Thoughts on the Celtic v ICT Scottish Cup Semi-Final


[*Braces Self With Fear At Prospect Of Posting First-Ever Blog*]

Good Evening.

What an afternoon! It can’t be said that the Celtic-ICT game was lacking in drama and incident. Which – all things considered – you would want in a sporting contest. Particularly in a sport that is supposedly dying on its arse following “Armageddon”. It certainly made a dramatic spectacle for the neutral. Not everyone agrees, but I thought Ronny’s post-match comments were well-judged and a credit to him. Once again, he avoided giving the media a cheap headline by complaining of injustice.

Congratulations to ICT (who played well and worked very hard) and Falkirk on reaching the final. I hope that they have a great day and it is a good game to watch. Hopefully it won’t be dominated by “intriguing” refereeing decisions…

On which note…

The decision not to award *that* penalty was clearly a shocker. Obviously these things do happen in sport and have to be lived with. Thierry Henry is never hoping to be popular in Ireland as a result of officials missing his handball in a World Cup play-off, and that Maradona bloke is never likely to be made a Freeman of any English towns or cities following an alleged handball that was missed by the referee in 1986… But the incidents happened, and the result was never going to be changed…

If a modicum of competence had been displayed by the 5 million officials now deemed necessary to officiate at a major Cup game, a red card would surely have been given to Meekings, and – regardless of whether the penalty was scored –  it would most likely have been a game-deciding moment given that Celtic were already ahead. Of course, after the penalty incident, other game-changing moments followed – not least the Gordon sending-off, some ‘interesting’ Celtic defending, and the penalty ICT could have had for Zaluska’s challenge on Ofere. But Celtic’s penalty-that-wasn’t undoubtedly had a profound influence on the outcome of the game.

I am not one to subscribe to conspiracy theories (although I do suspect there may be merit in the theory that the Scottish Football authorities conspired to shoehorn a new club into as high a league as possible in 2012, and acquiesced in it pretending to be a dead club that stiffed an army of creditors, and broke rules left, right and centre…….). I didn’t find myself banging on the walls of Clumpany Towers calling the referee a “cheat” this afternoon, although I can appreciate that those with longer memories and bitter experience rightly remain at the end of their tether with Celtic’s experiences at the hands of Scottish referees…

Mr Regan has taken to Twitter to say he has seen the incident back and agrees it was a handball, but that the the officials didn’t see it. Thanks for that Stewart! If what he says is true (and I am writing this piece assuming it is) then you have to ask “why the hell didn’t they see it”?

Really, seriously, what *were* they doing at that moment when they appeared to have a clear line of sight at close proximity? Daydreaming and wondering whether they remembered to Sky+ the game so they could watch their heroic officiating later?! The mind boggles!

This is an incident of such ineptitude that if it was in the EPL or Champions League there would probably be hours of coverage and analysis of it on Sky Sports News and in the papers. And it is not the first such ‘inept’ incident this season or in recent years. Time and again games are distorted by dubious officiating, be it penalty decisions or the awarding of red cards (or their non-awarding if you are a noted elbow-wielder with a lower league club…) etc. Then of course there is the sometimes seemingly arbitrary way in which Notices of Complaint are issued by the Compliance Officer, and the intriguing array of laughably heavy-handed or feather-light punishments that are handed out…

[NB Before going any further I acknowledge the view of fans of many other clubs that Celtic easily get more than their fair share of favourable treatment from officials on a week-to-week basis. However, on this occasion I am (thankfully) making a more general point!]

Fans of all clubs in all leagues around the world complain about the standard of officiating. It is part of the game, and the pub would be a poorer place without debates about refereeing decisions. However, that is not to say that we should be prepared to accept any old crap and laugh it off. Fans in Scotland, and much of the mainstream media, are quite clear that the match officials in Scotland repeatedly fall below an acceptable standard. Today provided a particularly egregious example of what many people feel: in any given match, the officials in Scottish football might well make a blunder that becomes the story.

In the 2010 World Cup, Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed when it had crossed the line by some distance. Although hilarious, it was a potentially game-changing blunder that served to highlight what everyone knew: that  continuing to resist the use of goal-line technology in even the World’s biggest tournament was absolutely laughable. The fact that the incident happened in front of Sepp Blatter himself made the point even more powerfully.

In a similar vein, today’s incidents at the home of the SFA serve to bring into sharp focus what most of us feel: that Scottish officiating has a problem and the governing body ought to do something about it. It can never be perfect, but it could be a lot lot better.

So the Meekings handball was missed? Hmm, annoying but Celtic will live to fight another day.

So the referee didn’t award a penalty for Zaluska’s challenge on Ofere? OK, ICT went on to win the game anyway.

But if EVEN the CEO of the SFA is commenting that a glaring, potentially game-defining incident, was missed despite several officials looking at it from a short distance away, then we do have a problem. The problem would be concerning if it occurred in the Junior Leagues, but if it is happening on live TV in a show-piece game, then it screams “EMBARRASSING” in flashing lights, and the SFA and clubs really ought to ask

  1. how the officials can make that kind of blunder; and
  2. how the standard of officiating can be improved…

If I am honest, I fear we will all just stumble on to the next high-profile blunder. But I live in hope!

Go on SFA and clubs: surprise me!

[*Puts on Magnanimous Hat*]

Despite being gutted by today’s result, I still think it is good for the game that a greater range of clubs are making finals and winning trophies. Much of the MSM yearns for the days of a “competitive Rangers”, and a titanic struggle with Celtic (provided that Rangers prevailed of course, and notwithstanding the fact that Rangers’ contribution to that epic struggle was built on money they ultimately didn’t have …). However, what we have now is something that looks much more like an interesting competitive sport, and one that is on the up. It is a shame that large parts of the MSM aren’t particularly interested in telling its story…

Speaking of the MSM and the new paradigm…

I had a chuckle when I saw the post-match tweet of one of The Clumpany’s favourite journalists. Step forward, Chris Jack of the Evening Times-They-Aren’t-A-Changing…

” @Chris_Jack89: Super Caley go ballistic and all that. Been an incredible couple of years for ICT. Another Treble chance blown by Celtic. Sore one for Deila

You might almost think that Mr Jack is taking a pop. “Another Treble chance blown“? Yes, because these potential trebles are a regular thing. Celtic’s sense of entitlement is such that they expect to have the chance every year… and yet they just keep on blowing it!

Even Rangers at the peak of the ‘absolutely-not-gaining-a-sporting-advantage by off-field practices’ era didn’t routinely win them. At the end of this season, if Celtic win two trophies then as far as I am concerned that is two trophies in the cabinet and a job well done. It is NOT “a treble blown“.

Remarkable as it may seem… I quite like the fact that there is competition in the sport, and that a treble is so hard to win. Without question, there is now the opportunity for more clubs to have their day in the sun than there has been for years. Even if that day has a few showers and results in blowing a two goal lead against Alloa in a Petrofac semi-final…

I suspect that had Celtic won the treble this year then some parts of the media would have run guides to “The Best Ever Trebles in Scottish Football”, placing this one at the bottom owing to the top-flight absence of a ‘Rangers’-named entity. However, I have every confidence the Celtic Treble that also added a European and Glasgow Cup to it in 1967 would have at least made the top three in the Evening Times!

Onwards and upwards. I still love Scottish football…


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