Clearing Up A Few Loose Ends: Celtic, Portsmouth And (Briefly) Wednesday

11 By Mark  |   The Ball  |   October 27, 2010  |     21

It’s the football scandal of a generation. And it won’t go away. Colleen Rooney, photographed blatantly sipping a cool drink by a holiday swimming  pool… while there’s a recession on!! I mean not one single British passport holder anywhere else in the world has done that in the last week. As to whether that shite really does sell newspapers, that’s a debate for someone else to start. I don’t know enough to offer an informed opinion, so I won’t offer any opinion. Something for Mail columnist Martin Samuel to ponder next time he writes about Uefa’s “financial fair play” regulations.
But elsewhere in football, while the lenses and laptops have flitted back and forth across the M62, there have been one or two real scandals. I’m confident most of you will have someone say that “there’s no use arguing with referees, they won’t change their mind.” Well… wrong. And I’m not talking about Tom Huddlestone at Fulham, where referee Mike Read gave Spurs winner after the hulking Spurs midfielder suggested Read and his assistant ought to have a chat about the use of said assistant’s flag. At Fulham, Read had not decided whether Spurs’ William Gallas, standing in an offside position, was actually “offside” as per the laws of the game. Thus we had a remarkable situation. No, not Read’s discussion with his assistant before giving the goal. But Alan Shearer, on Match of the Day, offering lucid analysis and displaying a knowledge of the offside law which… well… displaying a knowledge of the offside law.
But that weekend, in Scotland (so of minimal interest to the London-based “national” press), a referee did change his mind, and did so because of players’ protests. The key events at Tannadice, where Dundee United hosted Celtic in an SPL fixture, were, in chronological order, as follows: Celtic’s Gary Hooper took the ball past United keeper Dusan Pernis. Pernis crashed into Hooper, knocking him to the ground. Pernis (remember, chronological order) got his fingers to the ball. Referee Dougie McDonald – how Scottish? – awarded a penalty to Celtic. United players surrounded him, protesting that Pernis had touched the ball. The referee went over to his assistant, who had taken up his position for the penalty. He spoke to his assistant. He changed his decision. The incident has provoked controversy for any number of peripheral reasons. The strong reactions of Celtic’s manager Neil Lennon, who celebrated Hooper’s 89th minute winner with such vigour that the Tayside Police complained.
The age-old subject of Celtic paranoia at big decisions going against them – that issue given legs by the debatable (translation: incorrect) penalty decision against Celtic in Sunday’s Old Firm game; a game in which Rangers, not the referee, beat Celtic, as Rangers boss Walter Smith had to remind Lennon in the post-match fall-out. But worse, the linesman involved, Steven Craven, has resigned from football because of the abuse he has allegedly received since the incident. Particularly bad as he was a blameless participant in what happened. Such has the been the focus on these consequences of the event at Tannadice that the actual event itself – a referee changing his decision because of player protests, remember – has been submerged. It should not be.
Football’s Law 5 covers the Tannadice situation in two unequivocal statements. “The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final,” and “The referee acts on the advice of assistant referees regarding incidents that he has not seen.” The Law does not make allowances for what McDonald did at Tannadice. It doesn’t say “the referee’s decision is final, unless David Goodwillie says so, loudly.” (I’m not sure Goodwillie was among the protesting players, I just find the name funny). So McDonald’s actions were fundamentally wrong. They do not justify Lennon’s reactions, but they help explain them. Celtic were wrongly denied a penalty in a game they largely dominated and the player fouled grabbed the winner in the last minute. I defy any manager not to have the urge to run down the touchline in celebration, or, as United manager Peter Houston put it, to celebrate as if “they had won the league.”
They do not justify Celtic’s age-old persecution complex, but they help fuel one. I tried to picture the same thing happening to Rangers… and failed. But there’s no logical reason why I shouldn’t have tried to picture Dundee United, or Hearts or…any team, for that matter. I’m guessing that what McDonald did has been done very few times, if at all, which, in turn, means Celtic are one of the few teams to suffer. But there’s nothing to suggest he would have done differently if the incident had been at the other end…even if McDonald sent off Celtic captain Scott Brown in March’s Old Firm fixture at Ibrox for…um…
And McDonald’s actions do not justify what has since happened to Craven…at all. For Craven to be criticised at all, let alone abused to the point of resignation, is just plain contemptible. If Craven did say that Dundee United’s keeper touched the ball, he was only telling the truth and only doing so because he was asked the question. Hugh Dallas, Scotland’s chief of referees, has taken it upon himself to re-write both the events of the day and the Laws of the Game, noting that “Dougie, having given the decision, received information from the assistant referee that the goalkeeper had played the ball” – conveniently erasing all memory of the players’ protests. So the lesson is that, whatever you might have heard, arguing with the referee has a use and referees can change their mind. And the referee can get away with it, as long as idiot fans abuse and threaten officials, and as long as the press focus on the juicy parts of the story, rather than the right ones.
The latter happened at Portsmouth – yet again – this weekend. Pompey’s exit from administration is, in itself, very good news. As I’ve written before, their fans don’t deserve to see their club wiped out because of what happened to them last season (although it was reported that the work undertaken by fans to build “AFC Portsmouth” in the event of liquidation would have been rewarded with a place in League Two). Not everybody shared that view last Saturday evening, when the Pompey debate surfaced briefly in the Non-League Paper offices before being overwhelmed by the huge volume of work NLP staff have to do to produce the paper for Sunday (he says just in time). The view was expressed that Portsmouth had bought success with borrowed money and should suffer the consequences if they couldn’t give that money back. But, of course, that was, literally, only half the story.
The problems encountered last season were nothing to do with Portsmouth buying success with someone else’s money… in fact, they were nothing to do with Portsmouth Football Club at all, beyond being a venue for a damaging business feud. There were two Portsmouth stories, and those who believed they didn’t deserve saving focused on the wrong one. To a lesser extent, the wrong story is again getting the focus. Amid the celebrations of Pompey having a future at all, many fans were prepared to disregard “new” owner Balram Chainrai’s part in its recent past. And, stemming from that, the most important words Chainrai said over the weekend were tucked away in paragraph six of a subsidiary follow-up story in the local News newspaper.
We’ve had months of administrator Andrew Andronikou acting like Chainrai’s agent, claiming Chainrai had the wherewithal to sustain the club and “ticked all the boxes,” while other potential bidders were chancers, borrowers, bullshitters, or all three. On Saturday, Chainrai announced that his team needed to stabilise the club “get a clearer understanding of the business and, the headline comment, “are not going to make any rash promises.” On Monday, filed deep in the “Oh, by the way” column, was what he said next: “We are going to need to borrow money from elsewhere.” In other words, all Andronikou’s wherewithal and box-ticking was somewhere between disingenuous, misleading and plain wrong.

