Great Honest Mistakes of Our Time

honest mistakes ref

NTV’s Support Willie Collum month finishes with a teary-eyed nostalgic look back at just one of the Great Honest Mistakes of Our Time.

April 1989 and the world is about to be introduced to a size 5 leather Mitre football that defies all known laws of physics and movement. Isaac Newton, had he been alive, would have been eating his words.

Celtic were playing Rangers (RIP) in the final league derby match of the season and had to win to have even the faintest hopes of retaining the league title they won in a blaze of glory 12 months previously during the Centenary season. But the joy of that seemed a long way off then.

The summer of 1988 had been a disaster of our own making. In key areas of the team we required fresh blood. Tommy Burns and Billy Stark had been outstanding but both were over 30. Roy Aitken was a similar age and behind the scenes there was trouble brewing as star striker Frank McAvennie was agitating for a move back to London. You will be unsurprised to hear that his model girlfriend was a major motivation in this request.

Even without these issues the fact was that our squad was very small as we were about to find out.

During that summer we bought two players, both goalkeepers. One was an Englishman called Ian Andrews who had arrived from Leicester. He was young but had some promise in that he had won a couple of U21 caps for his country. The other was Alan Rough, former Thistle, Hibs and Scotland legend. He wasn’t young but had a cupboard full of Scotland caps and the experience of three World Cup finals behind him. The reason for both these buys was that we had no fit ‘keeper. Reserve goalie Alan McKnight had moved to West Ham to get first team football and Pat Bonner had knackered his back at the end of the season forcing him out of the cup final, but had, somehow, still been allowed to go to the European Championships with Ireland, where had been a star. However that tournament hadn’t done his back or Celtic any favours. He would be out for a couple of months and his absence contributed massively to our horrific start to the league campaign.

Of our first 8 league games we won 3 and lost 5, shipping 15 goals in the process, 5 of them at Ibrox on a day that was almost entirely blamed on Andrews. But the awkward truth was that our central defence of Aitken and McCarthy were far more culpable in the overall calamity.

Other stand out disaster performances came at Easter Road with a 3-1 loss and a home spanking from Aberdeen, again 3-1. Andrews this time was very much to blame and, like the crosses into his penalty area, was dropped shortly after never to be seen again (in truth his career never recovered from Ibrox).

Meanwhile over the river Rangers (RIP) hadn’t been sitting on their hands during the summer the way Celtic had. They had gone out and bought England right back Gary Stevens from Everton and striker Kevin Drinkell from Norwich City. After the season started they would also sign Andy Gray for a short while and would continue to add to their squad as the weeks went by. During the calendar year of 1988 they would add six players who went straight into their first team and a couple more squad players. We added no one and we had the smaller squad to start with. What did we want to happen?

In November we got some measure of revenge over Rangers (RIP) with a 3-1 win at Celtic Park, but in January our squad size was again a factor as we went to Ibrox without the injured Paul McStay and again came away with a hammering; 4-1 this time (as if it wasn’t bad enough we had taken the lead in both games at Ibrox).

Oh, and to add insult to injury, we lost McAvennie with a broken arm after 20 minutes, so that should probably read injury to insult, but you know what I mean. Just in case you are wondering, the challenge that broke his arm wasn’t deemed a foul, but you probably guessed that already.

In January Big Billy finally brought in a new player. We had played and struggled badly against Dumbarton in the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup and on the back of that we bought their centre half Steve McCahill.

He may have been a huge Celtic fan, he may be a nice guy, but there was no way he should have been anywhere near the first team squad at Celtic and that was about to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.
And so to the big match. Rangers (RIP) were well up for this one. They hadn’t won at Celtic Park for 10 years, but they had an almost unstoppable momentum and victory here to all intents would wrap up the league. They also had an almost full squad to choose from, the only notable absence being Ian Durrant who suffered a horrific knee injury the previous October that severely curtailed his career (say what you like about him, he could play and he was never the same player when he came back).

