Yesterday’s defeat at Livingston threw up many inadequacies but high on the list is, once again, the quality of referees.
When Ryan Christie went in with his studs up, Willie Collum raced over and flashed a red card without taking a second to digest it.
The ref made the right call in this instance, but later in the game when Keaghan Jacobs, to use the word of the weekend, lunged with at Jonny Hayes, Collum on this occasion strolled over as if he was going for ice cream cones.
That wasn’t the only difference, of course, with the colour of the card being yellow on this occasion.
Kris Commons highlighted inconsistency in these matters on Sky Sports, but a lot of fans will feel that refs are already pretty consistent in their different application of the rules when it comes to Celtic.
Remember the red card when Hearts’ Steven Naismith stamped on Scott Brown’s plums? Or when Kenny Miller flew through the air with both feet studs up on Stuart Armstrong? Or when Kieran Tierney was left with blood pouring from the stud marks that punctured his thigh against Motherwell? Or when the left-back was carted off to hospital with a broken jaw in a cup final?
Jonny Hayes has already had his leg broken in the Hoops and the wonder is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.
Ryan Christie was left with a horror injury after a shocking assault against Aberdeen last season. While Dominic Ball was red carded on that occasion, the sense is that players are sent out with the intention of “roughing up” Celtic players in a bid to unsettle them.
Tierney, if he wasn’t the most fouled player in Scotland couldn’t have been far off it, would often get a yellow for his first hefty challenge. In games where Celtic players were regularly on the end of what Ron Atkinson would call “reducers”, it was usually a matter of guessing which player in green and white would be first in the match to be shown a card for resorting to some of the same.
In these matters, Celtic appear to be refereed to a different standard to other teams. Would these potential career-ending assaults mentioned above happen with such alarming frequency if referees were as quick to get their cards out as Willie Collum was yesterday? If teams know they will get away with it, and managers send them out under instruction, they will do it more and up the ante as time goes on.
Imagine for a moment Scott McKenna had signed for Celtic, would he have got away with they crazed kung-fu “tackle” that he acrobatically performed in the penalty box on Edouard? I can picture him walking down the tunnel with Andy Walker’s condemnation ringing around the nation.
A lot of Celtic fans will argue that “Operation Stop The Nine” would be underway this season. The above examples show that inexplicable decisions can happen in any season in any competition.
But there’s no doubt that having a penalty saver in the shape of Fraser Forster could prove decisive as the season wears on. Would Celtic have got away with the two stonewall penalties against Hibs last weeks just because the player got his cross in? Answers on the back of the red card shown to Izaguirre at Pittodrie.
Would a Celtic player have been able to run around, fouling with impunity, stamping on people’s backs (injuring Ralston in the process), kicking their nuts, and acting like someone who’d forgotten to take their medication in a match against Rangers?
John Beaton would probably have an opinion on that and it would be different from his interpretation of events that day.
Last season, we saw a number of games where Rangers players were subjected to a disciplinary process after the game finished, not least when Ryan Kent swung a punch at Scott Brown.
This was a game that could have gone either way, with the title race by no means over. Yet Kent was only “sent off” the following midweek. It happened more than once.
So the team playing against Rangers didn’t get the benefit of the rules being applied on the day. In the case of Beaton and Morelos, the SFA doubled down by not even retrospectively punishing the Colombian man-child, on the basis that the ref had witnessed all of the incidents, each and every one a red card in normal circumstances.
When Celtic expressed their surprise at the lack of action, the usual narrative was then played out. Refs were under “threat”, clubs had to be more “repsonsible”.
You could almost feel the wheels of strike action grinding as it did once before when Celtic legitimately questioned a decision and then found themselves on the end of a conspiracy and web of lies that, ultimately, cost one whistler his job.
Not before elements of the Scottish media had fanned the flamed and, in some cases, influenced the story by presenting one-sided elements of the story to incoming refs from foreign countries, convincing them to turn around.
Celtic’s questioning of Dougie McDonald’s decision making that day was measured and temperate, but the response from the SFA and the referees inflamed the situation, creating an unprecedented mountain out of a molehill, and ultimately showed them up for what they are when the truth emerged.
The referee had lied.
Craig Levein can rant about referees. He almost certainly would have done if he had been denied two stonewall penalties and conceded a goal that was offside against Hibs. Yet Paul Heckingbottom managed to conjure up a fury that he himself said totally ignored the three obvious decisions that earned his side a point.
Steven Gerrard, after his first-ever league game in charge of Rangers, can imply the club has been on the end of historical bias (obviously unprompted!). But if Celtic had to use such language, the guns of the establishment and the media would be turned against them.
It’s not only on the pitch that the club is treated differently. Far from the inevitable accusations of paranoia, it was always thus.
Celtic were suckered into a dirty game on a terrible excuse for a football pitch, a surface that should be banned — but that is an obvious argument for another day. That referees allow hammer throwers a high degree of leeway to leave the boot in without sanction as a “leveller” is something that Celtic should challenge.
It’s something that should be done when winning, to avert the accusation of “looking for excuses”. Celtic’s failings were plentiful yesterday and none of the above is to pretend that Collum was the culprit for the dropped points. But just like many of Celtic’s players, he didn’t do his job properly and the club should have the right to ask why, once again, this is the case.