Although aggrieved by the big decisions that have gone against his team in their last two matches, the 36-year-old retains respect for the much-maligned officials.
“I get on pretty well with most of them,” said MacLean. “I speak to them during and after the game. Listen, it’s a hard job for them because they’re under a lot of scrutiny. When they do get things wrong and it affects the result, it’s hard for the team that it affects, but they don’t mean to do it. I understand it’s hard. The decisions we’ve had recently have been disappointing but you’ve just got to try and move on from it.”
As one of the more senior players in Scottish football, MacLean explained how he has developed a rapport with certain officials over the years. “I’ve probably become more understanding as I’ve got older but I think it helps that they’ve got to know me,” he said. “They learn about you as a player and how to deal with certain players. A couple of them are really good at speaking to players and they understand what certain players are like. You end up building a relationship with them over a period of time. The ones that speak to the players more are better at explaining their decisions so you can half understand their reasoning behind it. Most of them will say ‘if I’ve got it wrong, I’m sorry’, and, vice versa, I’ll say ‘I’m sorry, I never meant that’. I think it’s better if you have a relationship and you can speak to them during the game, even if you agree to disagree.”
MacLean singled out Craig Thomson as a good example of how referees should interact with players. “There are a couple that are alright and give you a wee bit back,” he said. “Craig Thomson is very good. I think as he’s got on a bit, he’s probably realised and he speaks very well during games. I get on really well with him. He explains his decision. There will be times when he makes one and my team-mates will be like ‘that’s never a foul’ and I’ll say ‘it was, eh?’ Some referees just don’t speak to you but others give you a bit back which is fine and you laugh.”
MacLean explained how he and fellow Hearts attacker Steven Naismith are renowned for badgering referees for decisions. “Well Del [McInnes] did say that me and Naisy refereed the game against Aberdeen!” he said. “It’s probably the way that Naisy speaks to them as well, he’s got a good relationship with refs. You build up – not a friendship – it’s an understanding I would say. Sometimes I sort of lose my head for ten seconds and I think they know now. They just sort of leave me and ask ‘is that you finished now?’ ... ’aye, sorry.’ It’s all good eh?”