Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton has poured petrol on the under-fire disciplinary regime at the SFA – branding their new judicial panel of former referees “the three stooges”.
The TV pundit claimed that the panel’s failure to award a retrospective red card to Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor for kicking out at Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer was “scandalous” and expressed surprise that Rangers manager Steven Gerrard had not been sanctioned for claiming that there had been collusion between match officials against his club “for years”.
Sutton believes that the SFA’s decisions to award notices of complaint to players and managers (under previous compliance officer Tony McGlennan and current encumbent Clare Whyte) and some baffling decisions by the tribunal have eroded faith in the disciplinary and appeals process.
However, he was particularly baffled by the charges against Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke for criticising referee Willie Collum’s dismissal of Gary Dicker for a challenge on Hearts’ Calumn Morrison and then alleging that his appeal had been prejudged due to the decision to award Collum the Celtic v Rangers match later that week. Gerrard was not charged for his outburst at Pittodrie in relation to Alfredo Morelos’ red card for kicking out at Scott McKenna on the opening day of the campaign.
Sutton said: “Steven Gerrard’s conspiracy stuff is as bad as anything. He’s implying that there’s collaboration between referees which has worked against his club.
“Steve Clarke must be sitting in his office thinking: ‘If I’ve been charged, why hasn’t Steven Gerrard been charged?’ I was done for saying something similar [about Dunfermline lying down to Rangers in 2003] and rightly so.
“You just want to see common sense and consistency and there’s been anything but that from the SFA.
“We’ve seen all their decisions – the Alfredo Morelos one, the Steven Naismith one [the Hearts striker escaped a ban after lashing out at Celtic’s Jonnyu Hayes], the Allan McGregor one. It’s hard to go round the country and find anyone else who doesn’t think they should have been punished.
“There has been a lot of head scratching going on across the country. Clearly the panel needs sorting out in some way, shape or form because there have been some very strange decisions.
“Steve Clarke coming out and saying what he did was out of frustration. He has overstepped the mark in some respects and he will know that but he makes some valid points.
“It all comes down to the incidents we have seen and the Dicker one and his frustration over that. I can understand that.”
Clarke is one of the more restrained managers in the top tier, which merely served to emphasise the severity of his criticism of the original decision and the manner in which Dicker’s appeal was held.
“Yeah, but I think we would all be the same,” said Sutton. “It’s a strange old start to the season for the panel and McGregor’s was probably the oddest decision of them all. They talk about the wording of the rules. If that’s not brutality, what is? You know, he’s kicked out at him – if it’s going to take someone to have their leg broken [before action is taken] then what message does that send to young players across the country?
“It’s scandalous they didn’t see that and get it right; it’s not even a grey area. Derek McInnes has come out and said they’re incompetent and that’s hard to argue with, really.
“McGregor [got off] first and the Dicker verdict came later that week. You would have thought the three-man panel – the three stooges or whatever you want to call them – would have thought logically about things but they’ve let McGregor off with that.
“Steven Gerrard came out complaining about Ryan Jack not being awarded a foul in the build-up to Celtic’s goal the other week but Rangers were lucky to have McGregor still on the park and [even] he admitted that.
“Why didn’t the SFA react to Gerrard’s comments? That’s a really good question but you’d need to ask them that. However, since they’re now acting over Clarke’s remarks, it’s fair to ask them why they’re not taking the Rangers manager to task for, arguably, the worst offence of them all.
“It’s a sad situation, really, and a poor reflection on the SFA that it’s come to this.”
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