Or are they? “Welsh refs willing to help SFA” says the headline, although at the end of the Sporting Life article it quotes the president of the Welsh Referees Association saying it hasn’t been discussed by his members and they’re not due to meet until Sunday. And personally, he doesn’t think they’ll want to help.
It sums up the whole situation, really. The SFA are desperately scrambling around to save this weekend’s fixtures and prevent a host of expensive problems that will follow (never mind the loss of TV money, count the lawyers) but in doing so they’re making themselves look even more hopeless – something few would have thought possible.
But why are the referees going on strike, really? I have some theories.
(1) All Part of the Masterplan
How can Scottish football stand out in this world of tiki-taka, samba soccer, galacticos, and the like? The world has eclipsed us – we no longer produce men who sit on the ball at Wembley to torment the world champions.
So I think this is part of a concerted effort to increase the prominence of the Scottish game across the globe. Craig Levein’s groundbreaking 4-6-0 formation didn’t make the impact it could have – maybe it will be reprised for those tricky Celtic Cup fixtures in Dublin – but Aberdeen’s 0-9 capitulation to Celtic made the front cover of the New York Times, and this referee strike is getting good press too.
The problem I have with this theory is it would imply SFA president George Peat is a genius – a critical flaw in the model.
(2) The Return of Red Clydeside
Jimmy Reid died earlier this year, and the Scottish tradition of mass industrial action for workers’ rights died decades earlier. Or did it?
Perhaps this is a renewal of the Scottish socialist tradition – the right to withdraw labour in the fight for better working conditions. Deep in the gut of Dougie McDonald (Divisional Director at a transport planning consultancy) something stirred, so he got together with fellow radical firebrand Hugh Dallas (retired construction company Managing Director) and known insurgent Willie Collum (religious education teacher) to plot a workers’ overthrow of the Scottish soccer establishment.
But it’s well-known that all referees vote Tory, so that can’t be it.
(3) For the Love of the Game
As we all know, referees are part-time and minimally paid for doing a horrendous job. Why do they do it? Because they love the game, they say.
Referees also watch more SPL football, and up closer, than pretty much anyone else – at least one game a week, sometimes more, and right in the middle of it too.
And often, it is fucking rubbish.
So maybe the referees love the game so much that they need to kill the Scottish version of it – for the good of us all. Kind of like the big Native American guy suffocating Jack Nicholson’s character at the end of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” – he couldn’t let Jack carry on as a vegetable. And that’s not what Jack would have wanted, either.
But it’s only a one-game strike, and if they were really serious, they’d do something more dramatic, like conspire to favour two big teams over the course of a century… err let’s not go there, eh?
(4) They’ve Had Enough
A recent article in the New York Times (“Incivility Can Have Costs Beyond Hurt Feelings”) highlighted that half of workers lowered their effort after experiencing rudeness at work, and that rudeness to someone indicates “disdain or contempt for them as moral beings.”
Neil Lennon pre-season: “Do you not remember me getting in Stewart Dougal’s face? I want to create a siege mentality, us against them.”
Neil Lennon after the last Old Firm game: “If you look at him [Collum], I’m not sure he saw it so I don’t know why he has given it. He has a lot of questions to answer.” Hours later, Willie Collum received death threats.
Lennon has picked up where Martin O’Neill left off, and because he still has to prove himself he’s taking it to a whole new level – way beyond what could be considered reasonable, informed criticism – and this is his payback.
He would do well to listen to his counterpart, Walter Smith, who said after that match: “If you sit down and look at it, the majority of times the better team wins an Old Firm game.” I am biased, but that is true. And it’s true for Old Firm against non-Old Firm in Scotland, and it’s true for Old Firm against teams in Europe, and for Scotland internationally, too – where we’re often on the end of dodgy decisions, but when it comes down to it, we’re just not good enough.
Walter Smith said something else after that last Old Firm game: “We have got to stop and have a look at what is happening, instead of blaming officials.”