IT makes no difference in the big scheme of things because Celtic are going to win the Ladbrokes Premiership very shortly, but what would have happened had Celtic and Rangers been going toe-to-toe for the title and Bobby Madden’s terrible decision over ‘that’ penalty robbed the Hoops of three points?
The howls from Parkhead would have been righteously long and loud, and we might even have had the spectacle of Celtic writing to the SFA to demand Madden’s head on a plate.
Anyone who thinks the Old Firm clubs have not done that in the past needs to re-examine their Scottish football history… You could argue correctly that all Madden did was not give a penalty and even if he had done so the taker might have missed, but the fact is that the only person inside Celtic Park who didn’t think Clint Hill’s assault on Leigh Griffiths wasn’t a penalty – and a red card offence at that – was Madden.
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Significantly, Hill himself thought he was going to get ‘done’ for a professional foul, and credit to him for his honesty.
Also significantly, not a single pundit or commentator – not a few of whom are inclined to favour Rangers – thought it was anything other than a penalty, and had Celtic not scored earlier then they would have been deprived of a rightful opportunity to preserve their unbeaten run.
The conspiracy theorists would have you believe that Madden is a staunch Rangers man from his early days, and was never going to award a penalty against his beloved team unless one of the boys in blue produced a chainsaw and hacked off Griffiths’ leg.
Even then Madden would have found an excuse not to give the penalty, goes the theory, probably blaming Griffiths for diving onto the chainsaw.
As it happens, this columnist does not know which club Madden supports, and I prefer the cock-up theory over the conspiracy – Madden just had an all-round shocker of a game and the ‘non penalty’ was just the final example of poor decision making and incompetence.
We can all have a bad day at the office, but when referees – all of them now paid well to do the job – make such a blatant mistake or six, then the fans of other clubs are always going to say ‘that ref’s biased’.
Which is where conflicts of interest come in.
This is definitely not aimed at Madden because, as I say, I have no knowledge of his allegiances, but all referees in the professional game in Scotland should have to declare if they have ever held a season ticket for a club, or been a member of a supporters’ group, or accepted hospitality from a club.
Then once that allegiance is known, the referee in question should never be put in charge of a game featuring ‘his’ club.
It’s not about actual bias, but about the perception of bias, and if refs are open about which clubs they support and recuse themselves – step aside from fixtures involving that club – then they cannot be accused of bias.