Not that we need it, but every weekend brings further proof that the standard of refereeing in Scotland is not exactly stellar class. We are hardly alone in that in the SPFL.
In every league in every country in the world there are fans and journalists moaning about their whistlers and their blunders. At least in Scotland, for the most part, referees have a reasonable hold on their egos. Reasonable in relation to England at any rate – and Mark Halsey in particular.
Halsey, now retired as an official in the top-flight, has just followed in the footsteps of Graham Poll and Jeff Winter and has published his autobiography, Added Time, much to the consternation of some in the refereeing fraternity down south. Halsey, it is clear, is not lacking in self-regard.
He talks about a rather cosy relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson where phone calls and texts were commonplace despite the referees’ code forbidding an official from making contact with a manager outside of match-day. Halsey did so regularly, it seems. And he’s chuffed to reveal it in his book.
Fans of other clubs are perfectly entitled to ask whether Halsey ever did Ferguson any favours on the back of his access to the former United manager. Halsey denies any wrong-doing, but this is all deeply uncomfortable stuff. He tells a story about Jose Mourinho. Admittedly, Mourinho had moved on from Chelsea at the time the story took place, but Halsey quite obviously had a good relationship with the Portuguese. So good, in fact, that when it became known that Halsey’s wife, Michelle, had been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, Mourinho paid for a holiday for the Halsey family at a five-star hotel on the Algarve.
Referees are not allowed to ask managers for an autograph, never mind accept a holiday. That’s why Halsey’s book troubles so many in the game. And it’s not just Halsey’s story where the narcissism is seen. Poll’s tome, Seeing Red, was full of the same thing as was Winter’s Who’s the B****** in the Black? The most squirm-inducing passage from Winter’s autobiography takes us back to his last season as a referee and, in particular, his final time officiating at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-0 and the Kop applauded wildly. “Did they know it was my final visit?” wrote Winter, in all seriousness, before asking: “Was the applause for me?”
Nobody is going to give thanks for the referees we have in Scotland, but at least give them credit for not being preening, self-important, ego-maniacs. Not all of them anyway.