consider him a cheat the same cannot be said, with perfect confidence, for anywhere their supporters are to be found in large numbers.

Our concerns over John Beaton are about his known interests and loyalties, but our worries over the last couple of games which have involved him were as much to do with the controversy that blew up after Tynecastle as they were about the decisions he made that day. Beaton had been called incompetent by Brendan Rodgers, and if he was in the mood to settle scores for that he was given not one but two opportunities to do so.

Imagine how Willie Collum must feel, whether the SFA was motivated to keep him away from games involving the Ibrox club for his own safety, or if their motives were more sinister and they actually caved under the pressure of that shocking demand. Either way, if this was us, Willie Collum is the very last person I would want officiating this game.

I have long believed that one of the most blatantly wrong decisions in the history of Scottish football officiating is also one of the most misunderstood; in the 1999 game at Celtic Park between our club and Rangers, Hugh Dallas sent off Stephane Mahe for a second bookable offence, allegedly for dissent, after he had been the victim, himself, of a vicious Neil McCann tackle. As Mahe was leaving the field, in tears, a Celtic fan threw a coin which hit Dallas on the head.

Now, Dallas should have been removed from the game at that point; the Mahe decision was hugely controversial, the match was a league decider, played in an incredibly hostile atmosphere, and Dallas had been felled by something thrown by one of our fans.

Nobody will ever convince me that he should have been allowed to carry on officiating that game. The media in Scotland lionised Dallas for continuing, and even more so because within seconds of getting back to his feet and re-starting the match he gave a penalty kick against us … but that’s the point I’m trying to make.

Even with the best will in the world, any referee would be unduly influenced against the home club after being struck by an object thrown by one of their fans, whether out of anger, or even just a determination to assert his authority on the proceedings … for the sake of the integrity of the game and the safety of Dallas himself, the SFA should have withdrawn him immediately. He was hailed as a hero for giving that penalty instead.

Imagine yourself in Willie Collum’s shoes. Imagine refereeing a game involving the Ibrox club for the first time since your integrity was called into question by that club. If you were kept away from them because of safety concerns, you’d be pissed. If you were kept away from them because your bosses bottled it and caved in to the pressure they applied, you’d be pissed. There are no circumstances under which Collum will be a welcome sight as far as the Ibrox club are concerned.

Last night, their websites were aflame with fury over this decision, and perhaps the most ironic thing about it is that in trying to initially appear tough in front of their fans, the Ibrox club now looks hopeless weak in the eyes of those same supporters for “allowing this” … it’s a classic example of what the CIA calls “blowback”; the unforeseen, and unwanted consequences of running an operation without thinking it all the way through, and which produces a result which circles back around and turns on those who set it in motion.

And what’s truly remarkable about this is that it will only add to the sense of swirling anger and thwarted entitlement over there, which has seen players rage at fans, one taking sniper shots at the manager and the manager himself snapping at Brendan Rodgers … all in the last few days, and every single bit of it distracting all inside Ibrox from the task at hand.

Again, I’m not saying we’re going to win this, or that the win itself, if we’re going to get it, will be easy … but I would be grievously concerned if this was us, in this state, about to go there and three points behind with a handful of games left. Even at a club which was highly disciplined and capable of staying calm and not getting sucked into madness, it would be difficult to focus with all this going on, and they don’t meet that definition. That’s not who they are.

I don’t feel particularly good about getting Willie Collum for this game either, because it’s not impossible that he’ll give them everything, subconsciously or not, and try to find a way back to the rotation for next season … but it’s hard not to conclude that this is far more inherently dangerous to their club than even John Beaton would have been to ours, for the reasons I’ve already outlined, and if they feel that the task got a little bit harder with that announcement then I would agree that they’re right, but that’s the price you pay for behaving the way they do.

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  • Big J says:

    James –

    All the comments as to the motivations of the Scottish Referee’s Association may or may not be true – we can only judge from their many previous inexplicble actions.

    However, Collum has been refereeing important games at all levels since was at school – all the way from school games via Juniors to the highest level of Interntional competitions.

    This would suggest that he’ll feel no enhanced pressure on Saturday beyond trying to get every decision correct.

    There is no evidence that he has ever done otherwise.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    I’m totally torn on this one…

    OK – They finally, finally, finally told Sevco to Get To Fuck regarding Collum –

    So Collum MIGHT be scared and terrified to give us any 50:50 to “get back on the scene”

    But there’s a lot of eyes on this one for sure as well…

    And he will probably want it to go by incident free, which it probably won’t do –

    He also might not want to be seen to give us ‘something’ either which I wouldn’t fuckin want anyway…

    What a bloody Scummy Football Country Scotland is indeed !

  • Gerry C says:

    I have a scenario for Willie, treated scandalously by his employers at the behest of The Rangers Football Club, Scottish Referees scorned by Europes Elite and tbh how long has he got in the game – go out on a high, officiate honestly and professionally over 90 mins ( ie no game mgt for the Huns, no Tavpens and the correct decisions be it bookable offences or straight reds ) we win game fairly and squarely, blesses himself at final whistle then retires after game.Job done does Scottish football massive favour. Might need protection but if Huns die a second time what a hero !!!

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