Meanwhile we had lost Derek Whyte to injury meaning that Steve McCahill would start. We had also finally lost McAvennie. After he returned from injury his demands for a transfer became public and he was sold in March. Despite his desire to leave his performances that season were often summed up with the phrase “1 man army”. His departure was a huge loss. Celtic lined up;

Bonner, Morris, Rogan, Aitken, McCahill, Grant, Stark, McStay, Walker, McGhee, Burns

Rangers (deceased) were in about us from the start, the tone set when McCoist beat Aitken in an early tackle. The Hoops were second to everything and we were a goal down within 4 minutes.Walters turned Rogan inside-out at the goal line and was hauled down. From the resulting free kick Drinkell easily lost his marker and headed the ball goalwards. McCahill got in the way and deflected the ball past Bonner. Roy Aitken went absolutely spare.

honest mistake brown foul

Above: John ‘Bomber’ Brown showing off the silky skills that were trademark of his contribution to the Beautiful Game.

 

They were running us ragged. After 31 minutes they were awarded another free kick 25 yards out. Ferguson hit it hard, Bonner could only parry the ball straight into the air and watch as it dropped into the net.

Two down and almost unable to get out of our own half, the manager reacted. He withdrew Stark and put on Joe Miller. It had an almost instant effect. Celtic began to hold the ball and make headway into their half. By the half-time whistle we had taken a hold of the game and early in the second half we scored.

Miller gathered the ball in his own half and made his way down the right. He gave it to McStay, who played in the overlapping Morris whose cross was gathered by Walker and beautifully finished in off the post.

Hope.

We had almost completely turned the tables on them, we were the ones on the front foot and finally the pressure told. Another cross from Chris Morris was intercepted by Gough, but he mistimed it and the ball skidded off his boot towards Mark McGhee. On the way it hit Gough’s hand and fell dead. Penalty!

After a discussion Joe Miller stepped up and hit the weakest penalty you’ll ever see. It was easily saved.

honest mistakes penalty miss

Above:Joe Miller’s penalty miss. The Honest Mistakes were about to kick in shortly afterwards.

 

Disaster, but still we kept at them until there came the moment that defined the game.

Again Morris was played in, this time about level with the 6 yard line (his previous crosses had been level with the 18). He appeared to overhit it. Mark McGhee was close to their keeper Woods, but careful not to give away a foul. Woods was struggling as the ball came closer. He missed it and the ball hit the inside netting at the back post.

Delirium and chaos on the terraces, redemption from two down and a missed penalty.

At high pressure matches like this I’m always nervous about the referee. I always check that he has pointed to the centre spot before celebrating the goal and there he was pointing and running away. Time to smile!

But suddenly he stopped. The linesman had raised his flag. The Celtic players surrounded the ref as he walked over for the dreaded “consultation”. He then signalled that the ball had gone out of play!

So let’s get the story straight; Chris Morris hit a cross that went out of play, back in and then back out again (because it crossed the goal line and hit the net) all while going up and down at the same time?

Not since the magic bullet theory postulated by the Warren Commission has there been a more ridiculous assertion. After the ball left Morris’s boot it remained untouched until it hit the net. Woods never got near it, neither did McGhee. For this theory to have credibility there would needed to be a hurricane force wind blowing instantly east and west at the same time. There wasn’t. There also wasn’t any great fuss made in the match reports by the press. It was simply accepted that the ball must have swung out of play, then back in… er, then back out again. Nothing odd in that.

As the man once said “You canny change the laws of physics”; obviously the second part of that phrase must have been, “unless you need to preserve a lead for Rangers (RIP) and then you can make up anything you want!” But given that Star Trek is set in the 23rd Century and Rangers (RIP) died in the early part of the 21st I suppose we can understand why the second bit lost its relevance and popularity.

Anyway, with that Celtic finally ran out of gas. Heartened by a penalty save and a sympathetic linesman Rangers (RIP) held out. The league duly followed but Big Billy had one last hurrah as we fought out a hard won 1-0 win in the cup final, Joe Miller making up for his penalty miss with the only goal and that goal was far more valuable.

