Of Refs and Men

As part of our Willie Collum In Need month, here’s a reprise of an interview Manfred Lurker did with Tom Campbell, author of ‘Celtic’s Paranoia – All In The Mind?’ wherein the author shared his views with us on, among other things, the men in black:


NTV: A refereeing award which is mentioned in your book in the context of the Jim Callaghan affair is ‘The Charlie Faultless Trophy’. I reckon Mr Faultless was using a stage name and that more referees should be encouraged to adopt this practice, like boxers and WWF wrestlers; for example Hugh ‘Fairplay’ Dallas or Bobby ‘The Stopwatch’ Tait. I note with interest that this has already started and that there are two officials on the SFA’s list called Mr Peace and Mr Love. What do you think?

TC: There was a referee named C. E. Faultless during the 1950s- a West of Scotland referee and a good one. A bit of a character too, but he was in charge of the 1955 cup final between Celtic and Clyde. The Glasgow association decided to name its annual trophy partly to honour him but also to provide a marvelous name for the award.

NTV: I think that one of your best points is made in the chapter about referees and complaints of favouritism towards Juventus in Italy. You say, ‘It would be pleasant to contemplate a time in Scotland when a referee could be labelled incompetent, pure and simple… or to categorise a top-ranking official’s performance as poor on a particular occasion without being considered paranoid.’ I totally agree, but at the risk of sounding paranoid, is it not the case that it’s a psychological diagnosis more or less confined to us and that others can criticise referees while still remaining relatively sane in the eyes of the media?

TC: Very true. Only Celtic supporters are certified as ‘paranoid’. Perhaps it’s the media’s way of disguising an unacceptable truth – that for decades Celtic were treated abysmally by the authorities. Describing Celtic as ‘paranoid’ shifts the argument away from the facts.

NTV: One of the referees who is singled out in the book is Mr RH Davidson (Airdrie). I remember him very well from my younger days, but I seem to recall that he had two contemporaries who were, in my opinion, in the same league when it came to their handling of Celtic matches, namely Mr JRP Gordon (Newport On Tay – commonly referred to as John Reverend Paisley Gordon around my neck of the terracing) and Mr D. Syme (Rutherglen). I know that Davidson seemed to have almost a personal grudge against Stein, but I also remember that the Celtic manager occasionally became incandescent with rage at the other two as well. Any thoughts on that dynamic duo?

TC: The fued between Stein and Davidson – and there were faults on both sides – was on-going and involved two of the most public men in Scottish football. It was fuelled by an extraordinary number of controversial incidents against Celtic over a very long period. The two you mention were worthy of inclusion but only as footnotes.

NTV: In the book you present quite a compelling case that during Rangers’ 9-in-a-row season certain referees were, if not outrightly conspiring to secure the title for the Gers, at least doing their bit to ease things along that season. Even you admit to almost being sold on the old conspiracy theory that season!

TC: During Rangers’ charge to their Nine in a Row I did consider for the first time in my life the validity of the conspiracy theory. I reached the conclusion that it was debatable in this instance and I think Rangers received a few dodgy decisions because the momentum was going with them. It’s hard for a referee to buck the trend and go against the reigning champions or the favourites to win. Heavyweight boxing champions seldom lose close decisions, the referee opting for the safe option of a draw.

NTV: If things are to improve with regard to supporters’ attitudes to referees then surely officials have a part to play themselves. What’s wrong with letting them account for their performance by way of post-match interviews the same as everybody else in the game has to? They should maybe be a bit more circumspect in their choice of venue for meetings (masonic halls seems a tad insensitive) and in the content of their after-dinner speeches (see McGinlay, Brian) as well as the attire they wear at training (a Rangers shirt would seem to indicate a certain crassness on the part of the wearer, not to mention downright stupidity).

TC: I think an interview situation could be held but on the Monday following a Saturday game to allow some time for passions to cool.

NTV: Even the refs themselves seem to be getting in on the paranoia act. In the book you allude to grumblings among the rank and file that certain high profile personalities are given preference when it comes to advancing up the greasy pole, not least because of their occupations or backgrounds. Isn’t that a worrying trend?

TC: I interviewed six referees or former referees (now supervisors) and they were very professional in that they did not criticise another referee directly … but I felt there were tensions there about style and personality. They all – in a modest way – gave the impression that they were the best; they had a guid conceit of themselves.

NTV: It was scary to read a Hugh Dallas interview in the Scotsman where he described his thrill at appearing on the big stage with the world’s top players; “To be in that position and know that you’re at the top, the same as these guys are in their field… I get a buzz out of that.” You couldn’t say he’s one of the refs who subscribes to the old adage that the best ones are the ones you never notice could you?

