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Ask the Ref # 1
Report to Moderator Old 22-08-08 06:38 PM
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Author: The Ref
Each week it seems the phone-ins and printed press are saturated with arguments and counter-arguments about the latest refereeing controversy. In our new feature ‘Ask the Ref’ we will be taking a closer look at these controversial decisions that seem to plague SPL games. To help us do that, we have hooked up with an ex-referee (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) who has officiated in Scottish League games and knows the game from the inside.

We start off this new feature with a question and answer session with The Ref. If you have any questions for our in-house expert, PM them to CovertCFC and we’ll try to answer them in future features (assuming they’re not plain daft)!

· How long were you a referee?

In total, 8 years – with 5 as a listed official able to do Scottish League games.

· How much training did you have to do, and how many rules exams?

Training for referees is minimal and almost all classroom based. You learn ‘The Laws’ (they don’t like it when you call them rules) pretty much parrot fashion, then you repeat them in an exam at the end of roughly 8 hours training. More recently there have been moves to try to incorporate video examinations, where applicants have to show they actually understand the law rather than just repeating it however this varies throughout the country.

Anyone who wants to know what ‘The Laws’ really are should check the link to the SFA:


It’s always best to know what you’re complaining about before shouting your mouth off: Billy Dodds take note!!

When you progress there is a fitness element which, to be fair, is quite tough. So if you’re lazy you won’t pass and will be stuck in the lower end of the scale.

· What was the most enjoyable game you did and what was good about it?

Strangely I don’t have a favourite game, although I have had a few I’d rather forget! It’s like going to work. When you’ve had a good day it’s not particularly memorable but when you have a bad one…..

· Which rule do people get wrong most often?

Now you’d expect me to say offside here and, yes, that is a big one but I find the “preventing a goal scoring opportunity” one is even worse – with many a ref getting it wrong, too. How many times have you heard, “He has to go he was last man”? This isn’t what the law says and two good examples have come up in recent games.

Our game with St Mirren rested on a penalty where the defender Haining was sent off. Regardless of the arguments over whether it was or was not a penalty it was awarded and Haining dismissed. However, did Haining ‘prevent a goal scoring opportunity’? You’d have to say no as big Jan still got his shot away, even if it was a totally rubbish one, so actually a yellow would have done. See? We do sometimes get a break!

The second was the Scotland v NI game in midweek. Healy through on McGregor, knocks the ball past him and is brought down. Clearly a penalty, no problem, but was it a goal scoring opportunity? I’d have to say no. Healy had knocked the ball way too far to catch it before it went out of play so, despite what Pat Nevin might think, a yellow was the right decision.

If you thought that was complicated then think about this one, if an attacker is playing a pass through for another attacker to run on to and an opponent handles the ball to prevent the pass he could legitimately be sent off regardless of how many defenders are behind him if it prevents a goal scoring opportunity.

· Do referees get frustrated with how little the media pundits seem to know the rules?

For sure. In some cases you could argue they do know the rules but like to apply them differently depending on which game they are covering, Scott Booth being a classic example of this.

As a referee the worst bit is seeing someone who was/is a player or manager going on about a decision that you know yourself was right. This media numpty can command an audience of millions to listen to them when they know no more about the laws than your average guy in the street. As a ref you want to get on the show: “Oh really smarty pants? Well, what about law X where it says this?” As it is they can spout on with impunity and the general public will take it as the truth as it was on TV.

· Do referees talk about what team they support?

Hmm, touchy subject this. If an official has ‘an interest’ in any club he is supposed to declare this on the annual renewal to prevent any conflict of interest. So, for example, if you found out a distant relative worked for a particular club you should declare this and you would normally not cover games involving that club.

However, I’m sure you will remember the infamous Andy Davis incident where, as assistant at Tynecastle, he awarded a penalty that only he saw for Rangers against Hearts. Mr Davis was a season ticket holder at Ibrox that season – though I can only imagine he missed most of the games as he would have been on the line most Saturdays ¬– so either he probably didn’t declare his interest or it was overlooked. In either case, I don’t think it was a good idea to let him then do the Cup Final the same season as this appeared to be a reward rather than a punishment.