In truth the league was long over before that penalty miss. Funnily enough, that cup final is the source of one of their main refereeing gripes – their cornerstone evidence that Celtic were always the favoured team – when Roy Aitken stole a throw in. Yes, you read that correctly; we once got a throw-in that we shouldn’t. It was in our half as well, but from that we went into their half. They had possession but it was a poor clearing header and from that we scored the only goal. So ignore all the disallowed goals, denied penalties, broken bones that aren’t fouls and curious red cards. Throw-ins are the crucial point apparently. (If we were cataloguing all the throw-ins we should have got against them that went the other way we would be here until the 23rd century._

That was the first of their nine in a row league wins, but you can look back and smile at that now because every one of them was simply another down payment on their demise as their ambitions rapidly overtook reality and the money started to run out.

The impact of this game on Celtic was that there was almost a mass brawl in the dressing room over who should have taken the penalty. Many thought that Aitken should have taken the captain’s responsibility and this game all but signalled the end of Steve McCahill’s first team career at Celtic. He became that most unwanted thing; the successful reserve captain. Ashtray on a motor bike.

The next year would see us humiliated with the Merde signing for us then them, the signing of inadequate players and the removal of legends either past their prime (Burns) or hounded out (Aitken). The dark years beckoned.
AB Murdoch

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Where Were You When You Heard?

ed liquidation headlines

We couldn’t let February pass without paying our respects to the end of a Scottish institution. We all know where we were when momentous events were reported. The JFK assasination, the first moon landing, the day billionaire Craig Whyte took over at Ibrox. Four years on, the Govan Bugle asked our readers, “Where were you when you heard Rangers were going to be liquidated?”

“I was driving up the M6 with a fishing rod, some chicken sandwiches and two cans of lager.”
P. Gascoigne
Tyneside

“Despite the recession we were interviewing for some more staff. We sensed a boom period ahead.”
Nardini’s
Largs

“I was looking in the bathroom mirror getting ready for a Valentine’s dinner and a saucy night in. With myself.”
Gordon Smith
Ibrox

“I was down the job centre looking for a nursing job thanks to all these cut backs due to tax dodgers.”
Florence Nightingale
Crimea

“I was watchin’ the big Monday game on the box. I was invited to Ibrox but some fires are just too big to put out.”
Red Adair
Houston

“I was chasing after Celtic, then someone pulled my legs away from me.”
Bill Struth
Dark Ages

“One was just aff the phone to my tax collectors.”
Madge
The palace (you choose I’ve a few)

“I was having a break, on hearing the news I picked up my scythe and started sharpening.”
The Grim Reiper
Angel of Death

“Me and Boo Boo were out stealing a camper’s picnic. There will be a free for all with no Rangers.”
Yogi
Yellowstone Park

“I was standing in the queue to catch a flight to Outer Mongolia.”
C Whyte
London

“I was waiting at the ATM to withdraw the next instalment of my salary to pay to Rangers.”
S. Aluko
Kinning Park

“I was washing David Murray’s scrotum.”
James Traynor
Lancefield Quay

“I was having my ears syringed… Pardon?”
P. Nevin
Easter Road

“I was out the back with my head stuck in the kid’s sand pit”
Dadid Edgar
Bonkersville

“I was about to sit down to some curds and whey when I heard the news. Had some jelly and ice cream instead.”
Little Miss Muffet
On a tuffit

“I was off to bed so it’s good night from me and good night for them.”
Ronnie Corbet
CBE (most kind ma’am for a double whammy)

“I was just coming out the tardis coming back from the ten in row celebrations in 2022.”
Doctor Who
The Tardis

“I was in the kitchen with egg on my face.”
Kirk Broadfoot
My kitchen

“I was wandering round a supermarket desperately trying to find some monster munch.”
Kris Boyd
Kilmarnock

“I was enjoying some sangria watching the sun go down from my lounger.”
Fergus McCann
Bahamas

“I was in Greggs buying up stocks of last week’s rancid pies at knockdown prices. Yum yum.”
D. Mingwall
Glasgow

“I’ve no idea if I’ll be getting overtime every second Saturday but at the time I was pissing myself.”
The Laughing Policeman
Peel Street

