JANUARY is traditionally a time of year when people take stock of their lives and look at how they can become better versions of themselves in the months ahead.

Usually this involves figuring out how they can lose weight, get fitter, save money, give up smoking.

Being more understanding of the pressure which Scottish referees are under and more forgiving of the errors which they inevitably make is not a resolution that many, if any at all, make. 

But is it really asking too much for football fans in this country to be kinder towards our much-maligned match officials in 2024? It would maybe be no bad thing if they were.

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The outcry among Rangers supporters about the Alistair Johnston handball incident in the first half of their cinch Premiership game against Celtic at Parkhead last Saturday was entirely understandable.

Most observers, regardless of their allegiances, felt it merited a penalty after watching replays of the right back inadvertently knocking the ball out of play with his hand.

Glasgow Times: Even Neil Lennon, who was doing punditry duties for Sky Sports, admitted he would have been furious if he had been in the opposition dugout. 

However, the demonisation of VAR official Willie Collum, who felt that Johnston’s arm was not in an unnatural position after reviewing footage over at Clydesdale House, which has taken place in recent days has gone way beyond what is acceptable.

Rangers were quite entitled to seek talks with the SFA head of refereeing Crawford Allan in the circumstances and completely justified in expressing their unhappiness about how the flashpoint was handled.

But to ask that Collum be kept away from their games in future – a request which was immediately and rightly rejected - was unnecessary. 

The referee in question has taken charge of three of their matches this season – their Premiership defeat to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in August, their Viaplay Cup win over Livingston at Ibrox in September and their league triumph against Hearts at Tynecastle last month – without any major issues arising.

Was it really reasonable to demand that he not be involved in any of their fixtures going forward after he made a single honest mistake on a subjective call?

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The displays of match officials at all levels are closely monitored by Allan and his associates and anyone who performs consistently poorly is demoted accordingly. Clubs cannot get involved in that process. If they did, it would jeopardise the integrity of the entire game.

This whole sorry affair, though, took a decidedly sinister turn when Rangers’ appeal, which was made during the course of private discussions, leaked out into the public domain on Wednesday evening. 

The SFA statement which was issued on Thursday asked for “greater responsibility” to be shown following “recent incidents in European football that have comprised the safety of match officials”.

That was a reference to Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler being punched on the park by MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Coca at the end of a match against Caykur Rizespor last month – an assault which led to Coca being arrested and football in the country being suspended.

It is difficult to envisage Rangers chairman John Bennett ever storming onto the pitch at Ibrox in a fury and planting one on Kevin Clancy after a disappointing result. 

Glasgow Times: Still, there has certainly been some sickening treatment of Scottish match officials by the yob element which exists on the stands in the past. They have been accosted in the street, had their homes vandalised, been sent death threats and received threatening phone calls over the years.

Collum himself revealed that he had come close to quitting due to the toll that being thrust into the public eye after contentious games had taken on both his own mental wellbeing and that of his family when he spoke on a podcast with Kris Boyd and Robert Snodgrass a few years ago.

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“When mistakes happen, there isn’t much forgiveness in society,” he said. “My wife has said to me many times that maybe it's time to give it up. That could be down to the media stress being too much. I have had some difficult times. There needs to be an acceptance that we are ordinary people.”

All clubs must be cognisant of that in their dealings with the governing body regardless of how aggrieved they are at how their team has been treated. They can make their displeasure known by all means. But they have an obligation to do it in a mature manner.  

Rangers lost the moral high ground when they singled out Collum.


It is to be hoped that, as well clubs adopting a more measured attitude to perceived injustices, there is an end to the flawed narrative about referees favouring Rangers over their Scottish rivals in the year ahead following recent events.

Wild conspiracy theories about “patterns of assistance” abounded during the two year run the Glasgow giants went on without conceding a penalty in the Premiership.

That finally came to an end on Tuesday afternoon when Kilmarnock were given a soft spot kick by John Beaton following a VAR check in a Premiership match at Ibrox.

It was just the latest in a long line of questionable, but entirely innocent, calls which have gone against them this season and showed once again that they are treated no differently to their domestic opponents.