March 2002
Another TV balls-up

The BBC could have had an exciting cup tie live on Scottish screens or the mismatch between Forfar and Rangers. No prizes for guessing where the cameras were. Decisions continue to go the Old Firm's way. Tommy Burns backs down from a return to club management at Kilmarnock.



If I told you that two penalties had been awarded during a six-game SPL weekend, you wouldn't find that too suprising. If I then said that two of the matches finished 1-0, that would be no great shock either. And if I told you that the two 1-0 winners were Rangers and Celtic then 99.99% of you would be able to immediately identify which sides were awarded the penalties. The other 0.01% comprise the sort of people who get surprised if fat guy in a red suit doesn't pop down their chimney once a year.

This farce really has gone on far too long. The weekend of March 2/3 should be the last time this happens. The history of the Old Firm is littered with dodgy decisions in their favour. The other teams find it difficult enough to compete without having to worry about whether a hard-earned point will be lost thanks to pusillanimous refereeing.

I'm not saying that our referees are bent,simply that the pressures of operating with over 50,000 pairs of lungs yelling at full pitch for every decision going MUST have an effect. Whatever the reason, our game is a laughing stock because of it. There's an old joke that goes something like this:

Q "What was the Rangers/Celtic score today?"
A "0-0"
Q "Who missed the penalty?

At any rate I find it hard to believe that any other team would receive the sort of awards the big two get. It's almost reached the stage where giving an Old Firm player a nasty look in the six-yard box constitutes a spot-kick!

There may be no solution but that doesn't mean that the authorities can be absolved from tryng to do something about this ridiculous blot on the Scottish game. Why not try English referees? After all, these officials are now full-time professionals and used to high-octane fixtures. I'm not suggesting they are perfect - they make nearly as many mistakes as their Scottish counterparts. But they would come to the Scottish game free from the preconceptions and biases (intentional or otherwise) of the Scottish officials.

They would also be free from the assumption peddled by fans of the Big Two that the referee is a mason/priest. And those same supporters, perplexed as to why continental refs prove harder to con than Scottish ones, may just learn a thing or two. At any rate,it's worth a try. Apart from a reputation for letting the Old Firm walk all over the opposition, what have we got to lose?


The future of Tommy Burns is clear. As mud that is. Burns has rejected an approach from Kilmarnock to discuss a possible return to the manager's job at Rugby Park - a post he filled successfully between 1992-94 before leaving for Celtic in circumstances which did little to enhance his reputation.

Burns has stated that he wants to stay at Celtic Park to carry out his role as youth coach. Come on Tommy. Who are you kidding? Youth coach at Parkhead is about as fulfilling a position as deckchair attendant on the Titanic. Who was the last regular first team player to come through the ranks? Even Rangers have a more successsful track record with young players.

A good case in point is Stevie Murray. Rejected by Celtic at 16 he is now enjoying a good run in the first team at Kilmarnock. What can be more satisfying for a coach? Watching a young lad leave, knowing he will never get a chance? Or seeing him take on experienced players at the top level?

Burns has said he wants to return to management in the future. Where? His options are severely limited. He's already turned down St Johnstone this season. That was more understandable. He could see where they were headed and was happy to let his former sidekick Billy Stark take over as the fall guy there. But if the Killie offer isn't enough to tempt Burns, what is? And, after knocking back two SPL clubs, one of them 5th in the league and challenging for Europe, who would bother to ask him? Hibs, which might have seemed the natural choice, aren't going to be sacking any managers for a long time to come, so where does that leave Burns?

There are only two other clubs in the SPL which might appeal and neither look likely to have a vacancy for a while. These are: Aberdeen (going nicely under Skovdahl) and Livingston (where, admittedly, the Celtic connection is strong). Surely no English clubs will come in for him considering his poor record at Reading.

So, what is the truth of the matter? Burns has been heavily touted as No 2 to Berti Vogts. If he does get offered that position, we shall see just how "committed" he is to Celtic. Four years as assistant with the potential to take over as Scotland boss? Or Parkhead tea-boy?

Don't be surprised to hear a comment along the lines of "my country called, how could I say no" emanating from the ginger-haired one in the near future. That would confirm what many Kilmarnock supporters have thought ever since Burns walked out on them in 1994 - that Tommy is just a Number Two.


Here's a poser. Sky select the Aberdeen V Celtic Scottish Cup quarter-final tie as their live TV offering. That leaves the BBC with their pick from the other three ties. Which one do they go for? They could have picked the two Uniteds, Dundee and Ayr. A team with the most consistent Cup record outside the Old Firm up against this term's knockout shock troops with three Premier scalps so far this season and a League Cup Final appearance already booked. Tasty,eh?

Or if that wasn't good enough, what about the battle of the jags? Partick - looking good for two successive promotions and aiming for their first semi-final since 1979 - against their Inverness namesakes - conquerors of Celtic two years ago and with another shock win at Tynecastle under their belt in this season's campaign.

Four well-matched teams. Two terrific ties. Both provided thrilling games which ended 2-2 with everything to play for in the replay
The remaining tie was a foregone conclusion. Forfar V Rangers. True, the Glasgow team had already struggled against Second Division opposition (Berwick) previously in the tournament but the chances of it happening again were extremely remote to say the least. Coming three days after a UEFA Cup tie against Feyenoord, and four days before the return, even Mr Magoo would have seen that the Gers would take this opportunity to rest key players and let the second string have an outing.

But unfortunately Mr Magoo is too much of a visionary to be employed by BBC Scotland's sports department. Off they trotted to Station Park to cover a non-event as Rangers reserves strolled to a 6-0 win with Billy Dodds - who can't even get a game at cards at Ibrox - scoring a hat-trick.

This was a golden opportunity to show that there is more to Scottish football than the Old Firm and the BBC blew it. The Rangers-Feyenoord tie was also live on BBC Scotland so it wasn't as if Ibrox fans were being deprived of seeing their side on the box. Rangers are on TV almost as often as Carol Vorderman - and that's saying something!



It would be interesting to see the viewing figures for the Station Park farce. Certainly, supporters of other Scottish clubs were less than enthralled by it. Websites on the Rivals network were inundated with requests from digital viewers for instructions on how to access ITV English regions so that they could watch the Blackburn - Spurs League Cup Final instead. Something which those behind SPL TV would do well to take into account too.



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