Referees – doing SFA this weekend…

A soccer referee crew.

Image via Wikipedia

What do we want? Less intrusive media speculation, more respect from players and managers and bricks to not be put through our windows! When do we want it? Over the weekend!

Yes, I am referring to the referees strike in Scotland planned to take place over this weekend, potentially disrupting the entire programme of Scottish football. Scottish refs seem to be capturing the mood for direct action that’s sweeping through the country right now (go on disgruntled and disenfranchised youth!) by withdrawing their labour in order to protest about the levels of abuse, threats and vandalism they have been receiving and constant questioning of their integrity by the press, managers and players.

And you can see their point. Referees in general have always had a raw deal and are often treated as scapegoats. Managers constantly blame referees for poor decisions (or decisions that look poor after five minutes of analysis from every angle via slow motion, high def, close up replays) while refusing to admit that their tactics were horribly wrong or that their ‘star’ striker can’t hit a barn door from 2 metres out. I can only imagine what a players reaction would be if a referee got in his face after he’d shanked a shot intended for the top corner out for a throw in. The hounding out of the game of some referees such as Anders Frisk are despicable footnotes in modern football history. Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen terrible refs that have ruined games. But who hasn’t had a shocker in work from time to time? Refs are human and human error is a part of the game and life in general. To paraphrase professional curmudgeon Barry Glendenning of the Guardian, if refs were infallible then football fans would have nothing to whinge about it and that would spoil their fun.

Industrial action such as that planned is usually accompanied by concrete demands, such as over pay and conditions, but in this dispute referees are making no financial demands, merely that they be treated with a bit more respect. Effectively they are drawing a line in the sand and saying that enough is enough. Not surprising given the death threats left for referee Willie Collum after he took charge of the most recent Old Firm game. The fact that they are willing to withdraw their labour over this issue (always a last resort for any workforce and undertaken with a heavy heart, no matter what some newspapers may say about strike action. Unless you’re French) speaks volumes about how downtrodden and victimised referees currently feel.

It’s encouraging that brother referees from many countries in Europe have refused to provide scab labour over the weekend. A long list of countries including Wales, Ireland, Iceland, Denmark and Holland have declined to provide referee cover and while plans are in place to fly in referees from across the continent, these are already on the skids after Poland withdrew its offer of sending three referees. The solidarity shown by their refereeing compatriots also shows that refs may be becoming sick and tired of the abuse they suffer.

However, Scottish refs don’t do themselves any favours when the official Dougie MacDonald is still allowed to referee despite it being revealed that he lied about the reasons for overturning a penalty for Celtic against Dundee United last month. That sort of behaviour is what gives other refs a bad name and leads to the levels of stick that they receive.

Of course, with the current cold weather and accompanying snow sweeping across the country and already affecting Scotland it could be that the referee protest is all a moot point as there could be very little football played anyway.

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