By Tony Cottam
So, you may well have noticed there’s a kerfuffle in Scotland right now, regarding referees and a strike. You may not know how it came about, or what happened to make it such a big deal. Granted, you may not care, but tough – I’m going to tell you all about it.
Celtic fans have often been accused of being paranoid. Way back in the 1990s, a Celtic supporters club hired a private detective to follow a referee, and found him drunk in the vicinity of an Orange Walk, and things haven’t got much better since then.
The flashpoint recently occurred during Celtic’s match against Dundee United at Tannadice on a Sunday afternoon. Referee Dougie McDonald awarded Celtic a penalty, which he then overturned – rightly, in my opinion – after appearing to speak to his assistant. Celtic boss Neil Lennon, never the calmest of men at the best of times, was apoplectic. Celtic won the game with a late winner in any case, but Lennon was adamant that his team should have been awarded the penalty and wanted to know why it was rescinded.
Here begins the problem… McDonald, for whatever reason, deceived Lennon. He claimed that the linesman signalled him over to dispute the penalty, and this was the story that went out officially, in the report issued by the head of refereeing, Hugh Dallas (more on him shortly).
When the trouble started: referee Dougie McDonald (right) talks to assistant Steven Caven during the SPL match at Tannadice, on 17 October 2010. McDonald overturned his own penalty decision and appeared to use Craven as the fall guy
Sometime on Sunday evening the assistant referee, Steven Craven, decided that he wouldn’t be part of a cover-up and told Dallas and McDonald that he wasn’t going to take the blame. On Monday, aware that there had been a cover-up, Dallas went on live radio and took Celtic and Lennon to task, claiming all sorts of things and that it was unfair to pressurise referees in this situation – and continued the lie that the assistant ref, Craven, had first called over the referee.
The situation rumbled on, in the way that only controversies involving the Old Firm can in Scotland. During the week, the official observer’s report on the game was leaked on the web – with McDonald’s story in place. It then became clear that Craven really had reached the end of his tether, and he handed in his resignation. Turns out he was planning on leaving in January anyway, but this whole mess had made him revise his decision and leave earlier.
In an EXCLUSIVE and DRAMATIC interview with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, Craven lifted the lid on what he said was a culture of bullying and intimidation amongst the referees in Scotland, starting at the top with Dallas. In the official version of events, he was cited as calling over the ref in the aftermath of the penalty incident – both Dallas and McDonald claimed he’d shouted “Dougie! Dougie!” over the mic