TC: No he does not appear to like it when he is not centre-stage, I feel. I wonder about the retiring nature of a man who volunteers to appear on Family Fortunes or who drives a Jaguar with a personalised plate.

NTV: One of the accusations that I would level at referees is that they seem to be quite a humourless bunch. Would you go along with that?

TC: Scottish referees appear to have the personality of accountants (without the charisma). One referee supervisor told me that when he was a young linesman and assigned to Jack Mowat at Starks Park, he noticed the referee leaving the ground and offered him a lift to the railway station. Mowat accepted the lift gratefully, but asked his linesman: ‘Were you at the game tonight?’

NTV: You are pretty scathing in the book on the subject of the lamentable state of modern Scottish football journalism. How is such a notoriously badly so-called self-regulatory body going to improve?

TC: Journalists have a job to do and that involves winning circulation wars and in war the first casualty is the truth. There does not appear to be a place for the sportswriter who goes to the match and writes about what he sees, pure and simple. Too many are gossip columnists rather than football writers. It’s amazing how few of them admit to having Rangers sympathies – and unconvincing.

NTV: I also go along with John Barnes’ diatribe in his book where he bemoans the fact that the same old faces appear in print and on other media as well. It surely can’t be healthy to be drawing on such a narrow gene pool can it?

TC: Scottish football is a village (complete with idiots) and the various facets of football are too cosily inter-related: clubs, players, SFA, SPL, journalists, agents and so on. Nobody seems ready to rock the boat on genuine issues: they concentrate on the trivial and the safe targets. It would be great to have a totally outside football writer to come here and report on a football match fearlessly but fairly. It’s a Byzantine world where ex-players can function as agents and pundits at the same time.

NTV: When Celtic are successful, mention of outside forces influencing things within the game is more muted. Is it simply the case that a scapegoat must be found for failure and in the absence of an unwillingness to openly criticise our own club we naturally turn to the time-honoured usual suspects? In view of all the other changes happening in the game (it’s impossible, for example, to accuse any of the refs in the Champions League of anything but incompetence – see Krug, Helmut) if Celtic were now to embark on an extended run of success perhaps the next generation might be that bit closer to the Celtic fans envisaged in your concluding chapter.

TC: Too many Celtic people (directors, managers, players and supporters) have blamed outside influences for their collective failures. It’s very convenient – and sometimes justified – but it is a dangerous practice.
As mentioned above, Tom interviewed several ex-refs while researching his book. Here is one equivalent of Interview With A Vampire – a conversation he had with Jim McCluskey:

While I was doing the research for the new book, I noticed that Jim McCluskey was due for retirement as an active referee in the year 2000. Aware that he had been involved in some controversial moments with Celtic during his career, I wrote to him at the SFA to suggest a meeting. The letter was forwarded to him, he accepted the invitation and suggested his office as a suitable venue. I set out the guidelines: I was writing a book about Celtic’s “paranoia” and referees featured prominently in the work. I felt that he, as a referee recently retired, could offer some insights into refereeing styles. I mentioned that I much preferred his laissez faire approach to the more authoritarian methods of some of his colleagues.

First impressions were favourable. I arrived at the company of which Mr. McCluskey is a partner and was shown promptly into a board room office. I was offered tea and biscuits and we would be free from interruptions for the two hours set aside for the meeting.

Jim McCluskey looks taller and leaner than he does in his referee’s gear on the pitch. He seemed fit and alert, certainly conscious of any nuances in a question. He gives the distinct impression of a no-nonsense, business-like man, but without being brusque or overly assertive in his opinions. His answers were shrewd and not academic, frank but not outrageous in his opinions.

We spoke first about refereeing styles. As a former player (a brief spell as Airdrie’s first ever S-form signing) he prefers the game to flow without too much interruption from the referee. He would rather speak quietly to a player to warn him about his conduct or to explain his decisions. He realised that his style was becoming more and more out of step with FIFA directives and SFA policy; however, he stressed that he could not – and would not – criticise other referees whose philosophy was different from his own. I was most impressed with the frankness of his answers to my questions concerning controversial decisions involving Celtic and these incidents are now summarised in chronological order.

The Coyne – Huistra incident at Celtic Park

With the score at 0:0 in the Celtic v Rangers match Tommy Coyne broke through but was tripped from behind by Huistra on the edge of the penalty area. Mr. McCluskey awarded a free kick and booked Huistra.

