Why Mark Warburton was wrong to criticise Willie Collum

Mark Warburton looks on as referee Willie Collum sends Rangers assistant David Weir to the stands in Saturday's Old Firm derby. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
Mark Warburton looks on as referee Willie Collum sends Rangers assistant David Weir to the stands in Saturday's Old Firm derby. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
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Mark Warburton’s attempt at deflecting was another example of a manager unfairly trying to scapegoat a referee, writes Craig Fowler

An almost forgotten subplot in all of the Old Firm hype was referee Willie Collum. This is how it should be. An official should never dictate column inches prior to a match but, unfortunately, Scotland’s premier whistler often does. To call him a divisive character would be, at best, generous. Everyone in Scottish football has an opinion of the man, and few are positive.

Every match controlled by Collum is scrutinised by more than just his bosses at the SFA. Add in the powderkeg that is the Old Firm derby and their first league meeting in over four years and you’ve got a recipe for things to get awfully difficult for the man in the middle, and I’m not just referring to what happens on the football park.

Referees don’t mind abuse on the pitch. It comes with the territory. If they let every screaming fan, player or manager get to them, they wouldn’t have made it as far as the Premiership. They’d have hung up their whistle after the first week. However, what they will not tolerate is abuse off the park, when they’re trying to get on with their every day lives. Referees I’ve spoken to say this happens in greater volume after they’ve been criticised by managers for a wrong decision, and the press amplifies the controversy.

Thankfully for Collum, who’s been on the receiving end of some harsh words in the aftermath of an Old Firm derby before, there weren’t many talking about his performance at the end of Saturday’s game. Celtic steamrolled the contest and although Rangers had a man sent off, there were very few complaints about either yellow card issued to beleaguered debutant Philippe Senderos.

One person who did want to talk about the official, at least indirectly, was Rangers boss Mark Warburton. With his assistant, David Weir, sent to the stands, the question would have been asked anyway, but unprompted, Warburton let the world know what had incensed the Rangers bench so much.

He said: “The frustration for us came, at that point, at 3-1 down with an uphill struggle, we felt Barrie McKay was taken out by a player on a yellow card. That’s why David Weir was sent to the stands. We never, ever want to see players sent off – Philippe had to go, red card – but we felt on the far side, clear as day, Barrie McKay is taken out.”

Warburton was incorrect in his version of events. In actual fact, it was Mikael Lustig who brought down McKay, and he was not on a yellow card. However, this is besides the point. Even if it were Kolo Toure or Nir Bitton, two players who had been booked, it should still have been nothing more than a footnote. Rangers did not lose because of any one refereeing decision. They lost because they were nowhere near good enough on the day, and Warburton deserves to shoulder some of that responsibility.

It’s a classic deflection tactic and Warburton is far from the only boss to use it. Managers will state their displeasure with the referee or some other aspect of the game to protect their players or themselves. Jose Mourinho is widely renowned as the master of it, but even the Special One can get it wrong on occasion, as shown by his misjudgment in throwing then-Chelsea team doctor Eva Carneiro to the wolves at the beginning of last season. Warburton was similarly unwise to tread down this path. Even before he’d spoken to the media, Rangers fans had already attributed blame for Saturday’s loss, and it wasn’t the man in the middle.

It’s just as well for Mr Collum. It’s all too easy for managers to cast blame on officials without considering the repercussions of their actions. Collum may have a thin coating of protection in a football setting, but in his everyday life he’s exposed to angry supporters who already dislike his existence, even before a manager pours fuel on the flames.

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