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Craig Levein claims ‘Rangers fan’ referee was given Ibrox favour as explosive debate erupts over officials

Former Hearts manager Craig Levein has weighed into the debate on Scottish referees as he shared his opinion that a referee got given a game at Ibrox because he was a Rangers fan.

The ex Scotland boss appeared on Sportsound to discuss a number of recent incidents, as well as the potential introduction of VAR into Scottish football.

The debate largely focused around a controversial Hearts loss to Celtic, after which Robbie Neilson claimed officials had cost his side the game.

Levein was known for being sharp with his tongue when it came to referees during his own managerial career, and was in no mood to cut them any slack now.

He alluded to “bias and incompetence”, insisted that Glasgow’s big two DO get more decision and made an unsubstantiated claim that one referee was given a match against Dundee United at Ibrox as a favour for his last game.

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Levein said: “Well I can go back to a game when I was at Dundee United at Ibrox and the official was absolutely appalling.

“He made mistake, after mistake, after mistake.”

When pressed by host Kenny MacIntyre about whether he felt that was due to crowd pressure, the former Scotland manager double down.

While admitting he couldn’t prove his allegation, he insisted: “No, it was his last game. His very last game. And he got given a game at Ibrox because, I believe, he was a Rangers fan.”

Here’s the full extraordinary transcript.

Tom English: “I think anyone who questions the neutrality or integrity of a referee goes over the top. I’m not saying Robbie Neilson did that, but I think anybody who goes to that place shouldn’t go to that place.

“I think managers should be perfectly entitled to criticise referees, sometimes I think referees can be a little bit sensitive about this stuff.

“But to call them biased or cheats or anything like that, I think that’s over the score. I don’t think that should be allowed.”

Kenny MacIntyre: “Craig, what are your thoughts, do you think Robbie Neilson has gone over the top here?”

Levein: “It’s just frustration, Kenny. I’ve been there a hundred times and the more obvious the mistakes are the worse it is, you know?

“That gets you het up, doesn’t it? If there’s one or two and another one comes along it’s very, very difficult after a match to actually not say what you feel and not say what you think.”

MacIntyre: “So would you suggest perhaps managers shouldn’t have to come out and face the media right after a game?”

Levein: “That’s not going to happen, is it? Managers are going to come out and speak after a game, that’s the way it’s always been and I don’t see that changing.

“I would like to see referees explaining some of their decisions. I think I told the story about Willie Young?

“I was having a go at him and he defused the situation just by saying to me, ‘have you never made a mistake?’.

“And when I played that kind of dialogue between the referees and players and referees and managers was very helpful because they wanted to be human, whereas now I feel the referees have distanced themselves so much on the field that there’s no banter at all.”

MacIntyre: “But perhaps that’s because managers like yourself didn’t give them any respect?”

Levein: “I wouldn’t say I didn’t give them any respect. There are certain referees that I have no respect for because of some things that have happened but in general I think they do a great job.

“They actually do a job that I would never do.

“Here’s my view on referees. Here’s what I think we lack up in Scotland. I think referees should be full-time and they should be paid £3-4k a game to make it a job that the very best people want to do.

“I think then it becomes something that is really worth keeping a hold of and you strive to be the best at. Then I feel it would become a profession rather than then having jobs and doing refereeing on the side.”

MacIntyre: “But they’re still going to get slaughtered, aren’t they?”

Levein: “Hold on a minute, hold on a minute!”

MacIntyre: “We’re still going to have to see headlines like we saw at the weekend all over the back pages, and Daryl will give us a few examples I’m sure.”

Levein: “Hold on, Kenny, here’s the thing: if VAR comes into Scotland, which I believe is going to happen, then most of that will be taken away.”

Broadfoot: “I don’t think it will.”

MacIntyre: “No I don’t think it will, look at examples elsewhere…”

English: “We don’t know what form of VAR (it’s going to be) but if they’re true to the original intention of VAR, which is picking up on clear and obvious errors, then the Ojo one – VAR takes care of that.”

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND – DECEMBER 05: Dundee United’s Calum Butcher (left) tackles Celtic’s David Turnbull and is shown a yellow card during a cinch Premiership match between Dundee United and Celtic at Tannadice Park, on December 05, 2021, in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Levein: “The one yesterday (with Calum Butcher), VAR would have taken care of that.

English: “Calum Butcher? Absolutely it would take care of that.”

Levein: “It would have taken care of the offside at Celtic Park.”

English: “It would have taken care of the offside. Some of the contentions penalties, the Sakala penalty – I don’t think it would have taken care of that.”

Levein: “No but the ones that Robbie was really angry about were the offside goal and pulling up for somebody pulling a hamstring and getting a foul for it.”

