Date: 12th May 2008 at 11:52am
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Everyone who believes in fair play should be 100% behind the comments made by Dundee United manager Craig Levein following his side’s defeat at Ibrox at the weekend.

Generally in football it’s a fact of life that the bigger teams tend to get the majority of big decisions from match officials. You can literally watch any league in the world and see examples of
this happening on a weekly basis, whether it be in a high profile league like England or Spain with the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid getting preferential treatment, or in some of the
so-called lesser countries………yes, that even includes Scotland!

In most cases this could probably be explained by human nature. If for example you are refereeing a football match and something happens so quickly that your own mind is not 100% certain on the
correct decision to make, you are left in a difficult position. If you then add 60,000 voices shouting for it to be awarded one way into the mix, voices belonging to people who are staunchly biased in favour of their own team, it’s makes it even more difficult, and in many cases the easiest thing to do here is simply to appease the masses and go with their ‘recommendation’.

Personally although I’ve been left raging countless times over the years by this sort of thing happening, I think it’s difficult to criticise a match official for taking this approach, as the decisions are still being made as honestly as they can be when there’s doubt involved, even if they end up being wrong from time to time.

However, big problems occur when there are certain decisions taking place for which there can be seemingly no logical explanation – decisions like some of those that so incensed Levein and his club at Ibrox on Saturday. It’s this sort of thing that has people using words like ‘bias’, ‘corruption’ and the fiercest ‘expletive’ that can be used in connection with match officials, ‘cheat’.

Of course, many of those coming out with this sort of criticism are heavily biased towards their own clubs and are merely giving off a knee-jerk reaction of frustration without actually thinking about what they’re saying. I’m quite sure we’ve all been there – five minutes after a match in which our team have lost due to a dodgy last minute penalty, ranting and raving over our beers about that ‘cheating referee robbing us again’. I’m also quite sure that having had time to digest what actually went on and perhaps watched it again on TV, we’ve been forced to admit that our criticism was a tad harsh at times and in some cases, completely unjustified.

But it has to be said, over the past two or three seasons in Scottish football, I don’t think I can ever remember the amount of inconsistency shown in games involving Rangers or Celtic being quite so obvious. As Hearts fans we have seen it first hand, both from the footballing authorities and also the media – as soon as another team looked like challenging years of Old Firm supremacy, they all closed ranks and did everything in their power to make sure that the ‘young upstarts’ ultimately failed in their quest. And they succeeded too, with a series of horrendously one-sided refereeing performances during the winter of 2005/6 playing no small part in ensuring that the league championship remained in Glasgow that year. No-one at any point has suggested this was the SOLE reason that Hearts’ challenge faltered (we all know it was down to the Romanovs), but it should not be underestimated just how much stuffing was knocked out of it by this series of injustices.

Now look at Dundee United’s position this year. I think it’s fair to say that they were pretty much robbed in the CIS Cup Final at Hampden (also against Rangers) and now they have potentially seen their club missing out on the big cash windfall of Europe due to yet more unjustified treatment at Ibrox. It seems to me that any team who looks capable of being better than the Old Firm clubs (and United have been in that category this season in the head-to-heads I’ve seen) ends up having to play against the match officials as well as the opposition to get results. And because none of the teams in this league are significantly better than anyone else, this becomes an almost impossible task.

Aberdeen achieved regular success in the 1980s because their team was MUCH better than the rest over a period of a few years, but until another team in the SPL can produce a team to compare with that, a team that is so superior that no number of dodgy decisions can turn the result against them, this fruitless struggle will continue . Unless of course, something is done to seriously attempt to address these inconsistencies…….

What can be done? Well, what would help for a start would be if the media started reporting on some of these disgraceful inconsistencies in a slightly more truthful manner. Far too often, just like their SFA counterparts, the predominately west-coast-based journos continue to sweep the likes of what happened on Saturday under the carpet – or either that or they go on the offensive against those who dare to speak out against it in order to protect the interest of their biggest customers. Just think about the way they went to town on George Foulkes after his rant about the Andy Davis decision at Tynecastle a few years ago for example. This isn’t good enough – as Levein says it’s about time someone there had the balls to come out and tell it like it is, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll then start to see some action being taken.

I’m not about to start saying we should be screening match officials for being potentially biased or anything like that though. I think the answer is much more simple than that – technology. Surely now we can start using TV evidence for consultation on decisions that directly affect results, like goals being disallowed or penalty awards? Some might say that even if we do go down this route it may still be down to the referee’s discretion about when this would be called upon, but surely it would be a step in the right direction regardless? It’s the only way I can see honest decisions consistently being made in matches involving certain clubs, and these could then be easily communicated to the paying public so that there can be absolutely no dispute whatsoever.

Of course, there will be some who would say that introducing this sort of thing is effectively killing part of the game, namely controversy. To be honest I could see where that argument comes from as we do all like a good conspiracy theory now and then, and having certain things being open to interpretation, but in my view you’d still have that in football even if we did use video replays for certain decisions. It’s such a passionate sport that controversy would rarely be far away. And most importantly of course, the field would be levelled and everyone would have a chance to win the SPL, not just two clubs – that has to be good for our game as a whole.

At the very least though, the authorities have to start taking a more sympathetic view when the likes of Levein start to make the sort of comments he did on Saturday. There has to be more freedom of speech in Scottish football if those in power continue to turn a blind eye to some of the gross injustices being dealt out on the field of play. They can’t have it both ways.

I would encourage everyone in the game to get right behind Levein and his club if the SFA decide to come down hard on them for this (which seems inevitable). All he (and his chairman) did after the game was speak the truth, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was delighted to hear someone finally coming out and telling it like it is.

Once again the opportunity is there for every club in the league to stand up and be counted in the fight for fairness. The question is, will they take it this time? Or just shy away into their cowardly shells like the last time their support was needed. We’ll see……….