There’s been a lot of controversy and debate in the media of late regarding some recent Premiership refereeing decisions.

There’s always going to be an argument over mistakes made by officials and these very often are construed as inefficiency or in more serious circumstances, bias. This has always been with us and I definitely don’t expect that VAR would be the process to change the paranoia that exists with large groups of fans in our game.

I am, however, totally in favour of VAR and if anyone can get access to the minutes of the UEFA or FIFA Football committee, which I was a member of from 2008 until 2010, they will see that I was the first person to propose the operation of immediately analysing major decisions at matches in order that refereeing mistakes could be corrected. The members of these committees were all ex pros and the FIFA one actually had major names such as Pele, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, Platini and Dino Zoff as members. When I put my case forward I, perhaps mistakenly, made a reference to tennis where they look at incidents that are appealed, to decide if the line judge got it right. Unfortunately, Franz Beckenbauer, who I got on very well with, said: “Gordon, football and tennis are very different games and can’t be compared.” I was a bit disappointed with his response.

There was also the argument, by some members, that the great thing about football is the discussion and arguments after any match regarding incidents in a game. I argued against this by maintaining that its only a good pub debate if there’s no TV footage for the match. If there is, and it quite clearly shows that an error was made by the referee, it’s no longer a point for discussion. To justify my argument, I brought up the situation where the Republic Of Ireland were eliminated from the World Cup after Thierry Henry had handled the ball before his assist for France’s winning goal. I said it was ridiculous that I was, like millions of people, sitting at home watching the game on TV, knowing that the goal should have been disallowed, when the referee had no information telling him what had occurred.

Despite my argument and strong support for VAR to be introduced, both committees rejected it being recommended to the IFAB board for consideration on whether it should be adopted. It was strange that eight years later it was introduced, so I’ve no idea why the thinking on it changed. Nevertheless, I was delighted to see that it was finally brought into the game at a high level as, more often than not, analysis is required for penalties, goals or red cards. I say the highest level, but I’m also still surprised Scotland hasn’t introduced it for the Premiership. How much training is required for someone to view the action and advise the referee that he’s either got it right or wrong? I don’t think it would take too long to work out a system that would suit our match officials.

Referees might still make mistakes but VAR will reduce these and we might also lessen the criticism they have to endure. I always respected referees, even when at times I wasn’t always given the decision that I felt I deserved. Referees want two things from their involvement in the game. They want to earn respect for their performances and they want to have the opportunity to referee major matches at club and international level. That’s why, in my opinion, people are wrong to suspect they would make controversial decisions in favour of a team they might have supported as a kid. They are motivated by self esteem and are therefore only concerned with providing performances that enhance their reputations.


As I’m making reference to the current refereeing controversy, one incident I still look back on with fondness was a match at Ibrox in the late 1970s when referee Brian McGinley refused us a penalty when John McDonald was brought down in the box. He jumped up and had a go at Brian and received a yellow card. Bobby Russell then had a go at him too and also got a yellow. I then went over to Brian and in an aggressive manner pointed a finger at him close to his face and said: “That wasn’t a penalty. You’re going to get loads of abuse for your decision but I think you got it right” He made no reaction and I then walked away from him. As I left Ibrox that night I was inundated with fans congratulating me for telling Mr McGinley off for his poor decision. When I got home my mum telephoned me to say there had been a major debate on the radio about why I didn’t get booked, or even sent off, considering my aggressive behaviour towards Brian because he hadn’t given us the penalty. I loved it as I got exactly the reaction I had hoped for.