English: “In those cases, yes, but I don’t think it’s going to…”

Levein: “It won’t take it away altogether, Tom, but do we want it to be taken away altogether?”

English: “No, no.”

Levein: “So what I think is happening in England right now is really good, I think it helps referees enormously, I really do. Even if they make a mistake they’ve got a chance to fix it.”


English: “I think if you make referees professional, if you give them whatever you want to give them per game, I still think this stuff happens. Because it happens in England where they’re fully professional.”

Levein: “But not as much as it does up here.”

English: “I think it does! You look at Match of the Day…”

Levein: “It doesn’t.”

English: “I genuinely think it does, Craig, and I think we make more of an issue of it here than they do down there.”

Broadfoot: “Because it’s less competitive up here and the same two teams contest the title every year.”

Levein: “We’ve got 10 (sic) teams in our top league. They’ve got 20 in the top league in England. So there are twice as many games, and they still make as many mistakes as are made up here.”

Broadfoot: “But you’re only seeing what comes through the media filter, you’re not poring over all 20 teams participating every week.

“Take the Aston Villa game for example: VAR intervened to stop a goal where I think to most football people Kasper Schmeichel wasn’t in control of the ball as it came down. So VAR intervened and said, ‘that’s not a goal’.

Levein: “He had his hand on the ball when it was on the ground, that’s the rule.”

Broadfoot: “But not under control.”

MacIntrye: “And pundits are still arguing about it…”

Levein: “Yeah, but that’s what I’m saying to you. It won’t take away the arguments, what it will do though is there will be more correct decisions. And there will still be arguments.”

English: “Of course there will be more correct decisions.

MacIntyre: “There’s been a lot of criticism of referees this weekend and you’ve got a whole list of articles there. Do you think managers like Robbie Neilson and many others like him have to take more responsibility or do you get what they’re saying, like David Martindale said yesterday, jobs are on the line?”


Levein: “And also, Kenny, what you fail to understand is that Robbie Neilson represents Hearts and his team have had a difficult night and there’s been an injustice.

“As the spokesperson for Hearts he can’t come out after a game and say, ‘oh it doesn’t matter the referee made a mistake’. He’s not going to do that. He represents the club, the fury and the anger from the supporters has to come from Robbie Neilson. To represent them.

“I’ve been there, I know exactly what it’s like.”

MacIntyre: “So he can question the integrity of match officials?”

Levein: “Hold on a second, there isn’t another job in the world where you’re allowed to be biased or incompetent. There’s a rule written that says you can’t criticise anybody for being biased or incompetent.

“There’s a list as long as your arm of referees abroad, we can talk about Italy or Spain, there’s corruption in football and there always has been. Always.

“I’m not saying anybody in Scotland or England, I’ve no recollection of anybody telling me…”

Broadfoot: “So what’s that got to do with this point?”


Levein: “No, no. What I’m trying to get to is that in this situation, for me, the more often that the referees get to work with VAR the better they get. Do you understand?”

MacIntyre: “Have you not question referees’ integrity before? You have haven’t you.”

Levein: “Well, it depends what you mean by that. I’ve probably questioned their competence. Because, for me, if you make four mistakes in a match – four glaring mistakes – from my view I’m quite right to question somebody’s competence.”

MacIntrye: “The same as if you made them as a manager?”

Levein: “Yeah, because I will get criticised for sure.”

Broadfoot: “This is the crucial difference. I completely understand, I think there needs to be empathy on both sides and that’s part of teh challenge but I think it’s an easy default for a manager… you said there’s been a flurry this weekend. James McPake talking about referees, Martindale as you said saying arrogant officials could cost him a job, our old pal John Hughes, ‘the ref guessed’.

“The one common denominator is they all lost at the weekend and I think the easy default is to blame the referee.”

Levein: “Do you think Hearts would have lost that game if Kyogo’s goal had been chalked off?”

Broadfoot: “But that’s one incident, you say…”

Levein: “Well it’s the most recent one so why don’t you just answer it? Do you not think that Robbie Neilson was entitled…”

Broadfoot: “Well if Kingsley scores an open goal it’s a different game, we could talk about that. Do you not think if Kingsley scores then it’s a draw.”

Levein: “ Ok well if Kingsley misses an open goal next week he’ll get dropped. He’ll get dropped.”


Broadfoot: “But it’s the same principle, the same determination.”

Levein: “If he makes a mistake week-on-week he gets dropped. That’s what happens to players. If they don’t perform they get left out the team.”

Broadfoot: “But that’s a separate point to the post-match.”

Levein: “Well it was you who brought up him missing the chance so how is it?”

Broadfoot: “You said if the offside goal hadn’t been given, you can’t say that. There are so many instances that can turn a game.”