“I was sacking Vienna. I’ll be rampaging around Europe after the 31st March whatever UEFA say.”
Attila the Hun
Vienna

“I was singing the Billy Boys on a motorway hard shoulder to the love of my life, Archie Knox. Can’t remember if it was the news that caught my breath or the flashing blue lights in my wing mirror”
Craig Brown
M9

“I was choking on a fish pie.”
Queen Mum
Glamis

How should I know where I was? I was pissed as a fart.”
Alan McGregor
Murray Park

“I was organising my Rangers – eh – St Mirren programme collection.”
Chick Young
BBC

“I was sending a text to some of my ex-colleagues at the SFA.”
Hugh Bonkers
Dallas

“I was on my way to hell.”
Ian Paisley
Belfast

“I was planning on buying a Scottish football club. I hear the SFA will let anybody pass a fit a proper person test.”
A Hitler
Paraguay

“I was taking part in the World Doughnut Eating Championship.”
Ally McCoist
Milngavie

“I was arresting Aiden McGeady for speeding.”
PC William McOrangeman
Moscow (temporary posting)

“I was having a bit of a do with my old Rangers buddies.”
General George Armstrong Custer
Little Big Horn

“I was writing a press release for Rangers.”
J Goebbels
The Bunker
Berlin

“I was going like the clappers. I thought I was filthy but I don’t go down as fast as Rangers.”
Debbie
Dallas

“That’s enough made up phone-calls to the Bugle Hotline.”

Babylon Establishment FC (or What’s Wrong With a Strong Aberdeen?)

fiver

The main theme that the Laptop Loyal will have taken from a recent interview with Neil Lennon that appeared in the Guardian is that the former Celtic manager agrees with them that there should be a return to a Scottish football paradigm that died with the stroke of a liquidator’s pen following an eight minute meeting in 2012. In an article that appeared in NTV 206, Henry Clarson debunks a long-propagated but now defunct myth.

 

There’s a recurring myth which I want to address, viz, the myth that Scottish football needs a “strong” Rangers.

Let us see first of all how this “strong” Rangers has worked in practice.

For the best part of the last quarter of a century, Rangers’ “strength” and apparent success lay in their ability and determination to outspend every other team in Scotland. They fully played their part in contributing to the collapse of the Bank of Scotland in order to finance transfers and wages for players which no other Scottish team could even countenance.

Using tens of millions of pounds from a bank which would ultimately collapse and pass on its debts to every man, woman and child in the nation, “Strong” Rangers signed prominent internationalists from England, Denmark, France, Scotland and elsewhere to fill every place in their starting eleven.

After David Murray took control of the club, Strong Rangers went on to win 16 titles. Five of these went to the last game of the season – strongly, I’m sure – even though Rangers, uniquely, were allowed to use fortunes of the doomed bank’s zombie assets to boost their “strength”.

And despite the media propaganda that tells us otherwise, Strong Rangers’ most recent title successes were still claimed by the most expensively assembled squad in the country, underwritten by tax-payers who were saddled with the tab for the reckless practices of the failed banks.

Question One: How many titles might Strong Aberdeen, Strong Dundee United, Strong Hibs or even Strong Partick Thistle win if a tax-payer owned bank  decided to give one of those clubs a credit line that would allow them to outspend their nearest challengers by a ratio of “ten pounds for every fiver”?

Strong Rangers, not content with having used everyone else’s money to buy their nine-in-a-row (which was obviously a Good Thing for Scottish football) then apparently decided that having to waste money paying the income tax of their expensively assembled international mercenaries was too much of a handicap to their future ambitions. So they strongly rejected this practice and availed themselves of more tens of millions of pounds which the rest of their competitors were too honest (“weak”) to steal from the nation.

Question Two: How many titles might Strong Aberdeen, Strong Dundee United, Strong Hibs or even Strong Partick Thistle win if any one of them was allowed to compete for the signings of top players without the inconvenience of having to give millions of pounds to the taxman each time they offered a contract to their potential employees?

If Scottish football needs this kind of “Strong” club, let’s be absolutely honest about it in unequivocal terms.

