Referee Don Robertson's VAR verdict, a solution for Scottish football and a 'horrible feeling' for officials

The human elements within refereeing, the human frailities capable of afflicting officials, can too often be forgotten.

Don Robertson was part of the SFA's VAR training at Hampden this week (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Don Robertson was part of the SFA's VAR training at Hampden this week (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

These impact on Don Robertson regularly. Why his fervent hope is that agreement can be reached with the SPFL top flight clubs and allow for the cutting-edge VAR technology to offer another half dozen pair of eyes - in the form of camera footage. Not just to assist his decision-making, but to reduce the dark nights of the soul that come along with realising he has made errors over major calls.

“It’s horrible,” said the 35-year-old, seven years a Grade 1 official, of making mistakes. “We’re in 2022, so there can be a decision on the field that I called incorrectly and within seconds viewers at home can see what the decision should have been and spectators in the stadium can see it on their phones. Often you’re the only guy in the stadium who doesn’t know. You only find out after the game when you see it again. You have made a big decision as a referee that’s affected the outcome of the game. It’s a horrible feeling. VAR is an opportunity to solve that problem. You can get that decision right on the field and it won’t be an injustice on the team. Then as a referee I will not be coming in at the end of the game thinking I have affected the result by a mistake I have made.”

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He doesn’t allow himself to be distracted by checking on his phone at half-time, though, should any contentious decision fall in the opening period of games.

'It's a horrible feeling' Robertson revealed the soul-searching after making a big decision in a game and being the only one in the stadium not able to see it again. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“There is no value,” he said. “You can’t change a decision at half-time. Referees will be individually different. Maybe they’ll want to know, maybe they won’t. But that is an individual decision for the referee. But there’s no value to it because you can’t go and rectify the mistake, you can’t go out and change it. It’s done, you need to move on. In refereeing you are always moving on to the next decision.”

Not that it is always easy to shake them off…especially when there will be no shortage of supporters willing to shake their fists and dish out abuse to referees if their split-second judgement has been shown to be flawed. Robertson knows referees have given up because of the relentless abuse meted out to officials. More at grassroots level. He wouldn’t have reached the top of his profession without a thick skin. He requires it to be rhino-hide like when steeling himself by what is now termed trial by Sportscene.

“I'd be lying if I didn't think about it early in my career but having been a referee in the Premiership for seven years, I've got used to it and it's par for the course,” Robertson said. "You sometimes watch Sportscene and they don't have access to the best camera angles. Sometimes they are putting lines on the screen that are a bit rudimentary. So you don't pay too much attention to that kind of noise. You go away and evaluate yourself. Football is a sport where noise will always be there, even with VAR, although it might just turn down a bit because, with really clear decisions, we can get them right at the time and calm the situation down."

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