John Hartson: Too much pressure on official in Old Firm semi

The presence of official Don Robertson behind the goal at this Sunday's Scottish Cup semi-final has ensured the meeting of Celtic and Rangers has a flashpoint even before the teams take to the field. An entirely unnecessary one, John Hartson believes.

Celtic's Scott Brown and Erik Sviatchenko confront referee Don Robertson after Ross County are awarded a penalty. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

The former Celtic striker and now outspoken pundit considers giving Robertson the role as “assistant assistant referee 1” for the Hampden encounter only one week after his howler in awarding Ross County a penalty for striker Alex Schalk’s blatant dive in the box is irresponsible and unfair on Robertson himself.

Schalk yesterday accepted a two-game ban from SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan for the “act of simulation” that earned his side a penalty that allowed them to secure a 2-2 draw against Celtic in the closing minutes last Sunday. The German’s going to ground with no contact from the nearby Erik Sviatchenko has been adjudged one of the most egregious examples of diving and Robertson’s failure to see it as such led to universal condemnation and a telephone apology to livid Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Hartson doesn’t think it is “right” for Robertson to go straight from that furore to officiating on Celtic’s next game.

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“I think there’s too much pressure,” the Welshman said. “Too much pressure for him, personally. I don’t know why he would want to do that. It’s a very delicate situation. He’s obviously feeling very embarrassed. If he’s a realist and he’s honest, I personally would just say ‘leave me out of that one’.

“Take yourself out of the fray. Put somebody else in. Why aren’t the referees protecting him? Why stick him into that big game, Celtic-Rangers? Take him out, let him go for lunch with his family on Sunday, give the guy a break.

“Whoever organises the referees and the games that they get, may need to be looked at. I think as players we can get sent off, we can two-foot somebody get a straight red and you miss three games. A referee can cost a team a point or the title or cost a team a European place and he’s back in. Where’s the punishment? But I do appreciate it’s very hard for referees. I wouldn’t like to referee my boy’s under-13 game, because of the parents on the sidelines. You need the thickest skin out of anybody, and a big ego…”

Willie Collum would appear to have both. Hartson has no issue with the referee who so many fans believe can hardly do right for doing wrong being in charge on Sunday. Indeed, Robertson spared Collum a flailing for seeing things that didn’t happen, the Uefa-listed referee awarding Motherwell a goal for an effort that was clearly not over the line against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

“I wouldn’t like to ref the game,” said Hartson. “It is the hardest thing to do because you’ve got a split second to make a huge call. The boys on the television, sometimes we sit and watch it 50 times and still can’t decide. The game now is so quick and the players are so fit and powerful, things happen and everybody goes ‘referee!’ Me – I do it as well.

“Willie Collum is an experienced referee – he has done big games before. Whoever does it is in the firing line. Craig Thomson has made some big decisions in the past which have been ludicrous.

“So they have to choose somebody. I wouldn’t like it to be me because it’s a very hard job.”

l John Hartson was speaking at the John Hartson Foundation Golf Day. The Hartson Foundation is on course to raise £1million for charities.