· Are there any players or managers in the game who referees are wary of?

There are some you would rather avoid as they can be a bit nippy. Gary Pendry, WGS’s Assistant, is a bit like that, but there’s none that you’d actually be worried about. They can get a bit ‘excited’ at times but you don’t really feel under threat as there’s not really much chance of them chinning you in front of a big crowd and possibly TV coverage, too. Having said that, amateur football is the reverse where managers and players have little to lose so you have to be on your toes and try to avoid confrontations.

· Are the SPL referees worth their £800 match fee?

Put it this way, was Thomas Gravesen worth £40,000 a week? Given that the top guys in the SPL are all lawyers, doctors, accountants and so on (and you won’t get to that level if you’re not) it’s a bit much asking for £800 per game. I think a fairer system would be to average out the wages for all the players in the division and pay that as their fee which would probably be more than the £800 they were looking for. Can’t help thinking it would be better if the top guys were all full time but who’s going to pay for that?

· Are referees biased?

Of course they are: they’re human, just like everyone else. Having said that, most of them will try not to let this come through in their games. I’ve done Celtic games where I really wanted them to win but it didn’t stop me giving decisions against them.

Usually decisions are split second calls and you don’t have time to think if it’s good or bad for the team you support. Of course there are always exceptions to this and there are a number of individuals who are very much for a particular club or will give decisions as a means of revenge.

It seemed like Stuart Dougal took a dislike to WGS a couple of seasons ago and made a point of continually sending him to the stand: many think it was a personal problem and not related to football at all.

There is also the issue of why Barry Ferguson is never booked. It’s nearly two years since his last yellow card. No, I’m not kidding, two years! I’m sure he’s a lovely man really, but having watched quite a few of his games I’d have him in the book more often than not.

· Is the system biased?

Completely, totally and utterly. At the bottom end of the scale your progress is determined by local supervisors and you can be absolutely awful and still get on if your face fits. Conversely you could be brilliant and never progress if they don’t like you.

Once you become ‘listed’ progress is down to reports from supervisors at your games. In theory this is on merit but there is still a bit of favouritism goes on here and there is rivalry between the various refereeing associations. If supervisor A finds his referee had a bad report last week from supervisor B and he’s covering one of his games coming up you can be sure that guy will be getting a bad report too.

Now the really biased bit in my view. The big chief for refereeing is Donald McVicar. He decides who his helpers will be and these are generally ex-referees, currently Messrs Dallas and Young to name but two who are coining it in for doing not a great deal. They also decide who the supervisors should be and the supervisors decide who the listed guys should be and so on. So they system is self perpetuating. If Donald doesn’t like you, retire now: your career is over.

To progress you have to have at least some ability and suck up to the supervisors as much as you can. Assuming you manage all this you’ll get near the top and then either work at Hampden with Donald or become a supervisor and someone can suck up to you.

However, what happens when the people at the top have a preference for one club over another? The only way you can get up to that level is to keep on their good side so you have to do the same. There’s no democracy here, these people are not elected and no one can remove them so if it’s wrong now think how much more wrong it will be in 10, 20, 30 years time. Incidentally when was the last time Mr McVicar admitted someone made a mistake?

· What is the funniest thing you saw as a referee?

Two things come to mind. One was when a supervisor called me on the Sunday to give me my report but he’d been so drunk at the game (he came to the dressing room at the end) he couldn’t remember the score and had to ask me. Presumably he was so drunk he couldn’t go out for a paper or work the teletext either.

The other was an amateur game many years ago where an attacker was chasing a long punt up the park. Thinking it was going long he got the head down and started sprinting, however he misjudged the flight of the ball and it hit him on the back of the head. This caused him to connect with his own knee and knock himself out! He recovered fine and had the cheek to ask me why I didn’t give a foul as he had clearly been taken out!

Look out for more from The Ref next week, and remember to pass on your questions to Covert CFC!
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