Seeing a countryman officiating big games brings a certain satisfaction
16 April ~ The dismissal of Shakhtar Donetsk’s Oleksandr Kucher three minutes into last month’s trip to Munich accelerated their European exit at the hands of Bayern. I don’t know the Ukranian for “homer” but, as a Scot, I want Shakhtar fans to know referee Willie Collum is our homer. He waved the earliest red card in Champions League history that night. No British teams in the quarter-finals of European competition increases the chances of continental glory for our officials in 2014-15. The resultant pride isn’t limited to FAs and jingoistic commentators.
The following evening Paisley-born Craig Thomson couldn’t match Willie’s historic feat. He merely disallowed one Brugge goal at home to Besiktas in a Europa League first leg before awarding the Belgians the winning penalty. But our Craig abandoned the infamous Italy v Serbia Euro 2012 qualifier in Genoa. And when Real Madrid manager José Mourinho instructed Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to get themselves sent off against Ajax in a 2010-11 Champions League group game, the Scottish solicitor administered the cards.
Perhaps smaller nations, achieving less through our football, should cherish the ancillary glory of refereeing appointments; Thomson and Collum are on UEFA’s elite list of barely two dozen officials. More likely in my case, however, is good, old-fashioned England-bashing. I enjoy the fact the FA “only” have Mark Clattenburg and Martin Atkinson on the same list. Between them, in the last round of Europa League matches, they merely provided one inconsequential late red in respective gigs in Milan and Seville.
Warped refereeing patriotism was introduced to me by Barry Davies’s BBC commentary for the 1994 Champions League final. Milan destroyed Barcelona in arguably history’s greatest footballing exhibition, yet Davies gushed solely for Philip Don, an official only awarded the game – which he refereed shakily – after death threats were sent to UEFA’s original choice, a compatriot of Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff.
Add FIFA picking Wolverhampton-born Jack Taylor ahead of the SFA’s Bobby Davidson for the 1974 World Cup final and you’ve got yourself another Scottish chip on the shoulder. Yet I’d challenge anyone enduring ITV’s fawning over Howard Webb during South Africa 2010 not to have enjoyed his subsequent failure to dismiss Nigel de Jong for the worst tackle ever seen in a World Cup final (on the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso).
Seeing Thomson appear in the midst of Real Madrid’s nefarious millionaires was delightfully incongruous, like the woman who serves you in Greggs turning up in an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Many English punters no doubt harboured club-based grudges against Webb by May 2010. Yet when he became the first man to referee both the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year a frisson would be felt. Even if it was merely knowing millions of Spaniards now hated him as much as you, there’s satisfaction in seeing the domestic go global.
In November 1991 my friend and I chuckled over the match programme as East Stirlingshire hosted East Fife. The referee, recently promoted from non-League, was a “Hugh Dallas (Bonkle)”. A quirkily named Lanarkshire village juxtaposed hilariously with the city of the planet’s most famous soap opera, gridiron team and assassination.
Within 11 years Hugh had reffed the UEFA Cup final, two World Cup quarters and was fourth official at the 2002 World Cup final. The only Scottish football team to have enjoyed a similar rise is Dundee United. But it took United three decades to go from lower-league mainstays to European finalists. Until I see the Shire or the Fifers win the Champions League, I’ll support my local ref. Alex Anderson