Hugh Dallas shrugs off criticism as new rules give power to fourth official

HUGH DALLAS needs instruction from no-one on the occupational hazards which face referees.

Having been struck by a coin during an Old Firm match, then having a window at his home smashed by a bottle a few hours later, Dallas has a greater appreciation than most of the unforgiving and often unreasonable scrutiny placed on match officials.

His ability to cope with it saw Dallas rise to the top of the refereeing tree and he now brings the same unflappable approach to his role as the SFA's head of referee development.

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Even during the close season, he can find the referees under his command coming under fire. New Celtic manager Neil Lennon weighed in at the weekend, labelling some of last season's controversial decisions against his club as "abysmal" and calling upon his players to adopt a more challenging approach to officials.

Dallas, who is determined to try to forge a more harmonious relationship between clubs and officials when they new campaign gets underway, has responded with suitable diplomacy but firmness to Lennon's comments.

"It is up to Neil," he said, "but our referees treat all clubs the same and we expect our referees to be respected. Otherwise, the referees have a duty to control the match and the players."

Fresh from the Scottish referees' annual summer training camp and conference at St Andrews recently, Dallas accepts the need to avoid a repeat of last season's series of high profile errors which provoked criticism from several managers.

"Referees will always be judged on big games," he added, "and we always look to improve standards. When the criticism becomes personal, it is unwelcome, but our referees are thick-skinned. We hope it doesn't happen next season. We have an open door policy here and managers can call on me any time.

"There is accountability for referees. On a weekly basis, we bring them in if we think they get something wrong in a game. Sometimes they are taken out of the limelight, given lower profile games. But we should never, ever question a referee's integrity."

Dallas will host a pre-season meeting in August to which the manager and captain of every SPL and SFL club will be invited. On the agenda will be a briefing on the new authority for fourth officials in an SFA proposed rule change implemented at the start of this month.

It gives the fourth official the power to assist in making decisions on incidents missed by the referee, such as Kyle Lafferty's foul on Andreas Hinkel during one of last season's Old Firm games. It occurred under clear view of the fourth official, but he was unable to relay the serious nature of it to referee Steve Conroy whose vision was obscured, leading him to only caution the Rangers striker.

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The fourth official's new job description also means the sight of managers and coaches having a constant dialogue with him during a match, good-natured or otherwise, will come to an end.

"Managers now have to realise that the fourth official is not a sounding board for them," said Dallas. "The fourth official has to be allowed to concentrate more on the match."

At the St Andrews conference, Dallas held a screening of 'Kill The Referee', a Uefa-commissioned fly on the wall documentary which followed the match officials at Euro 2008. The title was inspired by death threats made to English referee Howard Webb after he awarded a contentious late penalty to Austria in their group match against Poland.

"Our guys were fascinated by it," said Dallas. "What happened to Howard has also happened to leading referees such as Anders Frisk and Urs Meier. They have received death threats."

Dallas' own refereeing career reached its zenith in 2002 when he was the fourth official at the World Cup final.