SFA to explain key refereeing decisions on Saturday nights

THE Scottish Football Association will introduce a new Saturday night platform for its new referees chief Hugh Dallas to explain major decisions taken by match officials, to save them being "hung out to dry", but will stay silent when incidents may be the subject of an appeal.

The association is keen to introduce a greater degree of transparency regarding controversial refereeing decisions next season, and sees the new slot as a viable successor to the 'Whistleblower' experiment piloted on its website two seasons ago.

Under the leadership of former World Cup official Dallas, who this week took over from Donald McVicar as the SFA's head of referee development, it is hoped that contested decisions can be better explained in the immediate aftermath of the game.

The proposed new system would see match officials liaise with Dallas on the day of the match to help explain controversial decisions to fans and media.

Dallas is believed to be eager to improve the speed and efficiency with which the SFA react to controversy, and has promised to meet with managers in the build-up to the season to seek their views.

Officials would not be made available for interview directly under the proposal, which is likely to be trialled in the opening weeks of the 2009/10 campaign, while decisions which are subject to appeal will not be covered.

Explaining the thinking behind the new media strategy, Dallas said: "I am all for anything that makes life easier for referees. But I also understand that the fans who pay to watch the game deserve to have big decisions explained as soon as possible after they happen.

"I've agreed with the SFA that I'll watch any controversial moments and then release a statement concerning them on a Saturday night.

"We need a buffer between the referees and the public because match officials are being hung out to dry. I appreciate the need for great clarity but I will not be able to comment on disciplinary matters that could involve an appeal being lodged with the SFA."

Referees were at the centre of a flurry of appeals launched by angry clubs last season, and several managers found themselves censured by the SFA for speaking out against officials immediately after matches.

Officials were high on the agenda when the 12 SPL managers met for their annual get-together at Gleneagles last October and at a meeting in December, SPL managers agreed in principle to refrain from speaking about referees after matches.

The move was backed by Rangers manager Walter Smith, who acknowledged the pressure referees were working under, and said at the time: "It's a step forward and a show of intent from managers that there is an acceptance that there are too many headlines being grabbed by the fact that we may be a little critical of referees at times.

"In Scotland just now, we seem to have a younger group of referees. We've lost a lot of experienced referees over the last few seasons. The referees who are coming in are having to gain experience in quite a hostile environment at times, which isn't easy. This initiative can help them."

There were also calls for full-time referees last year, but Dallas insist there is no need to create an exclusive batch of professional referees dedicated to handling top-flight matches.

"I will accept that our referees got off to a poor start last season," said Dallas. "Big calls came in a rush and the referees were unlucky. Having said that, they finished the season strongly.

"The reason why we don't need an elite band is twofold. The SPL is a relatively small league and the same referees handling the same teams on a regular basis could be problematic. Also, we need to have new people coming through and gaining experience all the time."

Dallas is also thought to be keen to improve the level of support available to referees, with provision of psychologists also on his agenda.

Dallas added: "Dr John Mathers (from Stirling University] is helping our referees to mentally prepare for big games and to assist their recovery after them.

"Match officials need to learn how to handle elation and disappointment if they are picked for, or denied, major games.

"Remember, Dr Mathers is a psychologist and not a psychiatrist. The fans might think all referees are useless but they don't need a psychiatrist's couch.

"The average punter would not believe the time and commitment that goes into providing the best prepared referees Scotland can produce. We live in a blame culture and referees get more than their fair share but we are as professional as it's possible to be.

"I will do whatever I can to look after their psychological preparation, fitness and diet. And the reason for that is when they bleed, I bleed."

Dallas's choice of words could be interpreted as a direct reference to his most infamous match in charge – the OId Firm match at Parkhead in 1999 when he was left with blood pouring from a head wound after being struck by a missile thrown from the crowd.

But he added: "My career wasn't about one day at Celtic Park. It was about the abuse I took on public parks in my formative years. That strengthens you as a referee and toughens your personality as a human being."