Let the government propose the formation of a new club for the good of Scottish football. Its name doesn’t matter much but let’s not actually call it Strong State Supported Football Club For The Good Of Scottish Football.
Let it simply be called Babylon Establishment FC.

For the good of Scottish football, Babylon Establishment FC must have a line of credit with the nationalised bank of its choice.

The credit limit must be raised if Babylon Establishment FC struggle to dominate the Scottish league.

For the good of Scottish football, Babylon FC will not have to pay taxes on the wages which it offers to its players. Otherwise those players might choose to sign for another club.

For the good of Scottish football, there must also be some kind of constitutional arrangement in place which guarantees that Babylon FC will always play in the top division of the Scottish league, even if other clubs have to go to the wall as a consequence.

And for the good of Scottish football, the press must clear all of their copy about Babylon FC with the government before it is published.

The alternative is unthinkable; it might herald a return to the dark days when Weak Rangers languished in mid-table while Dundee Utd, Aberdeen, Hearts and Celtic were competing for the championship title. Clearly, that was a Bad Thing for Scottish football.

Who would want a return to the misery of watching Scottish clubs horsing Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Sporting Lisbon and others out of European tournaments, year after year. That was self-evidently a Bad Thing for Scottish football.

And heaven forbid that Scottish international teams might ever again go head to head with the likes of Brazil, Germany and Holland in the World Cup Finals or the Euro championships.

So let’s not accept the false paradigm of the need for a Strong Rangers. If there is to be a debate on the principle, let’s be clear and honest about the terms and parameters which pertain.

Let there simply be a Babylon Establishment FC which is exactly what it says it is on the tin instead of straining to maintain the pretence that Strong Rangers was anything other than Babylon FC by another name.

Henry Clarson

 

Accies 1 Celtic 1

The kind of Celtic performance that is becoming more frequent under Ronny Deila. Against a team we stuck 8 past barely a month ago, once again poor team selection mixed with slack defending and a hint of Craig Thompson sees us drop more points in the league.

Sometimes I start these off by saying how well the front four linked up. However, this was a changed attacking midfield and there was very little linking.

Commons looked off the pace but he’s been injured so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Scott Brown’ didn’t have one of his better nights and his impression of someone trying to control a football led to a gilt-edged chance followed thankfully by a bad miss from Crawford.

Celtic were creating virtually nothing in the first half but were given the chance to take the lead when an Accies defender fouled Griffiths in the box. Referee Craig Thompson took centre stage and awarded the spot kick. It wasn’t to be his only intervention in the game.

With a few minutes left before the interval Scott Allan gifted the ball to an Accies player  who slid in the striker. He was offside but play continued and Boyata dived in with a last-ditch challenge 20 yards from goal. The Celtic defender got to the ball first but Thompson had a red card out almost as fast as he could stick the whistle in his gullet. A clear goalscoring opportunity? If it was Christiano Ronaldo tearing into the penalty area maybe.

Boyata dubiously dismissed and Celtic now waning. Funny how Craig Thompson’s decisions even themselves out though eh?

Second half didn’t go much better. Mackay-Steven missed a great chance when through on the ‘keeper before Griffiths spurned a second penalty awarded for Ziggy Gordon wrestling Lustig at a corner kick. Like the one he awarded against Ross County, a cynic might suggest that Thompson was attempting to mitigate an earlier honest mistake.

When Brophy equalised for Accies there wasn’t much hope that Celtic would get a winner – although bringing on Kazim-Richards with ten men for 4 minutes was a peculiar decision by the manager.

Nothing about this performance went well. No fluid football, slack passing and few passable performances (Kieran Tierney once again putting some of his more senior colleagues to shame). Meanwhile the Accies players were allowed to wrap their studs around opponents with relative impunity (Mackinnon should have seen a straight red for a particularly nasty lunge at Tierney). All pretty standard these days.

This changed front 3 behind the strikers did not work at all.

A poor performance and more dropped points is beginning to sound all too familiar.