“I got pelters for that one; the Celtic fans wanted Huistra sent off and every newspaper agreed with them. The legislation about the ‘last man’ had only recently come into effect and everybody felt Huistra should have walked. In fact, the referee supervisor in the stand felt much the same way and I was deducted technical points for my ‘mistake’. I didn’t think it was such a wrong decision. Tommy Coyne – not the fastest player in the world – was drifting to the side of the penalty area and the goalkeeper still had a good angle to block his shot. It was not quite as clear cut as everybody seemed to think. Later on, I was still unhappy about the technical points I was assessed and the SFA sent a tape of the incident to FIFA for their opinion. It took a while for the answer to come back but FIFA agreed with my decision.”

The Jorge Cadete “Goal”

With Rangers leading by 2:1 at Ibrox but Celtic pressing furiously for an equalising goal in the closing stages, Cadete controlled a pass, swivelled sharply and netted. The linesman’s flag shot up and the “goal” was disallowed.

“I remember thinking as we were leaving the pitch that Celtic had outplayed Rangers for most of the second half and that they fully deserved a draw. Considering the intensity of the game I had been pleased with our own performance (as officials) because there had been no major incidents and the players had behaved very well. There was a knock on the door a few minutes after the final whistle and it was Davie Provan, working for a TV company. He wanted to know if the goal had been disallowed for offside or for handball against Cadete. I told him I couldn’t answer that sort of question, but he came back a few minutes later with much the same query. I realised then that the TV footage was indicating something that we had missed or got wrong. I did help him a little by telling him, ‘Look Mr.Provan, you’ve played the game yourself and you know the rules. I suggest you have another look at the replay and watch what I do with my hand’. I had raised my hand when I blew for the infringement to indicate an indirect free kick – in other words for offside rather than hand ball. Seeing the footage later it became clear that we had got it wrong.”

The Stephane Mahe “penalty” at Ibrox

Mahe had broken through from his full-back position and was on the verge of shooting for goal from about eight yards out when he was tackled from behind by Kanchelskis and tumbled down.

“No excuse. I got it completely wrong as I could see when I watched it later on TV. Simply, from my vantage point it looked like a perfectly legitimate tackle, although an awkward one. I gave a corner kick and the Celtic players were not too happy, but they seemed to accept the fact that I had called it as I saw it. Most players – the vast majority of them – accept the fact that you are going to get some decisions wrong. And this one was wrong. Stephane Mahe? I never had a moment’s trouble with him. He was a wholehearted player and sometimes he did dive in too quickly but when he did he came out with the ball more often than not. I was impressed with his ball control going forward.”

Johan Mjallby’s penalty kick at Celtic Park

With the score at 0:0 in a vital Old Firm league match and with about eight minutes left, Neil McCann broke through and Mjallby hauled him back by his jersey. Mjallby was booked for the offence and Gould saved the spot kick from Albertz.

“I got a lot of criticism for that one. Most people assumed that Mjallby should have been sent off but I’m still convinced I was right. It was a penalty kick, McCann was in the clear and Mjallby pulled him from behind… but at that moment McCann did not have the ball under control as it had bounced quite high and Gould was rushing out from his goal. There was no guarantee that McCann would have scored at the moment he was fouled.”

Jackie McNamara’s “ordering-off” in the League Cup semi-final

McNamara and Cocard (Kilmarnock) were involved in a tussle for the ball and both were booked. Cocard had been booked a few minutes earlier and was sent off, as was McNamara. But the referee changed his mind about McNamara.

“It was a bit embarrassing. I was irritated at Cocard for his second indiscretion, especially coming so soon after his first yellow card. Remember, referees don’t like to send players off, but he had to go. McNamara was astounded when I gave him the red card too and I realised I had made a mistake. Frankly, I still had the red card for Cocard in my hand and I held that up for McNamara as well. I played for time to calm things down and told McNamara to, ‘Stay there for a minute until we straighten this out.’ I went over to the touchline to speak to the fourth official and my assistant. Everybody agreed that McNamara had not been booked before and that his part in the flare-up with Cocard did not merit a red card. I went back on to the pitch, explained that to McNamara – and the other players in the vicinity – and they accepted the situation and got on with the game in a normal manner after it.”

During all these explanations I found it refreshing that Jim McCluskey was prepared to admit his mistakes and I found it illuminating to learn about the decision-making process by referees in fraught, split-second situations. It made me more convinced than ever that referees should be allowed to explain controversial decisions, but under a controlled and civilised format. Everybody connected with football recognises that referees are only human and capable of making mistakes; it wouldn’t weaken a referee’s standing if he were to admit to the occasional error.


Below: This new lot are nearly as bad for getting penalties as Rangers were when they were still on the go!

hun penalties

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