This inspired a mass “I warned you” from the many Pompey fans who remain worried about a situation where present owner Chainrai and former owner Alexandre Gaydamak – two of the major protagonists in the business feud which drove nearly all last season’s bad decisions – are in charge of the club and the land surrounding its ground. The response to these worries from other Portsmouth fans has been curious. Many dismiss references to a business feud involving Chainrai and the Gaydamak family as “without foundation” even though the feud is a recorded fact. Many others simply buy the story that Chainrai loaned Portsmouth £17m last October as a “business opportunity,” even though they couldn’t explain just what that opportunity was. They believe too that Chainrai was a reluctant Portsmouth owner before his company Portpin put them into administration, despite no sign of that reluctance since. And, presumably, they have faith that the investigation into the now-liquidated company that used to run Portsmouth will show that the involvement of so many Israeli business enemies of Alexandre Gaydamak’s father in Portsmouth, at the behest of a reclusive Arab businessman, was a “co-incidence.”
Those of us who have smelled a rat ever since that £17m loan are, apparently, “conspiracy theorists.” The sort of people who think the Texas Book Depository museum is realistic because Lee Harvey Oswald… ”isn’t in it.” The sort of people who thought Munto Finance, who “bought” Notts County with promises of unending finance, were a sham. And the next thing we’ll be accused of, no doubt, is paranoia over the fate of the long-promised investigation into the old Portsmouth company’s affairs. This investigation has been long-promised, especially by Andronikou. It will show who’s right about Chainrai’s involvement in Portsmouth. Yet already it is being described as an un-necessary raking over of old coals, which won’t be worth its considerable cost. The future is the priority, not the past. Let’s draw a line under it and move on. So it is that Balram Chainrai will have to borrow money to keep Portsmouth going, despite assurances to the contrary. And he will get away with it, as long as fans chose to ignore all unpalatable facts about Portsmouth’s immediate future, and as long as the press focus on the uncomplicated parts of the story, rather than the right ones.
Oh… and Sheffield Wednesday’s takeover is “imminent.” On October 8th, the then-potential new owners promised an immediate £2m cash injection, just in time to allow a BBC ‘Football Focus’ feature on the club to publicise the “investment.” It hasn’t yet arrived. Wednesday still owe about £1m in back taxes. They are due in the High Court on November 17th to face a winding-up petition over that long-standing debt. That hearing IS “imminent.”

