It is 30 years since Graeme Souness made his infamous comment that Scottish football was full of hammer throwers. Conor Goldson would argue that they are still around and denting the progress of the game in this country – aided and abetted by referees who, he maintains, are singularly failing to be strong enough in dealing with strongarm tactics.
The Rangers defender feels Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat of Hearts was the latest in a long line of confrontations in which he has had to deal with an opponent appearing only interested in duffing him up. And he has no qualms about fingering Steven MacLean as the culprit.
The Tynecastle striker was booked early on for an aerial challenge with Goldson then ended up with the Englishman taking an elbow in the face, MacLean having brazenly pushed him in the opening minutes. And he revealed that referee John Beaton admitted to the Rangers players that by the letter of the law the forward should have been shown a second yellow when he slid in, studs up, on Allan McGregor.
The fact that MacLean then appeared to be a walking red card resulted in Hearts’ interim manager Austin MacPhee hauling him off minutes before the interval. For Goldson, it was the latest example of a damaging laissez-faire approach by referees that is sullying the game.
“Scottish football in general is physical and it takes the foreign boys a little bit of time to adjust to it but the referees have to try to make sure people aren’t getting hurt. For the game to improve here the referees have to take action against the ridiculous challenges,” Goldson said.
“It’s fine being physical – we’re all physical players and physical teams – but they can’t get away with yellow cards for elbows and nasty tackles where they want to leave a mark just to show they’re the ones who are being aggressive and they’re up for it.
“That’s not really football but we deal with it and keep playing and if teams want to do it then we keep accepting it and it’s our responsibility to get past that and play our own game.
“Personally, having played in England, I feel it’s only in Scotland you get away with some of the stuff you do up here. You can make six or seven fouls in Scotland and not get a yellow card but those little fouls disrupt the whole rhythm of the game.
“And that’s all they want to do. In England or Europe if you make one or two of those fouls then you get a yellow card and can’t do it for the rest of the game. I played in the lower leagues in England and it was similar – League Two in England is the same – so I was quite used to it having moved up the leagues and I learned as a young boy I had to be physical and get used to it.
“I took a couple of sore ones [in the semi-final] and his [MacLean’s] gameplan was obviously to try to rough us up and be a bit aggressive but there’s a difference between being aggressive and going over the top and it showed with him getting taken off so early.
“If he hadn’t already been on a yellow card then he’d have been booked for his next foul, but the referee said he didn’t want to ruin a semi-final by sending him off for something so silly.
“He caught me inside a minute but it’s the same every week. The same happened at Ross County [last Wednesday] where the boy [Brian Graham] did the exactly same thing. If they think that’s going to affect us and rough us up then that’s up to them but realistically it’s not going to affect us.
“We let it carry on and played our own game. We wore them down in the end because they’re a tough team to break down and defend well, especially crosses, but we kept playing at our intensity and tempo and it paid off.”
Goldson believes the ease with which Steven Gerrard’s side picked off Hearts to set up a final against Celtic demonstrated how much had been learned from losing at the same stage against Aberdeen the previous year.
“We were camped in their half then and had half chances dropping to us but we didn’t take them. I felt after the first goal on Sunday the tension released out of us, especially the boys who were here last season, and we went on and executed our gameplan very well. “