Tommybhoy

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:

paranoia

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

I Blame German Schools

Imagine the surprise of Ulf Soeder, our Wurzburg (Germany) correspondent, when checking his daughter’s English homework recently when he came across the page below.

earwig german book

Headed ‘It Makes Me So Angry’, the page invited its early high school pupils to write two sentences in English about a selection of pictures. Lo and behold, picture 2 featured a hooped striker scoring against Rangers. The scoreboard indicates the Celts leading 2:0 already, so a real hammering is being administered (Note: the book was published before they ceased trading and went into liquidation). The almost lifelike image also features an Alan McGregor character between the sticks who can only look on as the ball whistles past him in a reprise of his Kris Commons moment, while an elderly defender arthritically hirples towards the striker making gurning faces and wheezing noises in a feeble attempt at putting the striker off. Davie Weir perhaps?

Prompted by the word ‘Celtic’ the German youngster wrote the sentences: ‘… are winning the game. They have just scored a goal.’ Grammatically quite correct, although I’m sure my reader (surely ‘readers’? Concerned Ed) (No, ‘reader’ – the page is entitled ‘singular and plural’ and I do know the difference – pedantic Earwig) could probably think of a few more apposite, not to mention pithy entries.

Indeed, when you consider the whole page, there is a certain theme running through it.

Question 1: ‘The boy’s jeans are too short. He is so out of fashion he is clearly a Sevco supporter.’

Question 3: ‘The ten o’clock news… is on TV. They are not reporting another court case.

Question 5: ‘The furniture… has been removed from David Murray’s oak-panelled office in Charlotte Square. He is in serious financial trouble.

Question 6: ‘The Police… are ignoring racist songs. I wonder why.

As instructed, I’ll restrict my answers to part 2 to two words:
1. Most reporters.
2. Fat Sevconians.
3. Manchester rioters.
4. Except McCoist.
6. Sevco.

Have I passed? (Ja – Beeindruckt Englisch Lehrer).

tattoo you

earwig hun tattoo

Were you as alarmed as I was when you found out that Charlie’s Camilla got herself tattooed while in Morocco? Obviously it’s the kind of thing you might do after one too many pints (so I’m told) but I was naturally afraid that she might have done something completely reckless and got a Sevco tattoo. I mean these things are bad for you. According to the Sun, it’s much better to get a Celtic tat as there’s nothing that can go wrong with green ink. The red and blue, by contrast, can react with your immune system and give you swollen lymph glands.

Sleep tight Nacho.
THE EARWIG

Celtic 3 Inverness CT 0

This game was pretty much a cut and paste performance from last week in Attack of the Hairy-Arsed Higlanders part 2.

Once again, the first half was tepid. The referee was blowing his whistle just short of grievous bodily harm on anyone wearing Hoops and Celtic struggled to get a grip on the game (although the Caley players certainly got enough of a grip on anyone wearing a green and white jersey).

Truthfully, we could have been easily been a goal down after Gordon, again, looked unconvincing from a set-piece. The resultant header from the Caley player went over the top of a gaping net.

However, we came out for the second-half looking like a much better side. Sviatchenko was running the show at times from centre-back and our passing was much slicker. Yet the Dane’s lack of pace almost had us caught out as Jordon Roberts was denied one on one by Gordon.

Still the final ball was lacking until some excellent one touch passing around the box resulted in an excellent GMS snapshot into the back of the net.

Griffiths added another two (both fine finishes) but the attention was shifted in the last quarter onto the attacking trio that finished the match – Allan, Christie and Roberts.

Many have called for these three to start next game. I remain skeptical. While I am totally sold on Ryan Christie – there’s no question that this lad is a true talent and he was bright from the moment he came on – I feel that it is counter-productive to give game time to a player who will almost certainly be back at Man City at the end of next season at the expense of a player who we own outright. That said, Roberts also looked lively and probably should have scored.

Allan is clearly quite a talented player but he has been given a reasonable amount of game-time without much substance and gave away the ball a number of times. Not sure he’s better than what we’ve already got and at 23 he’s hardly a young prospect anymore.

Nevertheless, all three linked up well for Griffiths’s third and rounded off a decent second-half performance and a decent display overall.

Tommybhoy