Too much reliance on referees from Old Firm ‘heartlands’, says Hearts’ Craig Levein

Hearts manager Craig Levein says it is time Scotland stopped relying on referees from the Old Firm “heartlands”.

Craig Levein expressed some sympathy for the pressure on referees. Picture: SNS Group

A season full of controversy took another twist on Wednesday night as Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke called the red card shown to goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann by referee Alan Muir “a joke” after the 5-0 William Hill Scottish Cup defeat at Rangers.

It was the latest outburst from a boss who is furious about the standard of refereeing this term, but Levein has sympathy for the officials.

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John Beaton had to call in police after he received threatening messages in the wake of his handling of December’s Old Firm showdown between Rangers and Celtic.

But Levein believes the fact the likes of Beaton, who hails from Lanarkshire, and Glasgow Referees’ Association member Muir have to live in communities where they are surrounded by supporters of both Rangers and Celtic only increases the pressure they are forced to operate under.

Reports this week suggested club bosses agreed at a meeting on Monday to consider calling in foreign referees to solve the current crisis but that was news to Levein, who attended the latest summit.

However, he does believe it is time to look further afield when choosing referees for top games.

The Hearts boss said: “The foreign referees was a complete surprise to me. I was at a meeting last week and it was never brought up.

“But I do think we make problems for ourselves by not strengthening up all the different local refereeing associations.

“The Glasgow and Lanarkshire refs do most of the big games. We have seven FIFA officials and all of them are from Glasgow or Lanarkshire.

“So if you ask these guys because they are the top referees to do an Old Firm game then the pressures are enormous.

“You saw what happened to John Beaton. That type of thing comes from him living in the heartlands of those clubs. They can’t get away from it.

“If we beefed up the other associations in there we could put an Edinburgh ref in there, a Fife ref or an Aberdeen ref. And that would be a way of taking the pressure off referees.”

Levein believes the introduction of video technology would also help ease some of the strain on officials - but fears a plan to pay for VAR is still some way off.

Speaking ahead of his side’s clash with St Mirren on Saturday, he said: “If you go into a game with a little bit of a safety net, then the pressure is definitely reduced.

“VAR has been proven to reduce the amount of mistakes made. I can’t think of any reason why anybody wouldn’t want VAR.

“I hear people talking about how long it takes but I think that’s part of the spectacle. Look at tennis or rugby, it becomes part of the game.

“Are we closer to introducing it? I think there’s a long way to go as cost is an issue.

“You can go for the Rolls Royce level or a different option with a different funding package.

“There is bound to be something in there that fits for us so I am hopeful that VAR will be used sooner rather than later.”