Scottish Refereeing: John Beaton’s Cookery Book

by | Jan 14, 2019

The best way to gauge the batshit craziness of conspiracy theories is to place them alongside the presented reality of the subject and compare notes. But what if the presented reality is as ludicrous as the theorised conspiracy? That is a situation currently facing Scottish football.

Football has long had conspiracy theorising. And not all lacked merit. The ‘Old Firm’ may no longer exist (and claims that it does are a ‘conspiracy’ to pretend that Rangers didn’t go bust in 2012). But what it meant – co-operation BETWEEN Celtic and Rangers for their mutual advantage over other clubs, not just BEING Celtic and Rangers – surely did. And efforts to let old Rangers away with tax cheating appear…well…conspired (and “cheating” is the current legal position, as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment that Rangers’ wilfully evaded tax wasn’t appealed).

But the tendency to see so much conspiracy is routinely easy to dismiss. On this site last week, Ian King noted, correctly, that “the banterbus has long since departed the terminal and has been replaced by something darker and more conspiratorial,” an “irrational world in which anything can be spun to be a conspiracy, so long as it fits a pre-written narrative,” However, those truisms are partly why the latest theory is so problematic for the dismissive.

There is, ‘they’ say, a ‘stop-the-ten’ conspiracy, to stop Celtic winning ten Scottish titles in-a-row, thereby surpassing the nines-in-a-row achieved by Celtic from 1966-74 and Rangers from 1989-97. The latest manifestation of this occurred during, and in the disciplinary aftermath of, Rangers’ 1-0 win over Celtic at Ibrox, on 29th December. Rangers won more comfortably than 1-0 suggests. And the latest ‘stop-the-tenners’ aren’t claiming Celtic were robbed. They clearly were not. It concerns instead the on-going behaviour of Rangers’ ‘combative’ top scorer, Alfredo Morelos.

Against Celtic, Morelos committed three separate offences which were transparently worthy of sanction and, arguably, dismissal. He kicked midfielder Scott Brown where the sun doesn’t shine, grabbed Ryan Christie in a similarly overcast area and stamped on Anthony Ralston’s back as the defender lay face-down on the pitch.

The consensus was that Beaton could not have seen the incidents, or else he would surely have sanctioned Morelos for each one, which would have led to Morelos’s dismissal at some stage. However, it was subsequently reported that Beaton claimed to have seen all three incidents and deemed none of them worthy of sanction.

Celtic responded with an official statement, on 4th January, couched in the formal statement language but clearly translatable as “you must be f**king joking.” They were “surprised that there will be no disciplinary action taken by the Scottish FA” over the incidents “which have been widely addressed in the media.” And they stated bluntly: “This tends to suggest that such conduct, which in one instance led to a Celtic player, Anthony Ralston, being injured, is acceptable in Scottish football. That cannot be right.”

Lest they were accused of sour grapes at losing to the new Rangers for the first time, they “accepted” that the team “did not play well enough to win the match” (an understatement in a statement otherwise delightfully lacking them) and insisted that “this issue goes beyond the result” as “Celtic is not the only club this season to raise concerns regarding the standard of officiating in Scotland, concerns which have also been shared by many commentators on the game.”

To emphasise the point, they said that “in order to fully understand what is going on…the general Scottish football public needs transparency in these matters.” They “called on” the SFA to “allow the referee, John Beaton, to explain these decisions publicly as well as any match officials involved in other similar circumstances.” And they “requested a meeting with Scottish FA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell, and the Association’s Head of Refereeing.”

A day later, Maxwell responded, via an SFA statement, by changing the subject, expressing “deep dismay” at learning that “one of our match officials…had threats made against him and his family.” This was widely assumed to be Beaton, after Police Scotland confirmed a “complaint” to them “regarding texts and calls received by a 36-year-old man.” And Beaton had to involve the police “after his work mobile phone number was leaked on social media.”

Such issues are real life and thus more serious than mere refereeing decisions. And anybody thinking that refereeing decisions deserve such a response must have very little to think WITH. However, they are nothing whatsoever to the points Celtic were making. Nor do they absolve Scotland’s football authorities.

And Celtic’s precise call felt significant. They weren’t generally referencing the SFA’s months-old and already much-maligned disciplinary procedures, suggesting a confidence that Beaton could not credibly rationalise his decisions. And, intentionally or otherwise, it defied him to produce a better explanation than being a ‘stop-the-ten’ conspirator. Because however outlandish ‘stop-the-ten’ seems, the presented reality, that a Fifa-list referee saw all three incidents and felt none of them breached the laws of the game AT ALL, also seems outlandish. So, what are people supposed to think?

