There’s been a lot of focus on the Premiership this week from the English media…
There’s never a moment’s peace in Scottish football and while the arrival of an international week may have suggested at first that our country’s unquenchable thirst for all things football would be quelled by a notable upturn in performances from the national team, by the end of the week the Scottish Premiership was back to what it seemingly does best: devouring itself.
Following the Scottish FA’s decision to uphold a red card against Michael Devlin, Aberdeen released one of the most outspoken statements in the club’s modern history. Referring to the decision as “unacceptable”, the Pittodrie side said that the authorities had to do better and that it was imperative that they “establish consistency and transparency in the appeal and referral process.”
Aberdeen went even further, suggesting that the Scottish game had to adopt the trialling of VAR as the English Premier League is doing this season and the Bundesliga did last year. Then, rubbing salt into the wound, they stated: “that the views we have expressed are held by many.”
Indeed, Aberdeen are by no means alone in this fight against the Scottish FA. In fact, a quick scan across the top division over the past 12 months alone would suggest the SPFL’s top clubs are in open revolt against Hampden and the manner in which it referees our game.
On the very same day, Steve Clarke and Kilmarnock pitched up at Mount Florida and began their own assault on the custodians of the Scottish game. After yet another mystifying referee call, Clarke had suggested that their failed attempt to appeal Gary Dicker’s red card was pre-judged given that referee Willie Collum had was lined up to officiate the upcoming Old Firm derby.
Following Clarke’s outburst, the Scottish FA then threw the book at the Killie boss by stating that he was bringing the game into “disrepute” in a wordy statement that managed to misspell the manager’s name. A minor point, perhaps, but one that Clarke took full advantage of. “Maybe I’m being a little bit pedantic, but I thought it was disrespectful that they spelt my name wrong, both on the front cover and inside,” he said with flippant disregard. “I won’t use the word amateurish but certainly unprofessional.”
In most countries that would seem like a bad day for the SFA, but in Scotland it seems more and more like the status quo. Two points on the graph can draw a line, but when more and more points begin to pop up you eventually begin to notice a trend that simply can’t be ignored.
Both of these incidences came a day after Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon and his manager, Brendan Rodgers, shined a light on the SFA’s current method of dealing with appeals by having “a tribunal of trained, independent judicial panel members” decide on whether or not the initial call was right. All of which is done behind closed doors without players, coaches or club officials able to witness how the new decision is made.
“It seems quite a clouded subject on how they get to these decisions,” said Gordon ahead of the club’s clash with St Mirren. His manager added: “It would be nice to know the panel, what their thoughts are and obviously then how they would come to that conclusion.”
Demanding the identities – and therefore their allegiances – seems a little intrusive on paper, but demands that apparent bias or agendas have been heard across the country throughout the year. Gordon and Rodgers’ comments come about six weeks after Steven Gerrard responded to Alfredo Morelos’ red card against Aberdeen with suggestions that it “seemed the world was against” the Ibrox club and that poor decisions had been “happening for seasons.”
Last season Motherwell’s Stephen Robinson echoed similar comments, stating that Craig Thomson had a certain agenda against his players, before suggesting that the SFA had to upgrade the current roster of officials by offering more money and training. “The decisions they make as part-timers,” said Robinson, “affect the livelihoods of players and managers who are doing this full-time.”
A month before that, Neil Lennon – ever the shrinking violet – blasted the standard of officiating too, stating that he was “not happy with the standard of refereeing” before adding: “I’ve tried to keep my counsel but they’ve cost us a lot of points.” It’s hard to go anywhere in Scottish football without hearing one manager, player or chairman suggest things have to be done.
While each of these circumstances are all examples of coaches or players singling out their own experience with the big wigs at Hampden while, quite ironically, solely fighting their own corners, they do paint a picture of how almost every club in the division feels about the situation.
At the moment these are all individual, separate outbursts but within the SPFL these clubs have the ability to enact serious change at the Scottish FA. And unless the nation’s custodians do something quick they may find a unified voice calling for full-time referees, the implementation of VAR or a complete dismantling of their new judiciary system. Waiting and hoping for things to calm down never seems to work in Scottish football. In these uncertain times, pragmatism and compromise may be the only way to avoid further trouble down the line.