Glenn Gibbons: Blame the referees, not the Laws of the Game

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The widespread respect pursued by referees and their apologists will remain an elusive quarry for as long as match officials continue to bamboozle and frustrate the public with injudicious interpretation and application of the Laws of the Game.

Willie Collum, the red card junkie who earlier this season famously awarded Rangers a penalty kick against Celtic over a non-existent foul he could not have seen, also provided the latest example of fan-baiting with an eccentric four dismissals in two matches within three days, at least three of the punishments seemingly the result of an irresistible urge rather than any proper consideration of the so-called offences.

The referee began his eventful week with the ordering-off of the Aberdeen defender, Andrew Considine, during Sunday's Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic. Mention of Collum's previous clanger at Celtic Park should not be construed in any way as a suggestion that the two incidents are linked; they are juxtaposed here merely to emphasise the referee's proneness to misjudgement.

Making reparation to Celtic for the Old Firm bloomer would be the last thing on the referee's mind, but, just as he had disadvantaged the Parkhead side then, he gave them a wind at their backs now by sending off Considine when the target of his challenge, Gary Hooper, had already prodded the ball far enough ahead of him to make the Aberdeen goalkeeper, Jamie Langfield, favourite to take possession.

At Tannadice on Tuesday, Collum awarded three penalty kicks to Rangers, two of which were sound enough, while the other offence occurred outside the area. But Mihael Kovacevic was deemed to have denied Steven Naismith a clear scoring opportunity as the Rangers forward lunged at a ball that had bounced at pace off goalkeeper Dusan Pernis and with the latter and defender Garry Kenneth directly in his line of sight.

Later, Morgaro Gomis would be dismissed on the same principle as he took out El Hadj Diouf with the ball - from a cross on the right - still around six feet in the air and the Rangers forward not even having started to jump. Like the Considine affair, both actions raised serious questions about Collum's idea of an obvious scoring opportunity.

Predictably however, the consequence of of a series of similar bad calls through this season - Collum has not been the only offender, simply the most frequent - has been to blame the Law, rather than those charged with its enforcement.The problem with the case for a review of the regulation made by Neil Lennon (the Celtic manager revealed that many of his colleagues are unhappy with the rule), is that there is nothing wrong with the statute.

It should be remembered that this rule was introduced primarily because, 30 years ago, referees had, en masse, abdicated their responsibility to administer an existing Law. What has become known as "denying an obvious scoring opportunity" has always been an ordering-off offence. It is simply that it fell into the category of "deliberate violent conduct".

Referees' reluctance to send miscreants off reached a head when Willie Young, the Arsenal defender, ruthlessly chopped Paul Allen down from behind in the 1980 FA Cup final at Wembley as the latter was through with only goalkeeper Pat Jennings to beat.

The legislation is causing problems now because referees seem to be having difficulties with the definition of a clear opportunity. As demonstrated during this recent spate of unsound judgments, they should start with the most obvious criterion of all - that the potential scorer should at least have control of the ball.