And Neil Lennon, and Tony Mowbray, and Tommy Burns and pretty much every Celtic manager I can remember and beyond.
Look, I am not about to defend this systemic problem in Scottish Football where our referees are awful, former season ticket holders at Ibrox, in the masons, from the Lanarkshire old boys network, or all of the above. This is a problem that needs sorted out in Scotland, and it’s one that doesn’t just affect us but affects every single club in Scotland.
Just ask Martin Canning about the decisions at Ibrox.
The latest example of whatever it is that passes for refereeing in this country was Bobby Madden’s performance in the game against so called Rangers. There we were treated to a two footed out of control lunge from Kenny Miller that should be the poster example for that particular red card offence but somehow Miller escaped any punishment at all. We had plenty of other challenges go unchecked as the visitors kicked us off the park thanks to a referee who will probably be praised in some circles for managing a difficult fixture by keeping his cards in his pockets.
And then, of course, we had the last minute penalty claim where Clint Hill stopped Leigh Griffiths taking what could well have been a match winning shot on goal by tackling him at waist height and getting none of the ball. Play on says our referee, who had a great view of it, and anyone who says that isn’t a penalty is probably a former employee at Ibrox.
Hiya Steven Thompson.
But at what point in any of that have I said something that hasn’t happened to us already in the past few weeks? Kieran Tierney probably still has the scars from the challenge on him by a Motherwell player, while James Forrest is just back in the team after his short spell out from an awful lunge that ended his game against Hamilton in the opening ten minutes. The latter of these wasn’t even deemed a foul, while Tierney’s challenger was only shown a yellow.
We’ve had games this season where the foul count belies the possession count, such as one home game against Dundee, and you’re left wondering if the opposition must have just given us the ball straight back from their free kicks. I’m still not sure how Inverness kept eleven men on the pitch in the Scottish Cup tie last month either.
And the penalties we’ve been denied this season? Well, I’ll admit that few of these have been so late on when the game is still level, but we’re usually winning by then! And of course, no doubt people will immediately point to the one we got at St Johnstone for what was clearly not a deliberate hand ball – even if it did strike a hand – as if that somehow excuses some of the obvious penalties we haven’t been given. It goes back a bit further, but it’s been pointed out that the Michael Duberry one a few seasons ago was in exactly the same position. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they make a Scottish referee apparently.
This isn’t new. I said already managers of the past have suffered this before, to greater or lesser extent. It just so happens that this season Celtic are so far in front of the rest that it usually doesn’t matter. We’ve still won all those games earlier this season, despite the refereeing.
But we didn’t on Sunday.
So, is the referee to blame this time? Clearly if he’d done his job then we wouldn’t have had a problem. Our opponents would have seen red early on, and even if by some miracle the game panned out the same way we’d have got a late penalty to win the game.
But I would ask the question, what was different this week from those other weeks? Why didn’t we win this one?
Was it the opposition? Were they just better? I would say no, they were at the same level as any other team we’ve faced domestically this season. They didn’t do anything the others haven’t done previously.
So if the referees are just as bad as they have been previously, it must have been us then.
I don’t think anyone is going to dispute that we just weren’t at our best on Sunday. In fact, we had a few players who really were quite poor. We’ve had games before where a couple of players have been off the boil and even some where they’ve been so poor they’ve been subbed off early by the manager. This time though we had too many that didn’t perform.
If ever there was proof that this is a different Rangers, that is probably it. I remember the reaction to a Celtic team not being up for playing Rangers, it’s not pretty. But in the case of this game it’s been more a feeling of disappointment than rage or anger.
Of course, that might also be the 33 point gap we still have over them after Sunday. Indeed, with ten games to go, Sunday’s draw officially ended their title challenge. To think they celebrated the result too, Rangers must be spinning in their grave.
Stuart Armstrong was our best midfielder on the day, and indeed man of the match, which is odd in a season Brown has played so well. The defence looked shaky, especially with Sviatchenko being singled out for criticism – similar to his criticism at Ibrox actually. However, it was Boyata who seemed to gift Waghorn a great chance at 0-0, one which was passed up fortunately.
Dembele was disappointing though never quiet, and indeed if there’s one thing the referee missed in our favour it may well have been him diving. You can be sure those across the city didn’t though, I’ve already seen it used as proof the referee didn’t favour them after all. Tavernier’s arm is clearly on him, but the legs give way under no challenge at all. So called Rangers got a penalty against Hamilton for doing that just last week, but we should be better than that. I’m somewhat expecting the compliance officer to come calling now. It was on Sportscene after all.
But while we’re talking about what they thought of the referee, and in the interest of balance, they can jog on with the supposed Brown “elbow” on Holt. Brown put an arm across Holt and Holt went down like he’d been shot would be more accurate. It’s more of a dive than the Dembele one to which they’re clinging! Don’t hold your breathe for a compliance officer call on that one though, Sportscene missed it. As they did the Miller two footed challenge actually.
But back to our performance. Out wide, Forrest seems to have been given the benefit for the doubt just being back, but Sinclair was very disappointing. Further back, Lustig was asleep for the equaliser and even Tierney took a while to get into the game. For him, that’s arguably a bad game such has been his consistently high level of performance this season.
Even Rodgers has been criticised for giving up the midfield when Armstrong went off, albeit due to a calf injury. Not one that’s considered being caused by the opposition you’ll note, although there is some talk about Bitton being affected by that. Mind you, that’s about all that’s being talked about Bitton such was his impact on the game.
Given that we all saw this refereeing performance coming, this was not a day to find ourselves off the boil across the board. I said as much in my blog last week, we had to give them nothing and take our own chances. Well we took one but gave them a few. Nothing says it more about this game than the fact that Craig Gordon could put up a good argument for challenging Armstrong as man of the match.
Although some would argue even he should have done better when it came to their equaliser. Personally I’d argue the defence should have helped him out more. See my earlier comment about Lustig, but even the shot from Hyndman that he parried should have been closed down better.
I’m not suggesting that we just accept these poor refereeing performances, far from it, but I’ve seen them all my life and I’m no closer to knowing what to do about them now than I was as a kid. For longer than I’ve been alive, Celtic have had to be better than not just the opposition but the officials too. Especially against teams called Rangers, who always seem to be the net beneficiaries of these decisions. It’s a disgrace but short of making a big song and dance about all the truly awful decisions, especially in games where we win anyway and we can’t be accused of looking for excuses, I really don’t know what to do about it.
Jock Stein was quoted as saying “if you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter”. He’s right, and this season has been a fine example of that. We have been good enough to overcome a lot of poor refereeing, including Dembele’s double nutmeg in the League Cup semi final earlier this season when Sviatchenko had a perfectly good goal chalked off for nothing earlier in the game. Conversely, Sunday was a day where we simply weren’t good enough and the referee did matter.
This doesn’t address the underlying referee problem and it never will. We really shouldn’t have to be better than our opponents and the officials. But until we find a way to address this problem longer term, it’s the only thing we can realistically do. It’s very probably what we’ll need to do in the Scottish Cup semi final next month too.
So called Rangers are now one of only two teams to have stopped us winning domestically this season. The first of those, Inverness, have played us three times since and the results in those games have been 3-0, 6-0 and 4-0. The reaction to those dropped points up in Inverness from the Celtic team has been fantastic. Hopefully the reaction to dropped points against so called Rangers are similar, starting with that Scottish Cup semi final at Hampden.
It will need to be, because we all know the refereeing certainly won’t be any better by then.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)