As Private Baldrick once said of the Russian Revolution, ‘Something is afoot in the wind’. And, as the wintry winds of coalition change blow across the country the smell of feet is everywhere again. The familiar face of student action has reappeared, industrial action never really left the railways; coal-miners may have been redundant for a long time but we needn’t worry, the referees of Scotland are ready and willing to fill the gap in our landscape of social unrest.
This weekend, there will be no Scottish representatives among those officiating Scottish football. The referees don’t have any specific demands. The ‘strike’ is not so much that as a withdrawal of labour to make a point. The referees are fed up of having their integrity repeatedly questioned by fans, managers and, in the case of former home secretary John Reid, club chairmen, so they’re taking the weekend off. This has left the SFA, whose obligation it is to find officiators for matches across the four tiers of Scottish football scrambling around to assemble a hotchpotch of international refereeing talent.
At the time of writing, the SFA’s agreement with the Polish FA for the borrowing of 12 referees has fallen through so currently the weekend’s already reduced number of fixtures now have just eight officials, imported from Luxembourg, Israel and Portugal.
The decision to strike (which may yet be reversed, there is a meeting this afternoon) has been surrounded with the usual rhetoric. Motherwell manager Craig Brown has called it ‘a step too far’. Pete Wishart, Scottish Nationalist Party MP for Perthshire, has suggested that an all this could be avoided were referees simply forced to declare their footballing allegiances. Numerous figures within the game, from Hearts manager Jim Jeffries to Aberdeen’s notoriously penny-pinching chairman Stewart Milne, have highlighted the potential damage that a strike could do to clubs’ coffers, thereby trotting out the familiar accusation that the strikers are spiting their faces by removing their noses. The BBC pundit Jim Spence has called it ‘a cry for help’.
Against this familiar backdrop, a surprisingly poignant comment has come from the Ayrshire based referee John McKendrick who (in a style that makes him sound like Rowan Williams) characterizes the withdrawal of labour as ‘a space for people to say that referees should be treated differently … What we want is to have this weekend of reflection to think about what kind of football we want and then move forward”.
I think that’s a great idea. What about you? What kind of football do you want?