By Jack Currie
Many of Scottish football referee’s must be thinking of Matt McGinn’s famous lyrics from his song “Footba’ Referee” during recent times. McGinn once wrote a song about the trials and tribulations of being a Scottish football referee, and the seemingly poor decision that was made to become a referee. The line of “Why did I ever become a fitba’ referee” must ring true with many of Scotland’s ‘top’ officials this season. Controversy seems to follow our officials around this campaign, with even a couple of weeks of no Premiership action not enough to keep the man with the whistle out of the spotlight.
Andrew Dallas couldn’t help himself become the centre of attention this weekend following his dismal display at Partick Thistle v Falkrik on Saturday. The whistler was highly inconsistent during the 1-1 draw in which he sent off Gary Harkins inside 27 second half minutes. It was one of seven cards flashed by the official who has whistled games from the Scottish Championship to the Champions League this season. But he was lambasted by Partick Thistle manager Gary Caldwell in his post-match press conference following the draw at Firhill, Caldwell claims Dallas was “Arrogant”. He also went on to state how he felt the officials were putting things bigger than football at risk, he said: “Livelihoods are at risk with his decisions. We should have won but yet for another crazy decision. I’m not saying they can be perfect, but I think the way they go about it afterwards, the arrogance they show isn’t great.”
Caldwell’s comments echo those already venting their frustrations from the Ladbrokes Premiership. Confidence in officials from both fans and clubs are at an all-time low and could really not have hit more rock bottom following Caldwell’s comments. They appear just weeks following John Beaton’s performance during the recent Old Firm clash and his comments following that game. There appears that little can be done to appease supporters rationale when it comes to referee’s, with many fans and now pundits citing that something has to give regarding referee’s in this country. BBC Football pundit and Off The Ball presenter Stuart Cosgrove believes the issue is only going to get worse before it improves, he said: “The game has never been more mediated by TV and social media so refereeing disputes will escalate not recede.”
There is growing interest throughout the footballing world to fast-track VAR, the system used at last summer’s World Cup, to be implemented throughout the game. The system is currently used in Italy and Germany and there are consistent calls for such technology to be implemented into our game. Cosgrove however believes VAR is not the answer to clear up contentious decisions, citing that the introduction of the technology could lead to an increase in disagreements and controversies, he said: “The referee’s do clearly need help from replays, however I do feel that the introduction of VAR, video assistant referee’s, disputes will still continue to intensify.”
VAR, which was introduced at the start of this seasons Carabao Cup, came under fire from both Mauricio Pochettino and Maurizio Sarri during their recent semi-final first leg clash last week. Tottenham won the match 1-0, with the only goal being scored as a result of a VAR penalty awarded to Spurs. Pochettino after the game said he was “Unhappy to win like this”, whilst Sarri believes “English referees are not able to use VAR.” And the condemnation of the system continued with Pochettino claiming “Nobody likes the system” and that “We have six months to improve the system and there is a lot of work to do.”
With officials being slated up and down the UK at the highest level of the game, it begs the question as to whether there are similar problems at the lower levels of the league system. George Elliot, who came through the youth ranks at Clydebank FC believes that at the grassroots level the stick isn’t justified, he said: “I feel that if they do get any stick (grassroots) then it’s because of a lack of linesman at the level so the blame can definitely get pushed away, but at the top flight they can’t really hide from their decisions.”
Whether the standard be the upper echelons of English football, the Scottish Championship or Scottish grassroots level there will always be debate and disagreement from someone regarding the referee’s decision during the course of a match. Time will tell as to whether VAR will be the long term answer to many fans’ long running issue with officials.