Those who immediately sought a juicy headline from football’s besieged legislators seemed to overlook the point that the Hibernian striker’s ferocious drive past Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald had no place in any discussion. The ball was so far over the line that confirmation of the goal should have been as routine for referee Euan Norris and linesman Raymond Whyte as tossing the coin.
The most irritating aspect of such incidents is not that the authorities are about as fast-moving as sloths – that is their accustomed pace – but that the refereeing community remain so steadfast in their refusal to concede that any of their number could have exhibited the kind of incompetence which, in other workplaces, would have warranted at least a written warning.
In the wake of such colossal clangers, all manner of “extenuating”, but actually intelligence-insulting, possibilities are offered by official apologists. These usually take the form of an obstructed view, or a momentary distraction at the very instant of the incident.
This brand of unconditional defence recently brought the preposterous revelation from John Fleming, the Scottish FA’s refereeing head honcho, that all four officials – referee, two linesmen and fourth official – missed the assault by Motherwell goalkeeper Darren Randolph on Hearts forward Callum Paterson. The “unsighted” argument rather collapsed with the realisation that Randolph was at least five feet up in the air when he kicked Paterson high on the chest.
Nor does the insistence that a referee “must be 100 per cent sure” before he can give a decision convince when set beside the action of regular blunderer Willie Collum, who famously awarded Rangers a penalty kick in a match against Celtic over an alleged foul which, television cameras confirmed, occurred behind his back.
None of these notorious examples of shoddy work has ever been followed by an admission of guilt and an apology from anyone in authority. There have been, of course, innumerable others from which every team in the land will have suffered. And it is one of the game’s great travesties that, when such an offence is committed, it is the victim, never the perpetrator, who is penalised.