Think of your grandfathers, or your great-grandfathers, of the prejudices many of them faced in life. Some would have fought in the wars, many lived without the educational opportunities that subsequently came (and has recently receded) and were openly excluded from certain professions and workplaces. It was often a harsh and poor existence. Celtic, was a proxy for how they interacted with the rest of Scotland.
Don’t ever believe things have not changed for the better, they have, a hundred-fold, to suggest otherwise does a disservice to the lives people lived. But still today, old spectres raise their heads. Nowhere more so than in football, with Celtic, which remains a proxy enemy for some who struggle to reconcile the modern ways with their inner demons.
For much of the last century, senior referees were recruited from the professional classes, classes that most Celtic fans found it difficult to get a foothold in. Doors were closed in banking, finance, public sector and corporate private sector management, as well as law (all but criminal work). Meritocracy Road is long and winding.
One consequence of all this was that top referees, drawn from a curated well, ran amok. When television cameras came, they recorded two games a week, with only the Scottish Cup Final broadcast live. The referee was the first and last arbiter, there was no analysis of events, not even by the media. It was a charter for prejudices to seep out, and how they did.
TV eventually brought embarrassment in some places. That business in the 90s, when Rangers were allowed to kick off when Celtic players were still celebrating a goal, John Doyle’s red card in the 70s, and so, so many penalty decisions. All we could do is suck it up.
If you offered any of our forefathers a chance for video supervision of referees, they would consider it the most important development that was possible to make to the game. While one referee can act like King Cnut holding back the green tide for 90 minutes, video supervision requires at least a tacit conspiracy, and conspiracies are harder to make and maintain than we commonly imagine.
I have no expectation that Video Assisted Referees, which come to Scottish football today, will finally level the playing field. Newco’s recent pressuring of officials shows how nuanced modern refereeing is. Still, for all of what the previous generations of Celtic fans lived through, for all the games illicitly lost, trophies denied, the innocuous fouls ignored, the penalties given and denied, VAR is welcome – a hundred-fold.