IT was the late, great Bill Shankly, the legendary former Liverpool manager, who said of referees: “They know the rules, but they do not know the game.”

It was probably the politest form in which the gruff Scot, who, like his good friend Jock Stein, once earned a living at the coal face, could say he thought match officials weren’t particularly adept at their jobs.

Any doubts we may have harboured about the Anfield icon’s sentiments have well and truly been dispelled this season with a bewildering succession of decisions from the whistlers.

That could be emphasised again at three o’ clock this afternoon if the SFA  decide to take retrospective action against Celtic skipper Scott Brown following a clash against Kilmarnock’s Aaron Tshibola in the champions’ 4-0 win at Rugby Park on Tuesday.

This morning, a three-man panel of former grade one referees will study TV footage of the incident.

CONFRONTATION…Scott Brown and Aaron Tshibola in action during the Hoops’ 4-0 win.

The Hoops midfielder appeared to catch his opponent with an elbow, but, as the incident was not spotted by match official Kevin Clancy, it will now be referred for a fast-track disciplinary procedure.

If Brown is found to have a case to answer, we might as well all pack up and go home. It is a nothing incident blown out of all proportion. There will be bumps and bruises in a contact sport and footballers cannot be expected to perform with both arms stuck to their side, terrified to move them for balance in the fear of being expelled from the field if there is a jostle with an opponent.

It was no big deal and anyone with a scintilla of knowledge of the so-called beautiful game will tell you that.

Last month, Brown was red-carded five minutes after coming on as a substitute in the 2-2 draw at Livingston and there was no argument. The CQN match report of the flashpoint will emphasise our thoughts at the time. We offered no argument after the veteran Celt caught Jaze Kabia with a flailing arm and was deservedly banished by referee Kevin Clancy.

This is a different situation altogether. There is absolutely no malice in the coming-together. It is no secret that Brown and Tshibola relish a physical battle when they come face-to-face and a knock or two – as long as it is not over the top – is an acceptable part of their natural confrontational style of play.

Ironically, the Killie player was booked for clattering the champions’ captain in the first-half. He could have seen red when he sarcastically applauded the ref after the booking. He got lucky, another whistler on another night and he would have been invited to leave the proceedings.

SEEING RED…Scott Brown prepares to walk after the flashpoint incident with Livingston’s Jaze Kabia.

No-one wants to see players banished and teams playing with a man short – unless, of course, the situation absolutely warrants it.

And that takes us to Alfredo Morelos. The controversial Colombian has not been ordered off in this campaign, but has already been banned twice for violent conduct.

He escaped a straight red card when he threw himself at Dundee United’s Mark Connolly in the Ibrox side’s 2-1 win at Tannadice in December. The incident occurred in only the 12th minute, but match official Steven McLean was satisfied with a booking.

Steven Gerrard’s side were rescued from having to play 78 minutes with 10 men.

Morelos received a two-game retrospective suspension.

There was a clear stamp from the same player on Hibs’ Ryan Porteous at Easter Road last week. Astoundingly, ref Clancy took no action whatsoever after the 17th-minute flashpoint.

Gerrard’s side were allowed to play out the game with their entire complement when they should have been reduced to 10 for the remaining 73 minutes. To make matters worse, the volatile frontman got the game’s only goal in the second-half.

Justice caught up with him when he was banned for three matches after the assault on the Hibs player had been reviewed.

On January 2, Morelos stamped on Jeremie Frimpong inside five minutes of the derby in Govan. Referee Bobby Madden, remarkably, ignored the action that left the young Celt writhing in obvious agony.

The same match official had no such hesitancy when it took him a full three seconds to reach for a red card when he sent off Nir Bitton for an awkward challenge on Morelos in the second-half with the visitors in control.

SLAP…Alfredo Morelos clips Scott Brown on the back of the head.

BEWILDERED…Scott Brown looks at Morelos after the slap.

WHACK…Ryan Kent attacks the Celtic skipper – and escapes a red card.

And Morelos was at it earlier in the season when he slapped Brown on the back of the head as Celtic lined up to defend a free-kick. There was no reason for the Ibrox player to raise his hand to an opponent.

It was not an action that was likely to see the Celt go down writhing in agony, but the Ibrox player could have been red-carded for his action. Referee John Beaton ignored the incident and it blew over without fuss.

Much like the situation when Brown was punched in the face by Ryan Kent in Celtic’s 2-1 win at Parkhead in March 2019. Four officials missed the thuggish attack, but the assailant was eventually banned for two games after a review.

Brown’s actions against Tshibola were as life-threatening as Morelos’ clip on the ear of the Celtic skipper during a dismal 2-0 defeat in October.

We will discover this afternoon if the three-man committee of former referees view it differently.

As they say in operatic circles, do the SFA know their arias from their elbows?

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