Do we accept that Morelos kicking Brown in the gap between his arse and his tackle was playful high jinks? Physical ‘banter’? Do we credit him for good shooting given his recent profligacy in front of goal? Did Beaton see Morelos land his right boot on Ralston’s back from a height and think it “a bit clumsy”? Does “only Morelos know whether he meant it or not”?

Morelos has been here before this season. On the opening day, he saw red for a retaliatory kick at Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna. That red card was rescinded, the suggestion being that Morelos merely “flicked his boot,” as Roddy Forsyth wrote in his Telegraph match report. This concept of a ‘non-violent’ kick met with dismayed disbelief beyond Aberdeen and Rangers. For example, the then St. Mirren manager, Alan Stubbs expressed his bafflement as he understood that “if you kick someone on the pitch, it’s more than a yellow.”

And glaring refereeing errors have been regular pock-marks on the entire season, the worst until Ibrox arguably in the first showpiece final of the season, Celtic’s League Cup Final penalty, for what, even on the radio, was demonstrably unintentional handball, a yard outside the box. But Maxwell’s statement made the issue the abuse of referees, which, intentionally or otherwise, released any pressure on Beaton to explain his decisions and on the SFA to address refereeing standards.

Celtic’s calls were, intentionally or otherwise, long-grassed by Beaton’s reported need for a police escort into the Ayr United game he refereed on 5th January and the “round-the-clock” police protection he “and his family” needed. And Prospect, the trade union representing Scottish referees, issued a statement about the “abuse” of referees reaching a “crisis point,” which called for an “urgent meeting with the SFA to understand what their strategy is to protect our members.”

Scotland being Scotland, this noise, genuine or otherwise, begat more noise. Pictures ‘emerged’ of Beaton celebrating on the night of 29th December in Bellshill’s Crown Bar, a ‘Rangers’ pub, which is a dumb and dumber thing to do for a referee and ‘secret conspirator,’ given the reach of social media. And to some people, such resource-heavy protection of Beaton’s family seemed excessive, given how straightforward it should be to catch such obviously criminal non-masterminds.

As per, though, those whose profession it is to pursue such questions have preferred instead to contribute, intentionally or otherwise, to what Daily Record ‘newspaper’ columnist Keith Jackson labelled, with standard (lack of) self-awareness, a “firestorm of f***wittery.”

Prospect’s statement, meanwhile, raised the spectre of a referees’ strike. It mentioned that “one of our members described the current situation as the worst atmosphere and environment he has seen for over a decade.” And referees DID strike under a decade ago, in November 2010. The prospect of a strike, though. has been very welcomed by some fans as an opportunity to temporarily improve refereeing standards.

Prospect’s calls for an SFA meeting have fared better than Celtic’s, as the SFA haven’t changed the subject yet. But protecting bad workers from merited criticism/action isn’t a union’s responsibility (my hardest job in 15 years as a union rep was explaining that to someone who wasn’t up to a job). And while improving industry standards isn’t a union’s responsibility either, Prospect should avoid being used by the SFA to shift focus further from refereeing incompetence issues.

The noise continues. And, intentionally or otherwise, the Ibrox events which kickstarted this tale have been downgraded to “incidents in which Morelos appeared to make contact off the ball with Celtic’s Scott Brown, Anthony Ralston and Ryan Christie,” (BBC website, 6th January). “Job done,” conspiracy theorists may cry. Because unless TV coverage was doctored (doubtless another conspiracy theory somewhere), Morelos far more than “appeared to make contact.”

Beaton thought none of these contacts, individually or collectively, merited even a caution. And the presented reality presents two scenarios. Either such incidents are acceptable in modern football, which, as Celtic rightly said about the Ralston incident, “cannot be right,” and would not be “right” even if they happened TO Morelos. Or Beaton was badly wrong, an idea not even considered by an SFA which is actively avoiding the issue of refereeing incompetence.

So, temporarily compartmentalise the real and in some cases more serious concerns about on-line abuse, police protection, referees’ strikes, pubs etc… They offer neither explanation of nor justification for the events which caused them. Beaton’s decisions at Ibrox and the SFA’s subsequent actions reactions and inactions make no sense and thus no MORE sense than a ‘stop-the-ten’ conspiracy.

And that is… well… nonsense.