AMID all the brouhaha over the disgraceful antics of Alex Schalk of Ross County on Sunday, very few people pointed out the bleedin’ obvious.
Had there been an immediate television replay available to the referee and the other officials, Schalk would not only have missed out on a penalty but he would have been booked for his diving – or simulation, as the laws of the game call it: cheating, in other words.
Looked at with the benefit of hindsight and also myriad television replays of the incident which denied Celtic victory at Ross County, referee Don Robertson could have been forgiven for his elementary error as his line of sight had Schalk in his way and all he saw was the Dutchman’s swallow dive. Robertson didn’t have those replays or hindsight, and made the call as he saw it, though he has admitted his error.
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The fault lies entirely with Schalk, but the case was never better made for television review of incidents. It is time that the Supine Farcical Antediluvians, or the SFA as they are known, finally embrace the technology that is available and bring in television replays when cameras are covering a match.
There will be those who will argue that that there shouldn’t be a different law for top-flight footballers and amateur players playing in the local Sunday league. That is nonsense, frankly, because different approaches to the enforcement of the laws are obvious at different levels of the game.
For instance, there is no fourth official outside the Premiership except when Championship matches are being televised, and referees have to cope by themselves at most levels of the amateur game in Scotland.
I would argue that failure to use technology when it is available amounts to a denial of justice to clubs and players alike. It is done in tennis, cricket, rugby union and American football, so are the SFA, Uefa and Fifa all saying that it can’t be done in football?
As it happens, the loss of two points made little difference to Celtic who are already champions, but the dive and subsequent penalty gave Ross County a point which, frankly, they did not deserve. That point is the reason why the SFA and also the SPFL have to act now because it is just a matter of time before one or other clubs takes legal action to enforce the introduction of television reviews.
The reason why that will happen is simple – there is just so much at stake. Look at the Premiership table and you will see that Ross County now sit one point clear of Hamilton and Motherwell courtesy of the dive, and that point might be very, very vital in the coming weeks as the bottom six clubs seek to avoid relegation.
Indeed, had Ross County been beaten 2-1 by Celtic they would now sit on exactly the same points and goal difference as Hamilton and only two points ahead of Dundee who finally lost patience with Paul Hartley yesterday (who will not be out of the game long though as he is too good a coach not to get a job somewhere).
Consider all the financial mayhem that occurs in dropping out of the top flight, and you realise why Schalk did what he did. I bet that every one of them would volunteer if you lined up 50 Premiership footballers and asked them: “Would you risk a yellow card by diving in the penalty area to possibly earn your club a precious point?”
That is how much it means to clubs and players, and unfortunately the culture of cheating is now so endemic in the game that risking a yellow card is seen as acceptable if it gives the chance of a goal. Yes, Schalke will be jeered and catcalled every time he touches the ball in any game from now on, but don’t think that is because of any spirit of fair play on the part of opposition supporters – if their own man had done it and gained a point, fans would back their club diver every time.
The SFA could send out a strong message about cheating, perhaps by giving Schalk a ban for the rest of the season, but they will not do so because they are bound by their own rules and previous decisions and, so far, the maximum ban for simulation has been a two-match suspension which is the recommended sentence in the SFA rule book.
The compliance officer will undoubtedly summon Schalk to a hearing but the two-match ban is all he will get. Such cheating always leaves a sour taste in the mouth but until the SFA decides to introduce television replays on a sensible basis then nothing will change, for it is only immediate review of incidents that allows justice to be done and seen to be done.
The SFA must press Uefa and Fifa for action on this matter now and get permission to start TV reviews from next season onwards.
Regular readers, meanwhile, may be wondering why there is no comment here on the big issues affecting Rangers, namely the start of Craig Whyte’s trial for fraud later today and the failure of chairman Dave King to comply with the takeover panel’s instructions.
On Whyte, I will follow the trial with interest but believing in the concept of an accused man getting a fair trial, and knowing the contempt of court laws, I will say nothing until its completion.
As for King, I believe he owes the fans of Rangers first and foremost an explanation of his recent course of conduct. Until that is forthcoming there is really nothing more to say. Over to you, Dave.