  • October 27, 2010 at 12:56 pm


    Football’s Law 5 covers the Tannadice situation in two unequivocal statements. “The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final,” and “The referee acts on the advice of assistant referees regarding incidents that he has not seen.”

    You seem to conveniently ignore another part of Law 5 that even more unequivocally (if such a thing is possible) covers the Tannadice situation:

    “The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of the assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match”

  • October 27, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Mark Murphy

    Not ignored, conveniently or otherwise, just not what happened at Tannadice.

    McDonald wasn’t going to even talk to his assistant before the Dundee United players protested, and the assistant wasn’t about to give any advice, as he was already in position for the penalty kick.

    Your reasoning is the same as Hugh Dallas’s, that he changed his mind because the assistant referee advised him. This only happened because the players protested, which is the point I was making when I set out the events chronologically.

    He gave the penalty and “used his discretion/changed his decision” because the United players disagreed with it.

    The players’ protests caused the change of mind and that’s what I am saying was wrong. And it IS wrong.

  • October 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm


    I think you will find that the majority of Portmsouth fans are very cautious of Chainrai’s motives. As fans, there is very little we can do to change what is happening at the club. I am sure that almost all Pompey fans would want a clean break from past and present owners but at present we have to be thankful that we have a club to support.

    If any wrong doings were to be made known then I am pretty certain Portsmouth fans would unite in demonstrating against the owners even if it resulted in them being forced out. As a result of the many previous regimes has severy tarnished our reputation and will take many years to put right, if we get it back at all.

    The comment regarding borrowing from elsewhere was not widely reported. It was almost a throw away comment. It certainly raised alarm bells with me. I am sure that Portsmouth FC’s credit rating is pretty low right now so one would hope that future borrowing would be secured against one of Chainrai’s companies.

  • October 27, 2010 at 1:55 pm


    Forgive me as I’ve not seen the incident, and if they were ganging up on the ref a la the famous Keane/United image then that’s one thing, but players protest any and every decision anyway – apart from the most blatant fouls and handballs, pretty much every decision is contentious in the eyes of the players, and you see countless examples each weekend of players being waved away by the referee after giving free-kicks/penalties as they try to plead their case.

    Referees will 999 times out of 1000 ignore that and let their initial decision stand. The problem here is that the reversal was incorrect in your opinion (I’ve not seen the incident, but the description in the article seems to suggest the keeper played the man and then the ball, thus fouling him).

    If the Celtic players had protested the penalty decision given on Sunday (which I have seen and which 99.9% of people seem to agree was never a penalty) and the referee had changed his mind would the reversal have been a) right because it was an incorrect decision, or b) wrong because it was led by player protest?

