The big Glasgow Derby refereeing decisions and were they called right?

Once again, we came away from a weekend’s fixture with plenty of talking points around the quality of refereeing in Scottish football.

Not for the first time, the decision-making of the men in black has been brought into question. This is Scottish football after all, of course the refs will be called out for making dubious decisions. Many Celtic fans were left furious at the weekend when Rangers’ centre-back Connor Goldson once again handled the ball inside his own penalty area. But was it a penalty? Or was referee Steven McLean right to wave play-on?


On the one hand (pardon the pun), Goldson seems immune from giving away penalties, he has handled the ball with apparent impunity all season. On the other, the ref may well have got this one correct. Well, that is according to former EPL whistler, Dermot Gallagher, who pointed out to Sky Sports:

“It can’t be a penalty, can it? He has fallen to the ground and that arm is breaking his fall. His arm is clearly on the floor when it strikers it. There is no doubt about it. You can see the players reaction as well, they don’t even appeal because they know now that is what the law is.”

The counter-argument to Gallagher’s point would be that Goldson did not fall to the ground; he rather slid in to gain a defensive advantage. Is this down to interpretation, or just another grey area in the rule book that could go either way depending on the official making the decision?

Let’s be absolutely clear, no-one is claiming that this game was on a knife’s edge; this decision did not ultimately affect the destination of the three points. Rangers were worthy winners, and Celtic were way off their best. But it is still frustrating that these decisions are being made with such regularity and inconsistency, particularly when one specific club are involved in the contest. Rangers are going for 55 again, but this time we’re counting league games without conceding a penalty. They haven’t given away a spot-kick in their last 53 Premiership matches.

The other isolated incident that caused some debate was what seemed to be a tug of Yuki Kobayashi’s shirt from John Souttar when the Rangers defender made it 2-0 after 34 minutes. On closer inspection, it would appear that both players were at it, and truth be told the young centre-half had to be stronger and should not have allowed Souttar that chance. In fairness, it would have been a very soft foul had the referee awarded it.

If we are to concede that McLean got the Souttar and Goldson decisions correct, then the other point of consternation that the ref got horribly wrong involved Rangers’ poster boy, Todd Cantwell.

The ex-Norwich midfielder was full of bluster during his pre-match ramblings, but his biggest achievement in the derby was to escape it without a booking, no matter how hard he tried. Cantwell gave away two free kicks in the first-half for fouls on Reo Hatate, and then three in the second-half, with his fifth infringement coming in the 68th minute on Yuki Kobayashi. Alarmingly, despite these persistent fouls, which included two particularly nasty challenges, Cantwell escaped a booking.

Compare how McLean treated Cantwell to how he reacted when Callum McGregor barely touched Fashion Sakala in 59 minutes for his one and only infringement of the match – McLean couldn’t get Celtic’s captain in his book quickly enough.


For years, we have seen a concerning lack of consistency with the refereeing of the Scottish game. The poor refereeing standard of our game is a worry and something that always has and always will negatively affect the credibility of our game up in Scotland.

But how do we fix this?

The first thing that has to happen is that referees must be full-time. They need proper training and developmental consequences that would affect their livelihood like any other full-time position would.

Right now, referees are turning up for a match after a week’s graft in their day job, picking up a second wage from Scottish football and then going home.

Where is the ongoing analysis and development? What happens if they make a mistake? Are they that concerned about the consequences? Or is it just a handy second income to spend at the next Crown Bar darts night?

There needs to be more work and training for our referees. If this was a full-time gig, and referees had a hub where they would spend their week going over all the mistakes that week and how they can rectify them, we would surely start seeing less and less errors. Then you have the consistency issue, if these guys all worked together in an office or a hub during the week, all working through the same issues and going over the same talking points from the weekend, then the level of consistency would naturally increase.

There is, of course, also the financial aspect that the SFA would, no doubt, raise as a stumbling block. But that leaves one more question.

Do the SFA want to see our game improve and taken seriously?

Then there is no way that will happen with amateur refs officiating a professional sport.



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