Monday, 8 January 2001

A New Year's whiff of scandal

                                                                                                                              By Bernard Thompson

Irish Times online edition
Well, there was no top league football last week but there were enough allegations, speculations,
Foul play?: The mystery referee
terminations and humiliations to occupy the attentions of the avid Scottish football fan.

First came the curious case of the "Top Ref" who condemned Rangers for their disciplinary record. The unnamed official claimed, in a newspaper, that the Ibrox club's conduct this season has left something to be desired after a flurry of red cards and a few controversial incidents such as Fernando Ricksen's notorious "straightening out" of an Aberdeen player's unmentionables.

The referee went on to speculate that Rangers should follow the example of Scottish football's blue-eyed boys, Celtic, and stop mobbing referees. He even went so far as to suggest that Celtic's 12-point lead is attributable to their being all round bloody good sports.

All this praise of Celtic really is now becoming a bit gut-wrenching - it's just not what they are used to. Next, the team will be taking the field with apples, scones, flowers and any other presents usually associated with teachers' pets.

The story became more intriguing with the suggestion that the criticisms came from none other than Scotland's top whistler, Hugh Dallas. Like any decent referee, Dallas is disliked by most fans but he is also hated by a large number of Celtic supporters to the point of insanity. Apparently he is clearly biased against the club and this goes back to the claim that he had applied for the job as Celtic's General Manager to be pipped by the unfortunate Jock Brown.

That lead to leaked murmurings at boardroom level that the snub might affect his impartiality. Fans tend not to need much reason to foam at the mouth, of course, and the bad feeling escalated until, in 1999, he was struck on the head by a coin in the most bad-tempered Old Firm match of recent times. On the same evening, his home was attacked by a member of the Celtic lunatic fringe.

This season, Dallas disallowed a Celtic goal that was shown to be a good three feet over the line and although he was said to have been shocked by the television pictures and, haplessness of his assistant, there was little benefit of doubt being offered from the green and whites.

Needless to say, the comments attributed to him have infuriated Dick Advocaat who has labelled the officially unidentified referee "a coward". The Rangers boss is also reportedly considering a move for Dennis Wise, so it is fair to say that he is unrepentant about any of his players' transgressions. Of course, it is unthinkable that Dallas might engineer such a public fall-out with Rangers but it might go some way to appeasing the more rabid of his sworn enemies amongst Celtic fans.

Relations also became strained between George O'Boyle and the entire football world. If the attitude of Sammy McIlroy is typical, then O'Boyle has kicked his last ball in anger after St Johnston terminated his and Kevin Thomas's contracts following allegations of drug taking.

McIlroy said last week that, at 33 and having suffered serious injury problems, O'Boyle's career was as good as over. As yet, there has been no evidence against the players offered publicly, other than eye-witness testimony. However, after such a serious accusation, O'Boyle would appear to be damned by his own silence on the matter.

To be honest, I tend to be of the "sitting on my moral high-horse" attitude, when it comes to drugs. We all have weaknesses, of course. I am told that I have been seen drunk but I have no memory of the occasions so I hesitate to own up. But footballers filling their noses with illegal substances come just below fox-hunters in my list of people that I would sentence to ten years listening to "There's a Bridle Hanging on the Wall."

That said, my sympathy for His Royal Highness, Prince Charles of Wales, after falling off his horse while chasing one of the little red animals is beyond question.

When players' careers are ended through injury, it is sad but when they are victims of their own stupidity the tragedy is less deserving of sympathy. O'Boyle has been a good player in his time but I find it difficult not to contrast his downfall with the efforts of Michael Mols as he strives to recover his form following an unfortunate injury. I can't help feeling that a model professional like Mols must look at the likes of O'Boyle, and his apparent contemptuous attitude to his career, with a degree of disdain.

So there will be no O'Boyle when St Johnstone play Dunfermline, in the third round of the Scottish Cup. Saturday's heroes were Buckie Thistle from the Highland League, who knocked out Hamilton Academical. They have a convenient draw with Ross County, meaning that they don't have too far to travel. Of the rest, Celtic visit Stranraer, which I would not wish on anyone. Rangers entertain Brechin City to prompt more reminiscences about Inverness Caledonian Thistle defeat of Celtic last year and the Bronze Age victory of Berwick Rangers over their Glasgow namesakes - which is annually recalled.

It is unlikely that Lorenzo Amoruso will play, however, as is wanted by both West Ham and Fulham, with the latter ready to pay more cash. Scottish football can scarcely afford to lose an entertainer like Lorenzo, although Rangers believe that they can as they hope to welcome Craig Moore back to the team sooner, rather than later.

Never mind, no doubt Amoruso is preparing a "My Rangers Hell" exclusive to a tabloid newspaper that will keep us amused for weeks to come. We may never see another Amoruso and hopefully, there will be no more George O'Boyles.

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