Super Hooper defies honest mistakes and SFA incompetence


Craven and McDonald

How would you prepare for officiating at one of the most important games in the country?

A match where a clear head and split second judgments will be essential?

A match with a major bearing on the destiny of the title, between the clubs that finished second and third last season.

A match that will be beamed live across the UK with the all seeing cameras, slow motion and HD features of Sky Sports dissecting every decision?

Would you take it easy, nice and relaxing, perhaps spent at home after a tough week at work or maybe go and watch a local match or one with a a friend officiating?

Or would you spend it being verbally abused by employees of one of the clubs whose match you’ll be running the line on?

Amazingly Steven Craven, the assistant referee at today’s Dundee United-Celtic match ‘enjoyed’ the latter thanks to the incompetence of the SFA.

Twenty four hours before this afternoon’s controversial clash at Tannadice Craven was put in charge of the Celtic-Dundee United u-19 game at Lennoxtown!

In contrast to many officials Craven seemed approachable yesterday, didn’t especially talk down to players and seemed willing to explain himself and let the game flow as much as possible within the laws of the game. There was even some banter returned to the players to bring a smile to the faces of the 100 or so fans at the match.

Midway through the second half he stopped the match to speak to the Dundee United coach Stevie Campbell after his verbal protests had gone too far.

With ten minutes left to play there were strong appeals for a penalty from the Dundee United players, coaches and supporters but play continued until Craven awarded an indirect free kick to United inside the Celtic penalty box.

Viewing the incident from pitch level and around 70 yards from the incident I was unable to make any judgement- it may or may not have been a penalty.

From that moment onwards the abuse aimed at Craven and his assistant referees increased.

Five minutes from the final whistle Campbell left his dug out to walk back towards the dressing room area saying ‘the game is bent’ to anyone that would listen.

At the final whistle the mouthy Dundee United goalkeeper repeatedly shouted at the assistant referee that ‘it’s always the same against Celtic and Rangers’.

No action was taken. At youth team level that’s understandable when emotions can get carried away. Letting players cool down is better than creating a drama after the final whistle.

Whether the referee supervisor George Smith witnessed or noted those incidents remains to be seen. The last that I saw of him he was behind the goal heading towards the car park in conversation with Rangers scout Billy McLaren.

So whose bright idea was it to send Craven in to Tannadice today?

New SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan has plenty of things to look at as he takes over from Gordon Smith- a root and branch review of the Refereeing Department would be a good place to start.

It’s fairly well known that there is a shortage of officials and that some have to double up, maybe even being involved in two matches on the same day at a lower level.

But having an official in charge of the same two professional clubs on consecutive days is an accident waiting to happen- and so it turned out today at Tannadice.

Whoever made that decision has a lot to answer for.

If Craven was so desperately required yesterday he could have been put in charge of any of the three other u-19 fixtures. Those games were in Edinburgh, Bathgate and Kilwinning and would have presented no additional travel difficulties compared to Lennoxtown.

There were plenty of flashpoints in today’s match with McDonald almost mirroring the standard of performance that he turned in between Rangers and Celtic in February of this year.

Just like Madjid Bougherra being given license to foul Robbie Keane at will without being red carded Dundee United players were able to do almost anything knowing that they wouldn’t be sent off.

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