    A referee is naturally unlikely to ever change his mind on a decision without some sort of outside input. It’s not like you see him give a freekick and then have a flash of inspiration and change it without anyone contesting it. Occasionally you see a referee not give a foul but then do so on the say-so of the linesman (Howard Webb wasn’t going to give Liverpool their penalty at Old Trafford this year, but the linesman flagged for it) and occasionally you see a linesman flag and a referee overrule them.

    If the referee in the Argentina-Mexico game had ruled out Tevez’s goal for the blatant offside, would that have been wrong too?

    Excessive hounding or intimidation of referees should not be tolerated, but if referees have made a mistake and there is a mechanism to get them to review it by running it over with their linesman I don’t see the problem with that. I’d like to see it more often. The number of times a foul happens in front of a linesman who is yards away and doesn’t give it only for the ref to do so from 50 yards away is equally annoying and baffling.

  • October 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Sj Maskell

    Thanks for keeping the Portsmouth issue live Mark.

    Fans would do well to not forget the history of the last eighteen months. Many of us with an in-depth knowledge of events are wary – not in the least because our ‘new’ executives seem to be joining in with the media games.

    Transparency is a word still not understood in the PFC boardroom.

    Keep your eye on over the next few days!!

  • October 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Clearing Up A few Loose Ends: Celtic, Portsmouth and (Briefly) Wednesday « Scissors Kick

    […] Clearing Up A few Loose Ends: Celtic, Portsmouth and (Briefly) Wednesday “It’s the football scandal of a generation. And it won’t go away. Colleen Rooney, photographed blatantly sipping a cool drink by a holiday swimming pool… while there’s a recession on!! I mean not one single British passport holder anywhere else in the world has done that in the last week. As to whether that shite really does sell newspapers, that’s a debate for someone else to start. I don’t know enough to offer an informed opinion, so I won’t offer any opinion. Something for Mail columnist Martin Samuel to ponder next time he writes about Uefa’s ‘financial fair play’ regulations.” (twohundredpercent) […]

  • October 28, 2010 at 12:42 am


    Great article, however the rumours in Scotland about Craven’s resignation are focussing on the supposed fact that he gave his notice because he didn’t advise the ref at all! Should be interesting to see what happens next…

  • October 28, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    chris johnson

    With all the evidence thus far available, it continues to amaze me that the mainstream media refuse to acknowledge the real causes of Pompey’s plight – a plight which still exists by the way because the real causes are still in place. What is more it is impossible to air these issues in the media, journalistic articles are spiked, emails are blocked, letters are ignored. No wonder the majority of the football public think we cheated – they are badly informed by those who should and could do better and give us a chance of justice.

  • November 1, 2010 at 10:29 am

    SJ Maskell

    Here is a link to the above mentioned Pompeyonline article.

    A history lesson rearding events at Pompey over the last 5 years.

  • November 3, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Mark Murphy

    A quick thank you for the comments, some refreshingky honest debating points. And I would urge you to read the above Portsmouth “history lesson.” There are no “conspiracy theories” surrounding Portsmouth’s new owners. Just “conspiracies.” The above article explains how and why in a way I have yet to manage.

    Garreth, thank YOU for taking the time to comment in such depth. Although, as my name suggests, I do think it is a grand old team to play for, I was simply amazed at a referee changing his mind on a decision simply because of player protests. And this has now emerged as exactly what happened. (NB: My chronology in my original article was an attempt to show the penalty decision as contentious. Reading back, I have written that bit quite poorly and have made it look like I thought it was a penalty. I wasn’t actually certain either way).

    To answer your question about the Old Firm penalty, if Cullum had changed his decision from the “incorrect” to the “correct” one simply because Celtic players protested, that would be as wrong as what happened at Tannadice, for the same reasons.

    In the Argentina/Mexico game the ref didn’t change any decision SOLELY (the key word) on the basis of player protests, but because the stadium big screen showed Tevez to be offside – and, being Carlos Tevez, there was NO chance of him not interfering with play :-)

  • November 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm


    “a decision simply because of player protests. And this has now emerged as exactly what happened”

    Hmm. I can’t say that’s my reading of anyone’s version of events. But you can already read my take on this elsewhere on the site so I won’t clog up your comments …

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