Levein: “But that one was the one that mattered. Because it was a goal.”


Broadfoot: “In your mind, but it’s the same thing.”

Levein: “Not in my mind, it was a goal. It’s there in black and white.”

English: “I don’t think you can say that decision has cost Hearts the game or it’s won the game. There are other incidents in the game.”

Levein: “Of course there are but that’s actually happened.”

Broadfoot: “But it shows the manager’s mindset, ‘that’s the thing that cost us the game’. And that’s the point I’m making.

“I understand that mangers have that inbred that you need to protect the players at all costs.

“You put an arm round a player or protect a player but you’re happy to flog a referee knowing the same referee, and you touched on it I wouldn’t do it either, but the referee knows they’ve made a mistake, they go into their place of work and realise pretty quickly they’ve made a mistake.

“Referees have emotions as well.”

Levein: “Come back to my very first point I made about this is that I wouldn’t do the job, and secondly I’d make their salary commensurate with what… it’s a tens of millions of pounds business in Scotland.

“And we’re relying on guys who are working part-time.”

MacIntyre: “Will Robbie Neilson be punished for his comments? Given that Crawford Allan, the head of referee operations, agreed with two of the points Robbie Neilson made when Crawford Allan appeared on Sportsound on Saturday? So does that not tell us that Robbie Neilson was entirely justified?”


Broadfoot: “It’s OK to be critical of mistakes but the inference of bias or incompetence is the thing that.”

Levein: “How many mistakes do you have to make to be incompetent?”

English: “I think incompetent is a really loaded word. I think it’s really loaded and I don’t think it’s helpful. Because if you’re incompetent one day then surely you’re incompetent every day, you’re just incompetent as a referee.

“And I think to extrapolate incompetence across the board in a refereeing career is too harsh for one incident or two incidents, he could have a great game next week and nobody will say boo to a goose, he gets all the tough decisions right and nobody will say anything.

“But I think what referees have to accept, maybe they do, is criticism. If Robbie Neilson came out and said, ‘the referee’s had a really poor game tonight, he’s made a succession of really poor decisions’ – I’m paraphrasing Robbie – the referee has to suck that up and I don’t think anything should come from that.”

MacIntrye: “But is it the next thing you’re talking about? The reference to coming to Glasgow?”

English: “Yeah, I just think… I think that’s straying over the line, I don’t think there’s any need for it. And I know it’s in the heat of the moment. I know that.

“Robbie’s raging and he’s really disappointed and angry and all of that. I don’t think you need to go there. I think, and it’s easy for me to say, in the heat of the you need to be a little bit more clinical and forensic in your language if you’re not happy with a referee.

“If you feel a referee’s decisions have cost you a game there’s a better way of saying it than implying incompetence or bias.”

*Levein reads out Neilson quotes*

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 02: Hearts manager Robbie Neilson reacts during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Heart of Midlothian at on December 02, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was furious with the officiating in the defeat to Celtic

Levein: “Is that inferring that they’re biased? Saying they had poor decisions?”

Broadfoot: “Go on to the Glasgow bit then? Have you got that?

Levein: “Well, I can’t see… I’ve only got two…”

MacIntrye: “I can’t remember the exact words but he said these things happen when you come to Glasgow.”

Levein: “Well they do. I’ve been there.”

Broadfoot: “So why are they happening?”

Levein: “Well I can go back to a game when I was at Dundee United at Ibrox and the official was absolutely appalling.

“He made mistake, after mistake, after mistake.”

MacIntyre: “Was that pressure from the crowd, is that what you’re saying?”

Levein: “No, it was his last game. His very last game. And he got given a game at Ibrox because, I believe, he was a Rangers fan.”

English: “See… I don’t, I don’t…”

Levein: “So what do we say about that then?”

MacIntyre: “You’re saying that’s your understanding, there’s absolutely no evidence that was why he was given the game.”

Levein: “Well that’s what I think.”

MacIntyre: “Yeah.”

Levein: “I don’t say I’ve got evidence…”

English: “That’s not admissible in court though it’s not going to stand up in court.”

Levein: “I’m not looking to go to court.

“If I’m standing in the dugout at Ibrox and a referee’s made five or six huge mistakes do you not think I’m entitled to come out and point that out?”

Broadfoot: “Of course you are, 100 per cent. Absolutely.”

English: “As long as you’re not saying, ‘this referee was deliberately out to get us’. That’s the problem.”

Levein: “Well…”

MacIntyre: “Let’s not go down that road again!”



Craig Levein claims 'Rangers fan' referee was given Ibrox favour as explosive debate erupts over officials Source link Craig Levein claims 'Rangers fan' referee was given Ibrox favour as explosive debate erupts over officials

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