Hibernian head coach Paul Heckingbottom has expressed his sadness at the death of SFA referees chief John Fleming, and said he hoped that all his hard work in bridging the gap between clubs and match officials would stand as a lasting legacy.
The 62-year-old passed away earlier this week following a long illness and, offering his condolences to Fleming’s family, the Easter Road boss expressed a desire to see someone step in and build on the solid foundations laid by the former category one referee.
“I hope that his work, in terms of improving and building the relationships between clubs and referees and officials carries on,” Heckingbottom said. “For me, someone needs to take up that mantle and carry on that work and progress that work. It is important that we as a club do make it clear how much we appreciate the work that he has been doing in that area.”
Since taking up the role as Head of Referee Operations eight years ago, Fleming helped to calm frayed nerves and settle disputes between match officials and managers, acting as a buffer at a time when his referees were under huge scrutiny.
But Heckingbottom, who will serve out the second game of a two-match ban against Ross County on Saturday after a recent touchline tirade against Celtic, still appreciated the diplomacy and openness of Fleming, who he hailed as an unsung hero.
“The way things are, we need someone to step in, someone else to be an unsung hero, someone who maybe won’t get a lot of credit and is only spoken about when things go wrong. But they are very much needed. Maybe this is an opportunity to restructure and take a look at how things are done but this a really, really important role.
“We have tried to be open and invited referees to come in here and work with us, to build those relationships with referees, which is important, because everyone wants the same thing; the fans, the clubs, the players, coaches, managers, which is to improve the game. That was a big commitment of John’s and I think it’s important that is out there and that it lays down the challenge for someone to step in and try to fill his shoes.”