Thursday, November 25, 2010
Scottish clubs must seek ref resolution
Scottish football is lurching towards yet another crisis with Saturday's fixture card in danger of a total blackout - although it's nothing to do with the winter weather forecast north of the border.
The referees are threatening to spark chaotic scenes across grounds throughout the country after voting for industrial strike action which would wipe out Scotland's matches this Saturday.
Against a backdrop of dwindling crowds, a dip in quality and the constant threat of clubs heading into administration, it's the last thing the Scottish game needs now.
But just how has it come to this, with the men in black threatening to blow the whistle on this weekend's league card?
Well a string of verbal attacks built up over years rather than months has resulted in the drastic action.
The officials, angry at the severe criticism handed out by managers and team representatives season upon season, finally snapped before deciding to withdraw their services from matches this coming weekend.
Their high profile move follows on from Celtic chairman Dr John Reid calling for referee Dougie McDonald to resign or be sacked by the SFA following his admission that he lied to Celtic manager Neil Lennon over a rescinded penalty award at Tannadice last month.
It is understood that 31 referees and assistant refs agreed to the industrial action and, if they follow through, it could wipe out the fixture list, including six SPL matches.
The First Division and ALBA Challenge Cup final will also be hit, while the Second and Third divisions could be affected if lower-grade referees back their striking colleagues.
It would be far too simple, too straightforward, to suggest the potential for strike action began with McDonald's now infamous U-turn over a penalty decision when the Hoops played Dundee United.
It's more about the damaging headlines and death threats, as the ugly soap opera threatens to become ever more very personal. And for the refs - enough is enough now.
As soon as news of strike action emerged, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan began scouring Europe for potential temporary referees. The man at the helm is only too well aware how important it is to make sure the show really does go on.
Regan has approached officials from Iceland, Ireland and Scandinavia in a bid to find suitable replacements at short notice. Only time will tell if his contingency plan will be enough to save the already beleaguered image of the Scottish game or indeed if the domestic whistlers will call off their strike threat after fresh talks.
There's no doubt the fallout from the Dundee debacle has impacted significantly on the referees' decision to vote in favour of strike action, a decision that could cause severe damage to the Scottish game.
But one man in particular, Sandy Roy - manager of the Aberdeen and District Referees' Association - reckons the writing has been on the wall for long enough.
"Referees are just sick of the lack of appreciation," Roy said. "People are saying that Scottish refereeing standards are at an all-time low. That is hardly supportive of our referees.
"Going on strike is a drastic measure but they have reached the point where enough is enough. There have been a lot of anti-referee issues recently but they are working harder than ever to improve standards.
"Instead of being rewarded all they get is criticism and they have had enough especially as they give up family time to officiate at games."
The strike saga has also again raised the issue of employing full time referees in a bid to improve standards and for video evidence to also play a significant part.
However, would that really be the solution to all of Scotland's problems?
For one just who would fund professional refs? There's no way the clubs could afford to pay for it with many struggling to pay their own playing staff.
Employing full time officials would make them fitter and one would also expect more proficient, but as human beings they will likely still be liable to make high profile errors.
The issue of television comes up time and again but just how would that be implemented in such a way it wouldn't impact on the flow of the once beautiful Scottish game?
Perhaps the simple answer, in the short term at least, is for all the Scottish clubs to get round the table with the referees to air their grievances once and for all.
But for now, and for all the wrong reasons, there's a new found media spotlight on the game in Scotland and unless the strike can be avoided the pressure is simply only going to mount even further.