James Keatings Falls Down

by | Feb 28, 2020

Daft decisions in Scottish football aren’t news. But two recent dafties contained outstanding crackpottery, from every available form of officialdom.

On 16th February, Rangers’ one-nil win Livingston was littered with barmy officiating. So far, so Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). Except it all went…AGAINST Rangers. At Ibrox. A ground where, 12 months earlier, Rangers got four penalties against St. Mirren, of which two at best were correct calls, while they were refused one stonewaller.

Rangers had two goals disallowed for offside, one a blooper against a yards-onside Alfredo Morelos. But the real doozy was the clear handball by Livi’s Ciaron Brown, referee Euan Anderson barely further from the action than Brown’s head was to the ball, which hit his outstretched arm. Anderson reportedly said this was unintentional because of…the wind.

However, this was nothing alongside what happened after Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Rangers Colts 2-1 in the…ahem…Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Scottish Challenge Cup semi-final, on 15th February.

Caley striker James Keatings was due to miss the final when referee Craig Aitken showed him a second yellow card in the 55th minute, for ‘simulation.’ The BBC Alba video of the incident went as viral as a Scottish Challenge Cup semi-final clip can. Because, while at first glance, the decision made no sense, on closer inspection it made no sense whatsoever.

Keatings beat Rangers’ Ciaran Dickson to a ball across the edge of the penalty box. But the players’ hips visibly collided, knocking Keatings over. Yet Aitken immediately gave Rangers a free-kick and Keatings a second booking. Keatings ruefully half-smiled as he left the pitch. While Dickson applauded Aitken. The prick.

Freeze-framing the BBC Alba clip at the key moment is instructive. As Keatings fell, the four Caley players nearest to him were already visibly appealing for a foul. No Rangers player appeared to appeal for anything and those looking towards the referee seemed more nervous than inquisitive. However, Aitken was already raising his right arm out to signal a free-out.

Caley’s appeal to the Scottish FA’s three-man ‘Fast Track Tribunal Panel’ seemed a formality. But the headline on BBC Alba’s clip asked: “How did Keatings’ appeal against this booking for diving fail?” Caley’s CEO Scot Gardiner and chairman Ross Morrison signed a statement on 19th February on “the inexplicable decision to dismiss our appeal this morning,” which left “no option but to speak out publicly on behalf of (Keatings) and the growing number of Scottish clubs who believe that the SFA disciplinary process is not fit-for-purpose.”

It stated that “from (Aitken’s) angle, he believed there had been no contact made” which “led him to believe James had thrown himself to the ground” to “attempt to deceive him.” But while Caley didn’t “want to question anyone’s integrity” they insisted that the three “vastly superior and different video angles” they submitted as evidence removed “all doubt from the situation” and that once the panel saw them “justice and sporting integrity would surely prevail.”

This touching faith in Scottish football authorities’ relationship with “sporting integrity” left them “incredulous and furious in equal measure.” If “the individuals involved in this morning’s tribunal” can “watch the footage…and call this simulation, then…they do not understand football or the rules of the game,” they said, claiming that “fans and officials of all clubs are mystified.”

They believed it damaged the SFA’s “credibility,” brought football “into disrepute” and that “the dogs in the street” knew it was “plainly wrong.” With “no right to appeal” they found it “painful to accept.” And if the system’s wrongs were “not addressed, we are all responsible for the continuing denigration of our standards, our supporters view of the national game and sporting integrity in Scottish football.”

Whatever credibility the SFA had left disappeared up their own 300-word statement, three days later. Apparently, SFA CEO Ian Maxwell “received notification” (from an unreferenced source) “that the tribunal…failed to implement its duties,” as “despite raising no concerns throughout the process,” one panelist “did not undertake their obligations (re) consideration of all the available evidence” (the SFA’s emphasis).

Thus was said panel member scapegoated, one reference-per-paragraph, the statement citing his “disclosure,” “information,” “acknowledgment of failure” and “admitted failure,” in case anyone still wondered who to blame. His “input” was “withdrawn,” as was he “from the pool of potential panel members for all future tribunals.”

A new tribunal was convened, despite the old one being “by definition an appeal. and not open to further consideration,” Maxwell “and presidential team, Rod Petrie and Mike Mulraney” body-swerving this inconvenience by being “unanimous” that the outcome couldn’t “be considered competent.” The old panel “unanimously” reached that outcome, including the two members who did consider “all the available evidence” (my emphasis). But…erm… Anyway, yesterday (Thursday), justice was done to Keatings, as Caley’s “wrongful caution” claim was upheld.

Yet, in the circumstances, how could they not? And…and… Caley’s submission was “video evidence of three different angles of the incident, with the most enlightening shown at full speed and in slow motion.” This exactly describes the TWENTY-ONE seconds BBC Alba clip. So, if he didn’t consider “all” the evidence, what did he miss? Did he sneeze at some inopportune moments? Couldn’t he have seen the clip again? Did he not notice he’d missed a bit?

Oh…and when did the SFA start “considering competence”? Or did they make up this bulltish hoping no-one would notice the holes in their story and knowing they were safe from effective Scottish mainstream media (SMSM) scrutiny? That last question is, of course, rhetorical.

This SHOULD be the death of the current SFA disciplinary process. Yet, with incompetence seemingly ingrained in Scottish football officialdom, on-and-off-the-park, a solution currently seems beyond reach. The training of up-and-coming officialdom has to start producing effective results. And defending officialdom, regardless of circumstance, has to stop being the SMSM’s default position.

I am not sufficiently well-informed to know how the former can be achieved, although acknowledging that the problem is far wider than an errant panel member might help. The latter, of course, are beyond help.