Sunday, November 28, 2010

Referee Crisis: Time Out

The stereotype of a Scottish football fan. Get pissed before the game, shout abuse for 90 minutes, have a fight, get a bit more pissed.

Unfair and outdated. Mostly.

Especially this week.

Since the news of the referee’s strike broke I'm amazed at some of the discussions I’ve had, all of them inspired by the beautiful game.

What makes a strike official? Are freelance staff governed by the same rules as permanent employees when it comes to their right to withdraw labour? And, if the strike is only loosely defined, what constitutes strike breaking?

When is a joke a joke? What are considered acceptable subjects for humour? Is an email linking the Pope and Catholic church with child abuse a satire on the problems of the church or an attempt to make people laugh about child abuse? Does sending such an email immediately make the sender a sectarian bigot?

What is an unacceptable use of a workplace email account? Should unacceptable use result in instant dismissal? Is a high profile employee entitled to the same confidentiality during an internal investigation that you or I would expect?

What role does religion play in modern Scottish society? How far should religious groups be prepared to go influencing the affairs of other organisations?

And that’s just a flavour of the subjects that have cropped up.

Many of these questions are so far reaching that most politicians would be scared of tackling them.

Some of them throw up additional questions that resonate throughout Scottish society and raise issues about just how modern in outlook “modern Scotland” actually is.

A few of them, I fear, will never be resolved because the opposing views are too entrenched.

Now, I love a robust debate as much as the next man. And I enjoy the idea that football can raise questions that make us look at ourselves and the world around us in a different light.

But enough is enough. My head is starting to hurt, the will to live is seeping away.

Can everybody please calm down. Take a deep breath, take a step back. And remember that this is a game of football. Sport. Not life. Not death.

Important, yes. The national game, an integral part of our history over the last 100 years or so.

But a game. An often silly game, played by often silly men for the benefit of other often silly men and women. And yes, sometimes refereed by silly men and governed by silly men.

But still a game.

And a game needs to be played.

We’ve somehow got a full SPL fixture list this weekend. Not for the first time the lower division sides have been royally shafted. But the referees did what they thought was the unthinkable and we’ve survived.

The refs will still have their demands. Hugh Dallas still needs replaced. The SFA, SPL and SFL need to sit down with every club and every referee and make sure this never happens again.

But I’d like the next week to be all about the games at the weekend rather than a bizarre reenactment of a particularly bitter university debating society.

Football can be a powerful force for good. But I can guarantee that it’s unlikely to provide the answers to some of the more complex societal and philosophical questions that I’ve heard put in a footballing context this week.

At times, and I include myself in this, it’s felt like everyone with a passing interest in the game has been halfway through writing a rather ill-informed undergraduate thesis on issues political, religious or sociological.

And, alas, while we’ve been locked in this ever decreasing circle of navel gazing, the world has been watching. And many of them have been pissing themselves at the farce. Not intrigued by some of the more serious issues we’ve been discussing. Pissing themselves that we’re shipping in referees from any country that would return our phone calls.

So please can we get back to the game. Just football. Even in Scotland surely the football provides drama enough without the added baggage it’s been lumbered with this week.

This is a heartfelt plea.

I expect to be disappointed.

And I am prepared to go on strike if my demands aren’t met.

> My tipping point probably came on Twitter yesterday morning.

I was following a conversation, or a barrage of abuse, that included a number of people suggesting to Graham Spiers that the Hugh Dallas email confirmed the anti-Catholic (and thus anti-Celtic) bias in the Scottish football establishment.

Then a Rangers fan informed me that Celtic were now guaranteed preferential treatment from the SFA because chief executive Stewart Regan was an old friend of his opposite number at Celtic, Peter Lawwell.

I’m amazed I can even type this. Because it was at that exact moment that my head exploded.