AWAY from intrusive television cameras and pesky microphones, I have often heard managers speak about the qualities of those in power at the SFA.

One prominent team boss often insisted: “There is enough stupidity at the SFA to start a new country.”

These were the days when an off-the-record comment remained unseen and unheard. Undoubtedly, back then, there was a camaraderie among the team chiefs and the media that is not evident today.

Forgive me for sounding like Methuselah and harping on about past times, but there were occasions when you overlooked front and back page headlines that would have undoubtedly incurred severe consequences for the individual who had trusted you in the first instance.

I never betrayed that faith. Patting yourself on the back while attempting to pin medals on your chest is a fairly complicated manoeuvre, so I have always refrained from indulging in such physical contortions. Self-praise is a waste of time. I slept okay at night which I doubt would have been the case if I had betrayed a confidence.

Back in the day, there was a referee who absolutely detested Jock Stein and abhorred all things Celtic. He would regularly report the club’s legendary manager to the SFA for aftermatch comments that would inevitably lead to a fine for the gaffer.

CALM BEFORE THE STORM…rival captains Billy McNeill and Martin Buchan shake hands while referee Bobby Davidson looks on before the Celtic v Aberdeen 1970 Scottish Cup Final.

It was a pathetic sequence over many seasons that meant Stein copping financial punishment as he made the mandatory trek to the SFA’s former HQ at Glasgow’s Park Gardens to answer complaints by the well-known whistler.

I remember Big Jock once being hit by a stinging £100 penalty following a culmination of accusations. By the way, that was a fair amount of cash in the sixties and early seventies – around £2,000 at today’s prices – and the club did NOT pick up the tab. That was met by the individual who had been unfortunate enough to be in line of the SFA’s ire.

Dear old chairmen such as Bob Kelly and Desmond White left it to their manager to be the mouthpiece for the club, but the employee was on his own if he uttered something out of turn.

The match official who regularly flagged up Stein’s name to his cobwebbed bosses was a bloke called Bobby Davidson. The performances of the Airdrie referee in Celtic games would not bear scrutiny in today’s technical age. Even VAR at its most contentious couldn’t miss the glaringly obvious errors that littered his perplexing displays when green and white hoops were in the vicinity.

If you think I am overstating the case, just have a look at footage of the Celtic v Aberdeen Scottish Cup Final from 1970. Stein’s men lost 3-1 in the most diabolical execution of the football laws I have ever witnessed.

I was among the 108,434 befuddled spectators at Hampden that April afternoon. The rage that cascaded down the old terracings on that occasion seemed to be music to the ears of the man with the whistle who continued on his undeterred way to make sure the trophy would be bedecked in a red and white ribbons and heading to the north east once the calamitous bedlam had subsided.

THE CONCLUSION OF A HAMPDEN HORROR STORY…Aberdeen skipper Martin Buchan appears to console a frustrated Celtic captain Billy McNeill.

I have been honoured to co-author the autobiographies of four of the Celtic players involved in that game – Davie Hay, Tommy Gemmell, Bertie Auld and John Hughes – and you will not be surprised to learn that all of the combatants flagged up Davidson’s exhibition as one of the worst they had ever encountered during their extensive careers.

As I recall, Stein delivered a verbal salvo at the official in the Cup Final aftermath and was fined a modest £10 fee by the SFA in the fall-out. In later years, I was informed Eddie Turnbull, boss of the grateful Dons that day, was asked how he would have reacted if his side had been on the receiving end of the referee’s nonsensical decision-making at the national stadium.

Ned, as he was known to the football world, was never noted for his sense of humour or quickfire one-liners.

The curmudgeonly Turnbull thought for a moment and replied: “Put it this way, if I had been in Big Jock’s shoes, I’d have had twenty quid’s worth!”

And, so, dear reader, here we are today with Brendan Rodgers being summoned to the sixth floor at Hampden to answer a complaint from the SFA.

Time goes by, but some things never change.


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