Any abuse the comes the way of Scottish Cup final referee Bobby Madden from the stands, streets or cyberspace will never floor the 38-year-old. Not when the former runner kept his career in football on track even after developing thyroid cancer.
“People are out longer with a calf strain,” said Madden of the illness. “That is how I looked at it, I was just so focused on coming back.” In no way should that diminish what he required to go through after a hospital check for a lump in his neck last March turned into a four-hour examination that ended with him being told he had cancer. Yet, after giving up his job as a distribution manager with a publisher in Bishopbriggs the year before to concentrate on being in the best possible shape for officiating duties at Euro 2016, he still made it to France.
“When it was confirmed in April it was thyroid cancer the prognosis was quite positive – after the surgery to remove the thyroid I had radioactive iodine. So, there was no chemo or radiotherapy. I delayed it until after the Euros.
“It was a shock and I didn’t tell my family for four weeks until it was confirmed because I didn’t want to alarm anybody. The doctor was unsure whether I would get back to refereeing because I would need to take drugs to replace the thyroid. But it became clear that I would return.”
He did, at Brechin, and ten days later refereed Portugal, Ronaldo et al, in a World Cup qualifier. “It went well and gradually I was put back in,” he said.
Madden requires a body scan to make sure that the cancer is gone and hasn’t spread, but has delayed this until after he travels to Poland for under-21 finals. There are many who would venture that Madden and his refereeing colleagues need their heads checked for involving themselves in a pursuit that puts them centre stage for only grief.
As happened after Madden did not give a penalty for a Clint Hill challenge on Leigh Griffiths as Celtic were held by Rangers in the side’s March meeting, with Brendan Rodgers’ men chasing a straight league win record.
He stands by his decision, despite the mountain of criticism his judgement attracted. “I couldn’t make a percentage call in there – was the contact with the man first? I definitely saw the ball move and I was comfortable with that.”
He is as comfortable as he can be with any possible stick. Madden even reads the papers, and raised an eyebrow afterreading claims by Griffiths that Madden had asked him if Hill touched the ball. “That’s incredible – you can see me on TV saying twice he played the ball,” said the man whose football career was a stint with East Kilbride YM. “I was adamant he played the ball. Leigh maybe misquoted me.”
Madden has been traduced in the foulest fashion. In football and media circles he is a popular referee because of a patently sensible, human approach. “I try to let them play as much as I can. Once they overstep the line then you need to step in. I think the statistics show that I give the least fouls and cards and I think players respect that and respond to that.”
Online, though, Madden has been called “Brother Madden” – a masonic reference – and faced accusations of being a Rangers season book holder. Any objective observer can see Madden referees without fear or favour, as will be the case when Celtic and Aberdeen meet at Hampden tomorrow. These observers, though, are in short supply on the web.
“It’s frustrating because unfortunately with social media one person says something and it becomes true.
“I don’t use it. Some of my friends will occasionally take a screen shot and forward it to me, if it’s funny. [One was] ‘He must not have had a hood on his pram’. I liked that, but some of the comments there are frustrating but what can you do?
“Someone says something and it’s accepted as the truth and someone retweets it and it serves as an endorsement. It’s frightening. I keep away from it. Some of my friends keep me abreast but some of the comments there are not even worth discussing, casting aspersions about your family and… better not to talk about it because some of these things are so factually incorrect. I tell my friends not to get involved, not to go in and try and correct it because they will only turn on you.
“Amazingly, they’ve said I have a son – I don’t have a son; that my dad was at a game – well, my dad has actually passed away. If someone corrects that, other abuse comes their way and that’s frightening. I’m a referee, I’m there to do a job and officiate and unfortunately social media supports this type of mentality, not just for referees but players too.
“It’s there and there are a lot of positives but unfortunately there are negatives, too.”