Dear Shuggie,

Ah, Shuggie.  What a life, eh?  Who’d be a referee.  (Actually, I’ll get to that later.)

“The Tannadice Coverup” is what they’re calling it in the papers, though I’m sure Neil Lennon would have it as “The Tannadice Conspiracy”.  I think “The Tannadice Cockup” would be more appropriate.

Celtic player goes down in the box.  Referee calls a foul.  Realises it wasn’t.  Goes over to the linesman to pretend it’s the linesman who’s correcting him.  Reverses his decision, and gets the linesman to take the heat.  Then everybody fibs afterwards, and the linesman quits.  Beautiful, eh?

What were you thinking?  What was Dougie McDonald thinking?  It was very simple.  He gave a penalty, and he changed his mind.  That’s all he needed to say – either at the time or immediately after the game.  Is that really so hard?  Women aren’t the only ones allowed to change their mind.

But no, we have the ref lying, the linesman resigning, the match report turning out to be economical with the truth… and no-one knows who or what to believe any more.

Is it because the pressure on refs – part-timers and volunteers, I appreciate that – is too great?  They know that if they make a mistake they’ll be hammered for it in the press, maybe – if it’s against Celtic – they’ll get a brick through their window or phone call in the middle of the night?

Or is it because you encourage a culture of secrecy around refereeing?  You don’t force the refs to explain their decisions, so there’s a lack of trust.  And the mystifying and illogical appeals process doesn’t help either.

[Case in point: Allan McGregor swipes at an Aberdeen player, gets a one-game ban on TV evidence; Georgio Samaras knees McGregor in the head on live TV, but it’s deemed not worthy of further punishment.  So as long as you connect, it’s OK?]

Or is Lennon right?  Are you all a bunch of masons conspiring against the Tims?  If so, please continue, but if not, please continue to make them think you are.

Mr Lennon must make your life a nightmare, eh?  Even before the season started he spoke of creating a “siege mentality”, an “us against them” attitude.  I supposed when your team’s not good enough, you have to do what you have to do.  But it can’t help, especially not as he not-so-subtly lays into the refereeing before the first big game of the season.

A move which backfired spectacularly, and left you with more fallout to deal with, as if Tannadice wasn’t enough.  Kirk Broadfoot’s penalty in the Old Firm game.  Me?  Well, I’ve had a penalty given against me for simply *touching* the back of a striker.  Daniel Majstorovic had two arms and one leg in contact with Broadfoot – he was asking for trouble.

But to my first question – who’d be a referee?  I know I wouldn’t.  I’ve had to do it a few times. I was rubbish and I hated it.  As a player and spectator, I realise referees are an essential part of the sport, but I still can’t help but say it: too many of you are officious, pompous arseholes, more concerned with enforcing the letter of the law or making yourselves the centre of attention than running a good game of football.  Unfair?  Yes.  But we both know there’s truth in there.

Referees are needed, though, so let’s try to make their lives a bit easier.  Here’s what I think you should do.

1 – Have a culture of complete transparency.  Everyone makes mistakes, so let’s not pretend otherwise.  Referees should talk to the press after games and explain how they saw incidents, with the benefit of TV replays if they are available.  Sure, in the short term there’ll be lots of squealing from managers when refs admit they cocked up, but in the longer term the dialogue is a good thing – managers and players (and fans) will understand how refs think and why they do what they do.  And it will humanise the refs.

2 – Make the appeals process logical and consistent.  Whether a ref saw an incident or not, whether it was on TV or not, whether a player was booked or not – with the benefit of hindsight, if the club appeals the decision, have the ref (or a fourth official) review it – on Monday morning.  I know amateur leagues that are able to deal with suspensions within a few days, why can’t the SFA?

3 – Hammer managers who put pressure on refs.  Yes, Fergie is probably the greatest Scottish manager and part of his success was based on pressuring refs (with his club captain Willie Miller); but Walter Smith is the best Scottish manager at the moment and he doesn’t need to resort to these tactics – if anything, he’s too nice.  I’m sure even Jim Jefferies in his quiet moments understands there’s little benefit to be had in slamming referees in the press.  And maybe if points (1) and (2) are taken on board, managers will have less need to use the press to demonise refs – or maybe, if they do, everyone will be able to see that it’s just a tactic to deflect attention from their own failings.

Three things – none of them hard.  Get to it, Shuggie.


PS. Thanks for Parkhead 1999.