WHATEVER the ineptitude of Steven McLean in proving the catalyst for the Josh Meekings affair, frankly the beleaguered referee’s shortcomings were utterly dwarfed yesterday by the idiocy shown by the judicial panel in freeing the Inverness Caledonian Thistle defender to play in the Scottish Cup final.
Let us recap here. The SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan applied the one-match suspension that has now been successfully appealed because Meekings was deemed to have denied a goalscoring opportunity through deliberately handling the ball as it travelled towards the net during last Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic.
McGlennan’s opinion seemed to be representative of the entire Scottish football constituency. The monstering McLean has taken for missing the most glaring penalty and sending-off, which turned the semi-final in Inverness’s favour, told that. Heck, even Meekings and John Hughes themselves acknowledged a spot-kick and red card ought to have ensued from the offence. Now, though, it seems there were three people unconvinced and they just happened to gather at Hampden yesterday and form the very tribunal deciding the appeal. Lucky old Josh.
Former compliance officer Vincent Lunny could barely disguise his incredulity at this outcome on radio last night. His only explanation was some misplaced sense of “sympathy” for the player. And the fact that, with a jury, “anything can happen”. Another triumph for Scottish football.
There are, though, some who will proclaim that a form of justice has been served by Meekings being able to play in the cup final.
And – try this one for unfathomable logic – they will be the selfsame people who will feel an injustice was prepetrated against Celtic owing to the fact that Meekings stayed on the park after he had thrust his arm at the ball just before the interval in the semi-final.
The ocean of froth over the compliance officer intervening to haul up Meekings was nonsensical
Into that camp comes Hughes himself. Interviewed before the verdict was delivered, he said the very fact Meekings had been cited retrospectively threatened to leave him disillusioned by the Scottish game, and had him fearful that there were sinister forces populated by persons not “football people” who were destroying the sport. Or tommyrot to that effect.
The Meekings saga has highlighted an uncomfortable truth. There are all too many “football people” in Scotland – and in the case of Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce, some even beyond – who do not know the rules of the game, do not know how the rules are designed to be applied, or know both but want to pick and choose the moments when the rules ought to apply.
The ocean of froth over the compliance officer intervening to haul up Meekings was simply nonsensical. The outrage seemed to be along the lines of “och, come on, the boy got away with it at the time, you can’t not let him away with it later on and cost him one of the biggest occasions in his career”. Answers on a postcard, please, as to how that argument hangs together.
The SFA’s disciplinary protocols that every club signed up to in 2011 are designed to cover all red-card offences that are missed by referees during games. All this guff about the Meekings case being a “dangerous precedent” – the line offered up by Boyce – or “opening up a can of worms” – Neil Lennon’s take – seems to take no account of one crucial fact: this is the first such offence to come before the panel in four years only because in that time a referee hasn’t made such a howler when a player has raised his arm above his head to block a ball travelling towards goal. For all the many shortcomings of our officials, even they are rarely found so wanting. As is often the way with the interminable controversies in Scottish football, no-one comes out looking good. Inverness’s piety in recent days has been hard to stomach. That has followed on from a level of derangement among Celtic fans in questioning McLean’s integrity that has been vomit-inducing. For mere queasiness, meanwhile, we had Celtic writing to the SFA for an explanation on “behalf of the fans”, according to John Collins. Nice timing, what with this being season-book renewal stage of the season.
Even poor Ronny Deila didn’t escape an ill-judged intervention. The Celtic manager said on Wednesday night that he didn’t want Meekings to miss the final because the player hadn’t handled the ball “on purpose”. Yet, if Deila believes that then he should not have been bemoaning the fact his team were not awarded a penalty at the weekend, and forced to play the second half against 11 men.
For it is only deliberate handball that is an offence. Too many pundits and punters are preoccupied these days with whether an arm is in an “unnatural position”. This is only one guide to likely intent. How do we know that is the case? Well, currently on the BBC website you will find one Steven McLean giving “a masterclass” on this subject. Alas, the only time in this epic of egregiousness that he has proved of any use.