The man in the middle at Hampden Park yesterday heard a variation on an old tune when he was serenaded with a verse of ‘who’s the so-and-so in the blue’.
Willie Collum should roundly ignore the insults, however, as the referee had a very competent game, showing why he is one of the two top-rated referees in Scotland.
Hibs fans will probably disagree, as they seemed to think he favoured Celtic, but it would be more correct to say that Collum interpreted the laws in a way that favoured Celtic, in as much as he allowed physicality – it’s a man’s game, and all that – and also kept play moving by playing advantage several times.
That also played into Celtic’s hands as their game plan was to stretch a young Hibs team who, at times, calamitously lost their positions.
Collum rightly stamped his authority on a potential flashpoint after an incident between Hibs’ combative midfielder Jorge Claros and Celtic’s captain and former Hibs battler Scott Brown. The referee stepped in and booked both.
For the first time in a domestic match, we had two extra officials at either end of the pitch to assist the referee. Now the cynics might say this is an excuse for the SFA to bung members of the refereeing fraternity a few hundred extra quid and a participant’s medal to boot, but it is standard practice in Fifa and Uefa-controlled matches now and, until there is goal-line technology, you can see the use for them.
The job specification is to “ensure that the laws of the game are upheld, informing the referee of incidents of any kind that he may otherwise have missed, particularly in key areas of the field like the penalty area and its surroundings”, as Fifa put it.
The ‘fifth official’ role also gives referees who may make it into the top ranking an outing in the atmosphere of a big match, and that is surely a very useful thing.
It was an education to watch John Beaton and Bobby Madden, especially when the ball was at the other end of the field. They continued to follow play, moving off their marks at the edge of the 18-yard box as the ball moved from side to side across the slick Hampden surface – an object lesson to any young whistlers on how to keep your concentration for 90 minutes.
As for the other umpires on the two longer sides, Martin Cryans and Willie Conquer seemed to call everything correctly down the lines, having precious few offside decisions to make.
Fourth official Alan Mulvanny had the easiest job of the five assistants, not least because both management teams were on their best behaviour – Neil Lennon actually sat down for most of the match and made only the occasional foray into the technical area.
They will all be back at their day jobs today having played their part in a good football occasion. Collum will no doubt get a ribbing from the pupils at the school where he teaches, but they should be aware of this – ‘sir’ is heading to Wembley next week to referee the England v Republic of Ireland match, making him the only Scot to feature in an international at Wembley this season.