|Actual Image from Actual Game, Actually|
Today’s report from sunny Inverness (nah, really, it is sunny) is from a battered and beaten correspondent. I hurt my knee running yesterday, I’ve got the sneezes and the sniffles, and I shouted myself hoarse last night watching my Inverness Caledonian Thistle get beaten by the fancy-pants-wearing Celtic from Glasgow (0-1 in the Scottish Cup quarterfinal).
And, surprise surprise, today’s rant is on the fitba.
I’m going to get a little housekeeping out of the way first. It is true, and you can keep this in mind as you read the rest of this post, that I rarely come home from the fitba praising referees. Keep in mind though, the best a ref can do is officiate in such a manner that renders him (or her) invisible. So to come home and not mention the referee means, QED, that I am duly acknowledging his (or her) wonderful performance. And you should also possibly note that it is rare for me to come home after one of my teams has been beaten and not find some fault with the referee (unless it is West Ham, who can lose just because they are utter pants). I will defend myself at this point and explain that whilst I may point out refereeing mistakes, it is rare of me to consider that a referee’s decisions altered the outcome of the match. So while it may seem that I’m always blaming the ref, it is a little more complicated and balanced than that.
But last night was a disgrace. Do you like how I set that up? I’m all being even-handed and rational and circumspect and then, BAM! Straight into it.
I’m going to set this up further by way of distracting anecdote. My kinda proxy brother-in-law James (what do you call these people when you’re not actually married?) is a Rangers fan. I know, don’t be too hard on him. I was in the middle of one of my ‘Terry Butcher is a good for nuthin’ bum’ rants when he cocked his eyebrow at me, scoffed, and basically asked who else Caley Thistle could hope to get as manager. The inference being that no-one would even want to live in Inverness, let alone want to manage ICT. Despite the fact that he had a point, I was furious. He also said something even more telling. He said ‘you should learn your place and stick to it’. He had a wry grin on his face, which pretty much prevented me from slapping it, but I know deep inside he really believes this. And I’m sure all of Scotland really believes this as well. And this includes the Scottish FA and its referees.
So back to my conspiracy. In order to make it to a quarterfinal matchup against the mighty Caley Thistle, Celtic had to defeat the ‘only other club in Scotland’, Rangers. Imagine the gnashing of teeth at Scottish Fitba headquarters had Celtic not made it through to the next round. It’s bad enough that last season the lowly Dundee beat the even lowlier Ross County FC in the final. Who would want to watch that again? Think of the live gate, think (more importantly) about the TV revenue.
So we return to Tulloch Caledonian Stadium where my boys are up against the glamorous high flyers and ladies-underpants-wearing Celtic. If Celtic are so good, why do they seem to need the assistance of the referee to secure a win? It wasn’t just bad; it was blatant. It wasn’t discreet; it was corrupt. It wasn’t just cynical; it was infuriating. Every single fifty-fifty decision went the way of the Celtic. Every throw-in, every free kick, every play-on, every tackle, every injury. Whilst glaring refereeing mistakes can change outcomes (and there weren’t any of these), little decisions can add up in a game like this, and it was to Caley’s credit that they managed to keep up their workrate and pressure in the face of this obvious adversity.
But this bit was mighty hard to disguise. In the first half, as Caley Thistle had just gone 1-0 up, the assistant signaled three minutes of added time. Now where this three minutes came from is anybody’s guess. But that the referee allowed the half to keep on going until Celtic had somehow bundled the ball in the back of the net some six minutes later – you have to wonder. That he blew halftime immediately as play resumed confirms it.
And then the second half, in complete contrast to the first, with Celtic holding the one goal advantage, ended so quickly you’d think the ref had a plane to catch. Maybe to Majorca, where he could spend his pay-off.
It’s not just the weight of decisions throughout the game that raised the ire of the home fans, but the blatant cynicism of the extra time scenarios of each half that reinforced the perception that something is rotten with football. And it seems rotten and corrupt everywhere. From FIFA down. I hope Celtic enjoy the spoils of their semi-final. I hope, for the Scottish FA’s sake, it was worth it.
I also have to add something about Terry Butcher from last night, as I have been one of his most loyal critics. Last night he decided to be a hero and manage the team from up in the stands. That is until very late in the game when yet another ridiculous decision had been awarded Celtic’s way; he stormed down to the sidelines. He was waving his arms about like a lunatic and kicking his water bottle away and generally acting like a dick. Usually I’d be at him for this, and his shouting instructions to push up for offside looked ludicrous so late in the game. But I really felt for him. He had his team well prepared. They played a system that frustrated Celtic, but they did not abandon their own attacking forays. They took the lead then conceded an equalizer in suspicious circumstances. Celtic’s second was expertly dispatched but the free kick was fortunate, if not non-existent. Caley were unlucky not to score a couple more of their own, and then, despite Celtic repeatedly running down the clock, there seemed to be no time added on.
Terry, mate, I have to concede. If I were you, last night I would have been kicking my water bottle as well.