Celtic v SFA’s Lanarkshire Referees – A trustworthy system of governance would be as welcome as it is overdue

Be it legislation, rules, articles or policy there is ‘money to be made in them hills’ when it comes to interpreting meaning in such rulebooks, and this week the administrators and solicitors will be sharpening their pencils.

There is rarely a right and wrong answer when it comes to interpretation of laws, indeed you really must only ensure the route you take is sensible and the conclusion you reach is not perverse to avoid any repercussion.

Celtic intend to challenge the decision to offer a two-game suggestion for a breach of 201 of the SFA rulebook, relating to the perception of three ex referees that the penalty awarded for a foul on Albian Ajeti against Kilmarnock on Tuesday night was an act of simulation.

Celtic will argue contact however minimal means it cannot be deemed to be simulation, whilst the SFA will argue such minimal contact is not enough to warrant the player’s theatrics and will push for simulation as a common sense conclusion, as it could be perceived as a reaction designed to unduly influence the referee. It will then be down to how both cases are presented, the route taken to the conclusion and balancing both differing viewpoints.

We can all argue to the cows come home about the mechanics of it all, skewed by the coloured tint to your reading glasses.

On the field of play and if seen by the referee the game’s rules state that “attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)”, must be sanctioned as unsporting behaviour which is misconduct punishable by a yellow card. The fact is that didn’t happen and both the assistant and the referee communicated before the award of the spot-kick.

As that was ‘missed’ by Kevin Clancy and his ‘able’ assistants we now have a three-man panel of former Grade One referees having reviewed the incident, and have now cited Ajeti under the rule stating:

“No player shall cause a match official to make an incorrect decision and/or support an error of judgment on the part of a match official by an act of simulation which results in that player’s team obtaining a Substantial Advantage.”

And so, an in game yellow card moves to a post incident two match ban being offered. Possibly more at appeal? We’ll have to see if Celtic win this battle. It will be close.

Contact will play a big part in Celtic’s defence and a perceived overreaction to minimal contact in the SFA’s stance. From there we will be back to interpretation at appeal. There is clear merit in both arguments, but someone is going to have to decide. Was the contact enough, considering it was ankle that was touched and both players moved at speed? You could easily argue yes. However, the contact was light and the reaction somewhat accentuated and as such both sides will be telling their clients there is a good chance of success. Whatever happens Celtic are taking a stance on this.

Considering as supporters we have been calling on more defence of perceived injustices against our club –and other clubs – on the field of play this is welcome. Would the club have done this outside the current political storm between the boardroom and the support? It is hard to say but that they feel wronged and are doing something to challenge it is at least welcome.

Photo: Jeff Holmes

You can only hope this is not to curry short term favour with a disgruntled support, one historically peeved at a habitual lack of action when it comes to defending Celtic. Instead, we can hope this is the beginning of a more concerted effort to challenge the powers that be whatever the outcome of this particular charge.

The system for how such cases come before the panel is murky and Celtic going forward should be asking for transparency. It appears many cases are due to trial by Sky Sports or Sportscene, this strikes as being weighed against Celtic as a high-profile club, one who have live games far more often than other clubs and as such a chance of missed incidents being raised by way of trial by television rather than say a referee’s assessor. If every game was revisited by a panel this may add balance, for now it is skewed against Celtic by being an audience pull for broadcasters. That cannot be right.

It also appears anyone watching an incident at the game or on TV can raise the issue by making a complaint direct to the SFA. Again, in what is predominately a two-club league that allows for disgruntled supporters on both sides to influence the teams involved. This is again far from a balanced system. In such circumstances do we believe a misdemeanour by a Livingston player would generate the same level of interest and complaint as a Celtic player?

We have also seen a spate of such incidents requiring reviewing of late. Alfredo Morelos on more than one occasion and Kemar Roofe against St Johnstone on Wednesday night have all gone to review and there there have been others.

Missing incidents during the game impacts the outcome of that game as any future suspensions are applied to the future matches. That means the teams having been impacted by the original decision being missed, do not get any benefit. They are punished for the error and another team gains the benefit by having any suspension carried forward to the next fixture.

That so many appeals are necessary is indicative of a poor standard of officiating. Considering many of these incidents were not as open to interpretation as the Ajeti ‘simulation’ incident. Indeed, many have been blatant and well within sight of the referee and/or supporting cast and have resulted in the outcomes of games being clearly influenced.

If Celtic intend to be serious about challenging the SFA it needs to take a broader brush to this subject, there needs to be a raising of the transparency around the training, competency and how referees are punished for repeated failures to get the basic decisions right, particularly around violent conduct on the field of play.

As we saw with Murray Davidson and Ryan Porteous in recent games, there is the very real danger of a blind eye being turned impacting to potential career damaging incidents. If these are missed it encourages further misdemeanours. It may well impact results and the SFA may believe such incidents could be described as swings and roundabouts, however they have a duty of care to the players on the field of play and protection is evidently lacking.

Celtic should challenge the Albian Ajeti incident if they feel wronged but this needs to be part of a bigger challenge for long overdue SFA reform and cannot be a stand-alone challenge.

There are many incidents regarding football governance that Celtic could and should have challenged, even outside of the standard of officiating in recent years, and we have sat on our hands. In my opinion that simply means we look a soft touch.

Whether there is much merit in the Albian Ajeti incident will be for the legal representatives on both sides to interpret and debate. What must follow is the start of a defence of Celtic going forward, a change in attitude at Boardroom level and part of a bigger push to reform and transparency in Scottish football regulation. If the club really want the support onside, then ensuring we strive for a trustworthy system of governance would be as welcome as it is overdue.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

1 Comment

  1. Another “the rangers” player attacks another player. are we talking about it NO….Why because it’s a “the rangers” player that’s why