SFA chief executive Stewart Regan yesterday hit back at criticism of referees after a weekend of controversy when officials came under fierce scrutiny.
He described the attacks on Willie Collum, who was in charge of the Hamilton Accies versus Hearts game, and Andrew Dallas, who controlled Dundee against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as “really harsh”. Regan insisted Scottish refereeing was of a “very high standard” and that, in terms of the quality of our officialdom, Scotland “punched well above its weight”.
Collum’s decision to send off Hearts’ Callum Paterson in their 3-2 defeat at New Douglas Park enraged the Edinburgh club with manager Robbie Neilson revealing they’d anticipated such a scenario and had trained for the match using ten men.
After Inverness’s draw at Dens Park, during which they had Andrea Mutombo sent off, manager John Hughes claimed Dallas, the son of former referee Hugh, was not ready to officiate in the Premiership.
But Regan said yesterday: “Our referees are of a very high standard but they make mistakes, that’s how it is.
“At times that [a refereeing controversy] can be unduly focused on, perhaps as a deflection tactic. I don’t see the same amount of coverage when players or coaches make mistakes.”
Regan said he could not comment specifically on the criticisms of Collum and Dallas when they were “live”. It also emerged yesterday that SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan is to review the comments made by Neilson and Hughes. But Regan added: “I think it [the criticism of referees] at times is very unfair. It’s easy to blame the referee but, in reality, football without referees isn’t football at all.
“Referees are an integral part of the game and we need to recruit them and retain them. It’s hard enough to get referees into the game right now without the negativity. The criticism [referees get] in Scotland is really harsh. If you look at countries right across the world, refereeing decisions are constant topics of media interest and debate online, on Twitter and between managers, coaches, clubs and their associations. In the Gold Cup match between Mexico and Panama in July, the Panama team actually walked off the pitch in the 89th minute after the award of a penalty and CONCACAF came out and said the referee had made errors. Unfortunately that’s how it is in football and we’re no different.
“If you look at decisions in Scotland, compared to those in England, we’re no different. In fact if you look at the number of Fifa referees Scotland has, we’ve got seven, two of which are elite. That puts us on par with England, Germany and Holland and it’s more than France. If you compare the standard of our referees to countries across Europe of similar size, we’re punching well above our weight.”
Reiterating he could not go into detail, Regan defended 26-year-old Dallas. “What I would say in his case is that he’s done 11 Premiership matches. At what point do you become good enough to referee in the Premiership?”
Regan said he did not think things could escalate to the extent of another referees strike, as happened in November 2010, when officials felt the SFA was not doing enough to protect them from flak. “That’s not an issue,” said Regan. “We have around 30 Level 1 referees in Scotland and we’re looking to get more. We’re working with the SQA, the examining body, to put refereeing into colleges. We’re doing our bit to keep the pipeline flowing but referees accept it’s part and parcel of the game, that they’re never going to be the most popular people.”