Early in 2018, Celtic won an exciting match at Ibrox by 3-2, a commendable win considering that Celtic’s central defender Simunovic had been ordered off with almost thirty minutes left. The general feeling among the members of the Ottawa Celtic Supporters’ Club in the James Street Pub was expressed by more than one: “The bastard couldn’t get his flag up fast enough!”
They were right. I doubt if I have ever seen an assistant-referee so frantic to become involved in the action, and thus influence the referee’s decision. Was it so necessary to shout out his opinion, and so insistently? Was it necessary to wave his flag so vehemently? After all, the ball had gone out of play, and the action on the pitch had stopped. Surely all the assistant had to do was raise his flag, and then have a word or two with the referee? As it happened, it was hard to distinguish his reactions from those of the Rangers’ supporters massed behind him.
Simunovic’s offence? Certainly worth a free-kick to Rangers, probably worth a yellow card, but it was less clear if it merited a straight red card. How much did the assistant’s semaphore affect the decision? Well, he had a perfect view of the incident, while the referee’s view was obscured. With hindsight it is clear that the referee accepted his assistant’s version … and trusted his competence. Some Celtic supporters doubt it, though; they point out the man’s political views and allegiance and assume from that he would be likely to show favouritism towards Rangers.
It is not always so simplistic as that. For example, Celtic’s 7-1 rout of Rangers in the 1957 League Cup final was refereed by an elder in the Church of Scotland while the 4-1 defeat by Partick Thistle in the same competition years later was refereed by the headmaster of a Catholic school.
But, back to the 2018 incident at Ibrox. Unwisely, the assistant-referee gave the clear impression that he was ultra-eager to become involved in the action … and may have ‘blackmailed’ his superior into an ordering-off.
Another point, and an important one. After the frantic flag-waving and the foam-flecked shouts from his assistant, could any referee have over-ruled his input? Here was a case of a referee with a partial view of an incident having to rely on the advice of an assistant (who appeared to the impartial observer to be excessively motivated to become involved). Had Mr Collum over-ruled his assistant, it would have been a direct rebuke to him, and might have had consequences for the referee himself.Listen to ROGER MITCHELL with A Celtic State of Mind here:
It reminded me of another incident involving a linesman and a referee.
It was at Celtic Park and in a sectional match in the League Cup between Celtic and Rangers in 1968 … a couple of weeks previously Rangers had won at Ibrox, and so Celtic had to win in order to have any chance of advancing … the score was 0-0 at half-time, and an off-the-ball incident took place in the first minute of the second half right after the kick-off.
Willie Johnston of Rangers clashed with John Hughes, and the Celtic player retaliated violently; the linesman on the Jungle side raised his flag, and kept it up until the referee (Jim Callaghan) noticed him; the referee and the linesman had a talk, rather a long talk, while Hughes (who had been cautioned in the first half) sweated it out. Eventually, Mr Callaghan approached the players, and spoke sternly to both of them … but took no further action.
Almost certainly, John Hughes should have been sent off (and Johnston cautioned) but in this case the referee, having listened to his linesman, decided to exercise his own judgement. By the way, Celtic won the game by 1-0 with a header from Tommy Gemmell, a result that virtually assured Celtic’s progress and ended Rangers’ in the competition.
The sequel was most unfortunate: Rangers advised the Scottish League and the SFA of their unhappiness with Mr Callaghan’s decision-making, the authorities (with considerable input from the linesman) ruled on it and Jim Callaghan (a UEFA-ranked official) was reprimanded and suspended for six weeks … Most ironically, the Glasgow Referee Association awarded Mr Callaghan the accolade of being their best referee that year, and accorded him a standing ovation at their annual meeting at much the same time.
So, should referees listen to assistants? Well, they can provide the referee with another opinion, and from a different perspective … but I am sure I am not the only person bemused by the frantic flag-waving at Ibrox.