SFA: Josh Meekings handball case was non-starter

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THE Scottish Football Association’s disciplinary procedures risk being fatally undermined after the governing body yesterday revealed that Josh Meekings was cleared to play in the Scottish Cup final because the judicial panel convened for his appeal decided there were no grounds to punish the player retrospectively.

At Meekings’ hearing on Thursday at Hampden, the panel did not even consider the player raising his arm to block a goal-bound ball in the semi-final against Celtic. Referee Steven McLean missing the offence led SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan to serve the Inverness defender with a one-game suspension for denying Celtic an obvious goalscoring opportunity. However, the lawyer acting for Meekings argued that the case did not fit the SFA’s protocols because McLean had witnessed the incident, if not the transgression.

Josh Meekings: SFA had no right to ban defender, panel rules. Picture: PA/JSHPIX.CO/Jeff Holmes

Josh Meekings: SFA had no right to ban defender, panel rules. Picture: PA/JSHPIX.CO/Jeff Holmes

In finding favour with this line of reasoning, the panel’s judgment makes it difficult to see how cases involving simulation, in particular, could now be retrospectively prosecuted. In August, Celtic winger Derk Boerrigter was handed a two-match ban for diving in the box with the use of video evidence. Yet referee John Beaton clearly saw the incident as he awarded a penalty for what he believed was a foul on Boerrigter.

In the Scottish Cup semi-final won 3-2 by Inverness, Meekings escaped sanction when he blocked a Leigh Griffiths header with an arm raised to head height because McLean and the other five officials on duty failed to spot the infringement.

McLean and his byeline assistant Alan Muir, in being miked-up, are understood to have had a conversation about what had taken place as Celtic players made loud appeals for a penalty. This fact has given the panel a reason to overturn what would have been an unpopular cup final ban for Meekings.

The SFA’s published reasons for the outcome – given by the chair of the panel – hint at the exasperation sure to be felt by the governing body and the unfairly maligned McGlennan. “Further to the judicial panel hearing yesterday involving Josh Meekings, the panel considered initial submissions from Mr Meekings’ solicitor.

Players have no problem with video evidence being used for incidents that genuinely haven’t been seen by the referee. But... it is now erring into re-refereeing a game on a Monday

Fraser Wishart

“In particular it was argued by him that under protocol 13.4.1.1 the judicial panel was not entitled to determine the matter. The panel considered that as the incident (but not the actual alleged sending-off offence of handball) had been seen by one or more of the officials it was not entitled to consider the matter further. It accordingly dismissed the complaint without any consideration of the merits of the incident or the decision arrived at by the referee.”

The Meekings defence can now be used by defendants in every notice of complaint brought forward by the compliance officer, with the exception of off-the-ball incidents, because of the rule stating that cases can be raised over alleged sending-off offences “not seen by match officials”. Many, including Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce, expressed fears that Meekings’ retrospective ban could set a dangerous precedent. Before the appeal verdict, PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart also voiced such concerns.

‘’I think you have seen this week from the reaction of players across the country, players have no problem with video evidence being used for incidents that genuinely haven’t been seen by the referee,” he said. “Maybe a punch behind the referee’s back and fly kick when the ball is away. But we think, if the rule has been extended, then it is now erring into re-refereeing a game on a Monday. That’s not the purpose of video evidence. That’s why the English FA and Fifa and Uefa steer away from that. The referee could see the incident on Sunday, he just didn’t see the handball.”